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Marine and Ocean Discharges

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Under the Clean Water Act, any discharge of a pollutant from a point source to the navigable waters of the United States must obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. The permit requires compliance with technology- and water-quality-based treatment standards.

An NPDES permit allows a facility to discharge a specified amount of a pollutant into a receiving water body under certain conditions. Under NPDES permitting, two sections deal specifically with discharges to marine and ocean waters: Section 301(h) and 403.

Under 403, any discharge to the territorial seas or beyond must comply with Ocean Discharge Criteria, including guidelines for determining degradation of waters.

Section 301(h) allows waivers from secondary treatment requirements in some cases for Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTW´s) that discharge to marine waters. Under 301(h), POTW's with waivers from secondary treatment must demonstrate their discharge does not adversely effect the marine environment.


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