02.07.2017  |  News

Oregon Industrial Permit Makeover


Executive Summary

Oregon’s new National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) 1200-Z permit, slated to become effective 1 July 2017, will combine the Columbia Slough 1200-COLS and current 1200-Z into one permit. The two stakeholder meetings held by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) at the end of 2016 provided limited engagement for meeting attendees due to minimal opportunity for input on the new permit requirements, but the meetings did shed light on a few of the upcoming permit changes. The new 1200-Z changes include consideration of the recontamination potential for the Portland Harbor as a major permit component. This is causing a more stringent pollutant benchmark for total suspended solids for discharges to the Portland Harbor and an increased likelihood for non-industrial facilities to be covered under the permit, regardless of their Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) activity code.

For corrective actions, Tier I evaluations will continue to require review of the Stormwater Pollution Control Plan (SWPCP) under the revised permit. Tier II evaluations, if triggered, will now require site investigation in addition to implementation of treatment best management practices (BMPs) as a permit compliance measure. Permit compliance documentation will continue to include corrective action reports, which must be kept onsite, as well as SWPCPs, which DEQ may propose to review in the revised permit due to recent federal mandates for increased permitting authority oversight.

DEQ revisions to the copper water quality standards that were recently approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in January 2017 use the Biotic Ligand Model to determine criteria instead of the previous hardness-based methodology and may affect the new 1200-Z copper benchmarks.

In an effort to comply with the 2015 EPA NPDES Electronic Reporting Rule, which replaces paper-based reporting with electronic reporting, DEQ is rolling out NetDMR in 2017 for discharge compliance reporting. Web-based eReporting will be rolled out in 2020 to provide a submittal method for associated permit documents. This new electronic reporting requirement could provide unprecedented access to a permittee’s compliance data for the public and 3rd party groups if the data are stored within a publically-accessible web database.

Read on for a more detailed discussion of the issues

A new year has arrived, and Oregon industrial stormwater permits are getting a brand new look. In this post, we are reporting on the key upcoming changes that can be expected to help you stay ahead of the permitting game, including revisions to Oregon’s industrial stormwater general permit (1200-Z), copper water quality standards, and electronic reporting requirements.

1200-Z Industrial Stormwater General Permit

The Oregon DEQ is in the process of combining the current industrial stormwater permits for facilities discharging to the Columbia Slough (1200-COLS) and all other industrial facilities throughout the state (1200-Z) into a single industrial stormwater permit. DEQ will publish the new 1200-Z permit, which will include Columbia-Slough-specific conditions, on or before 1 June 2017, with an effective date of 1 July 2017.

DEQ held two stakeholder meetings in 2016 (August 25th and November 15th) to gather public input for the permit development process. At the time of the second meeting, which was attended by Sheila Sahu of KJ, many specifics of the new permit were still in the process of being fleshed out. The draft permit is expected to be available in early 2017 for public comment, and DEQ intends to respond to all comments.

Though identified as input-seeking, it was vocalized by meeting attendees, including a representative from Northwest Environmental Defense Center (NEDC), that the meetings did not provide an engaged process for stakeholders. The major meeting takeaways, detailed in the sections below, include changes to applicability of coverage, corrective action procedures, Stormwater Pollution Control Plan (SWPCP) reviews, and pollutant benchmark limitations (benchmarks). Per DEQ, there will be no permit changes on the stormwater sampling frequency (4 times per year) or the addition of sheetflow sampling requirements (there are no requirements currently).

Applicability of Coverage

In terms of applicability and coverage, DEQ described that a fundamental aspect of the new 1200-Z permit is that it will align with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Multi-Sector General Permit (MSGP) which went into effect in June 2015. DEQ additionally said that, in attempt to reduce the potential for recontamination of sediments in Portland Harbor, there will be certain activities outside of Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) codes that may require non-industrial facilities to obtain coverage under the new permit.

Corrective Actions

Corrective actions are required when stormwater sample results exceed pollutant benchmarks listed in the permit. Corrective action levels for benchmark exceedances include:

  • Tier I – required when stormwater sample results exceed a benchmark concentration or impairment reference concentration and a site investigation must be made to review/revise the SWPCP and implement source control measures.
  • Tier II – required when a second-year geometric mean concentration exceeds a benchmark and treatment best management practices (BMPs) must be implemented within two years.

It was identified at the stakeholder meeting that Tier I evaluations will continue to be required and there will be more formalized pathways to address issues at the Tier I level rather than at the Tier II level. DEQ emphasized that Tier II will now require site investigation in addition to implementation of treatment BMPs. With a 1 July 1 2017 permit effective date, the timeframe for Tier II will now be 30 June 2019 for the second-year geometric mean evaluation and 30 June 2021 for the BMP implementation. For both Tier I and II, the corrective action report documentation must be maintained onsite. Compliance with the 1200-Z permit regulations, particularly Tier II compliance actions, has traditionally been the best way to reduce the risk of being a target of third-party citizen lawsuits.

