A Guide to the CWA Section 401 Permit Requirements, Process, and Compliance

The Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 401 Certification is a crucial permit that plays a vital role in protecting water quality and ensuring that federal permits and licenses comply with state and tribal water quality requirements. This comprehensive guide provides a detailed overview of the Section 401 Certification process, including its regulatory framework, application requirements, review procedures, and compliance obligations. Whether you are a project proponent, a regulatory agency, or a concerned stakeholder, this guide will help you navigate the complexities of the Section 401 Certification process and ensure that your projects and activities are consistent with the goals and requirements of the Clean Water Act.

GENERAL INFORMATION

Section 401 Permit Key Details

Issuing Agency: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state or tribal certifying authorities1 Year Established: 19722 Legal References: Clean Water Act, Section 401 (33 U.S.C. §1341)3 Date Last Amended: June 1, 2020 (EPA's Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification Rule)4 Permit Purpose: To ensure that discharges from proposed projects comply with applicable water quality requirements

Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certification Overview

The Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 401 Certification is a permit issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state or tribal certifying authorities to ensure that discharges from proposed projects comply with applicable water quality requirements. The permit operates within the broader regulatory framework of the CWA, which was enacted in 1972 to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation's waters.2

Section 401 of the CWA requires that any applicant for a federal license or permit to conduct activities that may result in a discharge into navigable waters must obtain a water quality certification from the state or authorized tribe where the discharge would originate.5 The certification confirms that the discharge will comply with applicable water quality standards and other requirements of the CWA.6

The EPA is responsible for developing regulations and guidance related to Section 401 certifications, while states and authorized tribes are responsible for implementing the certification process.1 Over time, the EPA has revised its regulations and guidance to clarify the scope and procedures for Section 401 certifications, most recently with the Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification Rule, which became effective on September 11, 2020.4

Which Resources Are Regulated By Section 401 Permit?

The CWA Section 401 Certification primarily regulates discharges into navigable waters, which are defined as "waters of the United States, including the territorial seas."7 The permit aims to protect water quality by ensuring that discharges from proposed projects comply with applicable water quality standards, effluent limitations, new source performance standards, toxic pollutant restrictions, and other appropriate requirements of state or tribal law.8 This includes protection of designated uses, such as public water supplies, propagation of fish and wildlife, recreational purposes, and agricultural, industrial, and other purposes.9

PROJECT APPLICABILITY & REQUIREMENTS

When Section 401 Permits Are Required

Any applicant for a federal license or permit to conduct activities that may result in a discharge into navigable waters must obtain a water quality certification from the state or authorized tribe where the discharge would originate.10 The table below outlines the types of activities that may trigger the need for a Section 401 Certification and the associated environmental considerations:

Activity/ActionEnvironmental Considerations/Potential Impacts
Dredging and filling of wetlands or navigable watersImpacts on water quality, aquatic habitats, and wetland functions; changes in hydrology and sediment transport11
Construction of dams, levees, or other structuresAlterations to water flow, temperature, and dissolved oxygen levels; impacts on fish passage and aquatic habitats
Discharges from industrial or municipal facilitiesIntroduction of pollutants, such as chemicals, nutrients, and sediment, into receiving waters; impacts on water quality and aquatic life12
Pipeline and utility line crossings of waterwaysDisturbance of streambed and banks during construction; potential for leaks or spills that could impact water quality and aquatic habitats13
Hydropower projectsChanges in water flow, temperature, and dissolved oxygen levels; impacts on fish passage, aquatic habitats, and downstream water quality

Section 401 Permit Exemptions

Certain activities are exempt from the requirement to obtain a Section 401 Certification. These exemptions are limited in scope and subject to specific conditions and limitations. The following is a list of the main exemptions:

  1. Certain agricultural activities: Normal farming, silviculture, and ranching activities, such as plowing, seeding, cultivating, minor drainage, and harvesting for the production of food, fiber, and forest products, are generally exempt from Section 401 Certification requirements, provided they are part of an established, ongoing operation.14

