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Regulatory Handbook -> Federal Requirements -> Section 401 Water Quality Certification

Section 401 Water Quality Certification

What is the Purpose of this Certification?
The Section 401 Water Quality Certification certifies that activities authorized by certain federal permits and licenses meet state water quality standards. This helps to protect the state’s surface waters such as estuaries, wetlands, lakes, rivers, and streams.

Issuance of a Section 401 Certification means that Ecology, Tribes with treatment as a state (TAS), or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reviewed the applicant's project and has determined if the project will comply with state or federal water quality standards.
Who Issues this Certification?
Variable: See notes/comments for more information.
What Activities Require this Certification?
You must request a Section 401 Certification to conduct any activity that might result in any discharge into waters or non-isolated wetlands or excavation in water or non-isolated wetlands (including dredge or fill material) into waters of the United States.

Categories of 401 Water Quality certifications

FERC hydropower re-licenses: Ecology works with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to re-license existing dams or license new construction for hydropower dams. When an applicant requests a certification for a hydropower license, Ecology works with the utility or project proponent and review the applicable studies, analyses, and plans. If Ecology determines that water quality standards are attainable, a 401 certification is issued with appropriate conditions to make sure that environmental standards will be met. These conditions become part of the new FERC license.

US Army Corps of Engineers permits: All projects affecting navigable and protected waters in Washington state, as defined by the federal government, are subject to Section 401 water quality certification. These waters include coastal and marine environments, rivers, streams, lakes, wetlands, etc. This provides a strong opportunity to protect and enhance water quality, aquatic species and habitats, water resources, coastal resources, floodplains, and other environmental elements. This process excludes hydropower re-licenses and NPDES-related projects.

EPA and Tribal NPDES permits: EPA and Tribal governments use National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits ensure water quality and to limit the quantity of wastewater and stormwater discharge into surface waters like rivers, lakes, and streams. We write NPDES permits for all non-federal discharges in the state, except those on federal and tribal lands.
How Much Will this Certification Cost?
There is no fee for Section 401 water quality certifications.
Do I Need to Include Anything with my Application?
If applicable to the project:
  • Endangered Species Act biological assessments
  • Mitigation plans
  • Water Quality Monitoring plan
  • Operation and maintenance plans
  • Stormwater site plans
  • Restoration plans
  • Wetland Delineation
  • Spill Plan
  • Erosion and Sediment Control Plan
Is the Decision on my Certification Dependent on Anything Besides the Information in my Application?
For projects requiring a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit Ecology, EPA, or Tribe with TAS must receive a copy of the public notice or Nationwide Permit authorization letter prior to issuance of their Section 401 Water Quality Certification.

For projects that trigger State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) review, SEPA has to be completed prior to a Section 401 Certification decision. When we issue a Section 401 water quality certification, it means we have determined a project or action, as proposed and conditioned, will comply with state water quality standards and other requirements to protect state aquatic resources.
How Long Will it Take to Review my Application?
Ecology, or Tribes with TAS are required to make a decision within the “reasonable period of time” allotted by the federal agency of up to a maximum of one year. Certification decision options are to grant, grant with conditions, deny, or waive certification on any project receiving a federal permit, approval, or license.
Where do I Submit my Application?
For projects on non-tribal land:
Department of Ecology - SEA Program
Federal Permit Coordinator
E-mail: ecyrefedpermits@ecy.wa.gov

For projects on Tribal Lands where the tribe does not have treatment as a state:
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Water Division - Wetlands and Oceans Section
1200 6th Avenue - Suite 900
Seattle, WA 98101
E-mail: r10-401-certs@epa.gov

For projects on tribal land where tribes have TAS, send your application directly to the tribes below. For addresses, see the Links section below for the tribal directory:
  • Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation
  • Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation
  • Kalispel Indian Community
  • Lummi Tribe
  • Makah Indian Nation
  • Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe
  • Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe
  • Quinault Indian Nation
  • Puyallup Tribe of Indians
  • Spokane Tribe of Indians
  • Swinomish Indian Tribal Community
  • Tulalip Tribes
How Long is my Certification Valid?
Section 401 Certification becomes part of the federal permit or license. The duration of the Section 401 Certification would be in effect for the same time period as the permit or license. However, Ecology issues Section 401 Certifications as chapter 90.48 RCW administrative orders, so they may have conditions that apply to the project longer than the federal permit or license.
What is the Appeal Process for the Certification?
You have a right to appeal this certification to the Pollution Control Hearings Board within 30 days of the date of the decision. The appeal process is governed by Chapter 43.21B RCW and Chapter 371-08 WAC. “Date of receipt” is defined in RCW 43.21B.001(2).
You must also comply with other applicable requirements in Chapter 43.21B RCW and Chapter 371-08 WAC.

Read the Pollution Control Hearings Board Appeal Process web page for more details.
Notes / Comments:
Where can I apply for this certification?
Please see the Clean Water Act – Section 401 Water Quality Certifications web page for detailed information on how to request a 401 water quality certification.

Per the EPA rule an applicant is required to submit a request for certification. Ecology has developed a form that applicants will also need to submit with their request for certification. The form is available on the Clean Water Act — Section 401 Water Quality Certifications web page.

Who issues this certificate:
Department of Ecology for all waters of the U.S. (including wetlands) that are not on tribal lands.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for all waters and wetlands on tribal lands where tribes do not have EPA approved treatment as a state.

Tribes with EPA approved treatment as a state (TAS). There are currently ten tribes in Washington with TAS: Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation, Kalispel Indian Community, Lummi Tribe, Makah Indian Nation, Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe, Quinault Indian Nation, Puyallup Tribe of Indians, Spokane Tribe of Indians, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, and Tulalip Tribes.

Subject Matter Expert Phone & Email:
Department of Ecology’s Contacts: Federal Permit Coordinator – 360-407-6076 or email - ecyrefedpermits@ecy.wa.gov
U.S. EPA Contacts: Linda Storm 206-553-6384, storm.linda@epa.gov and back-up Annie Whitley 206-553-0058, whitley.annie@epa.gov
Permit Timeliness Results

Permit Timeliness data collection is in response to a State Auditor’s Performance Audit and RCW 43.42A. Each regulatory agency developed a plan to improve permit clarity, predictability, and timeliness. Each agency considers the customers experience to ensure permit assistance is simple to use, easy to access, and designed in a customer-friendly manner. Agencies report progress to the Governor’s Office for Regulatory Innovation and Assistance (ORIA). ORIA prepares and distributes reports, with participation from the State Auditor’s Office and Results Washington. See latest report here: https://www.oria.wa.gov/ORIA-2020-PermitTimelinessProgressReport.pdf.

All permits submitted for reporting were entered into this Regulatory Handbook. Here are the results of the performance data:

Estimated Time Required By the Agency to Process a Permit Application (Definition)
Average number of days from Receipt to Complete: 40
Maximum number of days from Receipt to Complete: 361

Estimated Time Required By the Agency to Issue a Permit Decision (Definition)
Average number of days from Complete Application to Decision: 56
Maximum number of days from Complete Application to Decision: 359

(Summary results based on 541 submittals in 2021)

Where can I get permitting assistance?
Subject matter expert phone: Contacts vary. Please see Note/Comments section below for contact information.
Statewide Contact:
Department of Ecology
Headquarters
300 Desmond Drive
PO Box 47600
Olympia, WA 98504-7600
Telephone: (360) 407-6000
Website: http://www.ecology.wa.gov/
* Permit information last updated 6/15/2022
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