SWPCP Requirements

A SWPCP is a permit-required document that must be prepared by a person knowledgeable in stormwater management and familiar with the facility. It is a stormwater management plan that contains detailed site information and an assessment of potential stormwater pollution sources and selection of BMPs that will be implemented onsite to address stormwater pollution and meet the narrative and numeric technology-based effluent limits of the permit. Currently, a paper copy of the SWPCP is required to be submitted to DEQ, along with an electronic copy and a checklist ensuring that that the elements of Schedule A of the 1200-Z permit are contained in the SWPCP. DEQ does not review or approve the SWPCP. Electronic submittal for SWPCPs will be changing to a web-based approach (see Electronic Reporting Requirements section). There are no federal requirements in place that require DEQ to review SWPCPs, and DEQ could continue to keep its current approach. It was proposed at the second stakeholder meeting that DEQ could conduct SWPCP reviews with a site visit for a fee, but a show of hands in the room identified little interest in this offer.

As with most NPDES permitting challenges, the stakeholder meetings identified that 3rd party stakeholders want more regulation and review, whereas permitted stakeholders may want less. It was questioned by a representative of NEDC on whether non-review of SWPCPs would meet EPA regulations. NEDC’s comment may be, in part, due to the recent November 2016 Final Small Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) General Permit Remand Rule, which requires additional permitting authority (e.g., DEQ) review of the BMPs to ensure permittees reduce pollutants to Clean Water Act (CWA) standards. The issuance of Remand Rule was prompted due to concerns regarding self-regulation in which the permittee determined and implemented the level of treatment without agency review and approval.


Benchmarks are changing in the new 1200-Z permit to reflect DEQ’s determination to limit violations of in-stream water quality standards and reduce the potential for sediment recontamination in Portland Harbor. DEQ is still in the process of evaluating data, including water quality modeling for revised copper standards (see Copper Water Quality Standards section). DEQ said that they are also still working out how benchmarks will account for facilities with a Tier II waiver based on a pollutant mass load reduction (resulting in a mass equivalent lower than the benchmark) and how to address facilities where pollutants may be due to natural background. In addition to statewide benchmarks, there will now be geographic benchmarks for the Columbia Slough and Portland Harbor. As shown in the table below, the new Portland Harbor benchmarks are proposed to be more restrictive than the Columbia Slough benchmarks, with the exception of total suspended solids (TSS). Statewide benchmarks are similar to the Portland Harbor benchmarks, except for total suspended solids, which at 100 milligrams per liter (mg/L) is over three times the new geographic benchmark limit for the Columbia Slough and Portland Harbor. Generally, more restrictive benchmarks will require increased diligence in implementing and maintaining BMPs, or potentially updating methods or technology to prevent and/or target stormwater pollutants.

Industrial Permit Benchmarks Table

Copper Water Quality Standards

Studies suggest that copper can cause adverse impacts to salmon, trout, and other aquatic species. In the Pacific Northwest, copper water quality standards have been an onerous and time-consuming issue, due largely to identifying the correct and applicable science to establish water quality criteria that is protective without putting undue burden on industrial and municipal stakeholders for treatment.

DEQ has revised its freshwater aquatic life criteria for copper to address EPA’s January 2013 disapproval of Oregon’s criteria, adopted by the Environmental Quality Commission (EQC) in 2004. The EQC adopted new copper water quality standards in November 2016, and the EPA recently approved these new standards in January 2017. The previous copper water quality standard was conservative and hardness-based, but the newer, performance-based approach uses the Biotic Ligand Model (BLM). The BLM is a spreadsheet model that uses 11 site-specific input parameters known to influence the bioavailability of copper, and, therefore its toxicity, to sensitive aquatic species. Water quality criteria resulting from the BLM are more variable and can sometimes be higher (less conservative) or lower (more conservative) than hardness-based criteria. However, regardless of variability, studies have shown that the BLM is a better predictor of copper toxicity than considering water hardness alone. The additional advantage to using the BLM is that the focus is on environmentally-relevant dissolved copper as opposed to less relevant total recoverable copper (total copper).

While much of the current copper discussion has been focused on municipal wastewater treatment plants, there are future implications for municipal and industrial facilities for stormwater management. Stormwater has been increasingly viewed as toxic due to carrying a variety of pollutants that can negatively impact both aquatic and human life. The largest impact may be due to increased CWA 303(d) impaired waters listings, and subsequent Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) requirements. The current industrial stormwater permit benchmark of 0.020 mg/L total copper is a technology-based guideline, founded on an evaluation of copper concentration reductions by typical BMPs. Based on the permit stakeholder meetings, it is unclear at this time if the new 1200-Z permit will incorporate BLM-based copper water quality criteria or not.

Electronic Reporting Requirements

EPA published the NPDES Electronic Reporting Rule in the Federal Register on October 2015. The rule replaces most paper-based NPDES reporting requirements with electronic reporting for Discharge Monitoring Reports (DMRs), Notice of Intents (NOIs) to discharge in compliance with a General Permit, and other program reports. DEQ discussed at the second stakeholder meeting that NetDMR is being rolled out in 2017 for permittees to upload solely the compliance numbers, with a few reporting format options. DEQ will provide reporting reviews within 60 days, as it has done in previous permit cycles. DEQ said that it is neither efficient nor effective to submit both DMRs and a waiver at the same time, and these submittals should be done separately. There is additional electronic, web-based reporting (eReporting) for associated documentation, including permit applications, NOIs, SWPCPs, and SWPCP revisions, targeted for 2020. As a heads up to permittees, the web-based submittal format may also bring unprecedented access to facility data and potential 3rd party action based on the data that could be stored within a publically-accessible web database.

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