CA-NV AWWA Board Report

State Board adopts a Statewide NPDES permit for Drinking Water Systems

By Brandyn Hancocks, Operations & Maintenance Division Chair


On November 19, 2014, the California State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) approved the California Toxics Rule Exemption and adopted the Statewide General National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit for Discharges from Drinking Water Systems.

The permit regulates both planned discharges conducted for compliance with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act and the state Health and Safety Code as well as unplanned discharges such as pipe breaks, system failures, and emergencies. The permit will take the place of existing regional water board NPDES permits. The permit is available for any community water system or water purveyor that discharges from a drinking water system. The permit requires that drinking water systems with 1,000 or more connections either enroll under the permit, or submit a “notice of non-applicability” for their system by September 2015. The State Board does plan to cross reference applications against the Division of Drinking Water permit list to ensure compliance.
The State Board’s program page for the permit is available here.

Key to compliance with this permit will be the implementation of Best Management Practices (BMPs). In early 2014, the Environmental, Health & Safety committee updated their BMP manual which is available for free from the CA-NV AWWA website. This BMP Manual, which was originally developed back in 2005, has become an industry standard and is cited as a reference in the new Statewide NPDES permit.

When the permitting process began, most utilities across the state were not in favor of a statewide permit. Most utilities preferred to continue coverage under existing Regional Water Quality Control Board Permits.  These permits varied in the level of monitoring and reporting required. Throughout the three year permit development process, State Board staff made significant efforts to engage stakeholders and address the concerns of the water industry.  State Board staff held nine stakeholder meetings statewide and met one-on-one with many other utilities and stakeholder groups to incorporate the most crucial concerns related to small systems, feasibility and cost of permit compliance. Over 90 comment letters were received. Three drafts of the permit were developed and in each revision changes were made to address many concerns. For example, the first drafts of the permit required that all discharges meet primary and secondary MCLs on an annual running average. After several utilities explained their operations and expressed concerns, compliance with MCLs was dropped in favor of a turbidity effluent limit of 10 NTU. After further written comments and stakeholder involvement, the turbidity limit was converted to a 100 NTU action level.

The benefits of the permit will vary for utilities depending on their size and location but this permit is a huge improvement for most utilities. Under the previous regional board permits, fines in excess of $100,000 for small reporting errors were not uncommon. The cost of compliance for monitoring and reporting has also been vastly improved allowing utilities to focus on implementation of BMPs and reducing the environmental impacts of their discharges.

Thank you for everyone, especially Greg Buncab, who helped me co-chair the CA NV ad hoc committee and helped to represent CA NV AWWA at SWRCB hearings. Many hours of work and effort was undertaken utilities across the state to craft a permit that balances environmental protection with necessary drinking water operations and the cost of compliance.

The State Board directed staff to coordinate with industry associations to develop and implement a plan for outreach to water systems. The ad hoc committee will continue to coordinate with the SWRCB on outreach until September of 2015. If you would like to be part of the outreach efforts, receive email updates on the permit or get the outreach workshop schedule, please email Brandy Hancocks.