The days of filing paper discharge monitoring reports (DMR) are coming to an end. At the end of July, EPA proposed to require that all DMR reporting, as well as various other documents, be made electronically. Although many states already use electronic reporting, EPA’s proposal promises significant changes to how the Agency implements and enforces the Clean Water Act. Here’s what you need to know.

  • Under EPA’s proposal, every authorized permitting authority will be required to use electronic reporting. Most states now using electronic reporting make it voluntary, allowing permittees to file paper. No more. You will be required to file electronically.
  • In addition to electronic DMRs, EPA is proposing to require electronic filing of general permit reports (e.g., Notice of Intent to discharge; Notice of Termination, No Exposure Certification and Low Erosivity Waiver), CAFO annual reports, pretreatment reports for industrial users located in cities without approved local pretreatment programs, sewer overflow or bypass events for POTWs with combined sewer or sanitary sewer overflow or bypass events, pretreatment reports from facilities with approved local pretreatment reports, and others. In other words, almost every document you file with a permitting authority will need to be made electronically.
  • What’s EPA’s justification? In part, EPA is looking to streamline reporting and reduce burdens on it and authorized programs, which are already required to submit some electronic data to EPA. EPA also touts the potential to reduce data entry errors from manually inputting paper data to electronic data. But the real effect will be to make discharge data readily and quickly available to EPA and the public, significantly increasing the potential for enforcement by EPA, states and citizens. Instead of having to make an appointment to visit a file room to tediously review stacks of paper, all this information will now be available to anyone with an internet connection. Moreover, having all the data electronically available in a common format will simplify analysis and make it far easier for EPA or others to identify non-compliance. Prepare yourself for an uptick in Clean Water Act enforcement.
  • States and other permitting authorities not only would have to share data about major permittees (i.e., larger facilities within individual NPDES permits), but also minor permittees. This means that the public and EPA will be able to obtain information about smaller facilities far more easily.
  • On a related note, EPA is proposing to change the classifications of different violations by including many more types as “significant noncompliance,” or SNC. SNC will now include violations by minor permittees and non-numeric violations that are deemed to threaten water quality. SNCs are subject to greater regulatory scrutiny and a higher likelihood of enforcement.
  • Facilities would be required to submit electronic reports within one year after the rule becomes final. Past EPA experience with electronic reporting suggests that there will be many kinks to work out before the system will be able to function effectively. Issues include functionality, security and confidentiality, particularly where confidential business information is submitted. The short time provided for compliance could result in implementation problems.

The proposal is a sign of the inevitable. Electronic submission of environmental data is a trend that promises to continue. Prepare your systems to comply and be prepared for increased oversight and enforcement.