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How to Meet Wastewater Regulations

By: Tom Frankel
Post Date: January 10th 2024

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How to Meet Wastewater Regulations


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Industrial treatment plants must meet local, state and federal regulations to ensure safe operation. Industrial wastewater contains several different contaminants, posing risks to surrounding communities and the environment. Obtaining the proper wastewater discharge permits and following safety protocols helps plant operators comply with regulations and protect their communities.

Importance of Meeting Wastewater Regulations

Meeting wastewater regulations is crucial for public safety. Regulations ensure industrial and wastewater treatment plants follow the proper procedures and take specific precautions to maintain clean water and public health. Before recycling or returning wastewater to the water cycle, it must meet federal, state and local regulations.

It’s essential to properly maintain wastewater systems at all times. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducts announced and unannounced inspections, so an evaluation can be random and unexpected. Ensuring processes consistently run smoothly helps industrial and water treatment plants remain compliant with regulations.

What Is the Clean Water Act?

The Clean Water Act (CWA) is the U.S.’s main federal law regulating water pollution. The EPA uses the CWA, along with state and local regulations, to monitor wastewater and water treatment operations.

How to Meet Wastewater Regulations

To meet federal, state and local regulations, an industrial or treatment plant must take the following actions:

Obtain an NPDES Permit

Treatment plants require a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit to discharge pollutants into a U.S. body of water from a point source such as a humanmade ditch or pipe. The CWA requires plants to hold this wastewater permit because it controls water quality-based and technology-based limits. Any facility that discharges wastewater directly to surface waters must hold an NPDES permit.

Most NPDES compliance monitoring occurs at a state level because the U.S. government authorizes nearly every state to control water pollution through its own NPDES program. The EPA oversees each state’s independent NPDES program, and it directly implements responsibilities for New Mexico, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Plants must meet discharge standards to obtain and keep an NPDES permit. The CWA requires plants to renew their NPDES permits every five years.

Prevent Overflows

Wastewater treatment plants must adequately control stormwater discharges because combined sewer overflows (CSOs) and sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) can threaten human health and the environment. Raw sewage presents serious health and environmental risks when it enters homes, waterways and streets. The EPA carefully inspects publicly-owned treatment works (POTWs) to ensure they take the proper precautions.

A treatment plant must comply with a minimum of nine CSO controls and adhere to a control plan schedule. The nine essential CSO controls consist of the following:

  1. Documentation listing equipment maintenance and operational staff, critical facilities and structures and personnel training
  2. Collection system, storage and flow obstruction inspections and repair
  3. CSO impact minimization
  4. Flow maximization to the publicly-owned treatment work
  5. CSO discharge prohibition during dry weather
  6. CSO discharge floatable and solid material control
  7. Contaminant reduction through pollution prevention programs
  8. Public CSO occurrence notifications
  9. CSO impacts and controls monitoring

Each plant must also implement a monitoring program that minimizes industrial discharges during overflows and eliminates sewage overflow in sensitive locations.

Identifying flood-risk areas is crucial. Every plant should have a list of flood-prone areas, special equipment for these areas and sandbags to control minor flooding. Flood-prone areas typically consist of manholes, open tanks and pump wells.

Prepare for Emergencies

Prepare for Emergencies

Industrial and water treatment plant employees should receive regular emergency protocol training. The National Incident Management System and Incident Command System help plants and organizations prevent incidents, respond to emergencies and recover from harmful occurrences. Plant operators should plan training exercises to ensure all employees understand their responsibilities and know how to handle emergency situations.

Maintain Proper pH Levels

States set minimum and maximum wastewater discharge pH levels. pH level limits are necessary because excessively alkaline or acidic water can corrode sanitary sewer systems. A wastewater treatment plant operator should ensure water remains within their state’s wastewater pH level limits, never rising above or falling below the proper level.

Maintain Safe Temperatures

Excessive temperatures can impede wastewater treatment operations. Wastewater should remain at or below 104 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent operational disruptions. Industrial plants must ensure water is at or below 150 degrees Fahrenheit before discharging it into a public sewer system. This temperature restriction ensures water is at a safe temperature when it reaches a treatment plant.

Avoid Discharging Prohibited Materials

Explosive and flammable materials present hazards to treatment plants and surrounding communities. An industrial plant must obtain formal approval to discharge potentially harmful materials, and treatment plants must monitor systems and incoming water. Local and state governing agencies determine if materials are safe for discharge and grant approval when acceptable.

Hazardous waste management is essential in water treatment processes. Plant operators must take hazardous material and chemical inventory. They must also create hazardous release safety protocols in the event a hazardous material enters clean water or the environment. Each plant should post an emergency contact list employees can use to call for help when necessary.

Plant operators should also monitor chlorine storage and equipment. While chlorine is important to the water treatment process, it is also corrosive and toxic if an excessive amount enters water treatment equipment or the environment.

Pre-Treat Effluent

The EPA requires industrial plants to pre-treat effluent for specific pollutants such as grease, oil and metals. Pre-treating effluent protects wastewater treatment plants and sewer systems from damage. 

Maintain Equipment for Optimal Performance

Maintaining equipment ensures it operates effectively and efficiently for proper wastewater treatment. Wastewater treatment and industrial plant operators must closely monitor equipment and make repairs when necessary. Minor damages and wear and tear can lead to more serious complications, so it’s important to address repair needs quickly.

Plant operators should drain tanks periodically, check for signs of wear and replace equipment components when they age. They can install Viton® membranes, multi-layer PTFE Aeration Diffuser membranes or FEPDM™ membranes to minimize scaling and fouling. Plant operators should also monitor the following factors:

Meet Wastewater Regulations With Quality Equipment

Meet Wastewater Regulations With Quality Equipment

Federal, state and local regulations ensure wastewater treatment plants operate safely and effectively. Using and maintaining quality equipment is crucial to treating water properly. The right aerations systems, membranes and diffusers help wastewater treatment equipment last longer. SSI Aeration, Inc. offers various products and services to help treatment plants maintain quality equipment. 

You can depend on SSI Aeration, Inc. to provide high-quality, durable wastewater treatment plant equipment such as aeration systems, coarse bubble disc diffusers, PTFE membranes, fine bubble disc diffusers, bubble plate diffusers and tube diffusers. Contact us to learn more about how quality wastewater treatment equipment can help you comply with regulations.