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Enforcing Overdue Discharge Monitoring Reports (DMRs)

The First Year in Review

NYWEA Clear Waters - Summer 2010

by Meredith Streeter

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) issues State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) permits to wastewater dischargers (permittees) in order to establish acceptable levels of pollutants discharged from their facilities to the waters of the state. The SPDES permits require the permittees to meet specific discharge quantities (effluent limits) for each pollutant discharged by the facility. Maintaining compliance with the permit by keeping the discharged pollutants within the effluent limits is crucial to achieving water quality protection. The SPDES program relies heavily on self monitoring and self reporting by the permittee to determine compliance with effluent limits. Monitoring results are reported on a routine basis to the NYSDEC on Discharge Monitoring Report (DMR) forms. The submission
of timely, complete and accurate DMRs is vital to ensuring compliance. Failure of a facility to submit a completed DMR is a violation of the SPDES permit.

Impact of Delinquent DMRs

NYSDEC's Division of Water (DOW) receives approximately 1,800 DMRs monthly. In early 2008, data showed that a significant number of permittees, many of whom were repeat violators, had not correctly filed their DMR forms. Since the SPDES program uses self-reported sampling data to determine compliance with the permit, late or missing DMRs significantly impair DOW's ability to monitor SPDES compliance.

Routine DMR Enforcement

To increase compliance with the reporting requirements of the SPDES permit, DOW began implementing an aggressive enforcement strategy to improve compliance of delinquent DMRs in December 2008. The new strategy is comprehensive, with no provisions for accommodations or exceptions to the time frames or penalties. In place of the former reminder letter, the new enforcement process uses a formal Notice of Violation (NOV) to notify the permittee(s) that:

  1. The DMR was not received or was not filed correctly
  2. They are in violation of their SPDES permit
  3. They have 30 days to comply
  4. What enforcement steps will follow

On a quarterly basis DOW staff search the database, and permittees who remain in non-compliance for failure to submit the DMR for which they received an NOV will be mailed an Order on Consent with payable penalty by NYSDEC's Office of General Counsel to settle the violation(s). If a permittee does not resolve the violation(s) through settlement of the Order on Consent, the Office of General Counsel will send the permittee a Notice of Hearing and Complaint with a date for hearing before an Administrative Law Judge.

In mid-2009, DOW and NYSDEC's Office of Hearings set the first hearings as a part of this enforcement strategy, starting with the Long Island area. Only one respondent failed to settle the case by the scheduled hearing date. The hearing process was repeated in the Lower Hudson area, and hearings are currently scheduled in the New York City, Utica and Syracuse areas.

Success in the First Year

The routine DMR enforcement initiative program has been in place for 18 months and the DOW has begun evaluating the success of the strategy. The goal of the strategy was to increase timely compliance with SPDES reporting requirements and there has been a definite improvement in the compliance rate for DMR submittal. In October 2008, the DOW sent out 72 NOVs for delinquent DMRs. By May 2010, the number of NOVs sent to permittees for failure to submit a DMR has decreased to 46. To further discourage repeat violations, the DOW doubles the penalty offered in the Order on Consent for each successive order offered to the same permittee for failure to submit a DMR.

A secondary benefit from the enforcement initiative has been an improvement in the quality of the data in the DOW databases. After receiving NOVs, many permittees contacted the DOW to correct their mailing addresses or inform the NYSDEC of transfers of ownership or facility closures. By revising and correcting these permit records the DOW has been able to bring permittees into compliance. The improved data, in turn, provides a truer picture of statewide compliance.

Looking Forward

Following the successful implementation of this enforcement strategy, the DOW plans to continue following the current program and is using similar strategy for the Multi-Sector General Permit DMRs and annual reporting requirements for general permits. The DOW will continue to work with the Office of the General Council and the Office of Hearings to explore ways to expand this approach to similar violations.

To avoid non-compliance and in receiving an NOV for failure to submit a DMR, permittees must complete the DMR form, including an original signature, and file their forms in a timely manner.

For additional information about DMRs, visit: www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/8461.html

Meredith Streeter, PE, is an environmental engineer in the Compliance Assurance Section of the Division of Water at NYSDEC.

This article was originally printed in the Summer 2010 issue of Clear Waters magazine, the official publication of the New York Water Environment Association, Inc.