Step 2: National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permits

What is the NPDES Program?
The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) is a permit-based program designed to regulate the discharge of pollutants into U.S. waters. This program is one of the principal operating mechanisms of the Clean Water Act and the foundation of water pollution prevention and control in the United States.

Section 402 of the Clean Water Act prohibits the discharge of any pollutant from a point source into navigable waters of the United States unless the discharger has a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, more commonly known as an NPDES permit. Anyone discharging pollutants into the nation’s waters without a permit or in violation of a valid permit is breaking the law. The corollary is that it is perfectly legal to discharge pollutants in compliance with a valid permit.

Uses and Abuses of the NPDES Permitting Program
Although the NPDES program was originally designed to eliminate pollution from the nation’s waters through a gradual phase-out process, this goal has long since fallen by the wayside. Each year thousands of new dischargers receive inadequate permits, while already permitted dischargers violate their permits and pollute without punishment. In some communities, however, the public has rallied and been able to reduce the amount of pollutants entering a watershed, thereby improving water quality in Georgia. By using the tools provided under the CWA, and specifically the NPDES program, citizens are able to provide valuable input into important environmental decisions about who is allowed to discharge in our waterways, what type of chemicals and how much they are allowed to discharge, and what type of restrictions are needed to protect our water quality. Citizens can also use these tools to force polluters to comply with the water quality standards set forth in their NPDES permits.

NPDES Permits and an Active Public
Georgia’s rich natural heritage belongs to each of us, and it is our responsibility to protect those resources for use by future generations. This guide will give you some tools to help achieve that goal. You have the power to make a difference, to curb pollution and improve water quality in Georgia.