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NPDES Wastewater Permits

The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program regulates wastewater discharges to surface waters, like San Francisco Bay, pursuant to the federal Clean Water Act and California’s Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act. Wastewater is water that contains waste from residential, commercial, and industrial processes. Municipal wastewater contains sewage, gray water (e.g., water from sinks and showers), and sometimes industrial wastewater from small industries. Large industries, such as refineries, also generate wastewater and discharge separately from municipal wastewater. Some wastewater discharges are exempt from federal NPDES requirements, but California law may still apply. For example, under California law, we require waste discharge requirements (WDRs) for discharges to land that could potentially affect groundwater. Therefore, we issue WDRs for wastewater recycled for reuse and wastewater discharged to land, including on-site treatment systems.

NPDES permits contain specific requirements that limit the pollutants in discharges and require monitoring to ensure that the discharges meet those requirements. Wastewater dischargers must maintain their treatment facilities, and treatment plant operators must be certified. We routinely inspect treatment facilities and enforce permit requirements. Many wastewater discharges are permitted individually. However, similar discharges that are of less threat to water quality are permitted through general permits. The Regional Water Board adopts permits at public hearings after consideration of public comments.

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Applying for an individual NPDES wastewater permit

If a discharge cannot be covered by a general NPDES permit, you must apply for an individual permit. To apply for an individual NPDES wastewater permit, you must complete State Application Form 200 and Federal Application Forms 1 and 2 and pay the correct fee. Applications and application fees should be mailed to:

    Regional Water Quality Control Board, San Francisco Bay Region
    Attn: NPDES Wastewater
    1515 Clay Street, Suite 1400
    Oakland, CA 94612

Seeking coverage under a general NPDES permit

Several general NPDES permit already exist to cover the following discharge categories:

  • Aggregate mining, sand washing, and sand offloading
  • VOC and fuel cleanup
  • Treated brackish and treated structural dewatering groundwater
  • Filter backwash from drinking water filter facilities
  • Dry docks
  • These general permits specify the discharge types that qualify for coverage and explain how to obtain such coverage. To obtain coverage under one of the general permits, you must submit a notice of intent and pay the correct fee as described in that general permit. You need not apply for a new permit.

    Permit Reissuance Schedule

    NPDES permits must be reissued every five years. The Regional Water Board reissues permits at public hearings, or board meetings after consideration of public comments on tentative orders. Board meeting agendas are found here and adopted orders are found here. The reissuance schedule is updated regularly.

    Watershed Permits

    While many dischargers hold individual permits, there are also region-wide watershed permits for municipal and industrial wastewater discharges of mercury, PCBs, and nutrients to San Francisco Bay.

    Standard Permit Attachments

    NPDES permits contain requirements that include Federal Standard Provisions based on 40 C.F.R. sections 122.41 and 122.42 and Regional Standard Provisions:

  • Regional Standard Provisions, and Monitoring and Reporting Requirements (Supplement to Attachment D) for NPDES Wastewater Discharge Permits (November 2017)
    Some NPDES permits also contain stormwater provisions and related monitoring and reporting requirements based on the General Permit for Stormwater Discharges Associated with Industrial Activities (NPDES No. CAS000001):
  • Stormwater Provisions, Monitoring, and Reporting Requirements (November 2017)

    How can I get more information?

    For more information, contact Robert Schlipf at robert.schlipf@waterboards.ca.gov or at (510) 622-2478.

  • What is pretreatment?

    Pretreatment is the practice of removing pollutants from industrial wastewaters before they are discharged into municipal sewage treatment systems. Industrial wastewater is often contaminated by a variety of harmful substances such as copper, lead, nickel, and other heavy metals. Because sewage collection systems and treatment plants are not designed to remove these substances, industrial wastes can damage sewers and interfere with the operation of treatment plants; pass through the systems untreated, resulting in pollution of nearby waters; and increase the costs and environmental risks of sludge management.

    The General Pretreatment Regulations from 40 C.F.R. section 403.1 et seq. establish the responsibilities of government agencies, industries, and the public to implement pretreatment standards to control industrial pollutants that may pass through or interfere with municipal wastewater treatment plants (also known as publicly owned treatment works or "POTWs"), or contaminate sewage sludge.

    In 1978, U.S. EPA promulgated extensive regulations that required many POTWs to develop and implement local pretreatment programs. U.S. EPA delegated the responsibility to oversee these pretreatment programs to the State Water Board and Regional Water Boards in 1989. As a result, the State and Regional Water Boards are responsible for the review and approval of new and modified POTW pretreatment programs.

    Who is required to have a pretreatment program?

    POTWs are required to have pretreatment programs when their total design flows are greater than five million gallons per day (5 MGD) and they receive industrial pollutants that could pass through or interfere with POTW operations. POTWs with smaller flows (5 MGD or less) may also be required to implement a pretreatment program if they receive industrial waste and pretreatment is warranted.

    How does the Regional Water Board oversee pretreatment compliance?

    The Regional Water Board's pretreatment program includes pretreatment compliance audits and inspections, annual and semiannual report reviews, program modifications, and enforcement activities. In the San Francisco Bay Region, there are about 25 local pretreatment programs. The NPDES permits for these POTWs spell out the pretreatment program monitoring and reporting requirements. Pretreatment compliance inspections also verify the compliance status of POTWs, focusing on the POTW's compliance monitoring and enforcement activities.

