Protecting Oregon's Environment
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Oregon Department of Environmental Quality

Water Quality

Water Quality Permit Program


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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

When is a DEQ water quality permit required?

A DEQ water quality permit is required whenever there is a discharge of pollutants to waters of the state or to the ground. Waters of the state include surface waters (wetlands, pond, lakes, streams, rivers, etc.) and groundwater. Permits are required for discharges of wastewater (sewage, processing water, etc.), wash water, and even for wastewater that may be relatively clean, such as non-contact cooling water. These discharges may occur through a variety of disposal systems including land irrigation, seepage ponds, onsite sewage systems, dry wells, etc., or may discharge to surface water directly through a pipe or ditch or indirectly through a storm sewer system. Certain industries and activities may also be required to obtain permits for stormwater runoff from their properties.

A permit should be obtained prior to beginning the operation that will result in a discharge. If you have already begun to discharge, you must apply for a permit as soon as possible. There will be a permit application fee and yearly fee to maintain the permit. See How do I obtain a DEQ water quality permit? for more information. Please be aware that discharges to waters of the state or the ground are only allowed if they meet strict standards. In some cases, a discharge may need to be "pre-treated" in order to meet these standards. You will also be required to monitor the discharge to assure that it is in compliance with the DEQ permit. Pre-treatment and monitoring requirements may be quite costly so we recommend that you consider alternatives to discharging to waters of the state or to the ground so a DEQ permit would not be required.

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Is a DEQ permit required if sewage or industrial wastewater is discharged to sanitary sewer (sewage treatment plant)?

Facilities that discharge sewage, industrial wastewater (wastewater associated with any manufacturing process), or wash water to a sanitary sewer (city, county, or district sewage treatment plant or wastewater treatment plant) are not directly regulated by DEQ. In this situation, the Department requires the wastewater treatment plant to obtain a DEQ NPDES or WPCF permit. The plant is then required to regulate the discharges into their system and to maintain compliance with their DEQ permit. If you would like to discharge to the sanitary sewer, please contact the local sanitary authority for more information. A permit and fee may be required from the local authority. Also, if you are already discharging wastewater or wash water to the sanitary system, you are required to notify your local sanitary authority; no notification is required if you are only discharging sewage.

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Is a DEQ permit required for dry wells, sumps, and other underground injection control systems (UICs)?

All underground injection control (UIC) systems are required to register with the Department. UIC systems include, but are not limited to, onsite sewage systems with a capacity to serve more than 20 persons a day, dry wells, sumps, and waste disposal wells. In addition to the registration requirement, some UICs need to be permitted. A permit is required if the UIC is not allowed outright by Oregon Administrative Rule (OAR) 340-044. For example, stormwater runoff to UICs may be allowed without a permit if the conditions of OAR 340-044-0018 are met. However, most wastewater discharges to UICs require a Water Pollution Control Facilities permit. Please visit the UIC web site for more information.

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Is a DEQ permit required for construction activities?

Construction activities that disturb one acre or more, including clearing, grading and excavation, are required to have a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) general permit #1200-C. Projects that disturb one acre or more over a period of time or are part of a common plan are also required to apply for permit coverage. This permit will require that erosion at the construction site be controlled to prevent sediment from entering waters of the state. An Erosion and Sediment Control Plan must be submitted to DEQ for approval prior to beginning construction. For more information, please contact the DEQ regional office (Eastern, Northwest, Western) nearest to your project or visit DEQ's Stormwater web site.

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Does DEQ issue removal-fill permits and when are they required?

DEQ does not issue removal-fill permits. These permits are issued by the Department of State Lands (DSL) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). DEQ reviews projects that require USACE Clean Water Act Section 404 permits for issuance of Section 401 water quality certifications on these projects. Follow the link for more information and contact numbers for DEQs 401 certification program and the USACE and DSL permit process.

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What are the alternatives to a DEQ water quality permit?

Prior to discharging wastewater or wash water to surface waters or to the ground, we suggest that you consider alternatives that are safer for the environment. These include discharging to the sanitary sewer if prior approval is obtained from the sanitary authority or recycling wastewater so a discharge is not required. You should also look for pollution prevention opportunities to reduce the amount of wastewater you generate by recycling water whenever possible or reducing extra rinsing steps. While the up-front cost of these options may look expensive, they should be weighed against the cost of obtaining and maintaining a DEQ permit, permit monitoring requirements, and the liability associated with operating out of compliance with a DEQ permit (e.g., penalties, citizen suit, negative media coverage, etc.).

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What kind of water quality permit do I need (NPDES or WPCF)?

The type of permit that you need depends on what you discharge and where the discharge goes. The Department administers two types of water quality permits:

  • National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES)
    The NPDES permit is a requirement of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (Clean Water Act) and Oregon law. DEQ has been given authority from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue these permits. NPDES permits are required for "point source" discharges of pollutants to surface waters. The term "point source" refers to a natural or human-made conveyance such as pipes culverts, ditches, catch basins or any other type of channel. NPDES permits are issued for wastewater discharges from sewage treatment plants, pulp and paper mills, and other types of businesses. This also includes discharges to the storm sewer system or to drainage ditches that eventually reach surface waters. Certain industries and activities are also required to obtain NPDES permits for stormwater runoff.
     
