Water Quality photo identifier

Water Quality Program

History of the Permit Program

Red Shirt Mill, Okanogan County, Washington State.  Photo courtesy of Frosti Smith, Washington Department of Ecology

Washington State began a water pollution control program in 1945 with Chapter 90.48 Revised Code of Washington, three years before the first federal legislation on water pollution. In 1971, Washington State enacted the Pollution Disclosure Act, requiring “all known, available, and reasonable methods of treatment (of waste water) prior to discharge regardless of the quality of the water… to which the wastes are discharged.” This law signaled a change in philosophy to emphasize technology-based control of pollutants. The law required all dischargers to meet treatment standards, regardless of a demonstrated link between water pollution and individual dischargers.

Federal Water Pollution Control Act amendments adopted this philosophy the next year. The Act became popularly known as the Clean Water Act when amended in 1977. It set a national goal to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waters” and to “eliminate the discharge of pollutants” into navigable waters by 1985. The Act supports regulations that “provide for the protection and propagation of fish, shellfish, and wildlife and provide for recreation in and on the water. It prohibits the discharge of pollutants in toxic amounts.

The Clean Water Act created the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). NPDES is a system for issuing permits for wastewater discharges to surface waters. Washington became one of the first states to be delegated the authority to issue NPDES permits from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Clean Water Act, together with state laws, serves as the basis for Washington State’s current water quality regulatory program.

The Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) issues both general (multiple dischargers) and individual (one discharger) permits.


For general questions on wastewater permitting please contact:

Vincent McGowan
Water Quality Program

Nat Kale
Water Quality Program


Last updated September 2014