Bringing Water Protection into the Modern Age

A pair of hands hold a blue globe showing the Western Hemisphere of the Americas, over a background of sparkling water.

Information technology is everywhere. How we communicate, and how we share with one another has gone digital, saving paper, time, money, and making it easier to get information faster and more reliably.

Forty-three years ago, when the Clean Water Act was enacted, things moved a little slower. But the significance and impact of this important law remains today. It has helped clean up our lakes and rivers, and ensure that Americans are drinking safe water so we can live active, healthy lives. Under the Clean Water Act, the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program requires that hundreds of thousands of regulated facilities monitor and report data on their discharges of pollutants into waters to ensure they are not negatively affecting public health or the environment.

aper reports can stack up – here is an example from just one EPA Region
For years, these reports were filed by paper, and regulators—state and federal—had to manually review and enter the data into computers. That is until this week, when Administrator Gina McCarthy signed the final NPDES electronic reporting rule, requiring reports to be electronically filed. More than seven years in the making, following more than 70 technical and individual meetings, and 50 webinars with over 1,200 stakeholders, we have brought clean water protection into the modern age. Here’s what that means:

  • The public will have full transparency into water quality data. Facility-specific information, such as inspection and enforcement history, pollutant monitoring results, and other data required by NPDES permits will be accessible to the public through our website. Transparency can also drive improved performance among regulated facilities; when water quality data can be easily accessed online, facilities are more inclined to avoid pollution problems that raise public concern.
  • Once the rule is fully implemented, the 46 states and the Virgin Islands Territory that are authorized to administer the NPDES program will collectively save approximately $22.6 million each year as a result of switching from paper to electronic reporting.
  • Additionally, after full implementation, we estimate that states and regulated entities will save a total combined 900,000 hours of time per year. Instead of sifting through stacks of paper, that time, in addition to the money saved, can be put toward important water protection activities.

Finalizing this rule is a major milestone, but there’s still more work to do. Over the next few months, we will schedule trainings and more webinar sessions with states and regulated entities to provide an overview of the final rule, and the next steps for implementing electronic reporting. To realize the important benefits that this rule provides, EPA and our state, tribal, and territorial partners will continue to work collaboratively to implement these changes.

Electronic reporting in this day and age is essential to effective environmental protection. It furthers our Next Generation Compliance and the E-Enterprise for the Environment strategies to take advantage of new tools, innovative approaches and to work in partnership with states to increase compliance and reduce pollution. A modernized approach to reporting means cleaner water for everyone.

EPA Editor’s Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone’s rights or obligations. This post was originally published on the EPA Connect blog by Cynthia Giles, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

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