Permits for Discharge
Water pollution makes our waters unsafe for drinking, fishing, swimming and other activities. Before the Clean Water Act, discharge of water into our lakes, streams, lagoons and beaches was largely unregulated. Now, the Clean Water Act controls pollution by regulating point sources (pipes, ditches) through the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit program. California also regulates water pollution through the issuance of waste discharge requirements by the Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Board).
Permits can be individual – a specific facility and its specific discharge, or general – such as facilities that discharge the same types of wastewater. The permits set limits on what may be discharged and where. A power plant may be limited on how much it can raise the temperature of its discharge (heat is a pollutant); a shipyard may have to submit monitoring reports to gauge how much copper it discharges into the bay.
Coastkeeper reviews these permits to ensure that they contain adequate precautions to prevent degradation of our waters. The language can be numeric – so many milligrams of mercury per day, or narrative – no toxic substances in toxic amounts. Sometimes we work directly with dischargers to achieve strong requirements; often we submit our comments to the Regional Board directly. The board members review all the comments on a permit, take testimony from all sides and decide on the permit. The board members can approve the permit, approve it with modifications or deny it.
After approval of a permit, Coastkeeper reviews monitoring reports to ensure the facility meets its requirements. If we see violations, we can bring litigation to correct the problems. Every five years, the permit must be renewed, which gives another opportunity to evaluate the requirements and advocate for further protections or modifications.