  • Water Pollution Control Facilities (WPCF)
    The WPCF permit is a state requirement for the discharge of wastewater to the ground; discharge to surface water is not allowed. WPCF permits are issued for land irrigation of wastewater, wastewater lagoons, onsite sewage disposal systems, and underground injection control systems (i.e., dry wells, sumps, etc.). The primary purpose of a WPCF permit is to prevent discharges to surface waters and to protect groundwater from contamination. This permit is also used to prevent nuisance conditions such as odors and mosquitoes.

Both the NPDES and WPCF programs use "individual" and "general" permits. Please review What is an "individual" versus a "general" permit? for more information.

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What is an "individual" permit versus a "general" permit?

An "individual permit" is site-specific; it is developed to address discharges from a specific facility. An individual permit is more expensive than a general permit because it takes more time to develop, and more review and inspection by DEQ is required to assure that the permitted facility is in compliance with its permit. Individual permits are usually issued for a period of five years. DEQ currently has over 800 facilities under National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) and Water Pollution Control Facilities (WPCF) individual permit. Approximately 70% of these permits are for the treatment and disposal of sewage. Individual permits often require more frequent monitoring by the permittee to assure that permit limitations are being met, as well as monitoring for a greater variety of pollutants. Please see Application Forms and Fees for Industrial Permits and Application Forms and Fees for Domestic Permits for more information. "Domestic" permits are issued to sewage and wastewater treatment plants, as well as other systems designed to treat wastewater that is primarily composed of human sewage.

A "general permit" is used to cover a category of similar discharges, rather than a specific site. DEQ may issue a general permit when there are several minor sources or activities involved in similar operations that may be adequately regulated with a standard set of conditions. A general permit is issued once and expires within five years. Any facility that qualifies for a general permit may be "assigned" the permit during that five-year period. The fee for a general permit is lower than an individual permit because the cost of developing a general permit may be spread over multiple facilities. In addition, these permits usually require less oversight by the Department. The Department currently utilizes 29 different NPDES and WPCF general permits that regulate such discharges as boiler blowdown, non-contact cooling water, wash water from vehicle and equipment cleaning, seafood processing, petroleum hydrocarbon cleanups, small domestic onsite sewage systems, etc. Please see Application Forms and Fees for Industrial Permits and Application Forms and Fees for Domestic Permits for more information. General permits cannot be modified and will only be issued to facilities that are able to meet the requirements set forth in the desired permit.

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How do I obtain a DEQ water quality permit?

You must first determine what type of permit you need and then submit the appropriate application forms and fees. Please contact the nearest DEQ regional office for assistance in making this determination. DEQ water quality staff will help you determine if you need an NPDES or WPCF permit, and whether or not a general permit is available for your discharge. They will also provide you with the most current fee information. If you already have a permit and need to renew it, please see How do I renew an existing permit?

You may also use the following tables to determine what application forms you need for a new permit and the approximate fee for the permit you are interested in. Most forms are available electronically. If a form is not available electronically, please contact the nearest DEQ regional office for a hard copy.

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How do I renew an existing permit?

Renewal notices are usually sent to existing permittees at least six months before their permits expire. If you have yet to receive a notice or would like to apply early, please contact the nearest DEQ regional office for assistance. DEQ must receive a completed application prior to the expiration date of the permit. If a completed application and renewal fees are not received by the expiration date, the permit is terminated and you must reapply using the new permit application forms and fee.

You may use the following tables to determine what application forms you need to renew your permit and the approximate fee for that permit. Most forms are available electronically. If a form is not available electronically, please contact the nearest DEQ regional office for a hard copy.

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

In order to change the legal name of a permittee or transfer a permit to a new owner, you need to complete a Name Change/Transfer of Ownership form and submit it with a $82 transfer fee to the DEQ regional office nearest you.

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How can I sign up to receive e-mail notifications on permitting topics of interest to me?

You can subscribe to e-mail notifications on permitting topics by going to our Public Notices page. Click on the green envelope icon in the left corner. Enter your e-mail address and optional password. You will then see a menu of topics to subscribe to, including a list of topics under Permitting Activity. Check any of the topics you wish to subscribe to. You may unsubscribe from a list anytime you receive an e-mail notification.

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For stormwater-related complaints or general information about the NPDES Stormwater Permits, contact the appropriate DEQ regional office.

Oregon Department of Environmental Quality
Headquarters: 811 SW Sixth Ave., Portland, OR 97204-1390
Phone: 503-229-5696 or toll free in Oregon 1-800-452-4011
Oregon Telecommunications Relay Service: 1-800-735-2900  FAX: 503-229-6124

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is a regulatory agency authorized to protect Oregon's environment by
the State of Oregon and the Environmental Protection Agency.

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