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State Water Board Seeks Public Comment on Storm Water Industrial General Permit

2/9/2011 Articles

The State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) has published its long-awaited draft of the proposed new General Permit for Storm Water Discharges Associated with Industrial Activities (General Permit).  The current General Permit was issued in 1997 and has expired, but has remained in effect until a new General Permit is adopted.  

This draft General Permit is being issued for public comment and written comments are due to the State Water Board by noon on Monday, April 18, 2011.  In addition, the State Water Board has scheduled a public hearing in Sacramento on March 29, 2011 at 9 am to accept comments.  Companies that are subject to the current General Permit should review the proposed General Permit carefully to determine if it contains issues of concern and consider submitting written comments, as appropriate. 

The State Water Board has been working on the development of a new General Permit since 2003, but prior efforts were stymied over disputes regarding the appropriate use of numeric effluent limits for storm water discharges.  The draft General Permit proposes a "soft" approach to numeric effluent limits.  Dischargers subject to the General Permit would be required to sample storm water discharges and analyze for pH, total suspended solids, conductivity, and oil and grease.  Other analytical parameters may be required based on the discharger's SIC code.   Sample results would be compared to Numerical Action Limits (NALs).  Exceeding a NAL would require the discharger to take certain corrective actions to ensure future compliance with NALs.  Initial corrective actions involve changes to operational source controls, followed by structural changes or treatment controls if the NALs continue to be exceeded.  However, if a discharger repeatedly exceeds NALs and the corrective actions taken do not result in compliance, they may become subject to Numeric Effluent Limits (NELs).  NELs will generally be set at the same numeric level as NALs, but the local Regional Water Quality Control Board with jurisdiction over the discharger could set more stringent NELs if needed to achieve water quality goals.  Exceedance of a NEL would constitute a permit violation and could result in enforcement action and penalties, if the draft General Permit is adopted in its current form. 

Although the NAL/NEL issue will probably be the most controversial of the proposed requirements, the draft General Permit includes many other requirements that deserve close review by those who will be subject to it once approved.  Most of these are in the nature of tightening existing requirements in the current General Permit, so dischargers subject to the current General Permit will be familiar with the concepts, but will likely need to make changes to implement the draft General Permit if adopted.  The degree to which any individual discharger will be impacted will vary with the nature of their industrial activity and the particular facts of their operations and discharges.  For example, the current General Permit already requires dischargers to implement Best Management Practices (BMPs) to limit or eliminate introduction of pollutants into storm water.  The draft General Permit ratchets up this requirement by requiring a number of specific minimum BMPs to be implemented unless they are clearly inapplicable.  Some dischargers may find that they already satisfy the specific minimum BMPs in their Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plans (SWPPPs) so no changes would be necessary, while others may face extensive revisions to their programs to comply.  The draft General Permit would tighten requirements in a variety of other areas, including inspections, training, qualifications, SWPPP preparation and content, monitoring and reporting. 

Information regarding the draft General Permit can be found on the State Water Board's website at http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/water_issues/programs/stormwater/indstpermits.shtml, including a detailed fact sheet, the proposed order and the notice of public hearing. If you have questions about the draft General Permit or its implications for your operations or would like assistance in submitting comments, please contact John Epperson or Skip Spaulding or any of the other environmental attorneys at Farella Braun + Martel LLP.

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