Update of the


Office of Water Resources

Effectiveness of Permit Decisions
Limited by the Lack of Data on
Existing Water Quality
OWR has a Backlog and Delay
in Processing Industrial Permit

Issue Area 1: Effectiveness of Permit Decisions Limited by the Lack of Data on Existing Water Quality.

Recommendation 1:
OWR should examine the data collected by its various sections and develop a plan to create a management information system that facilitates an assessment of ambient water quality in all permit decisions. In order to maximize scarce resources, the strategy might begin with those streams and watersheds most frequently impacted by permit decisions.

Level of Compliance: In Compliance

In June 1999, the OWR contracted with Earthsoft Inc. to provide OWR with five licenses of Environmental Information System (EQuIS) software. DEP also contracted with Earthsoft to perform a needs assessment for each office and develop a plan to install and implement EQuIS.

In September 1999, OWR contracted West Virginia University Research Corp. to improve the Watershed Characterization and Modeling System (WCMS). The improvements will give permit writers the ability to perform waste load allocations and flow estimations, and will add links to external databases, add additional queries, and will provide study area tools for analysis specific to program needs.

On June 29, 2000, the DEP contracted with Earthsoft to provide the DEP with a comprehensive enterprise sampling information system. This database will store all pertinent information relating to environmental samples. This will allow offices to share data and will streamline the permit and decision process. Furthermore, this system will be integrated with DEP's permit tracking system.

Issue Area 2: OWR has a Backlog and Delay in Processing Industrial Permit Applications.

Recommendation 4:
The Office of Water Resources should take steps to fill vacant positions in the Industrial branch of the Permit Section.

Level of Compliance: Partial Compliance

As reported in the last update, in November 1998, the last of the vacancies identified in the 1995 audit were filled. However, the purpose of this recommendation was to decrease the backlog in issuing permits. This is why the OWR remained in Non-Compliance in the last update. Since the last update, the OWR has made progress in the permitting department. Perhaps the most significant accomplishment is in the area of management information. In late 1999, the OWR implemented the ERIS computer system which gives OWR management much more information regarding individual permits than what was previously available. Prior to the installation of the ERIS system, the OWR had no electronic way to determine the number of pending permits that were older than 180 days. By law, the OWR must issue permits in 180 days. Therefore, all pending permit applications were considered as a backlog. Table 1 shows the number of pending permits by year, and the accurate number of "backlog" applications (permits pending for more than 180 days).

Table 1
Pending Permits by Fiscal Year

Fiscal Year Pending Permits Backlog
FY96 281 Not Available
FY97 317 Not Available
FY98 440 Not Available
FY99 495 Not Available
FY00 304 189
FY01* 312 95
* Current as of October 28, 2000

Backlog is defined as those applications which have been pending for more than 180 days.

Includes 77 applications that were purposely postponed. Thirteen to synchronize the renewal of these applications and sixty-four to cover under a new general permit..

Since the installation of ERIS, the OWR now knows for any day which applications are older than 180 days. Since it is reasonable to assume that the OWR will always have a certain number of applications representing work in progress, only applications which are older than 180 days can truly be described as a backlog. Currently, of the 312 pending permit applications, 95 (30%) are older than 180 days.

Of the 95 backlogged applications, 40 (42%) are for permit renewals. By law, the OWR has the ability to automatically extend the life of a permit by one year. The companies that have applications for permit renewals that are older than 180 days are all operating on permit extensions. Therefore, the business of the company is not being impeded by not having the permit renewed in a timely manner. However, there is a potential danger to the environment in not issuing permit renewals in a timely manner. Every three years water quality standards are reviewed and could be revised. These revisions could make the standards more stringent. Given that a permit is usually issued for a five year term, if a permit holder is then granted an extension, water quality standards could change twice before a permit is re-issued or modified to comply with current water quality standards.

Of the remaining 55 backlogged applications, only one is an application for a new facility. The remaining 54 applications are applications for a new permit to cover an existing facility. By law, such facilities are not allowed to operate until they receive a new permit. However, according to the OWR some of these facilities are already operating without a valid permit. Facilities operating without a valid permit may be releasing excessive pollutants into the environment since the OWR is not obtaining monitoring reports on these facilities.

The OWR does not anticipate receiving as many applications this year as they did last year. Therefore, the OWR anticipates reducing or eliminating the current backlog applications. However, until all backlog permits are issued and the OWR can issue all permits in 180 days, the OWR remains in Partial Compliance with the recommendation.

Recommendation 5:
The Office of Water Resources should review the permit drafting process and increase computer automation that will reduce or eliminate any unnecessary burdens created by the permit drafting, review and approval process. The strategy might be developed in conjunction with a plan to address the lack of ambient water quality data discussed in Issue Area 1(1).

Level of Compliance: Partial Compliance

According to the OWR, the electronic permitting project is 90% complete, and they expect completion of the project sometime this fiscal year. According to the OWR, the electronic permit system provides the OWR with the following:

1. Ambient Water Quality is defined as an assessment of overall quality of a stream or watershed including stream properties such as pH, hardness, turbidity, etc. and types and quantity of pollution contained in a stream or watershed.