On November 12, 2011, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection will publish a new technical guidance document regarding the permitting of total dissolved solids (TDS) discharges from wastewater treatment plants. An advance copy of the 31-page guidance document is available here.

The purpose of the new policy is to assist the Department’s permitting staff in implementing the new TDS effluent standard for discharges of treated natural gas wastewater. The Department’s TDS regulations were recently amended to require new or expanded sources of natural gas wastewater to treat the wastewater to less than 500 milligrams per liter of total dissolved solids, which is the federal drinking water standard, prior to discharge. A plain-language summary of the regulatory revisions is available here.

The new policy also highlights existing legal obligations, such as the requirement for certain wastewater treatment plants to develop and implement a Radiation Protection Action Plan to monitor for any radiation associated with wastewater from natural gas operations. The Department addresses the details of this and other aspects of the new policy in its Comment-and-Response Document, available here.

Although the new policy does not have the force of law, it establishes the framework that the Department will likely exercise its administrative discretion moving forward. That said, the new guidance will increase the costs of monitoring and recordkeeping for wastewater treatment plants that do not currently have a Radiation Protection Action plan, radiation monitoring equipment, or properly trained and qualified radiological personnel. For some plants, the cost to implement could be over $100,000 in the first year, along with additional annual operation costs of over $20,000.

The Department’s November 3, 2011 press release announcing the forthcoming guidance is available here.

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