401 Water Quality Certifications for federal facilities

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EPA's 2020 Section 401 rule vacated Oct. 21, 2021

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California vacated and remanded the "EPA 2020 Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification Rule," which went into effect Sept. 11, 2020. We will continue to review and issue Section 401 water quality certification decisions while federal agencies are reviewing the court decision and considering next steps. Please review our main Section 401 Water Quality Certification page for the most up-to-date information.

National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits address water pollution from point sources into surface waters such as rivers, lakes, and streams.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has given us authority to write NPDES permits in Washington state. However, EPA retains authority to administer NPDES permits for federal facilities and those on tribal lands.

We issue Section 401 water quality certifications for those permits once they are issued by EPA.

To view current public notices for 401 water quality certifications, please visit our public notice page.

What is a federal facility?

All federal facilities that discharge to a surface water in Washington have a responsibility to prevent water pollution and obtain a discharge permit. By definition, a federal facility is any building or structure that is owned or leased by the United States or a federal agency. Some examples of federal facilities include energy facilities, government buildings, and facilities on federal land such as fish hatcheries.

Who writes the permits?

EPA is responsible for implementing clean water regulations on federal and tribal lands. Even though EPA writes federal NPDES permits, the conditions of the permit must meet our state water quality standards and other requirements of the state water pollution control act. In many cases, Washington state standards are more protective of water quality than federal standards.

What is our role?

In order to issue 401 water quality certifications, we coordinate with EPA to ensure federal NPDES-permitted facilities are complying with our state standards. Our team works to review and authorize EPA permits according to state water quality standards and the state water pollution control act through the 401 water quality certification process.

Please see our focus sheet on the 401 NPDES process.