Thursday, February 26, 2009

Water Quality Standards - Effluent Limits vs Permit Limits

The “standards” that can be applied to wastewater discharges, or any discharge regulated under a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit in a number of different ways, and can be applied differently to different types of discharges. Three types of standards which are often confusing to permittees are 1) water quality standards, 2) effluent limits, and 3) permit limits. Here we provide a brief description to highlight some of the differences between these three types of standards and how they might interact.

Water Quality Standards
Water quality standards (also known as ambient water quality criteria) are specific standards set by States and apply to the quality of surface waters – lakes, rivers, streams, etc. Ideally, these standards reflect the highest concentration of a chemical that can be present in a given water body that will still allow it to meet its designated uses.

Effluent Limits
Effluent limits (sometimes called categorical standards, or categorical effluent limits) are standards that apply to the quality of wastewater discharges from a specific “category” of industry-type. These limits apply to all dischargers within that category, no matter where they discharge to.

Permit Limits
Permit limits are specific standards that apply to a given permittee and show up in their NPDES permit. They can reflect Effluent Limits that might apply to that permittee, if they are a categorical discharger. The permit limits will also reflect limits on specific chemicals that are needed to meet the water quality standards associated with the receiving water(sometimes refered to as "water quality-based effluent limits" or WQBEL). This does not mean that the discharger will be allowed a discharge that will begin the receiving water up to its Water Quality Standard. State Antidegradation Policies may require limits on specific chemicals that are well below their Water Quality Standards in the receiving water.

[Read more about Antidegradation Policies]

Caltha LLP provides specialized expertise to clients nationwide in the evaluation and use of ambient water quality criteria, site-specific water quality standards, and permit limits. Caltha staff have prepared national Ambient Water Quality Criteria for US EPA and provide expert resources for permittees and/or their technical consultants as they address State and Federal water quality standards.

Caltha LLP Aquatic Toxicology - Water Quality Standards Webpage

[Click here to request further information on water quality standards technical support.]

For further information contact Caltha LLP at
Caltha LLP Website

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