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Over the past 10 years, interest in managing water resources through watershed approaches has been increasing, and this includes NPDES permits both from the perspective of the permitting authority and the permit holder. EPA has recently demonstrated its support for watershed-based NPDES permitting through the issuance of two policy memos. In December 2002 the EPA Office of Water Assistant Administrator issued a policy memo entitled “Committing EPA's Water Program to Advancing the Watershed Approach.” This policy memo not only reaffirms EPA's commitment to the watershed approach but also reenergizes efforts to ensure that EPA as a whole fully integrates the approach into program implementation. The memo calls for the creation of a Watershed Management Council (WMC) that will, among other activities, accelerate efforts to develop and issue NPDES permits on a watershed basis. Following the watershed approach policy memo, EPA released the “Watershed-Based NPDES Permitting Policy Statement.” This statement communicates EPA's policy on implementing NPDES permitting activities on a watershed basis, discusses the benefits of watershed-based permitting, presents an explanation of the process and several mechanisms to implement watershed-based permitting, and outlines how EPA will encourage watershed-based permitting. It serves as a both a formal commitment and a strategy for fully integrating the watershed approach into the NPDES permitting program and accelerating these efforts, as called for in the watershed approach policy memo.

EPA recently released the “Watershed-based National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permitting Implementation Guidance.” This guidance describes the concept of and the process for watershed-based permitting under the NPDES permit program. EPA is currently developing a technical resource to navigate the data and decision-making processes required to identify opportunities and implement watershedbased permitting approaches. This technical guidance will provide detailed processes for carrying out the six steps proposed in the Implementation Guidance for developing watershed-based permits.

In addition to promoting NPDES watershed-based permitting, EPA's Office of Wastewater Management (OWM) and Office of Policy, Economics, and Innovation (OPEI) are working to create a framework to help municipalities streamline the numerous planning requirements under federal environmental regulations such as the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, and the Endangered Species Act. EPA currently refers to this framework as the Municipal Watershed Management System (MWMS) because it integrates the “Plan-Do-Check- Act” approach used in environmental management system development and implementation, as well as aspects of watershed management planning and implementation.

The paper and presentation will describe the efforts currently under way to develop and promote these two efforts. It will also provide a discussion of issues to consider when making decisions related to watershed-based permitting.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2004-01-01

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