Articles Posted in Water Quality

Earlier this month, the United States EPA proposed a rule (“Proposed Rule”) that would update and revise National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) regulations. Rather than epa-logoreopening the existing NPDES regulations for comprehensive revision, the Proposed Rule would make “specific targeted changes to the existing regulations” that align the regulations with statutory requirements and incorporate case law decisions.  Essentially the update would “modernize” the NPDES regulations.

The Proposed Rule covers 15 topics. These pertain to permit applications; the water quality-based permitting process; permit objections, documentation and process efficiencies; the “vessels exclusion” (which authorizes certain discharges incidental to the normal operation of commercial vehicles); and the Clean Water Act (CWA) section 401 certification process.

For a complete summary of the Proposed Rule, please click here.  Comments on the Proposed Rule will be accepted through July 18, 2016 and may be submitted here.

After years of drought, the El Niño storms have been bringing much-needed rain and snow to California–albeit in quantities significantly less than we hoped for thus far.  In addition to the anticipated snow packs, flowing rivers, and replenished reservoirs, the California landscape has been marked by the return of ephemeral vernal pools, which may appear as seemingly insignificant ponds or puddles.

However, under the Clean Water Rule (“CW Rule”) which was promulgated mid-last year, and which defines which waters are “jurisdictional”—meaning, protected as “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act (“CWA”)—the reach of federal jurisdiction may include those seemingly insignificant ponds or puddles.

If such a pond or puddle is deemed a “vernal pool” that is covered by the CWA, then the pond or puddle is subject to a myriad of CWA regulatory requirements, including the federal prohibition on discharges of pollutants except in compliance with the CWA (§ 301), the requirement to obtain a permit prior to discharge (§§ 402, 404), water quality standards (§ 303), oil spill liability and oil spill prevention and control measures (§ 311), certification of compliance with State water quality standards (§ 401), and enforcement (§ 309).

     Earlier this month, the California State Water Quality Control Board (“State Water Board”) approved a General Order for Waste Discharge Requirements (“WDRs”) for composting operations, which will streamline and standardize permitting processes and regulate water quality at new and existing composting facilities.  While the General Order was approved with very little fanfare or media coverage, its implications are significant.

General Order Coverage

    The General Order, which applies to State composting facilities that process at least 500 cubic yards of material per year, will impose a regulatory scheme on a large number of the organics facilities already operating in the State.  Moreover, the General Order’s facility coverage is likely to expand in the coming years, given the recent passage of California Assembly Bill 341 (“A.B. 341”) (2011), which encourages the addition and expansion of State composting facilities by establishing a State policy goal that at least 75 percent of the solid waste generated in the State be source-reduced, recycled, or composted by 2020.

As an update to a previous write-up on the deadline for compliance with the new California Industrial General Permit for Stormwater (General Permit), the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) has continued the deadline for registration and compliance from July 1, 2015 to August 14, 2015.

In a notice circulated on the original deadline for compliance, July 1, 2015, the State Water Board acknowledged that its web-based database for stormwater compliance (SMARTS) was experiencing technical issues which were limiting registration access.

As a result, the State Water Board extended the deadline for registration from July 1, 2015 to August 14, 2015.  This extended deadline should enable those industrial facilitiesdirty-pipe-water-300x199 that were either unaware of the July 1, 2015 deadline or those struggling to meet that deadline to timely register.

On July 1, 2015, the new California Industrial General Permit for Stormwater (General Permit) will take effect and along with it come a host of new compliance obligations. Chief among those obligations is the completion and submission of a notice of intent (NOI) to be bound by the new General Permit. The last time industrial facilities were obliged to submit an NOI was when the soon-to-be-expired General Permit was updated back in 1997.  Much has changed in the world of industrial stormwater compliance since then.

For those less familiar with the General Permit, it applies in California to the tens of thousands of industrial facilities throughout the state and serves to regulate stormwater emanating from those facilities. The application of the General Permit to any given facility is based on that facility’s Standard Industry Classification (SIC) code. The SIC code for a given facility is determined based on the primary industrial activity at the facility.

The first step in complying with the new General Permit is to determine if an industrial facility is subject to it.  For those industrial facilities that already have their own individualized permit for stormwater, the General Permit’s compliance obligations are inapplicable. And for those industrial facilities that are already operating under the soon-to-be-expired General Permit, the new General Permit’s compliance obligations may be inapplicable.  Oftentimes, industrial facilities will just re-notice their intent to be bound by a new permit without evaluating whether their facility should be subject to a permit. This common practice should be avoided, if possible, to ensure that a facility is not expending time and money to comply with a permit that is inapplicable. Finally, for those industrial facilities that are not already operating under the General Permit, it’s time to evaluate whether the General Permit applies.

WaterfallOn May 2, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers formally proposed new guidelines for determining which waters and wetlands are “waters of the United States” and are, therefore, protected under the Clean Water Act (CWA).

According to the notice, jointly published in the Federal Register, the new guidelines will provide clarity and predictability regarding the scope of the “waters of the United States.” The agencies saw this as needed since the waters have become somewhat murky (terrible pun, I know…) after the Supreme Court’s decisions in Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (SWANCC) in 2001 and Rapanos v. United States in 2006.

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CongressOn Tuesday, the House of Representatives passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio) known as the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2011 (or H.R. 872). The bill would amend the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Clean Water Act (CWA) such that CWA permits, known as National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits (or NPDES permits), would not be required when a pesticide is applied to or near a navigable waterway in accordance with its FIFRA label.

Essentially, the bill takes pesticides out of the definition of pollutant such that these permits are not mandated.
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New Construction Water Quality Regulations Impose Tough Numeric Limits And Internet Reporting Requirements

The State Water Resources Control Board (“State Water Board”) recently adopted toughened standards for water flows generated by construction sites under a new statewide storm water construction general permit, Water at Construction Siteeffective July 1, 2010. The new permit (the “2010 Permit”) replaces the storm water construction general permit in place since 1999 (the “1999 Permit”) and imposes heightened requirements for managing water during construction. The 2010 Permit applies to construction sites of at least one acre and smaller sites that are part of a common development plan.

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Hydraulic FracturingAs part of a broad investigation into the practice of pressurized injection of water, sand, and chemicals to extract natural gas from shale, known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held several public hearings this week in Binghamton, New York. Hydraulic fracturing operates by the pressure of the injected materials exceeding the rock strength and the fluid then opening or enlarging fractures in the rock. As the formation is fractured, a “propping agent,” such as sand or ceramic beads, is pumped into the fractures to keep them from closing as the pumping pressure is released.

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On August 25, 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed the nation’s largest coastal “No Discharge Zone,” covering California’s entire 1,624 miles of coastline. Pursuant to the federal Clean Water Act, states may request EPA to establish vessel no-discharge zones to protect and restore water quality. Non-sewage discharge from vessels is regulated under state law. Acting pursuant to California’s Clean Coast Act of 2005, the State Water Resources Control Board requested EPA to adopt the protective zone.
San Francisco Cruise Ship

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