Learn when you can take your own stormwater samples, and when you should let a professional do it.
Many facilities covered under a stormwater permit will find they have to perform some sort of stormwater monitoring or sampling at their facility. For many facilities, taking a sample can be a real hassle. You've got to figure out if your facility is discharging, go outside in a storm, take a sample, send it off to a lab, or do some own analysis, etc. It can be time-consuming, laborious, and you probably have more important things to be worrying about.
So a lot of folks tend to ask if they should be taking their own stormwater samples? For anyone who has any part of their facility's stormwater program. This question is fairly common, and a good question at that.
Stormwater regulations can be confusing. Taking a stormwater sample can be a pain. Fortunately, there's some options available for folks in this situation. We find that many facilities across the United States rely on labs to take care of the whole nine yards for them. For some, it makes sense. For others, it's a waste of money.
Should I take my own stormwater samples?
First things first, check your stormwater permit to see if you're even allowed to take your own sample. Some permits require labs to take the samples. It's rare, but we've seen it.
Secondly, consider the cost of hiring an outside stormwater expert to come in at the most likely drop of a hat and get your sample. Labs can (and usually do) charge a pretty penny to take samples.
Third, think of your time. Your time is valuable, but figure out just how valuable it is. There are some time constraints you'll have to adhere to in order to take a proper sample, so you normally can't just do this whenever you please. You'll need to dedicate yourself to your stormwater program.
Our opinion is to save the money and take the samples yourself. It's not that hard, and with good training, and the dedication to getting it right, you'll be more than capable of getting your own samples. But, you need to commit yourself to getting this right. If you can't take the time to learn, understand, and master getting samples, the process will be infinitely harder.
But, there are some instances where you'll need to get an outsider to come in and handle things for you. Let's review some of the pros and cons of you vs a lab or outside expert conducting your stormwater monitoring.
Why you should take your own stormwater samples.
- You'll be able to keep your costs down - It's going to be cheaper if you do it yourself. You take your samples, deliver them to the lab (or have them pick them up), and reduce your final bill by the cost of having someone sample for you.
- Learn to control and evaluate your stormwater samples - You're the one at your location, so you know when samples can be taken. You don't need someone to come out and babysit, waiting for the right time to grab a sample. Remember, time is money, and the lab will charge you for time wasted.
- You can get better stormwater test results - This is a tricky one. If you need to take a sample, and you observe that your discharge looks pretty bad, you need to document it and take measures to improve your discharge. That's not cheating, it's using visual observations as a feedback mechanism. Be careful here, you might be violating your permit conditions if you observe an obvious problem and either not report it, or not sample it. Fix the problem, and come back next time. Just make darn sure you understand the problem and take all necessary steps to ensure it doesn't happen again!
- You'll need to gain stormwater experience - You'll gain a much better understanding of how stormwater behaves at your site if you are actually the one getting the water in the bottles. It's a lot easier to understand dirty water when you see it, rather than being handed a sheet of lab results.
- It's your business! - It's your butt on the line with these samples. Your results will have a very real impact on your operation, so you want to ensure you're getting the best samples at the right time. The lab doesn't care either way, but you will.
When you should let an expert take your stormwater samples.
- Stormwater training is vital - These guys are (presumably) professionals at doing this. Have you received stormwater training? Are you knowledgeable enough to take your own samples?
- Higher creditability with regulators - The lab doesn't care what type of results are obtained, so their work is unbiased. Whenever a facility grabs their own samples, there's room for doubt, and regulators will look into it if they think you're fudging the numbers or getting invalid samples.
- It's a lot easier - Really, who wants to be bothered getting your own sample and going out in the rain? Let the lab do it. You've got more important things to worry about.
- The price to hire an expert isn't your true cost - Really, how much can it cost? Isn't your time worth something, and couldn't it be put to better use than grabbing stormwater samples?
So what do we recommend? Usually, we train facilities to take their samples - the right way, and in compliance with their stormwater permit's requirements.
But sometimes, we recognize that it's better to have an outside testing lab grab the samples.
No one answer works for everyone. So who's it at your facility, you or the lab?