General FAQs

What is stormwater?

Stormwater is water from precipitation that flows across the pavement when it rains, then drains into storm sewers found at street corners or the low points on the sides of city streets. Unlike the water that we use in our homes, stormwater receives no treatment.

What contributes to stormwater pollution?

Anything that is thrown into a storm drain or that is left on the street and is picked up by stormwater contributes to stormwater pollution. More specifically, pollutants include car oil, pesticides, fertilizers, animal droppings, trash, food wastes, automotive by-products and other toxic substances. Industrial and commercial activities with uncovered outdoor storage or process areas, loading docks and equipment maintenance and washing areas may also contribute pollutants to urban runoff.

What do I do if I see someone dumping into a storm drain?

Call 3-1-1, the Anonymous City of Houston Neighborhood Protection Complaint line. Or call the City of Houston Environmental Health Info. Line and Industrial Discharges at 713-640-4399. Or call Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services at 713-920-2831.

What about yard trimmings and soil? They can't harm stormwater can they?

Even though yard trimmings and soil are natural debris, when put in the storm drain they flow to our bayous, rivers and Galveston Bay where they can ruin the natural balance of the ocean and harm fish.

Where does stormwater go after it drains into a storm drain?

Stormwater that enters the storm drains flows untreated into our channels, bayous and rivers before it goes to Galveston Bay.

What is a watershed?

A watershed is a land area that ultimately drains rainfall runoff (or stormwater) to a common outlet point - typically a body of water, which is mostly creeks and bayous in Harris County. You're sitting in a watershed now. For example, if you live in Brays Bayou watershed, the rain that falls on your house will eventually end up in Brays Bayou.

What's the difference between a stormwater drainage system and a sewer system?

The sanitary sewer system collects household wastewater from toilets, showers and sinks. The wastewater is sent to a facility where it is first treated before discharging to a stream or bayou. In contrast, stormwater is not usually treated and may carry contaminants directly into our waterways.

What can I do to help?

There are a lot of easy ways to help keep our water clean, such as:

  • Pick up after your pets and properly dispose of their waste in the trash.
  • Never pour pesticides, household paints, chemicals and motor oil on the ground or down a storm drain.
  • Take household toxic products to hazardous waste facilities.
  • Don't over water or over fertilize your lawn. Use natural products when possible.
  • Wash your vehicle on your lawn instead of your driveway or street. Don't worry it won't hurt your lawn!
  • Visit our website at www.CleanWaterways.org to see what community projects you can get involved with to help with this issue.

What can you put down the storm drain?

Local ordinances and regulations prohibit anything other than uncontaminated rainwater from entering the storm drain system.

How serious is the problem of stormwater quality?

Very serious. The contaminated stormwater can affect vegetation, wildlife, commercial fisheries and restrict swimming areas. For example,

Health: stormwater pollution poses a serious health risk to people swimming or fishing in our local bayous, rivers, lakes, etc.

Environment: Countless marine plants and animals living in our local waterways may become sick or die from contact with stormwater pollution.

Neighborhoods: Clogged storm drains significantly decrease the quality of life in many neighborhoods throughout the City and County. These "nests" of trash and debris can attract rats and cockroaches and create foul odors - affecting neighborhood aesthetics and property values, and create the potential for local flooding during heavy rain events.

What is the purpose of a storm drain system?

Its purpose is to prevent flooding of streets and highways by quickly and efficiently transferring rainwater into our bayous, creeks, rivers and Galveston Bay.

Stormwater Quality FAQs

How long should the NOI be posted?

A Notice of Inspection should be posted until a Notice of Termination (NOT) is filed. A Notice of Termination should be filed with the TCEQ when either:

  1. Final stabilization has occurred for the portions of the development that are your responsibility; or
  2. Another permitted operator has taken control over all areas of the site that have not been finally stabilized; or
  3. Silt fences or other temporary erosion controls have been removed, or are scheduled for removal as defined in the SWPPP, or transferred to a new operator if the new operator has sought permit coverage.

When is a stormwater pollution prevention plan (SWPPP) required?

Harris County requires a SWPPP for all projects that disturb a parcel 5 acres or larger in size. However, please note that TCEQ requires a SWPPP be prepared and be on-site for all projects of one-acre or larger.

If I receive a notice of inspection, how much time do I have to correct the deficiencies noted at my site?

