EPA Clarifies Stance on Groundwater and the Clean Water Act

In a clarifying statement released for pre-publication on April 16, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency affirmed pollutants that travel through groundwater do not require an NPDES permit.

The EPA had asked for comment in 2018 on whether or not pollution traveling through groundwater to surface water should require a permit under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program.

The EPA’s statement aligns with comments the National Ground Water Association filed last year. NGWA stressed that state regulations adequately regulate groundwater, and additional coverage by the Clean Water Act is not necessary.

NGWA also argued that the EPA need not release a proposed rulemaking or guidance document to states, but rather that a statement or memo would be sufficient. NGWA will file comments on the clarifying statement by the EPA, reinforcing its support for the position taken by the EPA.

The statement by the EPA comes as the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case of County of Maui, Hawaii v. Hawai’i Wildlife Fund during its fall session. The case centers on whether discharges to groundwater can pollute surface water, following several differing court decisions in the circuit courts last year. NGWA is working in partnership with the Water Systems Council to file an amicus brief in the case.