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General Description

Whenever there is wastewater discharging from a pipe or other "point" source into a waterway (river, lake, even intermittent stream), you will be subject to the Clean Water Act's National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program. Common NPDES wastewater sources include POTWs.

Summary of Federal Requirements

A "point source" is defined as "any discernible confined and discrete conveyance including but not limited to a pipe, ditch, channel, or conduit from which pollutants are or may be discharged.

"Point source" discharges are required to have either a state NPDES or a Federal NPDES permit if located in states without an USEPA-approved NPDES permit program.

  • An individual permit is a permit specifically tailored to an individual facility. Once a facility submits the appropriate application(s), the permitting authority develops a permit for that particular facility based on the information contained in the permit application (e.g., type of activity, nature of discharge, receiving water quality).
  • A general permit is an NPDES permit that covers several facilities that have the same type of discharge and are located in a specific geographic area. A general permit applies the same or similar conditions to all dischargers covered under the general permit. Using a general permit to cover numerous facilities reduces paperwork for permitting authorities and permittees, and ensures consistency of permit conditions for similar facilities.

POTWs/FOTWs must meet all of the requirements in their permits. Samples required by the permit must be collected in accordance with proper collection, testing, preservation, and shipping procedures as outlined in Standard Methods for the Examination of Water and Wastewater an U.S. EPA approved Analytical testing lab must be used.

EPA has simplified the process for submitting the NPDES-required monthly discharge monitoring reports (DMR) with the implementation of NetDMR (http://www.epa.gov/netdmr/). These reports certify whether permit holders are in compliance with their discharge standards.

Permittees are required to take all reasonable steps to minimize or prevent any discharges, sludge use, or disposal in violation of the permit if it has a reasonable likelihood of adversely affecting human health or the environment.

Permittees must at all times properly operates and maintains all facilities and systems of treatment and control (and related appurtenances), which are installed or used by the permittee to achieve compliance with the conditions of the permit.

Permittees must retains records of all monitoring information, including all calibration and maintenance records and all original strip chart recordings for continuous monitoring instrumentation, copies of all reports required by the permit, and records of all data used to complete the application for the permit, for a period of at least 3 yr from the date of the sample, measurement, report or application.

Permittees must give notice to the Director as soon as possible of any planned physical alterations or additions to the permitted facility.

(NOTE: According to the EPA Memorandum Interpretive Statement on Application of Pesticides to Waters of the United States in Compliance with FIFRA, dated 25 January 2005, the application of a pesticide to or over, including near, waters of the United States consistent with all relevant requirements under FIFRA does not constitute the "discharge of a pollutant" that requires a NPDES permit under the CWA in the following two circumstances:

  • the application of pesticides directly to waters of the United States in order to control pests [i.e., applications to control mosquito larvae, aquatic weeds or other pests that are present in the waters of the United States]
  • the application of pesticides to control pests that are present over waters of the United States, including near such waters, that results in a portion of the pesticides being deposited to waters of the United States; for example, when insecticides are aerially applied to a forest canopy where waters of the United States may be present below the canopy or when pesticides are applied over, including near, water for control of adult mosquitoes or other pests.)
(NOTE: On January 7, 2009 the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held in National Cotton Council, et al, v. EPA, that the final rule was not a reasonable interpretation of the CWA and vacated the rule. Reversing EPA's November 2006 Aquatics Pesticides rule, the Sixth Circuit held that CWA permits are required for all biological pesticide applications and chemical pesticide applications that leave a residue in water when such applications are made in or over, including near, waters of the U.S. See text of ruling.

Summary of State Requirements

  • Septic tanks, cess pools, leach fields, compost toilets and other individual sewage systems are regulated at the state, county, or local level.

    Laws and Statutes

    Clean Water Act


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    Regulatory Sources
    40 CFR 122
    EPA Administered Permit Programs: The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System
    Related Topics
    Water Quality Trading Toolkit for Permit Writers
    An EPA "how-to" manual on designing and implementing water quality trading programs. The Toolkit helps NPDES permitting authorities incorporate trading provisions into permits.

    Clean Water Act Trends Map and Annual Noncompliance Report
    This interactive site, a part of the Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) system, provides basic information about Clean Water Act direct dischargers, such as: number of permits issued; how frequently sampling data is reviewed to determine if violations occurred; frequency of violations; and frequency of formal enforcement actions.

    Last Updated: March 28, 2011