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WaterOperator.org Blog

Articles in support of small community water and wastewater operators.

Increasing Attention to Significant Noncompliance Dischargers

Increasing Attention to Significant Noncompliance Dischargers

WaterOperator.org would like to thank EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance for helping develop this blog post as part of its outreach to permittees about the Clean Water Act National Compliance Initiative.

National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit compliance protects public health and the environment from the release of harmful contaminants. During FY 2018 approximately 20% of the nation's 46,000 permit holders were in significant non-compliance (SNC) violations. SNCs are designated as serious violations warranting enforcement response if not promptly resolved. These violations ranged from significant exceedances in effluent limits to reporting failures. To better defend environmental and public health, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has initiated a National Compliance Initiative (NCI) for NPDES permits and, in September, released a Compliance Advisory.

The NCI uses a full range of compliance assurance tools to reduce NPDES permittees non-compliance. By FY 2022 the NCI aims to reduce SNC rates by half. Small systems, this includes you too! This NCI will target facilities of all sizes equally. More attention will be directed toward facilities approaching or already in SNC. Facilities failing to comply can be subject to increased monitoring, inspections, enforcement actions, and other compliance activities. The NCI notes that permittees that voluntarily disclose and correct violations may be eligible for a reduction or elimination of penalties.

While this initiative might feel intimidating, the NCI offers resources to those taking immediate compliance efforts. The EPA recommends permittees first assess compliance by reviewing discharge monitoring reports (DMRs) and the Enforcement & Compliance History Online (ECHO) tool. If your facility does require assistance, reach out to your NPDES permitting authority for assistance. Other organizations like Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) and National Rural Water Association (NRWA) may also be able to provide assistance. Each state implements their own NPDES programs with the exception of New Mexico, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and areas within Indian Country which are managed federally.

Small system SNCs can originate from a variety of causes. Failure to monitor, analyze, and report wastewater samples according to your NPDES permit can lead to a violation. Alternatively, incomplete or inaccurate compliance data transferred from state systems to the EPA’s Integrated Compliance Information System (ICIS) system can result in inaccurate identification of SNC permittees. Checking your compliance status in ECHO can prevent these complications. In addition to monitoring and reporting violations, unplanned discharges such as from a sanitary sewer overflow can also result in SNC. When wastewater effluent exceeds NPDES pollutant levels, utilities will also fall out of compliance. These exceedances typically arise as a result of operational, design, or administrative issues. We recommend the following resources to help improve your NPDES compliance:

Activated Sludge Process Control and Troubleshooting Methodology
Resolve 95% of your activated sludge process control issues using this Ohio EPA manual.

EPA’s ECHO Electronic Tool
The ECHO Detailed Facility Report tool helps facilities monitor compliance and verify the cause of SNC. Learn how to use the tool through the “Intro to ECHO Webinar” and other materials on this webpage.

EPA Webinars: Technical Assistance for Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTWs)
The EPA hosts free webinars once a month offering technical assistance to POTWs. Find these webinars on our national training calendar or at the link above.

Managing Small Domestic Wastewater Systems
This TCEQ guide helps utilities develop plans to maintain or achieve compliance. The guide includes compliance checklists and planning worksheets. For additional assistance, TCEQ has developed and referenced resources for troubleshooting anything from bacteria control to process control.

Why Is My Lagoon Not Meeting Effluent Limits?
This article from the November 2016 issue of The Kansas Lifeline summarizes how to troubleshoot lagoon effluent compliance issues.

To find solutions to more specific compliance challenges, check out the WaterOperator.org resource library and small systems blog posts.