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National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES)

Integrated Planning for Municipal Stormwater and Wastewater


Over the past 45 years, EPA, states, and municipalities have made significant progress protecting our waters through implementation of the Clean Water Act (CWA). However, challenges remain. As the nation faces population growth, aging infrastructure, limited resources, and increasingly complex water quality issues, new approaches to address CWA requirements are needed.

Focusing on each CWA requirement individually may constrain a municipality from addressing its most serious water quality issues first. Recognizing the limits of this approach, in 2012, EPA developed an integrated planning framework that offers a voluntary opportunity for a municipality to develop an integrated plan to meet multiple CWA requirements.

On January 14, 2019, Congress passed the Water Infrastructure and Improvement Act (WIIA) (HR 7279) to amend the CWA to include the 2012 Integrated Municipal Stormwater and Wastewater Planning Approach Framework. WIIA provides greater certainty that integrated planning provides a comprehensive path a municipality can voluntarily take to meet CWA requirements.

Integrated Planning Elements

An integrated plan is a process that identifies efficiencies from separate wastewater and stormwater programs to best prioritize capital investments and achieve our human health and water quality objectives. This approach can also lead to more sustainable and comprehensive solutions, such as green infrastructure, that improve water quality and provide multiple benefits that enhance community vitality.

The table below illustrates the six elements of an integrated plan from the 2012 Integrated Municipal Stormwater and Wastewater Planning Approach Framework:

Element Description
1 A description of the water quality, human health and regulatory issues to be addressed in the plan.
2 A description of existing wastewater and stormwater systems under consideration and summary information describing the systems’ current performance.
3 A process which opens and maintains channels of communication with relevant community stakeholders in order to give full consideration of the views of others in the planning process and during implementation of the plan.
4 A process for identifying, evaluating, and selecting alternatives and proposing implementation schedules.
5 A process for evaluating the performance of projects identified in a plan, which may include evaluation of monitoring data, information developed by pilot studies and other studies.
6 A process for identifying, evaluating and selecting proposed new projects or modifications to ongoing or planned projects and implementation schedules based on changing circumstance.

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Technical Assistance

Learn more about how communities are developing elements of integrated plans for municipal wastewater and stormwater management.

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Integrated Planning Frequently Asked Questions

  • How does a municipality “qualify” for Integrated Planning?

    There are no set qualifications to be met to take advantage of the integrated planning process. The Integrated Planning Approach is optional and the responsibility to develop an integrated plan rests with municipalities. Municipalities developing Integrated Plans should provide relevant community stakeholders with appropriate opportunities that allow for meaningful input during plan input. EPA encourages early coordination between municipalities developing a Plan, NPDES States and EPA on key implementation issues. Once a municipality has developed a plan, the NPDES permit and/or enforcement authority will work with the municipality as necessary to develop the appropriate means for applying applicable legal requirements and implementation schedules.”

  • Will the Integrated Planning Approach lessen regulatory standards or provide regulatory relief?

    The Integrated Planning Approach will not change or lessen existing statutory or regulatory standards. Rather, the approach will take advantage of the flexibilities in existing EPA regulations, policies and guidance to allow municipalities to sequence implementation of their CWA obligations to protect water quality and public health. Municipalities developing integrated wastewater and stormwater plans should provide appropriate opportunities that allow for meaningful input from relevant community stakeholders during the identification, evaluation, and selection of alternatives and other appropriate aspects of plan development. For municipalities with an existing consent decree, the EPA is always willing to consider a request to modify existing plans to incorporate cost-effective innovative approaches that achieve comparable and measurable results as evidenced by modifications to agreements with Indianapolis, Indiana and Toledo, Ohio.

  • How will the Integrated Planning Framework affect ongoing consent decree negotiations?

    The EPA views ongoing consent decree negotiations as opportunities to work with municipal permittees that want to take a more integrated approach to their CWA obligations and challenges. Any integrated planning approach must ensure compliance with the CWA. The principles and elements of the Integrated Planning Framework will serve as a guide for negotiating consent decrees to address multiple CWA obligations with the underlying goal of ensuring that the projects with the greatest environmental and human health outcomes are completed first.

  • Under what circumstances can compliance schedules be included in permits?

