August 21, 2018 Article

Environmental Alert: EPA Announces Availability of Draft General Permits for Hydroelectric Facilities in NH and MA

Environmental Alert

On August 20, 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 1 (EPA) announced the availability of new draft National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) general permits for discharges from hydroelectric generating facilities to certain waters of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the State of New Hampshire.  EPA is the Clean Water Act permitting authority for those states.  The draft general permits (MAG360000 for Massachusetts facilities and NHG360000 for New Hampshire facilities) are to replace administratively continued general permits that expired on December 7, 2014.  Public comments on the draft general permits are due on October 18, 2018.

The general permits are for the following discharges: Equipment-related cooling water (both contact and non-contact); equipment and floor drain water; maintenance-related water from sump dewatering; facility maintenance-related water during flood/high water events; and equipment-related backwash strainer water.

The draft general permits establish Notice of Intent (NOI), Notice of Change (NOC), and Notice of Termination (NOT) requirements, effluent limitations and requirements, standard conditions and best management practices (BMP) plan requirements.  Existing hydroelectric facilities that received coverage under the current general permits must submit an NOI to receive coverage under the new general permits within 60 days of the effective date of the new permits.

Notable changes from the current general permits include the following:

  • All NOIs will be posted on EPA’s publicly available NPDES website for a minimum of 30 days, after which EPA may grant authorization, request additional information, or deny authorization under this permit and require submission of an application for an individual permit.
  • New and existing facilities that withdraw more than 2 MGD and which use at least twenty-five (25) percent of the water withdrawn exclusively for cooling are not eligible for general permit coverage and must seek authorization under an individual permit.
  • Facilities that withdraw cooling water must use one of several specified Best Technology Available (BTA) methods and provide information on the selected method in their NOIs.
  • Permittees must notify EPA and the states of any new chemicals or proposed substitution of previously approval chemicals through submittal of an NOC.  Substitute chemicals may not be used until allowed by EPA in writing.
  • Permittees will be required to monitor their discharges for Total Suspended Solids (TSS).
  • Discharge monitoring reports must be submitted to EPA via an electronic portal (NetDMR).
  • NOIs must submit documentation of eligibility for facilities that discharge to areas where species and/or critical habitats listed under the Endangered Species Act are present or adversely affect properties listed or eligible to be listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
  • The general permits provide a revised form for the NOI and new forms for the NOC and NOT.

Subject to review and concurrence by National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), EPA has concluded that the proposed reissuance of the draft permits is not likely to adversely affect the shortnose sturgeon, Atlantic sturgeon, or designated critical habitat for Atlantic sturgeon.

EPA is also seeking concurrence from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) regarding its determination of effect on endangered species under USFWS jurisdiction.  EPA has tentatively determined that the draft permits will have no effect, because each NOI that is submitted must assess site-specific endangered species impacts using the USFWS’ Information, Planning, and Conservation (IPaC) website.  EPA asserts that by using this website, applicants can either make a determination of impacts or, if there are questions, seek input from USFWS directly.