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Clean Water Act
Step 6: Protect Your Watershed: Reviewing EPD Files
Legal Tools

STEP ONE: Who is Discharging in my Watershed?

Check EPA's Website
The quickest and easiest way to determine who is discharging in your watershed is to access the Georgia Environmental Protection Agency's website and type in the requested information.  The website can be found here.  The Georgia Environmental Protection Division used to maintain a list of all NPDES permitees in the state on its website, but no longer does.  You can submit a request to EPD's water protection branch for a a copy of that list. 

Prioritize your search
Depending on your watershed, there may be just a few permits, or there may be hundreds. If your watershed has numerous discharges, you may need to prioritize your search. Consider identifying targets based on the following factors:

  • Where you live – it is always more motivating to work on issues that directly impact your daily life.
  • Special areas of interest (upstream from parks, habitat, recreational areas, etc.).
  • Community experts – talk to people that are most impacted by pollution or may have special knowledge of problems, such as:
    • Fishermen
    • Disadvantaged communities
    • Churches
    • Social justice groups
    STEP TWO: Locating the Permittee’s File for Review
    Once you have determined what permittees you want to focus on, the next step is actually reviewing the documents that EPD has on that facility. Under the Georgia Open Records Act, you have the right to review all of these files on a particular facility within three days of requesting access to that file. Unfortunately, filing quality and organization varies widely among offices and facilities, and the documents you need may be scattered. After compiling a list of all the NPDES permittees in your area, call your local EPD office to locate the files you are looking for. Here's a list offices, or you can call EPD's central number for water protection at 404-362-2680 (ask for the file room).

    Ask for help in gathering file contents
    Typically, unless it is very small, a file is broken down into three parts: permits, discharge monitoring reports and correspondence (the correspondence file will include notices of violations and consent orders). Make sure that all of these files have been given to you. If the file appears incomplete or you cannot find what you are looking for, ask someone for assistance. Someone in the office should be able to help you find the information or explain why the information is not in the file. If you are dissatisfied and believe that you have not seen the entire file, remember, the Open Records Act guarantees you use of these files. Also, you can contact GreenLaw for advice and assistance on obtaining files.

    STEP THREE: Reviewing the File
    Reviewing NPDES files is one of the most crucial and vital actions a concerned citizen can take in protecting our natural resources. Facilities with NPDES permits often take advantage of the EPD’s lack of funds and work force by exceeding their effluent limits and polluting waterways. Citizen action, however, can and does stop these illegal activities. Reviewing the permit is not difficult, but many times the files are voluminous and disorganized. But if you know what you are looking for and are familiar with the contents of a typical file, you can find your information much more quickly.

    The Permit: The first and most important part of the file to review is the permit itself. Most permits are approximately 20-25 pages long. However, most of these pages are boiler-plate and not very helpful. We have posted a sample permit here.
  • You can find the information that you need quickly by focusing on:
  • A cover page giving:
    • Permit Number. Every NPDES permit issued is assigned a number. This number can be helpful in identifying other documents related to this facility and interacting with the agency.
    • Name of the Discharger. This tells you who is allowed to pollute.
    • Discharger’s Address. This is the address where you can contact the discharger.
    • Exact Location of the Facility Discharging. This is the address of the actual location of the discharging facility.
    • Receiving Waters. This is the water body into which the discharge will be released.
    • Type of Permit (new, modified, or revised). The permit should contain information detailing whether the permit is new, modified, or revised.
    • Dates. This tells you the date of issuance, the effective date, the expiration date, and the modification date if the permit has been modified. Remember all NPDES permits in Georgia are only good for five years from the issuance date. Check the expiration date on the permit – when it expires, you will have the opportunity to comment on the proposed renewal permit.
  • Effluent limits regulating the type and amount of pollutants a facility may discharge
  • Monitoring requirements
  • Special conditions: Sometimes a permit will contain special conditions that address site-specific concerns. Look for a section addressing special conditions at the end of the permit.
  • Correspondence: The file should also contain a correspondence folder which may contain letter to and from the permittee and EPD, notices of violation (Adobe Acrobat PDF ~23 KB), and consent orders (Adobe Acrobat PDF ~97 KB). These items will give you an indication of whether there have been problems with a facility. For example, there may be years of correspondence discussing a problem where the violator has promised to undertake certain corrective measures, yet years later, no action has been taken. Correspondence can reveal this common problem. A file may also contain a consent order – or an agreement between EPD and a permittee to correct water quality violations. Most consent orders will follow this format:
    • At the beginning of the consent order, there will be several paragraphs that start with “WHEREAS.” These paragraphs typically describe the violations that took place at the facility.
    • In the body of the document, there will be a discussion of the corrective measures that the permittee is supposed to undertake to correct the water quality problems.
    • Near the end, you will find the penalty (if any) assessed.
    So, how do you evaluate this order. First, take a look and make sure that the order is signed by both the Director of EPD and the permittee (look on the last page). Without a signature, there has been no formal agreement to fix the problem! Also, as stated above, the consent order may require that the permittee do certain things such as pay a penalty, or submit a report on how to fix a problem. Go back through the file and see if there is any evidence that these actions actually happened. It is a common problem that no one enforces the consent order!
  • DMRs: The file should contain DMRs which gives the results of the dischargers (usually) monthly monitoring. The DMRs can tell you whether or not the discharger is violating their permit. View our Municipal or Industrial interactive DMRs and learn how to spot the violations.  Click here to see a sample DMR.
  • Go to Step 7 here.

      SampleIndusDMR.pdf (PDF)
      Sample Permit.pdf (PDF)
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