The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is issuing a new permit for construction operators that is designed to protect waterways from discharges of polluted stormwater from construction sites.

The EPA says stormwater discharges from construction sites can contain harmful pollutants, such as nutrients, that contaminate waters, increase drinking water treatment costs, and damage aquatic ecosystems. ??The 2012 construction general permit (CGP) is required under the Clean Water Act and replaces the existing 2008 CGP, which expired on February 15, 2012. The EPA says the new permit includes a number of enhanced protections for surface waters, including provisions to protect impaired and sensitive waters.

The 2012 CGP updates include steps the EPA says are intended to limit erosion, minimize pollution sources, provide natural buffers or their equivalent around surface waters, and further restrict discharges to areas impaired by previous pollution discharge.

Many of the permit requirements implement new effluent limitations and new source performance standards for the construction and development industry that became effective on February 1, 2010, which include pollution control techniques to decrease erosion and sediment pollution.

Under the Clean Water Act, national pollutant discharge elimination system (NPDES) permits are typically issued for a five-year period, after which time the EPA generally issues revised permits based on updated information and requirements, as is the case with this new permit.

NPDES permits control water pollution by including limits on the amount of pollutants that can be discharged into waterways by specific sources. The EPA says the permit also provides new flexibilities for operators. For example, it allows for emergency projects (e.g., restoration following a flood or other natural disaster) to begin immediately without permit authorization from the EPA, while still retaining full authority for the EPA to ensure that the project proceeds in an environmentally responsible manner once it has commenced. The permit also enables operators of already permitted projects flexibility where compliance with a new permit requirement is economically impracticable, the EPA says.

The permit will be effective in areas where the EPA is the permitting authority: Idaho, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Washington, D.C., and most U.S. territories and in Indian country lands.

For more information on the proposed construction general permit, click here.