    Compliance schedules in NPDES permits must be consistent with the requirements in 40 CFR section 122.47. The use of compliance schedules in NPDES permits for implementing water quality-based effluent limitations (WQBELs) will depend on the relevant State water quality standards. Under the CWA, a permit may contain a compliance schedule for WQBELs based on post July 1, 1977 State water quality standards provided the schedule achieves compliance “as soon as possible” and the state has clearly indicated in its water quality standards or implementing regulations that it intends to allow such schedules. Many states that have such provisions in place also limit the length of compliance schedules that may be included in permits. If a schedule of compliance is deemed “appropriate” under 122.47 and its term exceeds one year, the permitting authority must include interim requirements and the dates for their achievement. 40 CFR section 122.47(a)(3). Where a compliance schedule exceeds the 5 year term of the permit, the permit must include final effluent limitations in order to ensure enforceability of the compliance schedule consistent with CWA Section 502(17) and 40 CFR 122.2. The framework for addressing compliance schedules in permits is explained In the Matter of Star-Kist Caribe, Inc. 3 E.A.D 171, 175, 177 (1990). Further guidance on issuance of compliance schedules can be found in the EPA’s May 10, 2007 memorandum entitled "Compliance Schedules for Water Quality-Based Effluent Limitations in NPDES Permits."

  • Why not utilize permits instead of enforcement for compliance schedules?

    The circumstances facing each community are different. Under some circumstances, compliance schedules in permits may be appropriate. In other circumstances, enforcement, which provides greater flexibility for establishing compliance schedules, will be appropriate. In some situations, a combination of approaches might work. Compliance schedules in NPDES permits must be consistent with the requirements in 40 CFR section 122.47, as discussed above.

    Where the municipality is not in compliance with the CWA, the NPDES authority and EPA have discretion to bring an enforcement action. Where there have been long standing violations without significant progress, enforcement will continue to be a valuable tool. Enforcement can provide a long term schedule that provides certainty that many communities are seeking and flexibility to allow longer term compliance schedules.

    The aim of the EPA is to find a solution that protects human health and the environment, and tackles the most important problems first in a way that makes sense and is affordable. The framework the Agency has adopted encourages those flexibilities, and especially lower cost approaches that are also effective, such as green infrastructure solutions. The Agency has found answers that work for communities in recent agreements, and it will continue to work to achieve that goal.

  • The framework says an Integrated Plan “can be incorporated, where appropriate into NPDES permits, enforcement actions, or both,” How is it determined what is appropriate?

    Permits play a central role in implementing NPDES requirements. NPDES permits should clearly state the requirements necessary for the permittee to comply with the CWA. Where appropriate, an NPDES permit authority may include a compliance schedule in a permit for WQBELs based on post July 1, 1977 state water quality standards provided the compliance schedule is “as soon as possible” and the state has clearly indicated in its water quality standards or implementing regulations that it intends to allow them. Factors that may be considered include the nature of the modifications, operations or measures necessary to reach compliance, the time frame needed to complete the work, the length of time the discharger has already had to meet WQBEL(s) under past permits and the length and severity of any past non-compliance, the level of good faith displayed by the permittee in pursuing compliance, and other case-specific circumstances. If a permit contains multiple compliance schedules, the compliance schedules should prioritize the most significant human health and environmental needs first.

  • Can drinking water needs and costs be considered under the Integrated Planning Framework?

    While costs for drinking water treatment and distribution would not be used to estimate metrics such as the residential indicator identified in the EPA’s Financial Capability Assessment guidance, the financial burden associated with projects not required by the CWA may be considered when evaluating the overall financial health of a community. In this context, all financial burdens faced by the community (including costs associated with environmental projects other than those required by the CWA) may be relevant to schedule development under a municipality’s Integrated Plan. EPA is open to considering a Drinking Water Investment Plan to complement the CWA Integrated Plan.

  • What is the role of green infrastructure and other innovative solutions?

    The EPA embraces green infrastructure and other innovative solutions to address wet weather water quality problems and is working to promote these types of solutions to manage wet-weather related events in an efficient and cost-effective way which can also help revitalize urban areas. Green infrastructure provides multiple benefits in meeting CWA obligations, while also providing other benefits to enhance the livability of communities. As communities seek more integrated approaches to CWA obligations, EPA expects that green infrastructure approaches will commonly be considered and employed resulting in more sustainable communities and the creation of green jobs.

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Water Infrastructure and Improvement Act (WIIA)

On January 14, 2019 the Water Infrastructure and Improvement Act (WIIA) (HR 7279) became law. It amends the Clean Water Act (CWA) to provide greater certainty that municipalities can incorporate a comprehensive assessment of stormwater and wastewater assets and programs to meet CWA requirements.

The new amendments require NPDES permitting authorities to inform municipalities that they can voluntarily develop an integrated plan that may be incorporated into permits, consent decrees, or administrative orders. EPA must establish a Municipal Ombudsman’s Office in the Administrator’s Office to provide outreach and technical assistance. The new law also requires EPA to write a report to Congress by January 2021 that identifies completed integrated plans incorporated in permits, consent decrees, or administrative orders since June 5, 2012.
On September 26, 2019, EPA issued a memorandum to ensure consistent implementation of WIIA for enforcement actions and modifications.
On December 3, 2019, EPA issued a memorandum to highlight new provisions in WIIA, describe how EPA will support implementation of WIIA, and provide a preliminary list of integrated plans.

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