Restoring and improving the quality of the nation’s water bodies is an ongoing priority for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and they created the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) to set goals, objectives and regulations to preserve this vital resource.
Pollution generated by industry became the focus. The CWA established the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program to ensure that communities have clean water by regulating the release of contaminants into our country’s waterways. The NPDES controls and manages point source discharges of pollutants. Point sources are “discrete conveyances such as pipes or man-made ditches.” In other words: any drain, ditch or pipe leaving a facility. That means if your facility discharges pollutants directly to waterways, you must obtain an NPDES permit.
Types of Permits
Just like a driver’s license or hunting license, a NPDES permit is a license to do something that would otherwise be illegal. With an NPDES permit, facilities are given permission to discharge a specified amount and/or type of a pollutant (or pollutants) into receiving waters. Does it seem shocking to you that discharging pollutants into waterways would be allowed at all? In fact, since the 1970s, the NPDES permit program has been responsible for significant improvements to our nation’s water quality.
There are two types of NPDES permits:
- Individual Permits: A permit specifically designed for an individual facility. Permits have time limits (usually five years or less), and facilities must reapply before their current permit expires. These permits are usually more stringent than general permits.
- General Permits: Permits that apply to multiple facilities within a specific industrial category or geographic area.
What It Means for You
When your facility is issued an NPDES permit, you are given a lot of responsibility. Facilities are not permitted to just freely dump any and all of their wastes into the closest floor drain. Water Quality Standards are set for each body of water, and pollutant discharges can’t compromise those standards. Conditions of the permit are clearly stated, and your facility must make significant efforts to comply with those conditions.
Your permit outlines discharge limits in the form of Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) and contains monitoring and reporting requirements. Although permits differ from site to site, all must contain the following five elements:
- Cover Page
- Lists the name and address of the facility
- Provides a statement authorizing the discharge
- Names the specific location of the discharge
- Effluent Limits
- Methods and technologies to prevent pollution
- Ways to control discharges into waterways
- Monitoring and Reporting Requirements
- Characterizes hazardous waste streams and receiving waters
- Evaluates wastewater treatment efficiency
- Determines compliance with permit conditions — typically, facilities police themselves and report noncompliance
- Special Conditions
- Conditions developed to supplement effluent-limit guidelines
- best management practices (BMPs)
- monitoring activities
- stream surveys
- Standard Conditions
- Preestablished conditions that apply to all NPDES permit holders
- Defines legal, administrative and procedural requirements of the permit
If your facility discharges pollutants into the stream out back, you’re going to need a NPDES permit. And you’re going to have to follow the permit requirements to the letter. But before getting that permit, you’ll have to create a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP), which is part of the permit application process. Most states are authorized to issue NPDES permits and offer assistance to facilities in creating SWPPPs. Next, we dive into how to create a SWPPP.
You tell us: Has your facility been issued a NPDES permit? Let us know in the comments section below!