Frequently Asked QuestionsUpdated January 10, 2013

Questions

What is the Alaska Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (APDES) Program?

The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Program originated under Section 402 of the Clean Water Act (CWA), which requires that pollutant discharges to surface water be authorized by permit. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administered the program in Alaska until permitting authority was transferred to the State, through the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) APDES Program, beginning in 2008. The phased transfer was completed in October 2012.

The APDES Program has five components:

  • APDES Permitting, which includes developing, issuing, modifying, and renewing the permits.
  • Storm Water Program, which consists of permitting storm water discharges from construction and industrial activities, as well as permitting the storm water collected and discharged by large municipal water systems.
  • Compliance and Enforcement, which includes monitoring compliance with permit terms and conditions and taking enforcement action when necessary.
  • Federal Facilities, which involves permitting of discharges from federally-owned facilities, such as Department of Defense installations.
  • Pretreatment Program, which consists of regulating highly toxic discharges into sewerage systems.
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What is an APDES Permit?

The Clean Water Act prohibits the discharge of pollutants from a point source into a water of the United States unless the discharging facility has a wastewater discharge permit. The permit limits the types and amounts of substances that can be discharged and sets monitoring and reporting requirements and other provisions to ensure that the discharge does not harm water quality or human health.

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What is a pollutant?

A pollutant may be any kind of industrial, municipal, or agricultural waste discharged into water. Pollutants include sewage, solid waste, chemical wastes, biological materials, seafood processing wastes, dredged soil, mining wastes, rock, sand, dirt, munitions, heat, garbage, discarded equipment, and runoff from construction or agricultural sites.

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What types of facilities are required to have APDES permits?

An APDES permit is required whenever there is a discharge of pollutants to surface water, including the ocean, lakes, rivers, and streams. Facilities permitted under the APDES Program include domestic wastewater treatment plants, log storage and transfer facilities, seafood processors, fish hatcheries, mines, and oil and gas facilities. APDES permits are also required for storm water, cooling water intakes and discharges, munitions, and pretreatment of industrial wastes discharged to municipal wastewater systems.

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Does DEC perform permitting and compliance and enforcement for all wastewater discharges in Alaska?

No. DEC has the authority to regulate domestic, industrial, oil and gas facilities, seafood, storm water, mining-related, and other discharges of pollutants into surface waters of the United States that are within Alaska or which occur in its territorial seas (within three miles of shore). EPA regulates discharges from some facilities within Alaska, including those located in Denali National Park and Preserve and in Indian Country, and retains oversight responsibility for DEC regulated discharges.

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Which wastewater pollutant discharges will continue to be authorized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)?

EPA retains permitting and enforcement authority of some facilities in Alaska. These include federal facilities located in Denali National Park and Preserve, facilities located in Indian Country, facilities operating outside state waters (three miles from shore), and facilities issued Clean Water Act 301(h) waivers from secondary treatment standards. EPA has oversight of the Biosolids Management Program, which regulates the disposal of sewage treatment byproducts or "sludge." Oversight authority for these facilities and programs will not be transferred to DEC.

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What is a General Permit?

APDES permits establish conditions and limits for the discharge of pollutants from domestic and industrial sources in Alaska. A general permit regulates discharges from more than one facility with similar wastewater characteristics in a defined geographical area (which can be statewide). An operator of a facility that meets the eligibility requirements of the general permit will be authorized to discharge waste after filing a Notice of Intent (NOI) with DEC, so long as all conditions of the permit are met.

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What is an Individual Permit?

An individual permit is issued to a single facility and its terms, limits, and conditions are specifically tailored to the unique aspects of that facility and the receiving water body.

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How long may a facility operate under an APDES permit before it must be renewed?

An APDES permit is effective for no more than five years. The permittee has the responsibility to apply for reissuance of a permit or authorization 180 days prior to the expiration date of the permit. In some cases, DEC may administratively extend a permit beyond five years. If a permit is administratively extended, the permittee is required to continue to follow the permit conditions until the new permit has been issued and to continue to pay annual permit fees.

