Assessing Credentials for Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) Professionals

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SWPPP development and implementation are critical skills for professionals working in this field—all with the goal of meeting EPA and municipal requirements for permitting and stormwater management best practices (BMPs). In Part 1 of this three-part series, author Jerald S. Fifield establishes the licensed and accredited credentials of stormwater managers—professionals who navigate EPA regulatory requirements for SWPPPs and develop site-specific stormwater management BMPs.

Are Professional Engineers Qualified to Develop, Sign, and Review Sediment and Erosion Control Plans?
(Part 1) By Jerald S. Fifield

For construction sites that undergo land-disturbing activities, it is necessary that development and implementation of stormwater pollution prevention plans (SWPPPs) occur to meet Construction General Permit (CGP) requirements. These plans are also known as sediment and erosion control (S&EC) plans. Regulatory agencies frequently require such plans be developed and signed by a licensed professional engineer (P.E.).

SWPPP development and implementation are critical skills for professionals working in this field—all with the goal of meeting EPA and municipal requirements for permitting and stormwater management best practices (BMPs). In Part 1 of this three-part series, author Jerald S. Fifield establishes the licensed and accredited credentials of stormwater managers—professionals who navigate EPA regulatory requirements for SWPPPs and develop site-specific stormwater management BMPs.

Are Professional Engineers Qualified to Develop, Sign, and Review Sediment and Erosion Control Plans? (Part 1) By Jerald S. Fifield

For construction sites that undergo land-disturbing activities, it is necessary that development and implementation of stormwater pollution prevention plans (SWPPPs) occur to meet Construction General Permit (CGP) requirements. These plans are also known as sediment and erosion control (S&EC) plans. Regulatory agencies frequently require such plans be developed and signed by a licensed professional engineer (P.E.). [text_ad] Unless they provide professional accountability with such submittals, regulatory agencies may be allowing P.E.s with any specific expertise (e.g., civil, mechanical, nuclear, chemical, or structural) to develop and sign S&EC plans. If this occurs, regulatory agencies may inadvertently be fostering the development of inferior plans for contractors to implement on construction sites. This article explores why some regulatory agencies are requiring that only P.E.s develop, sign, and review S&EC plans, while excluding other qualified professionals from completing the same tasks for which they may have greater expertise and skill. Engineering Practices When reviewing regulatory policy for developing S&EC plans, one often finds that they must be completed using "good engineering practices." To assess what is meant by good engineering practices requires having a definition for the engineering profession, which the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. (ABET) provides: Engineering is the profession in which knowledge of mathematics and natural sciences gained by study, experience, and practice is applied with judgment to develop ways to utilize economically the materials and forces of nature for the benefit of mankind. While the ABET definition provides an excellent description for engineering professionals, it also describes many other technical professions. For example, environmentalists, hydrologists, agronomists, biologists, soil scientists, geologists, and many other professionals also apply their knowledge of mathematics and natural science "for the benefit of mankind." Sheppard and others (2006) provide three excellent postulates for "good engineering practices":
  • The integration of process and knowledge to some end
  • A social activity of teams working in concert towards a common goal
  • A variety of forms of communication, from written to oral, and from formal to informal
While the above are associated with engineering, they also represent practices utilized by all competent professionals. Essentially, the above postulates represent "good professional practices" for those that apply their expertise and knowledge of mathematics and natural science for the benefit of mankind. EPA Requirements for Qualified Designers and Reviewers When assessing EPA's 151-page 2012 CGP, one will find seven references to "good engineering practices" and only two specifying the services of an engineer, with none indicating engineers are more qualified than other professionals to develop S&EC plans. Only for New Mexico is there an indirect reference to involving an engineer, but only after having appropriate training: The SWPPP must be prepared in accordance with good engineering practices by qualified (e.g., CPESC certified, engineers with appropriate training, etc.) erosion control specialists familiar with the use of soil loss prediction models and design of erosion and sediment control systems based on these models (or equivalent soil loss prediction tools). Qualifications of the preparer (e.g., professional certifications, description of appropriate training) must be documented in the SWPPP. EPA definitely wants qualified individuals to be accountable for S&EC plan development. Unfortunately, EPA fails to define within the 2012 CGP what constitutes someone being qualified to develop such plans. Interestingly, EPA does provide a requirement for qualified inspectors (see EPA 2012, Section 4.1.1) by specifying such an individual must
  • Be knowledgeable in the principles and practice of erosion and sediment controls and pollution prevention,
  • Possess the skills to assess conditions at the construction site that could impact stormwater quality, and
  • Possess the skills to assess the effectiveness of any stormwater controls selected and installed.
It seems logical that regulatory agencies would expect designers and reviewers of S&EC plans to demonstrate they have at least the same qualifications as inspectors. However, this is not always the case! As a result, submittals of S&EC plans may be occurring by individuals who may not possess even EPA's minimal inspector requirements. It is important to note that EPA puts a legal burden on permittees of a CGP by requiring them to certify that "qualified personnel" properly gathered and evaluated the information contained within an S&EC plan (EPA 2012, Appendix I, Part I.11). Thus, it is possible that permittees may be in violation of EPA requirements when they certify "non-qualified" individuals to develop and sign S&EC plans. In summary, engineering professionals do not have a monopoly on what is required for good professional practices. Thus, it is a misnomer to assume engineers are more qualified than other professionals to apply their expertise and skills in developing or reviewing S&EC plans.

