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January 18, 2016
Out with paper, in with NPDES e-reporting
By Emily Remmel, JD, Legal Editor

The New Year is customarily a symbol of a clean slate and new beginnings. This year, this notion rings especially true for all Clean Water Act National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitholders. 2016 marks the year the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has eliminated paper-based reporting for all NPDES permittees. In proverbial terms, out with the old handwritten documentation and in with the new digital reporting system.

In October 2015, the EPA finalized the NPDES Electronic Reporting Rule, which became effective on December 21, 2015. The final rule shakes up the status quo of outdated paper-based reporting and propels the EPA into the 21st century trend of electronic reporting (e-reporting). The EPA asserts the new rule will save time and valuable resources while increasing data accuracy, improving compliance, and better protection of the nation’s waters.

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What this rule involves

The new rule means that all NPDES-regulated entities will have to electronically submit Discharge Monitoring Reports (DMRs) by December 21, 2016. Also, Sewage Sludge/Biosolids Annual Program Reports must be transmitted electronically to the EPA for all NPDES-regulated entities where the EPA is the authorized NPDES biosolids program (currently 42 states and all tribal lands and U.S. territories).

These requirements represent Phase I of the NPDES e-reporting rule. The rule only changes the format in which the data are submitted. It does not require any new information to be reported.

Where NPDES permittees should begin

To comply with the new rule, NPDES permitholders must submit DMRs to the regulatory agency’s designated website. Some states have their own e-reporting websites already in place, whereas other states have been authorized to use EPA’s NetDMR site. NPDES permittees should identify the proper site to submit their respective DMRs.

When NPDES permittees should get started

NPDES permittees should get started with setting up an account sooner rather than later. Currently, 18 states have been authorized by the EPA to use the NetDMR service. However, some states have launched their own state-based website to input or upload DMRs. Check with your state agency as to where to appropriately report.

Usually, setting up an account either through a state website or EPA’s NetDMR requires quite a few steps, including finalizing your account and identifying a person with an approved signatory role. You will also want to consider who will be the permit administrator and pinpoint users who can view as well as edit information.

Most online reporting programs will allow you to directly enter data or import files before signing and certifying. Often, the person or laboratory entering data will have the edit role for your account. Of course, the person who edits the DMR data can also occupy the signatory role.

The EPA recommends that NPDES permittees do not wait until the last minute to sign and submit their DMRs.

What NPDES permittees should expect

Once your operation has submitted the required Phase I DMRs, the EPA and authorized state NPDES programs will begin sharing the data with one another. Through sharing data, the EPA and state agencies will have greater clarity regarding who is or is not in compliance. Furthermore, according to the rule’s preamble, e-reporting will speed up data collection, ensure data are complete and more accurate, and will allow the EPA and states to “target the most serious water quality problems and compliance issues.”

Phase II of the NPDES e-reporting rule will be rolled out over the next 5 years. In Phase II, NPDES permitted entities will be required to submit Notice of Intent (NOI), Notice of Termination (NOT), No Exposure Certification (NOE), Low Erosivity Waivers (LEWs), and other program reports such as CAFO Annual Reports and Pretreatment Program Annual Reports.

Kick off the New Year right by getting a head start on your facility’s NPDES reporting. Permittees who wait until December 21, 2016, to submit DMRs may face system glitches or site failures from last-minute uploads. The failure to create an electronic account with your authorized regulatory agency or failure to submit your DMRs could land your operation in some very serious compliance trouble.

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