The Final Frontier of Water Safety

Many of us have fond childhood memories of puddle-stomping or dancing in the rain. But as we get older, we lose that wistful sense of enjoyment. Instead, rain is often considered a nuisance and source of discomfort whether we find ourselves commuting to work or forgetting our umbrellas at home. However, we rarely think about the logistics of rainstorms. Where does all that water go? What happens to the rain that hits a parking lot, a roof, or some other man-made structure? Stormwater is where things start getting dicey.

In 1972, congress passed the Clean Water Act (CWA). In the Nashua River watershed, the law held a special significance for locals like me. By the 1960s, our river had become horribly polluted: paper mills were dumping untreated paper pulp and dye turning the river unnatural colors. At times, the river was so thick that small animals could run across it. Thanks to environmental activists and the CWA, the Nashua River is no longer a wastewater dump.

The pollution in the Nashua river was easy to identify as a major hazard, making it a top priority for environmental regulators. But what about the pollution we can’t see? Even small quantities of metals and other pollutants can have a devastating effect on both the environment and our bodies. For manufacturing companies that operate at least partially outdoors (e.g., concrete ready mix plants, distribution centers, and beverage bottling plants), stormwater is a huge environmental concern and source of potential pollution. Rainfall hitting exposed machinery, stockpiles, and paved areas, can pick up pollutants such as sediment, metals, and bacteria. This stormwater flows across sites, carrying with it pollutants that can end up in a river or storm drain.

As the EPA has gotten a better handle on wastewater, the agency is now able to focus its efforts on stormwater – what we at Mapistry like to call the "final frontier" of water safety. This year, the EPA has stepped up its game by making industrial stormwater pollution one of its new National Enforcement Initiatives for the next three years.

One of the biggest challenges for regulators has always been sifting through the mountains of paperwork they receive from companies. A new electronic reporting requirement passed in late 2015, is changing the game. Regulators can make a simple database query to determine the worst violators – no tedious scanning of forms required.

The stakes are high. Penalties and fines levied by regulators range from a few thousand dollars to more than $10 million, not to mention citizen lawsuits.

These two developments, tied with the EPA's Next Generation Compliance program, which seeks to modernize environmental compliance reporting and enforcement, is the start of a broad trend in industrial stormwater toward more monitoring requirements, greater public transparency, and, ultimately, more aggressive enforcement. The stakes are high. Penalties and fines levied by regulators range from a few thousand dollars to more than $10 million, not to mention citizen lawsuits.

If you’re a manufacturer, what should you do about it? You understand that protecting the environment and meeting legal requirements is crucial to avoiding fines, lawsuits, and damage to your brand. Still, efficiency is key.

You probably employ both environmental staff and environmental consultants to manage stormwater at your facilities for industrial compliance. Your corporate environmental staff members, like most in the industry, are overworked and rely on production staff (e.g., a plant manager) at each facility to get the information and samples they need. This involves massive amounts of time every year spent chasing up that information.

For inspections, records are kept on paper at each facility. The water sample results are submitted to the state each year, but they aren’t reviewed or checked closely. This can leave you unaware of potential problems, one of the leading causes of fines and lawsuits.

At Mapistry, those are exactly the problems we set out to solve. We make sure you are in compliance, without costing you a fortune. We combine environmental and stormwater expertise with software, quickly identifying problems and working out solutions so you don't waste money or get hit by an unexpected fine or lawsuit.

Mapistry connects with NOAA weather data and each state's permit requirements to send automated reminders for stormwater compliance.

Mapistry connects with NOAA weather data and each state's permit requirements to send automated reminders for stormwater compliance.

We replace paper forms with an easy-to-use mobile app that tracks inspections and every aspect of stormwater compliance. Environmental staff are freed up to focus on problem-solving and working directly with local staff, rather than wasting time on reminders. This is possible because Mapistry connects with NOAA weather data to send alerts and each state's stormwater permit requirements are built into the platform for automated reminders. Easy-to-use mapping tools and an innovative stormwater plan builder (think TurboTax) make permit documentation easy to complete internally, without an external environmental consultant.

Mapistry ensures compliance by giving environmental managers and company executives instant insight into water quality trends and potential problem areas via a cloud platform that links stormwater permit requirements, mobile inspection data, and water sampling results collected at local facilities. Our experts are there every step of the way, checking in on you regularly to help troubleshoot any problems: "Looks like your site in Oakland has high levels of copper. Have you figured out a solution to deal with this before it rains again? No? No problem, here's what I would suggest..."

Maybe it’s too late to start dancing in the rain again, but I hope I've convinced you of the importance of stormwater. And I promise it isn't as bad as it sounds. Drop us a line, and we'll try to get you puddle-stomping again soon.

Mapistry is a 2016 Imagine H2O Water Data Challenge Finalist. To learn more about how Mapistry is tackling stormwater issues, visit them at www.mapistry.com