  2. Maintenance of currently serviceable structures: Maintenance, including emergency reconstruction of recently damaged parts, of currently serviceable structures such as dikes, dams, levees, groins, riprap, breakwaters, causeways, and bridge abutments or approaches, is exempt from Section 401 Certification requirements.15

  3. Construction or maintenance of farm or stock ponds or irrigation ditches: The construction or maintenance of farm or stock ponds or irrigation ditches, or the maintenance of drainage ditches, is exempt from Section 401 Certification requirements.16

To determine if a project qualifies for an exemption, it is essential to carefully review the specific language of the exemption in the Clean Water Act and any relevant regulations or guidance from the EPA or the state or tribal certifying authority. In some cases, the applicability of an exemption may depend on site-specific factors or the interpretation of key terms, such as "normal farming" or "currently serviceable."

It is strongly recommended that project proponents consult with the relevant state or tribal certifying authority and, if necessary, the EPA or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to confirm whether a proposed activity qualifies for an exemption from Section 401 Certification requirements. These agencies can provide guidance on the applicability of exemptions and help ensure that projects are in compliance with the Clean Water Act and other relevant regulations.

PERMIT APPLICATION & PROCESS

Section 401 Permit Pre-Application Considerations & Planning

Diagram of Section 401 Permit Pre-Application Considerations & Planning
Diagram of Section 401 Permit Pre-Application Considerations & Planning

The Section 401 Certification process typically involves several key phases and milestones, from project conception to completion. These include:

  1. Project Conception: Identification of the proposed activity and its potential impacts on water quality.
  2. Pre-Application Consultation: Early engagement with the state or tribal certifying authority to discuss the project, identify potential concerns, and determine application requirements.
  3. Permit Application Preparation: Gathering necessary information, conducting studies, and preparing the application package.
  4. Permit Application Submission: Submitting the completed application to the certifying authority.
  5. Agency Review & Decision: The certifying authority reviews the application, assesses potential water quality impacts, and makes a decision to grant, grant with conditions, deny, or waive certification.
  6. Permit Issuance or Denial: If granted, the Section 401 Certification is issued, often with conditions to ensure compliance with water quality standards. If denied, the project cannot proceed as proposed.
  7. Project Implementation & Compliance Monitoring: The project proponent implements the project in accordance with the certification conditions and conducts required monitoring and reporting.

The Section 401 Certification process should be initiated early in the project life cycle, ideally during the planning and design phases. This allows for the identification of potential water quality impacts and the incorporation of necessary mitigation measures into the project design. The timeline below illustrates how the permit process fits into the overall project life cycle:

Project Conception → Pre-Application Consultation → Project Planning & Design → Permit Application Preparation & Submission → Agency Review & Decision → Project Implementation & Compliance Monitoring

The duration of the Section 401 Certification process can vary depending on the complexity of the project, the completeness of the application, and the responsiveness of the project proponent to agency requests for additional information. It is essential to allow sufficient time in the project schedule for the permit process and to engage with the certifying authority early to minimize potential delays.

Section 401 Application Requirements & Submission

A complete application for a Section 401 Certification typically includes the following components:

  1. Application Form: The project proponent must submit a completed application form provided by the state or tribal certifying authority. This form collects basic information about the project, such as the applicant's contact information, project location, and description of the proposed activity.

  2. Project Description: A detailed description of the proposed project, including its purpose, scope, and potential impacts on water quality. This description should include maps, plans, and other relevant visual aids.

  3. Water Quality Impact Assessment: An analysis of the potential impacts of the proposed project on water quality, including the identification of the specific water bodies affected, the nature and extent of the impacts, and any proposed mitigation measures. This assessment may require the collection of baseline water quality data and the use of modeling tools.

  4. Mitigation Plan: A plan describing the measures that will be taken to avoid, minimize, or mitigate any adverse impacts on water quality resulting from the proposed project. This plan should include specific actions, timelines, and performance standards.

