*Above photo is of a permitted sand mining discharge on the Catawba River near Morganton.

By Catawba Riverkeeper Brandon Jones 

Did you know there are permits to discharge liquid waste into waterways? 

As part of the 1972 Clean Water Act, the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System or NPDES was created. It is a framework for regulating industries and sewage treatment facilities which produce liquid waste. These permits specify the volume of waste, concentrations of pollutants, and monitoring frequency. Every 5 years permits expire and must be renewed.  During the renewal the public who “owns” the water is invited to comment and propose changes. A public hearing may also be requested. 

In the Catawba River basin there are 157 wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) and 195 industrial discharges. Part of the Riverkeeper’s job is to review these permits and make sure our water is being protected. In NC, the state agency in charge of enforcing and writing these permits is grossly underfunded and understaffed. They often only hear from the industries seeking to discharge pollution. 

In August, the Riverkeeper along with dozens of neighbors and concerned citizens submitted comments to alter the proposed Pine Mountain Lake WWTP permit. This facility is very small, only serving about 150 people, but it discharges into the one of the highest quality waters in the Catawba watershed, the Jacob Fork just outside of South Mountain State Park. We asked for facility repairs, increased monitoring, and documentation of maintenance.  

Because of the outpouring of local public engagement, DEQ modified the permit to better protect our water. The improvements are substantial and include:  

  • Increased monitoring frequency for key indicator parameters (Biochemical Oxygen Demand[BOD], Total Suspended Solids [TSS] and Fecal Coliform) from weekly to twice per week. 
  • Added instream monitoring above and below the outfall location for Fecal Coliform twice per week. 
  • Required a technical evaluation of the treatment system and collection system to determine needed changes to treatment components and operational procedures and require the implementation of the changes. 
  • Added a permit-reopener clause that may be used by DWR to reopen the permit based on instream water quality or macroinvertebrate assessments conducted by DWR in surrounding surface waters. 

We’d like to thank everyone who participated in the permit renewal process and DEQ for listening. This is an excellent example of civic engagement driving local improvements in our water quality. Stay tuned for the opportunity to improve permits near you

More Information: 

Final Permit 
NC DEQ Fact Sheet 
Original Permit 
See if the facilities near you are in compliance with their permits