Amended rules for water quality variances

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has adopted new water quality variance procedural rules. The new rules will provide a clearer variance process for regulated parties, consistency in the state’s variance rules and federal requirements, and improved efficiency in the MPCA processing of variance requests. 

The new rules become effective on October 24, 2016.

Procedural documents

November 9, 2015 — Proposed rule amendments and related documents

Hearing and post-hearing information

February 4, 2016 – Public hearing exhibits and comments

February 4 – 24, 2016 — Comments submitted to the Office of Administrative Hearings during the post-hearing comment period:

February 25 – March 2, 2016 — Comments submitted to the Office of Administrative Hearings during the post-hearing rebuttal period:

April 18, 2016 — Office of Administrative Hearings Report

October 2016

A water quality variance is a temporary change in a state's water quality standard for a specific pollutant, allowing a permittee discharging wastewater additional time to meet the standard. As the agency delegated to implement the Clean Water Act, the MPCA may grant variances through the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System/State Disposal System (NPDES/SDS) permit program. Because of this delegation, MPCA must assess a variance using the same conditions and criteria that the EPA uses.

These proposed rule amendments address inconsistencies in the water quality variance rules. Currently variance provisions are in several different rules and the procedures under which a variance is granted are also different. The MPCA may grant variances to the water quality standards in Minnesota Rules chapters 7050 and 7052 and the effluent discharge restrictions in 7053. The inconsistencies in the rules can be confusing to regulated parties, and make it difficult for the MPCA to maintain consistency in the variance process and compliance with applicable federal requirements on the issuance of variances. The MPCA is also proposing these amendments so the revised rule is consistent with EPA’s application of variances and 40 Code of Federal Regulations § 131.10(g). The EPA is required to review variances from Minnesota’s water quality standards, and consistency with the applicable federal requirements will reduce delay in EPA’s review and approval and subsequent permit issuance.

The proposed rules amend the procedural requirements for obtaining a variance and will not result in more or less restrictive water quality standards or a change to a water quality standard. The intent of the rules is to provide clearer variance procedures for regulated parties, and consistency in the state’s variance rules and with applicable federal requirements for approving variances, resulting in improved efficiency in processing variance requests.

A summary of the proposed changes is provided above in the fact sheet Draft Amended Rules for Water Quality Variances. For more detailed information about the proposed rule changes, please refer to the Statement of Need and Reasonableness, also above.

More information on variances is available on the Water Quality Variance webpage.



Publish Request for Comments

October 2012 and March 2013

Stakeholder engagement

A stakeholder meeting on a preliminary draft of the rules was held July 22, 2013, at the MPCA office in St. Paul and webcast. The purpose of the meeting was to share draft rule language, clarify the intent of the rulemaking, and answer questions on the draft rules. A copy of the preliminary draft rules, meeting agenda and presentation, and other rule related materials are provided above in the Rule-related documents.


Publish Dual Notice

Published November 9, 2015
Comment period closes at 4:30 on Tuesday, December 29, 2015
Submit comments to:

Publish Notice of Hearing

Published December 28, 2015


February 4, 2016

Final adoption of rules

~6 months after hearing


For technical questions about the variance rules:

Elise Doucette

For questions about the status of the variance rules or the rulemaking process:

Mary H. Lynn