  5. Monitoring Plan: A plan outlining the monitoring activities that will be conducted to ensure compliance with the certification conditions and to assess the effectiveness of mitigation measures. This plan should include the parameters to be monitored, the frequency of monitoring, and the reporting requirements.

  6. Other Supporting Documentation: Depending on the nature and complexity of the project, additional documentation may be required, such as a wetland delineation report, a stormwater management plan, or a sediment and erosion control plan.

The purpose of these application components is to provide the certifying authority with sufficient information to assess the potential impacts of the proposed project on water quality and to determine whether the project will comply with applicable water quality standards and other requirements of the Clean Water Act. The certifying authority may request additional information or clarification from the applicant as needed to make its determination.

The Section 401 Review & Decision Process

The ideal timing for initiating the Section 401 Certification process is early in the project planning phase, well before submitting applications for other federal, state, or local permits. Early engagement with the certifying authority allows for the identification of potential water quality concerns and the incorporation of necessary mitigation measures into the project design.

The key steps in the Section 401 Certification review and decision process are as follows:

  1. Pre-Application Consultation: The project proponent meets with the certifying authority to discuss the proposed project, identify potential water quality concerns, and determine application requirements. This consultation can help streamline the application process and minimize the likelihood of incomplete or deficient applications.

  2. Application Submission: The project proponent submits a complete application package to the certifying authority, including all required forms, documents, and supporting materials.

  3. Completeness Review: The certifying authority reviews the application for completeness and may request additional information or clarification from the applicant if necessary. The agency typically has 30 days to determine whether the application is complete.

  4. Public Notice and Comment: Once the application is deemed complete, the certifying authority issues a public notice and provides an opportunity for public comment on the proposed project. The public comment period typically lasts 30 to 60 days.

  5. Agency Review: The certifying authority reviews the application, considers public comments, and assesses the potential impacts of the proposed project on water quality. This review may involve site visits, meetings with the applicant, and consultation with other agencies.

  6. Decision: The certifying authority makes a decision to grant, grant with conditions, deny, or waive certification. The agency must provide a written explanation of its decision, including any conditions imposed to ensure compliance with water quality standards. The agency typically has 60 to 90 days from receipt of a complete application to make its decision.

The key approval criteria for a Section 401 Certification include:

  • Compliance with applicable water quality standards;
  • Consistency with the state or tribal antidegradation policy;
  • Adequate protection of designated uses of the affected water bodies;
  • Compliance with effluent limitations, new source performance standards, and toxic pollutant restrictions; and
  • Compliance with other appropriate requirements of state or tribal law.

If the certifying authority grants certification with conditions, the project proponent must comply with those conditions in addition to any other requirements imposed by the federal permitting agency.

Section 401 Public Participation & Stakeholder Engagement

Public participation is an essential component of the Section 401 Certification process, as it allows interested parties to provide input on the potential impacts of a proposed project on water quality and to ensure that the certifying authority considers all relevant information in its decision-making.

The certifying authority is required to provide public notice of a complete Section 401 Certification application and to allow for a reasonable period of time for public comment. The public notice typically includes:

  • A description of the proposed project;
  • The name and contact information of the applicant;
  • The location of the proposed project;
  • The name of the affected water bodies;
  • The potential impacts of the project on water quality; and
  • Information on how to submit comments and the deadline for submitting comments.

The public comment period typically lasts 30 to 60 days, depending on the complexity of the project and the level of public interest. During this time, interested parties may submit written comments, attend public hearings or meetings, or request additional information from the certifying authority.

The certifying authority is obligated to consider all substantive comments received during the public comment period and to provide a written response to those comments in its decision document. The agency may also use the public comments to identify additional water quality concerns or to require the applicant to provide further information or analysis.

Public participation in the Section 401 Certification process serves several important functions:

  • It allows for the incorporation of local knowledge and expertise into the decision-making process;
  • It promotes transparency and accountability in the permitting process;
  • It helps to identify and address potential conflicts or concerns early in the process; and
  • It fosters public trust and confidence in the regulatory process.