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How do APDES permits protect water?

APDES permits set the limits and conditions under which wastewater discharges are allowed and provide for monitoring and compliance and enforcement of permits to make sure that permit limits are being met and that water quality is protected.

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What types of water bodies are protected under the APDES Program?

The APDES Program regulates the discharge of pollutants into marine and fresh (rivers, lakes, and streams) surface waters within state boundaries.

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What is a point source?

A point source is any discernible, confined, and discrete conveyance, such as a pipe, ditch, channel, tunnel, conduit, discrete fissure, or container. It also includes vessels or other floating craft from which pollutants are or may be discharged. The term also includes concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), which are places where animals are confined and fed.

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Is it legal to have wastewater coming out of a pipe into my local receiving water?

Yes - as long as the wastewater being discharged is covered by and in compliance with an APDES permit, there are enough controls in place to make sure the discharge is safe, and that humans and aquatic life are being protected.

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How can I find out if a facility has a permit for a wastewater discharge?

DEC's Water Permit Search webpage allows you to find information about permits, authorizations, and certifications by facility name, site/facility, permit type, owner/operator, permit number, city, or zip code. The searchable database is located at http://dec.alaska.gov/Applications/Water/WaterPermitSearch/.

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Are commercial fishing boats required to have wastewater discharge permits?

A federal law effective July 30, 2010 generally imposed a moratorium during which time neither EPA nor the states may require National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits for discharges incidental to the normal operation of commercial fishing vessels and other non-recreational vessels measuring less than 79 feet in length. More information about this issue is available on EPA's website at http://cfpub.epa.gov/npdes/vessels/background.cfm.

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How do I find out which permits DEC intends to issue?

DEC prepares a Permit Issuance Plan (PIP) that identifies the APDES permits that the agency intends to issue or reissue during the next three-year period. The PIP is updated annually and posted on DEC's website at http://dec.alaska.gov/water/wwdp/pdfs/PIP.pdf. Notification is made via an electronic mailing list when the updated PIP is available. To request such notifications, you may sign up at http://dec.alaska.gov/water/npdes/npdes_email_list.htm.

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How can the public participate in APDES permitting decisions?

The "Public Participation in the APDES Permitting Process" document, describes the opportunities for public involvement in permitting decisions. Briefly:

  • The preliminary draft permit, fact sheet, and associated documents are posted on DEC's website during a 10-day applicant review period prior to formal public notice. The public may review the documents during the applicant review period; however, regulations require that public comments be submitted only during the formal public comment period.
  • DEC posts a public notice for a minimum 30-day public review and comment period for every general or individual permit proposed for issue or reissue.
  • If a public hearing on the permit is scheduled, the date, time, and location for the public hearing will be listed in the public notice. Members of the public may request a public hearing on any permit during the public comment period. If there is significant interest in the permit, DEC will schedule a public hearing if one has not already been scheduled.
  • After the close of the public comment period, DEC develops a Response to Comments document, which is sent to every person who submitted comments and any to other person who requests a copy. It is also posted on DEC's website.
  • The proposed final permit, which incorporates any changes resulting from public review and comment, is made available to the applicant for a five-day review. At the same time, DEC posts the proposed final permit and supporting documents on the DEC web page where it is available to the public.

For more information about the public process for APDES permitting, the complete "Public Participation in the APDES Permitting Process" document is located at: http://dec.alaska.gov/water/npdes/pdfs/AppendixH_PublicParticipationAPDESProcessOCT08FINAL.pdf.

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Are there any guidelines for submitting public comments on a permit?

All comments should include the name, address, and telephone number of the commenter and a concise statement of comment on the permit condition(s) and the relevant facts upon which the comment is based. Comments of either support or concern that are directed at specific, cited permit requirements are appreciated. Comments may be submitted by mail, fax, or email. Comments that are submitted by fax or email must be received by DEC by 5:00p.m. on the last day of the comment period. Comments that are submitted by mail must be postmarked by the last day of the comment period.