All deficiencies must be collected within 72 hours.

When are filter fabric, rock filter dams, and reinforced filter fabric fence used for the construction phase?

All pertinent controls must be properly installed before you begin soil-disturbing activities. Consult the SWPPP for the project for additional information.

How do I obtain a certificate of compliance (COC)?

Once construction of the permitted feature is complete, an engineer licensed in the state of Texas must submit an As-Built Certificate. We will then conduct a final inspection of the feature and issue the COC. A COC will not be issued until the feature has been cleaned of all sediment and debris that may have accumulated during construction and is completely stabilized. It is a violation of the regulations to operate the feature prior to receiving a COC.

Can I start clearing and grubbing without a TPDES construction general permit?

You must obtain your NOI within 48 hours of beginning construction activities.

When do I need to obtain the Harris County stormwater quality permit?

If a SWQMP is required, a Harris County stormwater Quality Permit must be obtained prior to beginning construction activities.

How do I obtain an NOI?

An NOI can be obtained from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). A copy of an NOI can be downloaded from their website at www.tceq.texas.gov.

How can a project be grandfathered?

After October 1, 2003, a project can only be grandfathered if there is an existing storm sewer line (trunk line) sized to serve the development. For this exemption, there can be no detention requirement and the following documentation is required:

  1. Original drainage area map
  2. Drainage table (calculations)
  3. The sheet from an approved set of drawings showing sized pipe
  4. Proof that the trunk line was installed prior to October 1, 2003

What is the stormwater quality program?

The Harris County stormwater Quality program was established in compliance with federal (NPDES), and state (TPDES) permitting requirements. The program is responsible for minimizing the impact of potential pollutants to stormwater by comprehensive plan review, followed by inspections of projects before, during, and at completion. Permits are issued, and sites are monitored for compliance within the regulations.

When does the one year period for permit renewal begin?

The one-year period begins on the date the Certificate of Compliance is issued.

What is the difference between the SWPPP and the SWQMP?

These are both booklets that will accompany the drawings at plan submittal. The SWPPP (stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan) is designed to address the pollutants that result from construction phase activities. The SWQMP (stormwater Quality Management Plan) is designed to address the treatment of storm-water run-off after construction is complete.

When applicable, the drawing set should include a SWPPP site plan sheet and associated details. When applicable, the drawing set should include a SWQMP site plan sheet and associated details and calculations. 

Where do I post the TCEQ permit/NOI?

Post the documents at each entrance to the construction site so that the public can readily view the notice: either at every lot or every entrance (for residential subdivisions). Post the NOI in a conspicuous location near the construction entrance for other construction projects.

When designing my stormwater quality basin, do I require a 24 or 48 hour draw down time?

The average draw down time should be 24 hours. As an example, the first drop of stormwater run-off should leave immediately and the last drop 48 hours later.

What documents are required when renewing a stormwater quality permit application?

  1. stormwater Quality Permit Application (Renewal)
  2. Annual Professional Engineer Inspection Certification
  3. Annual Permittee Certification of Proper Operation
  4. A $150.00 check or money order made payable to Harris County

How do I obtain a Harris County stormwater quality permit?

After the County Engineer has approved your plans you may submit an application. You will be required to provide the application, two (2) copies of the approved plans, an Affidavit from the property owner, a letter from the Municipal Utility District (MUD) or Homeowner’s Association (HOA) (where applicable), a copy of the signed NOI, and two (2) checks. (See the "Guide to Obtaining a Harris County stormwater Quality Permit" for complete instructions.)

When is a stormwater quality management plan (SWQMP) required?

See the Regulations of Harris County for stormwater Quality for specific requirements.

Generally, a SWQMP is required for new development of a 5-acre or larger parcel of land regardless of the amount actually being disturbed. A SWQMP is required for re-development of a 5-acre or larger parcel where 1 acre or more of impervious surface is being added.

Two common exemptions from developing a SWQMP are grandfathering by an existing storm sewer line (pipe) or by filing an Industrial Activities Certificate.

Do I need a notice of intent (NOI)?

If your site is five acres or larger or part of a larger common plan of development or sale that could potentially disturb five acres or more, you will need an NOI.

Whom should I contact with permit, design, or inspection questions related to stormwater quality?

For permit/plan review questions: 713-274-3855. For stormwater inspections: 713-274-3861.