Regulatory Puzzle


The Clean Water Act (CWA) regulates discharges to surface waters with the overall goal to restore and protect the nation's surface waters.   The Act may be implemented either by EPA or by state agencies.

There are five major types of CWA requirements to plan for:

  1. "Point source" direct discharge limitations, i.e., the NPDES limitations
  2. Stormwater discharge standards
  3. "Pretreatment" standards for sewer discharges
  4. Spill prevention and response
  5. Wetlands modification &/or dredge and fill activities

1.  Point source discharge limits: the NPDES permit program

Law: CWA Section 402
Regulation: 40 CFR 122

To control point source discharges, the CWA established the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program.  Under NPDES, "point" sources include not only effluent pipes, but also ditches or other human-built drain systems.  Your NPDES permit will limit the types and amounts of pollutants that can be directly released into waterways.

NPDES permits are issued either by EPA or by an authorized state. Under NPDES, you will have to register your facility with EPA/the state, procure a permit, install treatment systems as necessary to meet the permit limits, and do regular monitoring and reporting of your wastewater discharges.  Your permit limits can be technology-based, water quality-based, or both.

Here is an illustrative list of NPDES requirements: 

  • NPDES permit application
  • Installation of various levels of control technology (e.g., Best Practical Technology, Best Available Technology)
  • Monthly discharge monitoring report (DMR)
  • Oral 24-hour report of non-compliance which may endanger health or the environment
  • ASAP notification of planned physical alterations or additions to facility
  • ASAP notification of any anticipated non-compliance.

2. Stormwater discharges

Law: CWA Section 402(p)
Regulation: 40 CFR 122.26 and 122.28

To address the risk of contaminated runoff from their sites, facilities must now get an NPDES permit for their stormwater drains and other runoff sources. This NPDES permit works much like the permit you would get for other wastewater discharges. However, there are special standards for stormwater discharges.

3. Pretreatment standards

Law: CWA Section 307
Regs: 40 CFR 403 (General regulations and categorical standards), 9, 122

If your wastewaters are sent to a sewer authority or Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTW), they are exempt from NPDES (wastewater) permits and are covered by "pretreatment" regulations. There are two types of pretreatment requirements: 1) categorical standards developed by the EPA that apply to each industry, and 2) local standards developed by each POTW.

Under the pretreatment program, you will have to register with the EPA and your POTW, and meet certain treatment, monitoring and reporting requirements (including preparing a semi-annual Sampling and Analysis Report). Among other requirements, you cannot send wastewaters to a POTW that would disrupt their system or that would pass through their treatment system untreated.

4. Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure Plan (SPCC)

Law: CWA Sections 301 & 311, as amended by the Oil Pollution Act 1990
Regs: 40 CFR 112

The CWA has various provisions to prevent and manage spills of hazardous substances that might affect waterways. Most of these provisions have been included in the requirements of the emergency response laws (CERCLA and EPCRA) and will be addressed in that section.

However, one specific requirement here is the Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) plan, which is required for any facility that has oil storage with the potential for releases into waterways. This plan details the steps you will follow to prevent and control an oil spill. In addition, if there is any threat of "substantial harm" from a spill, you will have to prepare a more specific Facility Response Plan.

Amendments to the SPCC rule finalized in December 2008 streamline certain requirements for those facility owners or operators subject to the rule in order to provide increased clarity and to tailor requirements to particular indutry sectors.  An extension finalized in July 2009 requires facilities to amend or prepare, and implement SPCC Plans by November 10, 2010.  Farms must also amend or prepare their SPCC Plans, and implement those plans by the same date.

5. Wetlands modification &/or dredge and fill

Law: CWA Section 404
Regs: 40 CFR 230-233, 40 CFR 323-330

The CWA has certain requirements related to the modification of wetlands areas and to the dredging and filling of waterways. You will generally need to obtain a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers to do either of these activities on your site. In addition, a number of states have specific requirements affecting the use of wetlands.




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