Getting a bad sample isn't the end of the world. It happens to us all from time to time, and unless you have a history of non-compliance, regulators and the permit your covered under may give you some wiggle room or a chance for redemption. Here we discuss one of the most commonly asked questions we get, and explain the right answer.
A lot of our stormwater clients have been asking us lately if they need to report bad stormwater sampling results. It's summertime, your site's probably busy, and there are frequent summertime showers. Some people are finding their samples aren't as good as they should be. Add to the fact that people are getting multiple stormwater samples, in order to get better results, and the question tends to get asked even more.
This is a very, very important question folks. If you have a stormwater permit, listen up because the difference is being in compliance, or getting it wrong and being in some seriously hot water.
The short answer is yes. Yes, you have to report ANY AND ALL DATA obtained under an NPDES stormwater permit of any kind, including any and all stormwater monitoring results. Good, bad, whatever, you have to report the data you get back from your stormwater monitoring results. Failure to report stormwater data may carry significant penalties, including civil and criminal penalties. It gives the appearance that you’re not being truthful, and are hiding information the government requires you to disclose. However you cut it, it’s not good, so don’t do it.
Reporting Bad Stormwater Samples
Here's something to consider. Getting a bad result isn't the end of the world. It's much better than getting no result at all. Besides the drought stricken south west, most places get rainfall pretty regularly this time of year, and regulators know that. Take a sample. Get the data. Report it. And don't forget. Failure to report the results of stormwater monitoring could carry penalties that could affect you, your operation, and even the person responsible for taking and reporting the stormwater samples. Even claiming you didn't get any precipitation could result in penalties and violations, considering there's now weather monitoring devices located all over. Don't fake it, don't lie, and don't neglect to send in your stormwater monitoring results.
What to do if you get a bad stormwater sample
It's simple enough, you should do the following:
- Figure out why you got a bad stormwater sample. Was it poor stormwater BMP implementation or design? Poor sampling technique? Maybe even possible lab error (it does happen)? Take any steps possible to correct that situation. This might sound like cheating, but that’s actually one of the purposes of taking samples. It's goal is to check how your pollution prevention practices are working. If they aren’t, and stormwater monitoring results are bad, then you need to adjust your stormwater BMPs!
- Take another sample. If you’re still in the same sampling period, sample again! If you enhanced and improved site conditions, you should get better results. It'll show regulators you addressed the problem, and are trying to do the right thing (ie, they'll cut you some slack). If you can't take your sample until the next monitoring period, that's ok too. It'll still show you've cleaned up your site and are trying to do better. The process of evaluating what went wrong, correcting it, and then hopefully getting better results can mean a lot if you’re trying to reduce a penalty.
- Know how to report multiple results from the same sampling period. Most stormwater reporting requirements require you to indicate the number of samples taken during the sampling period, as well as the maximum value obtained (probably the bad result). Some stormwater permits ask for averages, so if you've gotten a better second sample, your results should go down. That's why a second result can be so helpful. It's a good way of offsetting your samples.
So again, getting a bad result isn't the end of the world, and yes you have to report your bad stormwater results. Your best bet is to do your sampling, get your data, send it in, and if there's an issue, fix the problem. It's not rocket science. Make sure your facility and staff are following your stormwater BMPs. If they are and you're still getting bad results, change your BMPs.