Water Quality: Planning Targets and Preliminary Effluent Limitations (PELs)

This page describes how PELs and Water Quality Planning Targets work for three different sectors: 

  • Domestic wastewater (sewage system) plants.

  • Industrial facilities.

  • Reclaimed water facilities.

  • Apply and pay for your site location application. Please see here for more information.
  • Pay PEL fees.
For Domestic Wastewater Treatment Plants

Small surface water domestic facilities (<1 MGD) are encouraged to use the permits first option and convert to a general permit certification with a delayed effective date reflecting the anticipated completion of construction. The permits first option provides predictability and can avoid a potential problem with being unable to modify an individual permit after construction to reflect the new or upgraded facility if the permit becomes administratively continued before construction and a permit modification can be completed. Please discuss this option with Permits by reaching out to Michelle DeLaria at michelle.delaria@state.co.us before you fill out a Water Quality Planning Target application. An existing general permit certification can also be modified with a delayed effective date.

A Water Quality Planning Target is a mandatory component of the Division’s site location process for domestic wastewater discharges. It may also be required for site approval amendments and demonstration projects. 

Water Quality Planning Targets can include existing permits, water quality assessments, a permit modification, or a new permit, a Preliminary Effluent Limitations document (PEL), a limited-scope PEL, or a combination thereof. 

Link to WQPT Guidance Document:
WQPT PEL image
A. What is my Water Quality Planning Target and how do I get it?

What document is your Water Quality Planning Target depends on what documents you already have and your own preferences. 

  • If you already have a PEL: 
  • To skip the PEL process and obtain a new permit or a modified permit first instead of a PEL: 
    • First, make sure this option can be done with your permit. If you have an individual permit that is not administratively continued, a PEL request will likely be processed as a permit modification, as determined by the permits section. 
      • For new facilities: If you are seeking to build a facility that discharges to groundwater and will use wells as the point of compliance, you cannot obtain your permit first - you must obtain a PEL and site approval before obtaining a permit. If you are seeking to build a surface water discharge facility, a PEL request will likely be processed as a new permit, as determined by the permits section.
      • For modifications: This applies to individual permits that are not administratively continued and general permit certifications. If your individual permit is administratively continued, you cannot obtain a modification. You will have to wait for permit renewal to pursue the permits-first option.
    • Second, apply for the permit or permit modification.
    • Third, after the permit or modification is issued, apply for a Water Quality Planning Target using the Domestic Water Quality Planning Target/PEL application form. You may email this form to cdphe.wqrecordscenter@state.co.us. You will not need to fill out most of the form. 
  • If you think you can use your existing permit:
    • Apply for a Water Quality Planning Target using the Domestic Water Quality Planning Target/PEL application form. You may email this form to cdphe.wqrecordscenter@state.co.us.
    • WQCD will use the information you submit, the regulations, and the flowchart below to determine if you can use your existing permit. The flowchart below walks through when an existing permit could be used as a Water Quality Planning Target. Note this flowchart is purely an informal guidance tool and may be revised over time to address new situations.

WQ Planning Target Flowchart - Active Permit

                                                                                          Click here for a larger image. 

B. What if WQCD tells me that I need a new PEL or limited-scope PEL?

Once your Domestic Water Quality Planning Target/PEL application form is complete, WQCD intends to inform you what kind of water quality planning target you can use via email within 30 days. If an application is incomplete, a determination will take longer.

If WQCD determines that a PEL or a limited-scope PEL is needed, WQCD will inform you by email and send a request for payment of the PEL fees. WQCD will then use your Domestic Water Quality Planning Target/PEL application form as a PEL application and start processing the PEL when you do these two things:

C. What is a PEL?

A PEL is one kind of Water Quality Planning Target. They are a fee-based service where the division identifies preliminary (anticipated) effluent limitations. PELs are to be set “at a level such that the proposed treatment facility will not cause an exceedance of applicable water quality standards...” Reg. 22.4(24). As such, they are intended to be both conservative and prospective.  

PELs have no public comment process and no administrative appeals. Moreover, they may be significantly more conservative than a final permit in some circumstances. If these processes are important to you, we recommend you consider going the “permits-first” route and using a new permit, a modified permit, or a renewal permit as your Water Quality Planning Target. The division will respond to completed new permit applications within 180 days in accordance with Regulation 61.6(e).

WQCD has established an internal goal of 180 days from payment for PELs where: 

The Division has determined that new PELs are needed for submitted site approval request. The facility cannot use the “permit-first” approach.

For more information about domestic Water Quality Planning Targets and PELs, contact Michelle DeLaria, Permits Section Unit 2 Manager at 303-692-3615 and michelle.delaria@state.co.us 

WQCD is no longer accepting applicant-prepared PELs for most domestic PELs. However if WQCD does not meet the 180-day goal, WQCD will notify the applicant at 120 days or earlier, confer and share information with the applicant so that the applicant can prepare its own PELs for the Division’s review and approval.

D. What are limited-scope PELs?

The division can also prepare limited-scope PELs in some circumstances for temperature, chemicals or nutrients.  Your existing permit (or existing PEL) and the new, limited-scope PEL will together be your Water Quality Planning Target. Limited scope PELs can be completed sooner than full PELs.
For limited scope PELs for nutrients and temperature, you will only need to complete the top half of the WQPT form.
For limited scope PELs for chemicals, you will need to complete the top half of the WQPT form and the request for chemical evaluation form, found at https://cdphe.colorado.gov/wq-per-forms.  

E. Fees

There is no charge for submission of the WQPT/PEL application.

There are fees for PELs. If WQCD determines that a PEL or a limited-scope PEL is needed, WQCD will send you a PEL payment request identifying the appropriate amount with payment instructions. If you would like to move forward on the PEL, please pay this amount. The work on any PEL will not begin until full payment is received.

Once these are done, the Division’s intent is to prepare the PEL within 180 days.

PEL costs depend upon the size of the facility. Also, there are additional fees for discharges to more than one water body and PEL modification. Fees for PELs are as follows:

Table 1
Discharge Categories and Fees for PEL Preparation
(Reference: Colorado Revised Statutes 25-8-502)
Free Subcategory  Description              Effective 7-1-18
Category 40 Preliminary Effluent Limit  Individual permits
Subcategory bV-A < 100,000 GPD $2,562.00
Subcategory bV-B 100,000-999,999 GPD  $5,124.00
Subcategory bV-C 1,000,000-9,999,999 GPD $7,686.00
Subcategory bV-D > 10,000,000 GPD $10,248.00
Category 41 Preliminary Effluent Limit  General permits and Reuse
Subcategory VI Preliminary effluent limitations (PEL) general permits $1,281.00
Category 42 Preliminary Effluent Limit  discharging to Groundwater
Subcategory bVII-A Minor facilities < 1,000,000 GPD $641.00
Subcategory bVII-B Major facilities >=  1,000,000 GPD $1,025.00
Other Fees
PEL Request includes discharges to a second or additional receiving water bodies Additional 75% of the original fee per water body
Requested modification of Division approved PEL 25% of the original fee

For Industrial Facilities 

A PEL is optional for industrial wastewater dischargers since the Regulation 22 site application process does not apply. The division has limited resources for industrial discharge PELs and may not be able to complete these PELs in a timely manner. Please reach out to the division’s industrial discharge permitting Unit Manager (at erin.scott@state.co.us) prior to applying for an industrial PEL. The division no longer accepts third-party PELs for industrial discharges for review and approval.

For Reclaimed Water

A Water Quality Planning Target will be needed for site approval of a localized water facility. As a first step, please contact Brandi Honeycutt at brandi.honeycutt@state.co.us.