The trouble with visible water discolouration from building sites

Building sites can be challenging places but contractors and other construction professionals have a duty to minimise their impact on the environment and particularly on the areas immediately surrounding them.

This means controlling the visible water discolouration from building sites, including water used on the site as well as precipitation.

In Scotland, the General Binding Rules outlined in the Controlled Activities Regulations (CAR) state, as a minimum, all sites bar single dwellings must be drained by a sustainable drainage system or equivalent while under development. The discharge from the drainage system must not, among other things, result in visible discolouration of the water environment. Contractors should be particularly aware, since a breach has the capacity not only to attract SEPA’s attention but also to cause considerable reputational damage.

Visible discolouration

The wording “visible discolouration” is key as it allows a member of the public or site operative to report an incident without having to know the technicalities or gather any samples. With the availability of camera phones, a concerned member of the public can forward images of the discolouration and SEPA have an evidence base rather than having to gather samples of the event.

As well as the obvious risk of enforcement action, continual pollution events of this nature often hint at a lack of overall pollution control and can lead SEPA to request a construction site discharge licence, even if your site doesn’t meet the parameters laid out in CAR. With a statutory response period of up to 4 months, this can lead to significant delays and added expense.

The Binding Rules provide statutory controls over certain low risk activities. Registration is intended to cover low risk activities which cumulatively pose a risk to the water environment and a licence is needed if site-specific controls are required, particularly if constraints upon the activity are to be imposed.

written by Simon Knott is Managing Director of Naturally Compliant

This article was originally published in Project Scotland in May 2018.