Discharges of excess nutrients — particularly nitrogen — to Puget Sound from domestic wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) are contributing to existing low oxygen levels in Puget Sound and the rest of the Salish Sea. The Clean Water Act and federal rules require WWTPs that contribute to water quality impairments by discharging excess nutrients to take action to prevent this pollution. The Nutrient General Permit applies to 58 domestic WWTPs discharging to marine and estuarine waters of the Salish Sea in Washington.
The Nutrient General Permit focuses only on controlling nutrients and works in conjunction with the WWTPs' existing individual permits.
We issued the first Puget Sound Nutrient General Permit on Dec. 1, 2021. The permit is effective on Jan. 1, 2022, and expires on Dec. 31, 2026.
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We ask that WWTP staff who have questions about their facility, individual permit, and the general permit to please contact their individual permit writer.
Process for how we created a new general permit
In January 2020, we announced our decision to move forward with developing a draft Nutrient General Permit in Puget Sound. During 2020, we worked with the General Permit Advisory Committee to develop recommendations for permit conditions. We held the first public comment period on the preliminary draft of the permit from Jan. 27 to March 15. We reviewed all feedback we received on this informal draft and developed a formal draft and related documents for review.
Next, we invited comments on the formal draft Puget Sound Nutrient General permit documents from June 16 to Aug. 16, 2021. We held public workshops and hearings in mid-July, where we explained the proposed changes to the permit and answered questions. View the workshop PowerPoint presentation. View the public comments that were made in the electronic comment form, or see Appendix C below for our full response to comments.
We issued the first Puget Sound Nutrient General Permit on Dec. 1, 2021, effective on Jan. 1, 2022. You can find all of the permit documents below. The fact sheet and appendices provide the technical basis for the permit. The Response to Comments is an appendix to the fact sheet that addresses comments submitted during the public comment period.
Current permit documents
Updated EPA Clean Water Act Financial Capability Assessment Guidance
Since we released the fact sheet for the Puget Sound Nutrient Draft General Permit in 2021, EPA released updated guidance regarding assessing financial capabilities to implement requirements under the Clean Water Act.
Please see EPA's most recent Clean Water Act Financial Capability Assessment Guidance for current information. This guidance is an update to EPA's Financial Capability Assessment for Clean Water Act Obligations, referenced in our fact sheet for the Puget Sound Nutrient Draft General Permit on page 51.
In March 2020, we convened a General Permit Advisory Committee to advise us in drafting general permit requirements for domestic wastewater treatment plants discharging to Puget Sound. This Advisory Committee was comprised of regional treatment-plant representatives, state agencies, the EPA, and the environmental community. Committee members met throughout 2020 to develop recommendations for permit conditions, and they brought a diverse array of ideas and concerns to the table. View the list of members and previous meeting materials.
Several parties have filed appeals of the final general permit. These appeals relate to the legal and technical basis for the general permit and its conditions (requirements) necessary to control nutrient discharges to waters of the state. All parties agreed to a stipulated stay, which means that certain permit conditions (requirements) are put on hold until the Pollution Control Hearings Board (PCHB) resolves the issues. The majority of the permit remains in effect.
The PCHB has stated that it will not issue a decision or summary judgement until there is a resolution of a Thurston County Superior Court case that is currently before the Court of Appeals (Case # 56859-4-II). This means the PCHB hearing will likely be postponed until later in 2023 or 2024.
We will post more information and any decisions made by the PCHB on this page. Or you can visit the Pollution Control Hearings Board webpage and use the Quick Search for the case number "P21-082c".
We have an informal guide to your right of appeal that has some information about the process.