The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's National Pollution Discharge Elimination System, the system used to track and control water pollution, is unacceptable, according to a report issued by the EPA's inspector general. The current program is obsolete, consists of faulty data and does not take into account pollution sources, the report said.
According to an article in the New York Times, the efforts to bring the program up-to-date have been mismanaged. While the cost to fix the problem has been soaring, the amount of money dedicated to the project has been shrinking, and as a result it will be at least three years before the agency and the states can properly manage the enormous system of permits that is the basic tool for enforcing the Clean Water Act.
The system was put into place decades ago in order to make the nation's waterways clean enough for fishing, swimming and other essential purposes. The inspector reported that because of continuing mismanagement, "the future viability" of the system of permits "may be endangered."
The New York Times reported that the computer system is supposed to allow the federal and state governments to check a facility's monthly discharge against its allowable amounts. Critics say the computer flaws could allow industries and developers to discharge vast quantities of pollutants into waterways undetected.
Thousands of permits expire every year without being renewed, the backlog of permits to be issued has been reduced only slowly, and tens of thousands of pollution sources have not been listed in the agency's database, rendering it largely useless.
"If these new areas are not included in the modernized system," the report warned, "information for hundreds of thousands of permittees will not be included."