Are general permits the right way to reduce nutrient discharge?

Posted in: Water


water flowing through grass to larger body of waterLiving in the Pacific Northwest often feels magical. We are surrounded by water in various forms—rivers, creeks, lakes, and of course, lots of rainwater. Along with this plentiful water comes abundant wildlife. Surrounded by such natural beauty, I feel compelled, both professionally and personally, to protect it.

One of my favorite places is the Puget Sound just outside of Seattle, the second largest estuary in the US. I’ve been following the development of the Puget Sound Nutrient Source Reduction Project and attending meetings of the Puget Sound Nutrient Forum. This is a public advisory group created to discuss, learn, and provide input on how to protect the Sound and reduce the nutrients that flow into it.

The Washington Department of Ecology is moving toward implementing nutrient limits in wastewater plant permits. Currently, the Department believes a general permit is the right tool to implement nutrient control requirements at domestic wastewater treatment plants. In this case, permittees would have two permits. Existing permits would proceed independently, and the general (or regional) permit would address the nutrient removal requirements. This could open the door for regional solutions and cooperation, which in turn could lead to more non-potable reuse options and less water waste overall. The proposed timeline for Final Issuance of the permit is:

graphic showing timeline for final issuance or nutrient removal permit

The benefits of a general permit include:

  • Consolidated and enhanced stakeholder involvement
  • Collaboration for water quality trading program development
  • Potential to further reduce discharges through more regional cooperation for non-potable reuse
  • Shared foundation for communities to work together to achieve nutrient reduction
  • Timely initiation of nutrient controls regionally
  • Less disruption to ongoing individual permits reissuance schedules

Though costs for implementing nutrient removal for Puget Sound dischargers will not be insignificant, I can definitely see the benefit of a regional permit. I’m eager to follow this process closely, both as a citizen in the community and from a wastewater engineer’s standpoint. It is our duty as wastewater engineers to remain on top of developments that effect our industry, clients, and communities.


Shannon Saramaa, PE

About the Author

Shannon Saramaa, P.E., is a member of Mead & Hunt’s water and wastewater team. A true entrepreneur with innovation in her heart, Shannon founded a municipal water and wastewater consulting firm that continues to serve numerous Colorado utility districts, cities, institutions and other water and wastewater providers. Shannon now goes forward in the same spirit as a member of Mead & Hunt.

Read more posts by Shannon Saramaa, PE

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