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Regulatory Areas

Stormwater Well Water Drain Disposal Oil-Water Separators FOG
This area covers environmental regulations related to water that may affect retailers. This includes water use inside of a retail facility and water issues outside of a facility. Inside a facility, regulations cover what can be disposed of down drains and water conservation. Outside issues are primarily related to stormwater runoff and storm drain management, as well as some conservation issues.

Compliance Considerations

The Clean Water Act (CWA) is the main federal law in the United States that addresses water pollution, and includes the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), which grants federal permits to operations that discharge to the waters of the United States (which can include stormwater runoff).

​Well Water

If your facility uses a private well for drinking water, there are sampling and reporting requirements under the Safe Drinking Water Act. These requirements are usually imposed at the state level. EPA provides guidance and information for Small Public Water Systems.

Drain Disposal of Waste

DrainUnder the CWA pretreatment regulations, discharges that might interfere with or pass through the local Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTW) or wastewater treatment plant, along with discharges of certain specified pollutants, are prohibited.  Most local POTWs and sewer systems also are required to establish local limits, subject to EPA or state approval, on pollutants in order to protect their facilities from interference and to prevent the pass through of pollutants in violation of the POTW's NPDES permit. Any material poured down a drain waste must comply with these limits and, depending on the material, a permit may be required. The EPA has more information on the federal rule.

Generally, drain disposal of waste should be minimized and hazardous waste, corrosive chemicals, grease, oil, paints, solids, or sludge should not be disposed of down the drain.

Localities and POTWs also have authority under state law independent of the CWA to establish terms of service, and these terms (often in an ordinance) can include environmental requirements.

Some retail facilities are connected to onsite wastewater treatment systems or septic systems, which are regulated by state and local governments. EPA provides guidance and technical assistance with their Septic Smart program. Septic tanks are not designed for the disposal of hazardous wastes, corrosive chemicals, paints, and grease or oils.

Fats, Oils, and Grease (FOG)

An important issue for stores with meat cutting departments and food service is the handling of fats, oils, and grease (FOG). FOG can cause sewer blockages, sewage spills, and backups. While regulated under the federal CWA, in practice the discharge of FOG is usually regulated on a municipal level. The New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission has resources and a page on municipal FOG Programs.

Any food service facility that introduces grease or oil discharges from kitchens, dishwashing, and any wastewater that is associated with food preparation should have a grease trap or larger grease interceptor. These wastewater pre-treatment devices capture grease and solids from cooking and food preparation, and are required by most state plumbing codes for food preparation areas, rotisserie cookers, and meat cutting departments.

Grease traps must be maintained and cleaned periodically in order to operate efficiently. When FOG buildup in the grease trap is 25% or more of the capacity of the holding tank, it should be cleaned out. Many local municipal or sewer utility ordinances require pre-treatment permits or registration of grease traps and interceptors, as well as regular monitoring, cleanout, and often annual or quarterly reporting on those activities.

Grease can be recycled. The "yellow grease" from fryers is used to create products such as soaps, cosmetics, and animal feed, or can be converted into bio-diesel. The "brown grease" from grease traps can be used in making paints and polymers, or as a fuel. Sustainable Foodservice.com has more information on best practices for handling FOGs.

Oil-Water Separators

Local jurisdictions may require oil-water separators under pretreatment or stormwater regulations for facilities where there is the potential for the discharge of oily wastewater. This includes auto service centers such as oil change businesses, service stations, collision and mechanical repair shops, or businesses that use steam or pressure washes where heavy metals and grit and sand can go down drains. Oil-water separators should not be relied on as a cleanup method for oily spills; these should be cleaned up before they reach the wastewater drain. As with grease traps, oil-water separators need regular monitoring, cleanout, and often annual or quarterly reporting to the wastewater utility on those activities. The EPA provides guidance on how to properly maintain oil-water separators, which includes inspection and cleanout provisions.