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How are the conditions in APDES permits enforced by DEC?

APDES permits contain provisions for monitoring and compliance, including self-monitoring and reporting by the permittee. The Compliance and Enforcement Program assures compliance with APDES permit and program requirements by using a combination of 1) compliance monitoring, 2) compliance assistance, 3) compliance incentives, and 4) enforcement. DEC compliance and enforcement staff regularly inspect facilities and respond to reported violations.

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Is an APDES permit required if sewage or industrial wastewater is discharged into a municipal treatment system?

An APDES permit is not required if sewage or industrial wastewater is discharged into a municipal treatment system, but a pretreatment permit may be required if the discharger is a significant industrial user. The Pretreatment Program is designed to reduce the level of pollutants discharged by industry and other non-domestic wastewater sources into municipal sewer systems that could harm or disrupt the treatment works, in order to reduce the amount of pollutants released into the environment through a wastewater discharge.

The term "pretreatment" refers to the requirement that nondomestic sources discharging wastewater to publicly owned treatment works (POTWs) control their discharges and meet limits established by the state on the amount of pollutants allowed to be discharged. The control of the pollutants may necessitate treatment prior to discharge to the POTW (therefore the term "pretreatment"). Limits may be met by the nondomestic source through pollution prevention techniques (product substitution recycle and reuse of materials) or treatment of the wastewater.

If a POTW has a Pretreatment Program, nondomestic (industrial) users of the facility must comply with the facility's pretreatment standards and requirements. DEC provides oversight of industrial users who discharge to POTWs that do not have a Pretreatment Program.

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How do I obtain a wastewater discharge permit?

Any person who discharges or proposes to discharge a pollutant and who does not have a permit in effect must submit a complete application to DEC to obtain a permit. Application information and forms are online at http://dec.alaska.gov/water/wwdp/online_permitting/permitentry.htm.

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How do I renew an existing permit?

A permittee with an existing permit has the duty to re-apply by submitting an application at least 180 days prior to the permit expiration date. Application information and forms are online at http://dec.alaska.gov/water/wwdp/online_permitting/permitentry.htm.

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Is a permit required for construction activities?

Construction activities that disturb more than one acre must be authorized under the Alaska Construction General Permit. Construction activities that disturb less than one acre must also obtain coverage if they are part of a larger common plan of development or sale that totals at least one acre. For more information about the Storm Water Program, visit http://dec.alaska.gov/water/wnpspc/stormwater/StormWaterRegulated.htm.

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How can I get information on permit fees?

The Alaska Legislature has directed DEC to collect fees for permitting and compliance and conducting plan reviews. According to Alaska Statute 37.10.052, fees must reflect the average actual and direct costs of providing the regulatory services for which these fees are collected. DEC periodically evaluates wastewater discharge authorization program fee schedules and adjusts fees to comply with the statute. For more information about fees for plan reviews and permits, fee reductions, or to access DEC's Online Payment Center, visit http://dec.alaska.gov/water/wwdp/online_permitting/fees.htm.

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How do I change the permittee's legal name and/or transfer a permit to a new owner?

If the permittee's legal name has changed, or if the permit has transferred to a new owner, you must provide written notification of the change to DEC. DEC regulations require notice to the Department before transferring a wastewater discharge permit for a facility or activity. For a transfer of ownership, the Department also requires a written agreement containing a specific date for transfer of permit responsibility, coverage, and liability between the current and the new permittee. A Name Change and/or Permit Transfer for Wastewater Discharge Permit form is available online at http://dec.alaska.gov/water/wwdp/online_permitting/permitentry.htm.

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How can I sign up to receive e-mail notifications about DEC wastewater permits?

DEC maintains an electronic mailing list of persons who wish to receive notifications about wastewater discharge permits. To request such notifications, you may sign up at: http://dec.alaska.gov/water/npdes/npdes_email_list.htm

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