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Water: Basics

NPDES Permitting for Environmental Results

The Permitting for Environmental Results (PER) initiative was a multi-year effort by EPA and the states to improve the overall integrity and performance of the NPDES program. Since most states are authorized  to implement the NPDES program, the PER initiative was based on a strong partnership between the states and EPA. EPA worked closely with the Association of Clean Water Administrators (ACWA) Exit EPA Site to develop and implement elements of the PER strategy and to coordinate between state NPDES programs and EPA.

The PER Strategy (PDF) (12 pp, 2.3MB, About PDF) (8/15/2003) describes three major areas of emphasis that will be addressed over the coming years:

  • Integrity - Ensuring that NPDES programs have tools and information they need to issue effective permits
  • Program Efficiencies - Providing tools and sharing information to streamline the permitting process
  • Environmental Results - Identifying environmentally significant permits, prioritizing and reissuing them to improve water quality

Integrity

Integrity served as the cornerstone of the PER effort and the first major area of focus in implementing the PER strategy. EPA and the states worked through a detailed process to carefully assess each state NPDES program (or EPA regional office program for unauthorized states). This baseline assessment was designed to gauge the effectiveness of each program and to identify strengths and opportunities for improvement. Out of this process emerged the Permit Quality Review (PQR) process.

Program Efficiencies

State governments continue to face unprecedented budget problems. These fiscal constraints affect a wide variety of state programs, including NPDES permitting programs. Finding efficiencies in reviewing, writing, and reissuing permits has become an essential element in maintaining the health and integrity of these programs. The states and EPA have been working on a number of fronts to identify and share ideas that can save valuable staff time and effort.            

Electronic Tools 
EPA developed a variety of electronic tools to create efficiencies in permit application and issuance.

  • eNOI - EPA has created the Electronic Notice of Intent (eNOI) for construction sites, industrial facilities, vessel operators, and pesticide users to apply for coverage under EPA's Construction General Permit (CGP), Multi-Sector General Permit (MSGP), Vessel General Permit (VGP), and Pesticide General Permit (PGP). The eNOI system is a free online service.  Electronic permit application systems can save vast amounts of state staff time and effort in processing paper applications. These systems also save valuable time and effort for the regulated community.
  • Discharge Mapping Tool - The new Discharge Mapping Tool is designed to help determine the receiving waters to which a facility discharges, and to determine whether these waterbodies are considered "impaired" under Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act. The Discharge Mapping Tool uses the National Hydrologic Dataset Plus (NHDPlus) catchment datalayer and NHD waters indexed with Section 303(d) listing and TMDL information for analyzing whether a project is located with the catchment of an impaired water, and therefore discharges to that impaired water. 
Watershed-Based NPDES Permitting Guidance

Adapting the NPDES permitting process to better meet the needs of watersheds can, in the long-run, save time and effort and improve water quality. EPA is working closely with states and communities to test watershed approaches to NPDES permitting. A number of resources on this topic are available:


Environmental Results

Every NPDES permit must be reissued every five years. This process allows each NPDES program to reassess the permit and the impact of the discharge on the river, lake, or coastal water. As we moved toward a watershed approach not only for NPDES permits, but for the Clean Water Act programs as a whole,  we focused increased attention on those permits that can be reissued with new and strengthened limits that could lead to significant improvements in impaired or threatened waters. EPA and the states continue to explore ways to use environmental data and permit characteristics to identify the most environmentally significant permits.

Permit Prioritization

Each NPDES program started working to identify priority permits for reissuance using a framework developed by EPA in 2004. The priority permit selection and commitment rules have changed over time in an attempt to better focus on the most environmentally significant permits. Currently, all individual permits expired greater than two years are considered candidates to be selected as priority for reissuance in the upcoming fiscal year. Permits are selected as priority for meeting one or more of several factors, such as discharge to an impaired water body, new ELGs related to the facility's discharge, and endangered species issues, For more information, please consult the High Priority Performance Measures page.


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