This article was written by Joel Shorey, President of Wash On Wheels, and was published in the Fall 2012 Newsletter of the Division of Real Estate, Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies
EPA Water Recovery – And How You Can Avoid Costly Fines
Many real estate brokers don’t realize how the Clean Water Act affects them. And they may inadvertently cause themselves and their property owners a large fine.
Many brokers act as property managers – whether they work with apartments, commercial buildings, assist HOA’s or oversee single-family residences.
Even if a broker only has a listing for an out of town seller, they’re responsible for taking care of that property.
If you – or someone you hire – washes sidewalks, driveways, a grease spill or anything else and the waste water runs into the storm drain, you can get a fine from the EPA or a city or county inspector.
There have been a few hefty fines
One pressure washing company that was cleaning sidewalks in downtown Denver received two large fines the same day for improper collection and disposal of wastewater.
And in Houston, where water recovery is strictly enforced, a parking garage was pressure washed in violation of the stormwater regulations – and the building engineer, property manager, and wash company owner all went to jail.
This began in 1972 when Congress passed the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, also called The Clean Water Act, and started enforcing stormwater regulations. And while some EPA regulations may seem extreme, they’ve done a good job of cleaning the waterways. Imagine if we had continued dumping waste for 40 more years at the rate we did in 1972!
The EPA started by cleaning up manufacturing plants that dumped garbage straight into rivers, and barges that dumped city trash into the ocean.
Then came cities with populations of more than 100,000 – which in Colorado meant Aurora, Denver, Lakewood, and Colorado Springs. Now we’re in the final phase where even the smallest towns must comply.
In 2010, the EPA published the Clean Water Act Action Plan containing new stormwater regulations. These changes affect owners and property managers – as well as service providers.
One part of the new plan is to “strengthen oversight of the states.” And if the state doesn’t enforce these stormwater regulations, the EPA will take over – which benefits no one.
Did you know there are two different sewer systems in almost every city?
The Storm Sewer collects the runoff from the streets and gutters and goes directly into the rivers without being treated or filtered. The Sanitary Sewer collects everything that runs from residences and commercial buildings and pipes it to the wastewater treatment plants.
The Clean Water Act requires all wastewater treatment facilities to treat sanitary sewer water to specific levels. It also requires municipalities to maintain standards for storm sewer water discharged into state waters.
You may have noticed the little green and orange bags lying next to storm drains and wondered what they are. Every construction site has them – or should. These filter bags are designed to prevent dirt and debris from entering the storm drains. And they’re used anywhere dirty runoff is possible.
Enforcement includes fines
In order to enforce these standards, the EPA, state, and local authorities can levy fines against anyone who discharges ‘process wastewater’ into the storm sewer. These fines can range from $1,000 to $25,000 per day and can be charged to both the property owner and the contractor.
According to the state of Colorado, all water generated by power washing (pressure washing) operations is classified as ‘process wastewater’. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment finalized their new regulations with this in mind.
These regulations give specific guidelines on how to comply with the new water recovery procedures. These procedures allow Colorado’s wastewater districts to comply with the EPA’s updated stormwater regulations.
Wastewater Districts must comply as well
Because it isn’t only the state government that has to comply – each wastewater district has to meet EPA rules, too. And each district has its own discharge regulations and they’re often more strict than the state regulations.
And all pressure washing companies – as well as property managers and owners – must comply with the regulations for each wastewater district.
There have been many instances of the increasing enforcement of Colorado stormwater regulations. We’re seeing more inspectors in the field – both observing us and checking our clients’ properties. We’ve gotten a few calls to clean up restaurants where they let their kitchen grease get into the storm drain.
As with all new laws, it takes time to get the word out and start enforcing it. You should expect stronger enforcement in the future.
Not all jobs require water recovery
Make sure the company you hire has a thorough understanding of the requirements in your area. Verify they have the correct permits and can do the water recovery properly before you hire them.
It’s your reputation and money – and your clients, too.
Joel Shorey has been a real estate broker in Colorado for 35 years. He has worked as an appraiser and a property manager, and is now the President of Wash On Wheels.
In business since 1985, Wash On Wheels is a Denver pressure washing company that specializes in EPA water recovery. Their service area includes metro Denver as well as the Front Range of Colorado.
Joel can be reached at 303-937-7181 or firstname.lastname@example.org
All of the regulations mentioned in this article are available on the Stormwater Regulations page at www.washonwheels.net.