NPDES PERMIT PROGRAM
Water pollution degrades surface waters making them unsafe for drinking, fishing, swimming, and other activities. As authorized by the Clean Water Act, the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program controls water pollution by regulating point sources that discharge pollutants into waters of the United States. Point sources are discrete conveyances such as pipes or man-made ditches. Individual homes that are connected to a municipal system, use a septic system, or do not have a surface discharge do not need an NPDES permit; however, industrial, municipal, and other facilities must obtain permits if their discharges go directly to surface waters. Since its introduction in 1972, the NPDES permit program is responsible for significant improvements to our Nation's water quality.
Polluted stormwater runoff (also known as "drainage") is commonly transported through Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4s), from which it is often discharged untreated into local waterbodies. To prevent harmful pollutants from being washed or dumped into an MS4, operators must obtain a NPDES permit and develop a stormwater management program.
Phase I, issued in 1990, requires medium and large cities or certain counties with populations of 100,000 or more to obtain NPDES permit coverage for their stormwater discharges.There are approximately 750 Phase I MS4s.
Phase II, issued in 1999, requires regulated small MS4s in urbanized areas, as well as small MS4s outside the urbanized areas that are designated by the permitting authority, to obtain NPDES permit coverage for their stormwater discharges. There are approximately 6,700 Phase II MS4s.