We discuss the upcoming electronic DMR reporting requirement in New Jersey, and why this is going to be an issue for anyone with an NJPDES stormwater permit.
Whether you're in business in New Jersey, and I'm talking about industrial facilities, regardless of your location, facility type, whether you're inside or outside, you need an NJPDES permit. Same goes for construction activities, as well as for municipalities holding an NJPDES permit. These permits nearly always cover stormwater discharges, with some also convering process wastewater discharges. If you're covered by an NJPDES stormwater permit, chances are you may have recently received a very confusing letter that look something like this...
This document informs you of the need to file your Discharge Monitoring Reports (or DMRs for short) electronically instead of using paper reporting as you have in the past, and seems to be too vague and loose with specific details other than that you'll have to begin reporting electronically by December of this year.
We, like many of our old and new clients, think the document is too brief and unhelpful. And if you follow the links online for additional guidance, they're almost just as vague and unhelpful. You're directed to sift through hundreds of pages of slides, "guidance documents", and other garbled information that reads like a foreign language. Hey, we're experts in this stuff and we still usually come away scratching our heads.
So what does this mean? What will electronic reporting in New Jersey actually entail? It's a good question, and one that deserves a good hard look into, since for everyone in New Jersey with an NJPDES permit, this is going to be an integral part of your business going forward.
The beginning of electronic DMR reporting in New Jersey.
When you think about electronic DMR reporting, it makes sense. Whether you want to go green & paperless or not, there's an incredible costs savings to doing so. Less paper printed, less toner used, no cost to mail items, etc. It's the future. People are filing taxes & getting mortgages without ever filling out a single piece of paper.
So going electronic in theory makes sense, especially for something as paper heavy as electronic Discharge Monitoring Reporting.
And, not only New Jersey is doing this. Every state is doing this, under the NPDES Electronic Reporting Rule enacted by the federal government. The rule was created to eliminate the need for most paper-based permitting & compliance monitoring reporting requirements with electronic reporting, as well as providing better public access to your data (more on that in a bit).
So in short, everyone, everywhere is doing this. But, every state is using their own system which means some states have a great system in place for reporting, while others are using outdated software. Guess which one New Jersey is using for electronic DMR reporting?
In theory, it does sound like a good idea, doesn't it? But, the State of New Jersey has turned this into a major headache, and here's our honest opinion on the matter.
The problems with electronic Discharge Monitoring Reports (DMRs) in New Jersey
You should really take this to heart, because we believe there are going to be problems with electronic DMR reporting, and here's why.
No training on electronic DMR reporting in New Jersey was announced.
The NJDEP sent out a 1 page letter (which is the image above), followed by a very brief, 1 page outline with basically four bullet points going over how to get setup and running.
We've gone though the steps and they're so overly simplified it's not even funny. In short, the information in theory is what you need to do, but doesn't cover all the bases. And if you need to get in touch with someone at the NJDEP for additional help... good luck...
No public outreach has been announced to help. No training sessions. No webinars. No seminars, helplines, or anything useful. Just a document saying start, overly simple instructions, and a couple of hundred pages of technical mumbo-jumbo to sift through.
The New Jersey Environmental Management System is not user friendly.
When you start filling out electronic Discharge Monitoring Reports online, you'll be using the NJEMS, or New Jersey Environmental Management System (this computer-based data management system is not what the rest of the world considers an environmental management system, which is something altogether different).
This system was created years ago during Governor Whitman's administration. For anyone wondering when that was, it was 1994 to 2001, or a little over 15 years ago. In our opinion the system hasn't undergone substantial revisions since relative to DMR reporting, and to us it seems old outdated.
Just to paint a picture of when this software was created... Windows XP wasn't available yet, people were using black & white cell phones, and computer monitors were still square, bulky boxes around 2 feet thick.
The DMR reporting aspects of this software are not user friendly at all. It's not intuitive, and it's not easy to use or understand. It actually requires a user to download a reporting form, save it locally on their own computer, run a completeness check, and then upload the completed form. The form is an old, antiquated version of Microsoft Excel, like Excel 97 or something. There's strict requirements to the file type (they can't open modern versions of Excel so make sure you save it in the old version...) and extremely strict naming conventions.
There is zero margin for error. People are going to have problems with this process starting from day one.
You won't get proficient at this process to the point of getting good at it.
For example, if you are doing quarterly monitoring under your NJPDES permit, you'll be doing this only once every 3 months, and you'll probably forget what you did in between. You ever get good at doing something 4 times a year? I know I haven't.
For anyone with an NJPDES permit that needs to report monthly, it'll be easier, since it will become more routine. But, don't think it will be easy, because this process isn't an easy task. As one of our existing clients who's currently conducting electronic reporting in New Jersey put it:
This electronic reporting is a nightmare to complete. I worked on it for over two weeks and had to call the DEP dozens of times.
In short, the process isn't easy from any perspective, and it probably won't get easier as times goes on.
Changes on electronic DMRs won't go well.
It's unlikely to us that the system will handle changes well, since clearly the "paper" universe of DMR reporting hasn't. For example, if your monitoring schedule changes, or you need to make a modification to your permit, it's anyone's guess if it'll be reflected in your electronic DMR reporting portal by the time you'll have to report or at what point in the future.
Going from quarterly to monthly monitoring due to permit exceedances? What are you going to do when your electronic DMR reporting portal only shows quarterly monitoring? What if you need to add a new outfall? What if it doesn't appear on your electronic reporting portal?
With paper, at least you could use white-out and make comments. With this new system, if you have notes, issues, or need to input something that's slightly off or needs an explanation, you're in trouble. Hopefully the NJDEP has a good system in mind to deal with these issues before December, 2016. We're predicting they feel the system is sufficientto take care of this, and this will be an issue for a lot of folks.
There's little to no help for electronic DMR reporting in New Jersey.
Where to turn for help? The staff of the NJDEP Bureau of Permit Management do a great job, but their time and capabilities are limited.
That client who gave that raving review above had a lot of difficulty getting in touch with folks in the NJDEP. He said he had to call them 30 times (probably a slight exaggeration) in order to figure out what to do.
Are they going to be able to handle the avalanche of calls that start coming in in December?
I doubt it.
You're expected to get electronic DMR reporting correct immediately, and your results are under extreme scrutiny.
The stakes have never been higher for you to get this right. One of the intents of electronic reporting is to make your data more publicly accessible.
Let that sink in. Your reporting data is going to be easily accessible by the public, more so than it's ever been.
For example, 3rd party environmental groups now won't have to spend too much time to figure out if you're complying with your permit in complete accordance to the rules & regulations. Meaning if you're not following the regulation to a T, it's easier to find out.
Not only can the public get at your information easier, the NJDEP are taking a harder line about DMR compliance requirements, which doesn't bode well considering the likely large number of problems with reporting users are likely to have.
This isn't a slam on the DEP, it's a realistic look at electronic DMR reporting in New Jersey.
Now while this might sound like a slam aimed towards the NJDEP, it's really not. Yes, I'm pointing out some glaring issues with electronic Discharge Monitoring Reports in New Jersey, but we sincerely hope this succeeds. In fact, we've already been using the system for DMR reporting for several years (nothing has changed during that time), and we want to go paperless as much as anyone.
Going green, ditching paper, however you want to phrase it, is the right thing to do. We definitely need to lessen our use of raw materials & make reporting easier, but in some sense this is almost a step backwards. An old, outdated reporting system that those with NJPDES permits is forced to use isn't the right step forward.