EPA report shows Kentucky leads nation in online reporting of wastewater discharge data

An internal report provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shows that Kentucky leads the nation in the number of electronic discharge monitoring reports provided by facilities holding permits issued through the National Pollutant Discharge Monitoring System (NPDES).

In the eleven-month period between January and November 2013, of the 53,756 electronic reports received from NPDES-permitted facilities nationwide, approximately one-fourth of them (11,766) were submitted by facilities holding NPDES permits in Kentucky.

The NPDES program permits wastewater discharges as required under the Clean Water Act. In Kentucky, the Division of Water (DOW) is responsible for administering the Kentucky Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (KPDES).  An essential part of the KPDES permit is the discharge monitoring report, or DMR. The DMR is a self-reporting tool that helps determine compliance with permit conditions and assess the quality of the wastewater discharge.

When EPA announced in 2012 that regulations would be developed requiring transition to an electronic reporting system for DMRs in 2014, Kentucky was quick to take action, said Shawn Hokanson, supervisor of the DOW Permit Support Section.

“The Division of Water worked closely with the Division of Compliance Assistance in taking a proactive approach to this change,” said Hokanson, “Using a combination of online tools and classroom training and working with trade associations, we began educating facilities on the use of the new system. Now, more than half of the NPDES-permitted facilities that are required to submit DMRs are doing so electronically.”

Electronic submission of monitoring data is already revealing its advantages in time, money and accuracy. Cheryl Edwards, who coordinates DOW’s NetDMR program, remembers the stacks of mail that used to arrive every January, when the majority of monitoring reports were due.

“We would get stacks of mail two to three feet high every day for weeks on end,” recalled Edwards. “Each piece had to be opened by hand, date stamped, sorted and batched. Next, you had to decipher the handwriting in order to key in each number. The report then had to be scanned into the system and rechecked to make sure it was in the correct electronic file. Needless to say, this was an extremely time-consuming process. It took us months to process the reports.”

Edwards said NetDMR allows her and her two colleagues to spend more time providing instruction and assistance to facility representatives as permittees are phased in to the new procedures.

In addition to saving time, electronic submission reduces errors.

“Any time you’re transferring numbers multiple times, mistakes are inevitable,” Hokanson said. “The beauty of electronic submission is that no one is touching the numbers – they populate the fields automatically.”

Hokanson said NetDMR is also capable of preventing input errors from occurring.

“Because the software program anticipates the type of data to be transferred, it can flag suspected errors, such as in decimal points or blank spaces,” he said. “DOW benefits by acquiring more accurate and productive data while the permittee reduces the risk of receiving a violation due to inaccurate or inadequate data. The availability of current, reliable data also helps our field inspectors be more responsive and effective.”

Hokanson said the public also benefits from NetDMR by having access to the reported information. DMR data, which is housed in EPA’s Integrated Compliance Information System, is available to the public via the EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) at http://echo.epa.gov/?redirect=echo.

Learn more about DOW NetDMR at http://water.ky.gov/permitting/Pages/netDMRInformation.aspx.