Water Quality Certification

Protecting surface water quality and uses by ensuring compliance with state water quality standards.

The purpose of the Water Quality Certification (WQC) program is to protect surface water quality and uses (such as swimming and aquatic life) by ensuring compliance with New Hampshire surface water quality standards. Examples of surface waters include lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, wetlands and tidal waters. The WQC program is authorized by New Hampshire RSA 485-A:12, III and IV. Water Quality Certification for federal National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits are administered by the NHDES Wastewater Engineering Bureau. All other WQCs are administered by the NHDES Watershed Management Bureau. Water Quality Certifications typically include enforceable conditions, including monitoring requirements, to ensure compliance with surface water quality standards.

Who is required to apply for water quality certification?

Water quality certification is required for any activity that requires certification under §401 of the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) as well as for any surface water withdrawal or diversion that must be registered under RSA 488:3 and was not in active operation as of September 5, 2008 (see RSA 485-A:12, III and IV). §401 of the CWA requires an applicant for any federal license or permit for any activity that may result in a discharge into waters of the United States (33 USC §1341) to provide the federal licensing or permitting agency a WQC issued by the State to ensure that the discharge complies with applicable water quality requirements. EPA's regulations at 40 CFR 121 address §401 certification generally. For federally-issued NPDES permits issued under §402 of the CWA, EPA must also comply with the §401 certification federal regulations in 40 CFR 124, Subpart D. Other federal agencies may also have §401 certification regulations for their licensing and permitting programs. Applicants for activities that are covered under federal general permits including, but not limited to, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers §404 general permits do not need to submit an application for WQC unless notified by the NHDES; this is because NHDES has already issued a WQC for activities covered under those general permits.
 

How Do I Apply?

To download a copy of the NHDES standard WQC application, go to the Application for Water Quality Certification website. A complete NHDES standard WQC application is required for any activity that requires certification under §401 of the federal CWA as well as for any surface water withdrawal or diversion that must be registered under RSA 488:3 and was not in active operation as of September 5, 2008.

In addition, applicants for WQCs that are subject to §401 of the CWA must also submit a complete “certification request”, as specified under 40 CFR 121, concurrently to the “certifying authority” and the agency of the Federal Government (e.g., the U.S Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Energy and Regulatory Commission, the U.S. Environmental Agency, etc.) to which application is made for a license or permit that is subject to §401 of the CWA. In New Hampshire, NHDES is the certifying authority. Certification request requirements for an individual federal license or permit are included in 40 CFR 121.5(b). Certification requirements for federal agencies applying for a general license or permit are in 40 CFR 121.5(c).  Upon request, NHDES can provide applicants with a template document that lists the required items in the applicable part of 40 CFR 121.5 for a complete certification request. As discussed below, applicants must submit a pre-filing meeting request at least 30 days prior to submitting a certification request. 

Applications and certification requests for WQCs should either be emailed to wqc@des.nh.gov and James Tilley at james.w.tilley@des.nh.gov with “Request for Water Quality Certification” in the subject line of the email, or mailed to the following address:

Attn: James Tilley, Watershed Management Bureau
NH Department of Environmental Services 
29 Hazen Drive, P.O. Box 95
Concord, New Hampshire 03302-0095
 

Am I required to hold a pre-application (or pre-filing) meeting?

Applicants for WQCs that only require certification for surface water withdrawals or diversions that must be registered under RSA 488:3 are not required to request or hold a pre-application meeting. However, prior to submitting a NHDES standard application for WQC, NHDES recommends that those applicants contact NHDES to discuss the project and application requirements and determine if a pre-application meeting would be beneficial to the applicant or NHDES.

According to federal regulations at 40 CFR Part 121, applicants for WQCs that are subject to §401 of the CWA must request a pre-filing meeting with NHDES at least 30 days prior to submitting a certification request. According to this federal regulation, NHDES is not obligated to grant or respond to the pre-filing meeting request. 
          
Requests for a pre-filing meeting should either be emailed to wqc@des.nh.gov and James Tilley at james.w.tilley@des.nh.gov with “Request for Pre-filing Meeting” in the subject line of the email, or mailed to the following address:

Attn: James Tilley, Watershed Management Bureau
NH Department of Environmental Services 
29 Hazen Drive, P.O. Box 95
Concord, New Hampshire 03302-0095

How long does the application process take?

The time needed for NHDES to act on a certification application or request can take from approximately 60 days to no more than one year depending on the complexity of the project and the federal license or permit being sought. Draft certifications are typically posted on the NHDES website for a minimum 30-day public comment period prior to NHDES rendering a final decision.

 
According to federal regulations at 40 CFR Part 121, NHDES must act on a §401 certification request within a reasonable period of time, which is determined by the federal agency, cannot exceed one year, and begins on the date NHDES is in receipt of a §401 certification request that includes all of the items in applicable part of 40 CFR 121.5. Receipt means the date a certification request is documented as received by a certifying authority in accordance with applicable submission procedures. Submission procedures for NHDES are described above. It is important to note that the reasonable period of time that NHDES has to act on the §401 certification request does not begin until the applicant submits a §401 certification request that includes all of the items in the applicable part of 40 CFR 121.5.
 

Tools and Guidance

What Applications for Water Quality Certifications are currently under review?

Project Applications

*NHDES posts applications to its website so that members of the public can review the proposed project ahead of a public comment period. If you require an accommodation with this file, please contact:

The applications for Watson Hydroelectric Project, Errol Hydroelectric Project, and Oak Hill Nordic Ski Trail Improvement Project are too large to post online in full. Portions of the applications were not included to allow for posting. For copies of complete applications, please contact James Tilley at james.w.tilley@des.nh.gov or (603) 271-0699.

Email NHDES to Request to be Notified of WQC Public Notices 

In your email, please specify which water quality certification you want to be notified about. NHDES will do its best to notify you via email, but the ultimate responsibility to stay informed is yours by periodically checking this website. Not receiving an email from NHDES would not be grounds for asserting that you were not properly notified.

Rules and Regulations

Wastewater-Engineering
Supervisor
Watershed-Management
Water Quality Certification Program Supervisor
james.w.tilley@des.nh.gov