Waste Discharge Permit Fee Task Force

Rule making completed for Fiscal Years 2014 and 2015

The Department of Ecology (Ecology) completed revisions to Chapter 173-224 WAC, Wastewater Discharge Permit Fees. The Legislature approved a selective increase of 4-5% for some fees in the budget for the 2013-2015 Biennium. The overall rise in permit fee revenue is less than 2% because the increase only applies to fee categories that do not support the cost of supplying permits. Rule making to incorporate these increases into the fee system was completed in November 2013.

The Water Discharge Permit fees cover the cost of administering the permits. For the past four years, Ecology’s water quality program has been talking with members of the regulated community and holding workgroups on the wastewater discharge permit fees. A key concern stakeholders raised was over fee equity, as some permittees currently cover more of these costs than do others.

The problem

Ecology administers approximately 6,000 state and federal wastewater and stormwater discharge permits. These permits are key tools to protect our lakes, rivers, marine and underground waters.

The permit holders include local governments, large and small industries such as pulp mills, fish hatcheries, and food-processing facilities. Facilities that can create pollution, such as aquatic pesticide discharge, ship and boat repair, and construction, hold permits. Domestic wastewater-treatment plants, which treat sewage from the majority of homes and businesses in Washington state, also must have permits to manage the safe discharge of pollution.

In 1988, passage of Initiative 97 mandated that Ecology establish a fee program to collect expenses for issuing and administering wastewater discharge permits. The fees enable Ecology to provide information and offer assistance to permit holders, review engineering plans, conduct water quality source control studies, inspect permitted facilities, cover associated overhead costs, and do other administrative work. Ecology created the original fee category structure when it administered only individual permits when there were fewer permit requirements.

Over time, the fee rate structure has become outdated and does not reflect the actual cost of administering the various categories of permits. Some categories pay more than others do for similar permit services. Ecology established a task force to help identify ideas and solutions to this inequity problem. The purpose of the task force is to advise Ecology on potential options and alternatives to address the funding inequity.

As a part of the effort to promote equity among fee payers, another increase in the statutory limitation on fees for municipal domestic wastewater was proposed in 2013 but failed to gain approval from the state Legislature. These periodic increases in the “municipal cap” are needed so that this fee category does not fall further behind in supporting the costs of supplying permits. Municipal domestic wastewater permittees also receive additional services from Ecology that other permit categories do not receive.

To narrow the fee gap, a minimum permit fee was also proposed in 2013 but failed to gain approval from the state Legislature. A minimum fee would narrow the fee gap between fee payers within a permit fee category and to some extent, between fee categories. The minimum fee that was under consideration would set the low end of permit fees that any fee payer would pay for permit coverage.

Process improvement

Ecology continues to seek improvements in the permit program. Permit program efficiency measures enacted in recent years include:

  • Internal process streamlining including options for permit renewals.
  • Use of web tools to provide permit data to the public.
  • Web tools to enter self-reported discharge monitoring reports.
  • Standardized permit format and content.
  • A process improvement LEAN project to decrease wait times for construction stormwater permits.

The average cost of permit coverage has declined in recent years due mostly to the increased use of general permits in place of individual permits to demonstrate compliance with water pollution laws. Most new permittees qualify for general permits that usually have simpler reporting and monitoring requirements compared to individual permits.

Recent presentations

NEW 4/21/2016 April 21, 2016 - Wastewater/Stormwater Permit Fee Update

NEW 4/21/2016 April 21, 2016 - Operator Certification Fees

May 19, 2015 15-17 Wastewater/Stormwater Permit Fee Rulemaking

April 30, 2014 Wastewater/Stormwater Discharge Permit Fee: Permit Fee Report 2007-2011

December 11, 2012 Wastewater Permits Municipal Fee Proposals


Last updated April 2016

For current permit fee information go to Wastewater/Stormwater Discharge Permit Fees