Project proponents should actively engage with stakeholders throughout the Section 401 Certification process, including before submitting an application, to identify and address potential concerns early and to build support for the project. This engagement may include public meetings, informational sessions, and targeted outreach to key stakeholder groups.

Common Challenges and Pitfalls in the Section 401 Permit Process

The Section 401 Certification process can present several challenges and potential pitfalls for project proponents. Some of the most common issues include:

  1. Incomplete or Deficient Applications: Submitting an incomplete or deficient application can result in significant delays in the review process, as the certifying authority may request additional information or clarification from the applicant. To avoid this issue, project proponents should work closely with the certifying authority during the pre-application phase to ensure that they understand the application requirements and have gathered all necessary information and supporting materials.

  2. Inadequate Water Quality Impact Assessment: Failing to adequately assess the potential impacts of the proposed project on water quality can lead to delays or denial of certification. Project proponents should ensure that their water quality impact assessment is comprehensive, scientifically sound, and based on the best available data and methods.

  3. Insufficient Mitigation Measures: Proposing inadequate or inappropriate mitigation measures can result in the imposition of additional conditions or denial of certification. Project proponents should work with the certifying authority and other stakeholders to identify effective and feasible mitigation measures that address the specific water quality concerns associated with the project.

  4. Lack of Public Support: Failing to engage with the public and address their concerns can lead to significant opposition to the project and make it more difficult to obtain certification. Project proponents should actively engage with stakeholders throughout the process, be transparent about the potential impacts of the project, and be responsive to public input.

  5. Coordination with Other Permits: The Section 401 Certification process often occurs in parallel with other federal, state, and local permitting processes, which can create coordination challenges. Project proponents should develop a comprehensive permitting strategy that ensures all necessary permits are obtained in a timely and efficient manner and that the conditions of each permit are consistent and compatible.

To overcome these challenges and avoid common pitfalls, project proponents should:

  • Engage early and often with the certifying authority and other stakeholders;
  • Develop a thorough understanding of the application requirements and approval criteria;
  • Conduct a comprehensive and scientifically sound water quality impact assessment;
  • Propose effective and feasible mitigation measures that address specific water quality concerns;
  • Be transparent and responsive to public input throughout the process; and
  • Coordinate closely with other permitting processes to ensure consistency and efficiency.

By following these best practices and learning from the experiences of other projects, project proponents can navigate the Section 401 Certification process more successfully and obtain the necessary approvals to move forward with their projects while protecting water quality and the environment.

TECHNOLOGY SOLUTIONS FOR PERMIT COMPLIANCE

Leveraging Technology for Section 401 Permit Compliance

Technology plays an increasingly important role in streamlining and enhancing compliance with the Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification process. By leveraging data management, site assessment, and monitoring tools, project proponents can improve efficiency, accuracy, and transparency in the permit compliance process.17

Some of the key benefits of using technology for Section 401 Certification compliance include:

  • Automated data collection and analysis, reducing the time and effort required for manual monitoring and reporting;
  • Real-time data access and sharing, enabling more timely and informed decision-making;
  • Improved data quality and consistency, reducing the risk of errors or inconsistencies in monitoring and reporting;
  • Enhanced visualization and communication of compliance data, making it easier to identify trends and potential issues; and
  • Increased transparency and accountability, promoting public trust and confidence in the permit compliance process.18

Common tools and platforms used in the industry for Section 401 Certification compliance include:

Tool/PlatformDescriptionBenefits
GIS softwareUsed for mapping, spatial analysis, and visualization of project sites, water bodies, and monitoring locationsImproves site selection, impact assessment, and mitigation planning; facilitates data sharing and communication
Environmental databasesProvide access to a wide range of environmental data, including water quality standards, impaired waters, and TMDLsEnables more accurate and efficient water quality impact assessments and mitigation planning
Monitoring softwareUsed for collecting, storing, and analyzing water quality monitoring data, including field measurements, laboratory results, and remote sensing dataStreamlines data collection and analysis; improves data quality and consistency; facilitates compliance reporting
Reporting platformsUsed for generating and submitting compliance reports to regulatory agencies, including discharge monitoring reports (DMRs) and annual certificationsReduces the time and effort required for compliance reporting; improves data accuracy and consistency
Stakeholder engagement toolsUsed for communicating with stakeholders, including the public, about the project and its potential impacts on water quality; may include websites, social media, and online comment platformsFacilitates public participation and transparency; helps build trust and support for the project

By leveraging these and other technologies, project proponents can more effectively navigate the Section 401 Certification process, ensure ongoing compliance with permit requirements, and protect water quality and the environment.19

Transect: An Innovative Solution for Site Selection & Environmental Due Diligence

Transect is an all-in-one environmental due diligence solution that combines cutting-edge software with hands-on field experience to revolutionize site selection and permitting for industries such as solar, wind, renewable energy, and more. By integrating comprehensive data sources, advanced analytics, and intuitive workflows, Transect empowers developers and permit applicants to make more informed and efficient decisions throughout the project lifecycle.20

Some of the key features and benefits of Transect include:

  • Swift site pinpointing and suitability analysis: Transect's powerful geospatial tools enable users to quickly identify and assess potential project sites based on a wide range of environmental, social, and economic criteria, including water quality, wetlands, endangered species, cultural resources, and more.

  • Real-time data updates and critical issues identification: The platform's intelligent algorithms and alerts help users identify critical issues and potential roadblocks early in the process, allowing for more proactive and effective mitigation strategies.

  • Versatility across multiple industries and project types: Transect's flexible and customizable platform can be adapted to the specific needs and requirements of different industries and project types, from renewable energy and infrastructure to land development and beyond.21

  • User-friendly interface and intuitive workflow: Transect's platform is designed with the user in mind, offering a simple, intuitive interface and streamlined workflow that enables users to quickly access and analyze the information they need, without requiring specialized expertise or training.

  • Efficiency gains and cost savings compared to traditional methods: By automating and streamlining key aspects of the site selection and permitting process, Transect helps users save time and reduce costs compared to traditional, manual methods.

  • Proactive risk mitigation and compliance assurance: The platform's proactive risk mitigation and compliance assurance features help users identify and address potential water quality impacts early in the process, reducing the risk of delays or denials of their Section 401 Certification application.

POST-PERMIT COMPLIANCE & MANAGEMENT

Section 401 Permit Conditions & Compliance Obligations

A Section 401 Certification typically includes a set of conditions that the project proponent must comply with to maintain the validity of the certification and protect water quality. These conditions may vary depending on the nature and scope of the project, the characteristics of the affected water bodies, and the specific water quality standards and requirements that apply.[^400]

Common types of conditions included in a Section 401 Certification include:

  • Impact Minimization Measures: Requirements to avoid, minimize, or mitigate adverse impacts on water quality, such as implementing best management practices (BMPs) for erosion and sediment control, stormwater management, and spill prevention and response.[^401]

  • Mitigation Commitments: Requirements to compensate for unavoidable impacts on water quality or aquatic resources, such as restoring or enhancing wetlands, streams, or other aquatic habitats.[^402]

  • Monitoring and Reporting Obligations: Requirements to monitor and report on the project's compliance with certification conditions and its impacts on water quality, such as conducting regular inspections, collecting and analyzing water quality samples, and submitting periodic compliance reports to the certifying authority.[^403]

  • Adaptive Management Provisions: Requirements to modify or adjust the project's design, construction, or operation in response to new information or changing conditions, such as implementing additional mitigation measures if monitoring data indicate that water quality standards are not being met.[^404]

