The Federal Clean Water Act establishes standards for surface water and makes it unlawful to discharge pollutants into the Waters of the United States, unless permitted. Embedded within this Act and administered by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the National Pollutant Discharge and Elimination (NPDES) permit program which establishes rules and procedures related to the permitting process.
In New York State, the NPDES program is administered by the New York State Department of Conservation (NYSDEC). and is called the State Pollutant Discharge and Elimination System (SPDES) permit program. Failure to apply for permit coverage or failure to implement permit requirements can result in fines of $37,500 per violation, per day, along with criminal, civil and administrative penalties. Penalties are embedded in Federal law and both EPA and NYSDEC can take action against a polluter. Triggers for enforcement action vary, with observed pollution often the starting point for legal action.