    Pollution prevention

    Pollution prevention is reducing or eliminating waste at its source by modifying production processes, promoting use of non-toxic or less-toxic substances, implementing conservation techniques, and re-using materials rather than putting them into a waste stream. Pollution prevention emphasizes pollutant source reduction "upstream" of treatment plants and focuses on residential and commercial sources.

    The Regional Water Board first required certain wastewater dischargers to implement pollution prevention in 1988 and have since expanded this requirement to most municipal and industrial dischargers in the region. In 1990, we collaborated with wastewater dischargers in the region to form the Bay Area Pollution Prevention Group. Together, we develop and implement pollution prevention strategies and exchange information to coordinate pollution prevention efforts. The group includes representatives from about 40 wastewater treatment plants that make region-wide projects possible.

    The Regional Water Board specifically defined pollution prevention in Resolution R2-2003-0096 to include any action that causes a net reduction in the use or generation of a hazardous substance or other pollutant discharged into water. Pollution prevention does not include actions that merely shift a wastewater pollutant from one environmental medium to another without a clear environmental benefit. Additionally, pollution prevention is not end-of-pipe treatment, off-site recycling, incineration, or disposal.

    In 2007, we established the Dr. Teng-Chung Wu Pollution Prevention Award in memory of Dr. Teng-Chung Wu. The award recognizes excellence in pollution prevention and marks Dr. Wu's steadfast dedication to pollution prevention, water quality, and public outreach during his 35 years of Regional Water Board service. Dr. Wu introduced our regional approach by spearheading collaboration among Bay Area dischargers.

    How can I get more information?

    For more information, contact Debbie Phan at debbie.phan@waterboards.ca.gov or (510) 622-2116.

    Additional Resources:

  • Baywise
  • California Product Stewardship Council
  • California Department of Toxic Substances Control
  • What are sanitary sewer overflows?

    Sanitary sewer systems (also called collection systems) collect sewage and other wastewater and transport it to a treatment and disposal facility. A sanitary sewer overflow (SSO) is a spill, release, or discharge of wastewater from a sanitary sewer system upstream of a wastewater treatment facility. SSOs generally occur due to root, debris, wipes, and "fats, oil, and grease (or FOG)" blockages in sewer pipelines. SSOs can also occur as a result of pipeline breaks, excessive stormwater inflow or groundwater infiltration, insufficient sewer system capacity, equipment failures, and vandalism.

    SSOs contain untreated wastewater that includes high levels of organic wastes, pathogenic organisms, toxic pollutants, nutrients, and FOG. Once an SSO occurs, it is difficult to contain and recover much of the spilled wastewater or directly mitigate for the spill. Thus, SSOs can pollute surface water and groundwater, threaten public health, adversely affect aquatic life, and impair the recreational use and aesthetic enjoyment of surface waters. SSOs can also inundate properties and result in the closure of beaches and other recreational areas.

    What is required of sewage collection agencies?

    In 2006, the State Water Board adopted requirements for all public agencies that own or operate a sewer system greater than one mile in California. The State Water Board Order No. 2006-0003-DWQ, as amended by Order No. WQ 2013-0058-EXEC, or Sanitary Sewer Order, prohibits any SSO that results in a discharge to waters of the United States or creates a nuisance. The Sanitary Sewer Order requires a public agency that owns or operates a sewer system to

    1. develop and implement a sewer system management plan (SSMP)
    2. report SSOs to the State Water Board’s online SSO database
    3. notify the California Office of Emergency Services within two hours of becoming aware of any SSO greater than or equal to 1,000 gallons discharged to surface water or spilled in a location where it probably will be discharged to surface water, and
    4. conduct an SSMP internal audit, at a minimum every two years, and prepare an audit report to be kept on file. In addition, the Sanitary Sewer Order requires sewer system agencies to conduct water quality monitoring and submit a technical report for any SSO in which 50,000 gallons or greater is spilled to surface waters.

    What sanitary sewage overflows have been reported?

    The public may access electronic SSO reports submitted on or after May 2, 2007, through the State Water Board's Interactive SSO Report.

    How can I get more information?

    For more information, contact Michael Chee at michael.chee@waterboards.ca.gov or (510) 622-2333.

    Additional Resources:

    • Impaired Waterbody and Total Maximum Daily Load Map Tool
      • Impaired Waterbody Map Features:
        • This map tool allows a user to locate Hydrologic Unit Code 10 (HUC-10) watersheds and impaired waterbodies with applicable requirements from Appendix 3 of the Industrial General Permit.
      • Total Maximum Daily Load Map Features:
        • This map tool allows a user to find Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) waterbody(ies) or watersheds that will have implementation requirements through the Industrial General Permit effective July 1, 2020.

      • DISCLAIMER: The map tool is for information only and there is no explicit or implied assurance of the accuracy for the information provided. The map tool will help Dischargers determine potentially applicable TMDL requirements based upon facility location, but it is ultimately the responsibility of the Discharger to identify applicable TMDL requirements by identifying the facility’s: 1) receiving waterbody(ies), 2) the pollutants discharged, and 3) applicable requirements in Attachment E of the Industrial General Permit.