It is critical for project proponents to carefully review and understand the conditions of their Section 401 Certification and to ensure that they have the necessary resources, expertise, and systems in place to comply with those conditions throughout the life of the project. Failure to comply with certification conditions can result in enforcement actions, penalties, and potential revocation of the certification.[^405]

To maintain compliance with Section 401 Certification conditions, project proponents should:

  • Develop and implement a comprehensive compliance management system that includes clear roles and responsibilities, procedures for monitoring and reporting, and mechanisms for identifying and correcting any non-compliance issues;
  • Provide regular training and oversight to ensure that all project personnel understand and adhere to the certification conditions;
  • Maintain accurate and complete records of all monitoring data, compliance reports, and other relevant documentation;
  • Promptly report any non-compliance issues to the certifying authority and take immediate corrective actions to address those issues; and
  • Engage in regular communication and coordination with the certifying authority and other relevant stakeholders to ensure that the project remains in compliance and any potential issues are identified and addressed in a timely manner.[^406]

Section 401 Monitoring, Reporting & Recordkeeping Requirements

Section 401 Certifications typically include ongoing monitoring, reporting, and recordkeeping requirements to ensure that the project remains in compliance with certification conditions and water quality standards throughout its lifecycle.

Monitoring Requirements The specific monitoring requirements included in a Section 401 Certification will depend on the nature and scope of the project and the potential risks to water quality. Common types of monitoring required under Section 401 Certifications include:[^407]

  • Effluent Monitoring: Regular sampling and analysis of the project's discharges to ensure compliance with effluent limitations and water quality standards.
  • Ambient Water Quality Monitoring: Monitoring of the receiving water body to assess the project's impacts on water quality and aquatic life.
  • Biological Monitoring: Surveys of aquatic organisms and habitats to evaluate the project's effects on the ecological health of the water body.
  • Stormwater Monitoring: Sampling and analysis of stormwater discharges from the project site to ensure compliance with stormwater management requirements.

Reporting Requirements Section 401 Certifications typically require the project proponent to submit regular reports to the certifying authority documenting the project's compliance with certification conditions and monitoring requirements. The frequency and content of these reports may vary depending on the specific conditions of the certification, but common reporting requirements include:[^408]

  • Discharge Monitoring Reports (DMRs): Monthly or quarterly reports summarizing the results of effluent monitoring and demonstrating compliance with effluent limitations.
  • Annual Compliance Reports: Comprehensive annual reports describing the project's compliance status, monitoring activities, and any corrective actions taken during the reporting period.
  • Non-Compliance Reports: Prompt reporting of any instances of non-compliance with certification conditions, including the cause of the non-compliance, the duration, and the steps taken to correct the issue and prevent future occurrences.

Recordkeeping Requirements Section 401 Certifications also typically require the project proponent to maintain accurate and complete records of all monitoring data, compliance reports, and other relevant documentation. These records must be retained for a specified period, usually at least three to five years, and made available to the certifying authority upon request.[^409]

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES & UPDATES

Recent Changes & Updates to Section 401 Permit

In recent years, there have been several significant changes and updates to the Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification process, including:

  1. Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification Rule (2020): On July 13, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a final rule updating and clarifying the substantive and procedural requirements for water quality certification under Clean Water Act Section 401.22 The rule became effective on September 11, 2020, and includes several key changes:23

    • Clarification of the scope of certification to cover only point source discharges into waters of the United States;
    • Establishment of a one-year timeline for states and tribes to act on certification requests;
    • Clarification of the information required in certification requests and the conditions that states and tribes can impose in certifications;
    • Updates to the process for neighboring jurisdictions to participate in the certification process for interstate projects.
  2. Vacatur of 2020 Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification Rule (2021): On October 21, 2021, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California vacated the 2020 Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification Rule, finding that the EPA had failed to comply with the procedural requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act in promulgating the rule.24 As a result, the 2020 rule is no longer in effect, and the EPA has reverted to its previous guidance and regulations on Section 401 certification.25

