Erosion and sediment control (ESC) play a crucial role in the success of any construction project, as these factors contribute significantly to safeguarding the environment. While ESC is sometimes overlooked until an inspection or audit uncovers issues, it is imperative to recognize the importance of incorporating ESC into the initial design, grading and planning stages of any construction endeavor.

By prioritizing ESC from the beginning, you can proactively mitigate risks and prevent potential violations, ultimately saving time and money, and preserving the immediate and long-term integrity of a project.

When it comes to construction, rainfall, erosion, sediment and runoff are interconnected. As a result of rainfall, runoff is produced, and uncontrolled runoff can cause erosion of soil, resulting in property damage, sediment transportation into water bodies, pollution and ecological harm. Various factors influencing sediment runoff on construction sites include the amount, intensity and duration of rainfall, the extent of vegetative growth, the permeability of the land surface, and the slope of the land. Given these factors, when undergoing construction, it is essential to consider the impact on local ecosystems and public safety to foster a sustainable environment for all.

Carefully implementing ESC measures can help significantly with regulatory compliance and protecting the environment. It is important to follow-up implementation with regular inspections after heavy rainfall events, which can cause ESC structural failures like collapsing silt fence. Likewise, careful ESC considerations could help prevent the disturbance of recreational activities and wildlife habitats at downstream bodies of water.

Using the MS4 Process to Help Manage Runoff

Owners of construction projects can take certain actions to enhance environmental compliance and lessen the adverse effects of project-induced erosion and sediment migration. Training on the proper type, use and installation of ESC measures can help in the development of a thoughtful erosion and sediment control plan. Further, it is important that project owners fully understand municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) permitting process requirements. These two steps combined can help with compliance and the successful implementation of ESC measures.

Many project owners are unaware of how the MS4 permitting process uses ESC measures to help with environmental protection. For MS4 permitting, cities impose specific measures for land disturbances on property exceeding an acre. The interconnected nature of these measures means non-compliance in one area can impact compliance in another.

An important area of concern for MS4 permitting is construction site stormwater runoff, specifically addressed in minimum control measure (MCM) four. Here are a few factors to consider when determining how to manage runoff, erosion and sediment control for your construction projects:

  • Site topography and drainage patterns: Determine effective temporary and permanent runoff management strategies based on water flow.
  • Soil type and erosion susceptibility: Use specific erosion control techniques for different soil types to prevent sediment runoff.
  • Local regulations and permit requirements: Comply with local regulations and permit requirements to avoid fines and penalties and keep construction moving forward.
  • Implementation of best management practices (BMPs): Enhance ESC effectiveness by tailoring BMPs to a project’s specific needs and a site’s environmental requirements.
  • Monitoring and maintenance: Regularly check and maintain ESC measures for continued compliance.

The Ripple Effect: Keeping Runoff and Erosion Issues in Check

To help mitigate erosion issues, a stormwater pollution prevention plan (SWPPP) must be developed before beginning any construction activities that will disturb one or more acres of land. This is a requirement mandated by EPA’s Clean Water Act National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program.

A SWPPP is a comprehensive document outlining strategies to manage and reduce stormwater pollution on construction sites. It includes ESC measures to prevent soil disturbance and sediment runoff. The MS4 process does not directly relate to the development of a SWPPP for individual construction sites. However, MS4 permits often include requirements for construction site operators that align with the types of goals found in a SWPPP.

An SWPPP identifies potential pollution sources, identifies BMPs that would help minimize erosion, and outlines procedures for monitoring and maintaining pollution and ESC standards. An effective SWPPP will change over the course of the project based on observations, failures and successes of the implemented ESC measures. For example, if there is a section of silt fence that is repeatedly failing, the SWPPP should be updated to include additional measures to help moderate runoff in that specific area.

A SWPPP might include measures such as: 

  • minimizing on-site land disturbances
  • using riprap, berm construction and swale construction to control runoff
  • keeping areas contained with silt fencing and biologs
  • managing sediment using inlet protection
  • employing filter socks and other composite materials to control erosion

By proactively addressing erosion and sediment control through tools like a SWPPP and the MS4 process, construction projects can proceed smoothly and responsibly in ways that benefit the environment and improve the bottom line.


It is essential to prioritize MS4 erosion and sediment control measures from the start to avoid costly penalties and environmental damage later.


Kaitlin Hanson provides engineering services on roadway and program management projects in the transportation practice as a licensed PE and Envision Sustainability Professional (ENV SP). She has more than 10 years of experience in geotechnical engineering, site development and transportation design.