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Water Quality Permits

In the United States, pollution by businesses is regulated under a permit system, which is a government-issued authorization to pollute the air or water. Permits limit the type and amount of pollution, and require industries to treat or capture as much pollution as is “reasonable.”

In Washington, pollution permits are issued under the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) and regulated by the state Department of Ecology. When permits come up for review, citizens can participate in the public process and comment on the details of the permit, calling for stronger environmental regulations where necessary.

Current Public Comment Periods

Construction Stormwater General Permit
Public comment deadline: February 10, 2017
Final permit goes into effect: May 5, 2016

Construction site operators are required to be covered by this permit if they are engaged in clearing, grading, and excavating activities that disturb 1+ acres and discharge stormwater to surface waters of the state. (Smaller sites may also require coverage.) The current permit was appealed and a settlement agreement was reached for a minor permit modification, and comments for modified permit sections are now being accepted.

Quick links: Proposed Permit Changes and Public Comment Instructions, Current Construction Stormwater General Permit, Sign up for emails about the permit

There are currently no additional comment periods on pollution permits. Please check back frequently as this information will change. 

Recent Public Comment Periods

Public comment deadline: January 25, 2017
Final permit expected: TBA

Environmental investigations from 1990-2007 documented diesel and oil releases with compounds that exceed standards of the Model Toxics Control Act, posing a threat to human health and environment. In 2012, Ecology required the Port to repair a failing section of bulkhead, conduct an environmental investigation, and prepare a draft cleanup plan.

Bridge and Ferry Terminal Washing General Permit
Public comment deadline: December 2nd, 2016
Final permit expected: Winter 2017

Due in part to the 2013 collapse of the Skagit River Bridge, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and local governments are developing a robust schedule to inspect and repair bridges statewide. Bridges must be washed prior to inspection in order for cracks and other problems to be detected. This permit will also cover ferry terminal maintenance activities. Quick links: Fact Sheet and Draft Permit

Shell Puget Sound Refinery water quality permit
Public comment deadline: September 19th, 2016
Final permit issued November 2016: Read the final permit and fact sheet

Proposed changes to the water quality permit for the Shell Puget Sound Refinery near Anacortes include: Lowering limits for refinery discharges, including oil, grease, and ammonia; removing construction stormwater requirements; and adding a sediment impact study. (Read the North Sound Baykeeper comment letter submitted to Ecology.)

Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) permit
Public comment deadline: August 31st, 2016 
Final permit issued January 2017: Read the final permit

More than 4,500 Washington residents submitted comments to Ecology on the draft CAFO permit, calling for: Mandatory groundwater monitoring; science-based manure application requirements and restrictions; science-based riparian buffers for streams; implementation of best technology; and adequate agency funding.

On Feb. 17, 2017, a coalition of environmental groups filed an appeal with the Washington state Pollution Control Hearings Board (PCHB) challenging the Department of Ecology’s waste discharge permits for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Read more in our Clean Water Blog.

Types of Permits 

Ecology issues permits under several categories: Industrial, Construction, Municipal, and Transportation.

Industrial Stormwater General Permit

The ISGP permit covers various industries that have the potential to pollute, as indicated by their industrial code. The ISGP requires businesses to develop a stormwater pollution prevention plan, implement Best Management Practices (BMPs) to control stormwater, sample for pollutants on a quarterly basis, and report the findings to Ecology.

Construction Stormwater General Permit

The CSGP permit covers construction activities that disturb 1 acre or more. The CSGP requires the contractor to implement BMPs at the construction site, sample any discharge on a weekly basis, and report the findings to Ecology. The CSGP also requires that BMPs be part of permitted construction sites. Learn more about construction site BMPs, including effective means to control stormwater on construction sites.

Municipal Stormwater General Permit

The MSGP permit covers municipal activities in urbanized areas under Phase 1 permits (population greater than 100,000) or Phase 2 permits (population less than 10,000). Both Whatcom and Skagit Ccounties are regulated under Phase 2 permits, as are Anacortes, Bellingham, Burlington, Ferndale, Mount Vernon, and Sedro-Woolley.

The Phase 2 MSGP requires municipalities to provide public education and outreach, provide opportunities for public involvement, detect and eliminate illicit discharges, implement the CSGP, control stormwater and use BMPs for municipal operations, manage stormwater from newly constructed and redeveloped sites, and monitor stormwater.

Washington State Department of Transportation Municipal Stormwater Permit

The WSDOT permit covers highway systems within the same urbanized areas covered under the MSGP.