Water Quality

Frequently Asked Questions

Each applicant for a discharger specific variance would be required to submit a comprehensive alternatives analysis that identifies the costs associated with various pollutant control techniques. DEQ will rely primarily on USEPA guidance to assist in determining whether the most cost-effective alternative that would result in economic hardship. The guidance takes into consideration the pollutant control costs and the ability of the responsible entity to pay those costs. Municipalities, for example, are evaluated on the number of households, median household income, existing debt, unemployment rates, property values, property tax revenue, etc.

A discharger specific variance would retain the underlying designated use and water quality criteria. Retaining the underlying use and criteria recognizes that although a permittee may not currently be able to meet a water quality based effluent limit, the permittee may be able to meet the limit in the future as economic conditions change, technologies improve or become cheaper and easier to operate. A discharger specific variance also requires that the permittee meet an interim effluent limit that reflects the greatest pollutant reduction achievable and that the interim effluent limits and conditions of the variance be reviewed at least every five years.

In many circumstances, DEQ and local stakeholders would like to retain a designated use and associated water quality criteria as the appropriate goal for a water. Compliance schedules are often granted for one five year permit cycle; however, many permittees may need longer than five years to meet a water quality based effluent limit. 

Currently, permittees can request a change to a designated use, a change to water quality criteria, or a compliance schedule.

Water quality criteria (and corresponding effluent limits) are intended to protect designated uses such as aquatic life and do not take into consideration the feasibility or costs associated with meeting the criteria. In some cases, meeting the water quality based effluent limit may require millions of dollars in capital investments or complex treatment systems that may be unrealistic for small communities to afford and operate. 

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