Construction Stormwater Management

Sediment Control FencingRetailers with robust new store and remodeling programs have been treated as regulated parties under stormwater rules by the EPA and some state agencies, and have been subject to enforcement in some cases for the poor stormwater and erosion control practices of their developers and building contractors. Relying solely on the expertise and compliance of your developers and contractors may offer little protection from such enforcement. Some national retailers have gone so far as to conduct their own inspections of their construction sites (often with third-party assistance) to ensure compliance by contractors and developers.

During construction activities, site owners, builders, and developers are required to control erosion caused by the disturbance of the land and by their equipment and activities. Because of the significant environmental impact of sediment and erosion, all construction sites are subject to some type of stormwater requirements, which vary based on the size of the site and jurisdiction. Construction disturbing one acre or more commonly requires an NPDES permit under the CWA (usually issued by a state agency), and smaller disturbances, as little as 1/10 acre and even parking lot repavement, can trigger local requirements. It is important to check the state and local regulations well before breaking ground and to plan for the time needed for permit application and approval.

In the regulatory jargon of stormwater, the application for a state construction permit is referred to as a Notice of Intent or NOI. Often this must be accompanied by a construction Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP), including an erosion control plan and any required post-development stormwater management plan. Post-development stormwater management is discussed below in the next section. A construction stormwater permit is closed out by submitting a Notice of Termination or NOT, by which the permit holder certifies that earth disturbing activities have been completed and the site has been stabilized, that the permit holder has transferred all areas under its control to another operator who has obtained construction stormwater permit coverage, or that the permittee has obtained stormwater coverage under a different permit for the same discharges. The EPA provides guidance on SWPPPs for construction activities.

Stormwater Management (post-construction)

Parking LotStormwater runoff in areas with impervious surfaces such as paved streets, parking lots, and building rooftops (often called nonpoint source pollution) flows faster and at a higher volume than on unpaved and vegetated areas, and picks up more debris, chemicals, sediment, or other pollutants. This contaminated runoff can adversely affect water quality, destroy habitat, damage infrastructure, and in areas with combined sewer systems, cause sewer overflows. The faster flow and higher volume of runoff from new developments can also add up to collectively cause an increase in major flooding downstream. 

Once a permit holder files the Notice of Termination for its construction stormwater permit, post-construction requirements may kick in.  These requirements can range from nothing, to local requirements for cleaning parking lots and catch basins, to the owner/operator's commitment to follow a stormwater management plan, or, in still-relatively rare cases, to the requirement to obtain an NPDES permit and comply with a formal operating SWPPP.

While it may be called different things in different jurisdictions and under different regulations, a post-development stormwater management plan governs how a site owner/operator manages stormwater with Best Management Practices (BMP) to reduce and slow the flow of stormwater and encourage absorption into the ground.  Examples may include:

  • Structures for stormwater conveyance and treatment, site grading, ditches, catch basins, storm sewers, retention ponds, and new "green" infrastructure (permeable pavers, underground galleries, and vegetated swales, strips and buffers);
  • Regular maintenance, such as lot sweeping, clean out of catch basins, and retention/detention ponds;
  • Prohibitions on outdoor activities (for example, pressure washing of carts or fueling of trucks) and storage of materials that could pollute stormwater as it falls and runs across your site;
  • Sampling after storm events (typically at industrial sites); and
  • Reporting on maintenance and performance of stormwater BMPs.

EPA provides guidance on Stormwater Management Best Practices. Permit requirements may include inspection of stormwater control measures and discharges, recordkeeping, and stormwater pollution prevention plans. The EPA's NPDES stormwater program under the CWA authorizes many states to implement their own permitting program. EPA provides a summary of state post-construction stormwater standards.​

Warehouse and distribution centers may qualify as so-called Phase 1 industrial facilities and be subject to NPDES permitting for normal operational stormwater. The need for a permit depends, in part, on the potential stormwater exposure of activities such as product or waste storage, truck fueling, vehicle maintenance, and outside storage of salt and sand for snow and ice control.  Where a Phase 1 NPDES permit would otherwise be required, facilities may be excused from permitting if they can certify that industrial activities and materials (such as salt and sand, scrap metal, uncovered solid waste dumpsters, and excess racking and other unused industrial equipment) are not exposed to stormwater. The regulations differ by state. This is a relatively complex area, and many such facilities depend on environmental consultants and counsel to help them determine the need for a permit.