  3. Intention to Revise Clean Water Act Section 401 Regulations (2022): On June 2, 2022, the EPA announced its intention to revise and update the regulations governing water quality certification under Clean Water Act Section 401.26 The agency is currently in the process of engaging with stakeholders and developing a proposed rule, which is expected to be published in the spring of 2023.27 The revised regulations are expected to address issues such as the scope of certification, the information required in certification requests, and the conditions that states and tribes can impose in certifications.28

Project proponents and other stakeholders should stay informed of these and other changes and updates to the Section 401 certification process, as they may affect the requirements, timelines, and outcomes of certification requests. It is also important to consult with the relevant state or tribal certifying authority and the EPA to ensure compliance with the most current regulations and guidance.

Additional Resources & Information

For more information on Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification, project proponents and other stakeholders may find the following resources helpful:

  1. EPA Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certification Website: This website provides a comprehensive overview of the Section 401 certification process, including the statutory and regulatory requirements, the roles and responsibilities of states, tribes, and federal agencies, and links to guidance documents and other resources.29 https://www.epa.gov/cwa-401

  2. Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certification: A Water Quality Protection Tool for States and Tribes: This handbook, published by the EPA in 2010, provides a detailed guide to the Section 401 certification process, including the legal and regulatory framework, the certification request and review process, and best practices for states and tribes in implementing the program.30 https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-11/documents/cwa_401_handbook_2010.pdf

  3. Water Quality Standards Regulations: These regulations, codified at 40 C.F.R. Part 131, establish the framework for states and tribes to develop, review, and revise water quality standards, which form the basis for Section 401 certifications.31 https://www.ecfr.gov/current/title-40/chapter-I/subchapter-D/part-131

  4. Tribal Consultation Opportunities for Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification: This website provides information on the EPA's consultation process with federally recognized Indian tribes on issues related to Section 401 certification, including upcoming consultation opportunities and summaries of past consultations.32 https://www.epa.gov/tribal/tribal-consultation-opportunities-clean-water-act-section-401-certification

  5. Section 401 Certification Fact Sheet for Applicants: This fact sheet, published by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, provides a concise overview of the Section 401 certification process from the perspective of an applicant for a federal permit or license, including the information required in a certification request and the timelines for state or tribal review.33 https://www.spl.usace.army.mil/Portals/17/docs/regulatory/Applications/401%20WQC%20Factsheet_final_07-15-2020.pdf?ver=HZzzxzdTwBwf69hnG04N3g%3d%3d

  6. State and Tribal Water Quality Certification Websites: Many states and tribes have developed their own websites and guidance documents on the Section 401 certification process, which provide state- or tribe-specific information on certification requirements, procedures, and contacts. Project proponents should consult these websites for the most up-to-date and relevant information for their jurisdiction.34

By leveraging these and other resources, project proponents and other stakeholders can gain a better understanding of the Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification process and ensure that they are meeting all applicable requirements and best practices for protecting water quality.

REFERENCES

  1. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification. https://www.epa.gov/cwa-401. 2

  2. Federal Water Pollution Control Act (Clean Water Act), 33 U.S.C. §1251 et seq. (1972). 2

  3. Federal Water Pollution Control Act (Clean Water Act), 33 U.S.C. §1341 (1972).

  4. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2020, July 13). Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification Rule. Federal Register, 85(121), 42210-42287.. 2

  5. Federal Water Pollution Control Act (Clean Water Act), 33 U.S.C. §1341(a)(1) (1972).

  6. Federal Water Pollution Control Act (Clean Water Act), 33 U.S.C. §1341(d) (1972).

  7. Federal Water Pollution Control Act (Clean Water Act), 33 U.S.C. §1362(7) (1972).

  8. 40 C.F.R. §121.3 (2020).

  9. 40 C.F.R. §131.10(a) (2015).

  10. Federal Water Pollution Control Act (Clean Water Act), 33 U.S.C. §1341(a)(1) (1972).

  11. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). Section 404 of the Clean Water Act: Dredge and Fill Permits. https://www.epa.gov/cwa-404/section-404-clean-water-act-how-wetlands-are-defined-and-identified.