Unless they provide professional accountability with such submittals, regulatory agencies may be allowing P.E.s with any specific expertise (e.g., civil, mechanical, nuclear, chemical, or structural) to develop and sign S&EC plans. If this occurs, regulatory agencies may inadvertently be fostering the development of inferior plans for contractors to implement on construction sites.

This article explores why some regulatory agencies are requiring that only P.E.s develop, sign, and review S&EC plans, while excluding other qualified professionals from completing the same tasks for which they may have greater expertise and skill.

Engineering Practices
When reviewing regulatory policy for developing S&EC plans, one often finds that they must be completed using “good engineering practices.” To assess what is meant by good engineering practices requires having a definition for the engineering profession, which the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. (ABET) provides:

Engineering is the profession in which knowledge of mathematics and natural sciences gained by study, experience, and practice is applied with judgment to develop ways to utilize economically the materials and forces of nature for the benefit of mankind.

While the ABET definition provides an excellent description for engineering professionals, it also describes many other technical professions. For example, environmentalists, hydrologists, agronomists, biologists, soil scientists, geologists, and many other professionals also apply their knowledge of mathematics and natural science “for the benefit of mankind.”

Sheppard and others (2006) provide three excellent postulates for “good engineering practices”:

  • The integration of process and knowledge to some end
  • A social activity of teams working in concert towards a common goal
  • A variety of forms of communication, from written to oral, and from formal to informal

While the above are associated with engineering, they also represent practices utilized by all competent professionals. Essentially, the above postulates represent “good professional practices” for those that apply their expertise and knowledge of mathematics and natural science for the benefit of mankind.

EPA Requirements for Qualified Designers and Reviewers
When assessing EPA’s 151-page 2012 CGP, one will find seven references to “good engineering practices” and only two specifying the services of an engineer, with none indicating engineers are more qualified than other professionals to develop S&EC plans. Only for New Mexico is there an indirect reference to involving an engineer, but only after having appropriate training:

The SWPPP must be prepared in accordance with good engineering practices by qualified (e.g., CPESC certified, engineers with appropriate training, etc.) erosion control specialists familiar with the use of soil loss prediction models and design of erosion and sediment control systems based on these models (or equivalent soil loss prediction tools). Qualifications of the preparer (e.g., professional certifications, description of appropriate training) must be documented in the SWPPP.

EPA definitely wants qualified individuals to be accountable for S&EC plan development. Unfortunately, EPA fails to define within the 2012 CGP what constitutes someone being qualified to develop such plans. Interestingly, EPA does provide a requirement for qualified inspectors (see EPA 2012, Section 4.1.1) by specifying such an individual must

  • Be knowledgeable in the principles and practice of erosion and sediment controls and pollution prevention,
  • Possess the skills to assess conditions at the construction site that could impact stormwater quality, and
  • Possess the skills to assess the effectiveness of any stormwater controls selected and installed.

It seems logical that regulatory agencies would expect designers and reviewers of S&EC plans to demonstrate they have at least the same qualifications as inspectors. However, this is not always the case! As a result, submittals of S&EC plans may be occurring by individuals who may not possess even EPA’s minimal inspector requirements.

It is important to note that EPA puts a legal burden on permittees of a CGP by requiring them to certify that “qualified personnel” properly gathered and evaluated the information contained within an S&EC plan (EPA 2012, Appendix I, Part I.11). Thus, it is possible that permittees may be in violation of EPA requirements when they certify “non-qualified” individuals to develop and sign S&EC plans.

In summary, engineering professionals do not have a monopoly on what is required for good professional practices. Thus, it is a misnomer to assume engineers are more qualified than other professionals to apply their expertise and skills in developing or reviewing S&EC plans.

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