In addition, cities are regulated under the EPA's Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) program, and this drives the municipalities to implement local stormwater regulations in order to meet their permit requirements. Thus at the local level, facilities with impervious surfaces may be charged a fee to fund a Stormwater Utility, which the municipality uses to improve stormwater management and meet its MS4 permit.  MS4 cities may also adopt regulations pursuant to their discharge permits that require contributors to the city's MS4 to manage or limit the flow of stormwater into the system in various ways, including, in some cases, the retrofitting of existing sites.

Managing ongoing stormwater compliance obligations at stores can pose significant challenges for retail, and every site can be different because of state and local regulations. Common stormwater considerations for retail are:

  • Repaving or doing construction at a retail site may trigger new local stormwater requirements.
  • Lease terms vary on whether the retailer or the landlord is responsible for the parking lot and stormwater structure maintenance.
  • Conditions of entitlement and re-zoning. Your developer may have agreed to stricter stormwater best management practices, and your operations and facilities management teams need to be aware of any additional obligations.
  • Jigsaw boundaries between local municipalities and utilities could cause your facility to be regulated by more than one local entity.
  • Wastewater from pressure washing of exteriors and shopping carts should be kept out of stormwater drains. 
  • Maintenance and cleaning of parking lots, catch basins, or other stormwater conveyance and treatment structures, and retention/detention ponds needs to be conducted as required by local regulations. 


Under the CWA Section 404, the Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for granting permits for construction projects that affect wetlands. Under Section 401, the EPA or a state program with authority from EPA (Envcap.org has a locator for state wetlands programs) can stop a construction project with a negative impact on water quality.   The Construction Industry Compliance Assistance website has more information on wetlands regulations and permits.


Water conservation is an increasingly important issue and is regulated in some jurisdictions, such as California. Most requirements are at state or local levels, with restrictions typically but not always associated with drier geographic regions. Saving water also reduces operational costs. There are a number of ways retail facilities can reduce the use of water: use of low-flow plumbing fixtures in bathrooms and kitchens, fixing leaking equipment, and reducing landscaping water use. ​


EPA Watershed Academy - Online training, including management and water law modules, plus users can earn a Watershed Management Training Certificate.

EPA Drinking Water Academy - Online training and information on drinking water operation and protection, includes links to local training by state.

EPA​ National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Training Courses and Workshops - Information on the regulatory framework and technical considerations of NPDES Permit program.

EPA Onsite Wastewater System Training - Training programs for onsite (i.e. septic) systems by state.

Sustainability and Reducing Compliance Risk

Reducing stormwater runoff at retail facilities can have a huge positive impact on the environment. Low Impact Development (LID) is an approach to land development or redevelopment designed to manage stormwater in a natural way. In some areas, facilities that implement stormwater management approaches get credit from stormwater fees.

Water conservation outside the facility can be done through water-smart landscaping and only irrigating in early morning or late evening to reduce evaporation. Rainwater collection systems are another way to reduce water use and stormwater at the same time. The American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association (ARCSA) provides state regulations and technical resources on rainwater harvesting.

LEED for Retail

The US Green Building Council has Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Certifications for retail in Building Design and Construction, Interior Design and Construction, and Building Operations and Maintenance. This includes practices to conserve water use and reduce stormwater runoff.

Look here for retail-specific information on environmental regulations by regulatory area. If you don’t know which areas apply, use the store department search function.

Last Update: 4/6/2015 12:00:00 AM