  12. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). https://www.epa.gov/npdes.

  13. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. (n.d.). Nationwide Permit 12 - Oil or Natural Gas Pipeline Activities. https://www.usace.army.mil/Missions/Civil-Works/Regulatory-Program-and-Permits/Nationwide-Permits/2021-Nationwide-Permits/NWP-12/.

  14. Federal Water Pollution Control Act (Clean Water Act), 33 U.S.C. §1344(f)(1)(A) (1972).

  15. Federal Water Pollution Control Act (Clean Water Act), 33 U.S.C. §1344(f)(1)(B) (1972).

  16. Federal Water Pollution Control Act (Clean Water Act), 33 U.S.C. §1344(f)(1)(C) (1972).

  17. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certification: A Water Quality Protection Tool for States and Tribes..

  18. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2020). Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification Rule: Economic Analysis..

  19. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certification: A Water Quality Protection Tool for States and Tribes..

  20. Transect. (n.d.). About Us. https://transect.com/about-us/.

  21. Transect. (n.d.). Industries. https://transect.com/industries/.

  22. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2020, July 13). Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification Rule. Federal Register, 85(134), 42210-42287. https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/07/13/2020-12081/clean-water-act-section-401-certification-rule.

  23. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2020, July 13). Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification Rule. Federal Register, 85(134), 42210-42287. https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/07/13/2020-12081/clean-water-act-section-401-certification-rule.

  24. In re Clean Water Act Rulemaking, No. 20-cv-04636-WHA (N.D. Cal. Oct. 21, 2021).

  25. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2022, April 6). Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certification Questions and Answers. https://www.epa.gov/cwa-401/clean-water-act-section-401-water-quality-certification-questions-and-answers.

  26. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2022, June 2). Notice of Intention to Reconsider and Revise the Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification Rule. https://www.epa.gov/system/files/documents/2022-06/Notice%20of%20Intention%20to%20Reconsider%20and%20Revise%20the%20Clean%20Water%20Act%20Section%20401%20Certification%20Rule.pdf.

  27. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2022, June 2). Notice of Intention to Reconsider and Revise the Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification Rule. https://www.epa.gov/system/files/documents/2022-06/Notice%20of%20Intention%20to%20Reconsider%20and%20Revise%20the%20Clean%20Water%20Act%20Section%20401%20Certification%20Rule.pdf.

  28. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2022, June 2). Notice of Intention to Reconsider and Revise the Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification Rule. https://www.epa.gov/system/files/documents/2022-06/Notice%20of%20Intention%20to%20Reconsider%20and%20Revise%20the%20Clean%20Water%20Act%20Section%20401%20Certification%20Rule.pdf.

  29. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification. https://www.epa.gov/cwa-401.

  30. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2010). Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certification: A Water Quality Protection Tool for States and Tribes. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-11/documents/cwa_401_handbook_2010.pdf.

  31. 40 C.F.R. Part 131.

  32. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). Tribal Consultation Opportunities for Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification. https://www.epa.gov/tribal/tribal-consultation-opportunities-clean-water-act-section-401-certification.

  33. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. (2020, July 15). Section 401 Certification Fact Sheet for Applicants. https://www.spl.usace.army.mil/Portals/17/docs/regulatory/Applications/401%20WQC%20Factsheet_final_07-15-2020.pdf?ver=HZzzxzdTwBwf69hnG04N3g%3d%3d.

  34. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). State and Tribal Water Quality Certification Websites. https://www.epa.gov/cwa-401/state-and-tribal-water-quality-certification-websites.

Keep up with the latest

A Note to Our Readers: We hope this guide is a valuable resource in helping you better understand the Section 401 Permit. However, it's not a substitute for professional advice and doesn't cover every scenario. Always consult with regulatory bodies and professionals for the most current advice and project-specific guidance.