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Iowa Department of Natural Resources Wastewater Permitting Process

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During the fall of 2004, Iowa DNR hosted a business process improvement kaizen event for the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting section of the Water Quality Bureau. This event addressed the Water Quality Bureau – NPDES Section for permit renewal, new permits, and amendments for industrial and municipal facilities. A cross-functional team of came together for this event:

  • DNR staff
  • consultants
  • concerned citizens
  • municipalities
  • environmental groups

The objective of the event was to increase the speed and quality of the NPDES permitting process by developing a standard process with clear review criteria and better communications with stakeholders. This event culminated in the presentation of a redesigned permitting process that eliminated waste and focused resources on value-added outcomes while not negatively affecting the current level of environmental review. For example, the kaizen event resulted in a process design that reduced the lead time for processing permits from 425 to 15 days.

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Scope of the Lean Project

Process Involved: Wastewater Permitting Process (NPDES permit renewal, new permits, and amendments for industrial and municipal facilities sections)
Goals and Objectives: 

  • Develop a streamlined permitting process so that NPDES permits will be issued before they expire and the backlog can be eliminated.
  • Improve communications with stakeholders, field office staff, and others.
  • Issue draft permits within 15 days after receipt of application and issue final permits before expiration date for renewals.
  • Eliminate permit backlog by 6/1/05 (eight months after the event).
  • Reduce the number of times a draft permit comes back to the permit writer to zero.
  • Reduce the number of incomplete applications to zero.
  • Reduce the number of permits being challenged, objected to, and appealed to zero.
  • Eliminate the “spike” in the number of expired permits anticipated in 2006. (The “spike” refers to the permit backlog that was created due to the high number of permits issued in 2001 that expired five years later in 2006.)
  • Reduce the number of permits that cannot be drafted due to non-compliance to zero.

Year Conducted: 2004 
Consultant Support: TBM Consulting Group

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Process Changes and Results

During the event, participants designed a new permitting process and identified actions needed to ensure the process worked effectively. Process changes that were implemented include:

  • Revised the new applications process for NPDES permits.
  • Created checklists to aid in internal review of permits and for gathering information up front.
  • Drafted a transmittal letter with a frequently asked questions (FAQ) attachment to send to permit applicants with the application.
  • Developed a script for a potential first call with a permit writer who is following up on an application packet. This script placed an emphasis on open-ended questions.
  • Re-wrote public notice instructions to be more clear and concise.

The event yielded a process design with the following characteristics:

  • Decreased permit application processing time from 425 to 15 days.
  • Reduced the number of tasks or activities where work is performed (steps) from 119 to 46.
  • Decreased the series of steps that loop backwards and repeat themselves at least once (loops) from 7 to 4.
  • Cut the number of handoffs from 30 to 17.
  • Reduced the number of decisions from 16 to 5.
  • Decreased the number of points in the process where time is wasted by waiting for something to occur (delays) from 16 to 5.

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For More Information

Iowa Lean Website Exit

Contact Person:
Chuck Corell (
Chief of the Water Quality Bureau
Iowa Department of Natural Resources
502 E. 9th Street 
Des Moines, IA 50319-0034

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