The Hawaii Department of Health, Clean Water Branch (DOH-CWB) administers the Section 401 Water Quality Certification (WQC) program in the state. Section 401 WQCs are required for any activity/project that requires a federal permit or license and may result in a water pollutant discharge to state waters. On average, the DOH-CWB receives 35 new Section 401 WQC applications per year and has one staff engineer to process these applications. Many of the government agency applicants expressed concern about long Section 401 WQC processing times (approximately one year on average). These applicants needed the Section 401 WQC processed sooner so they can complete projects to benefit Hawaii.
To address the long processing time concerns, the DOH conducted a Kaizen improvement process that focuses on eliminating waste, improving productivity, and achieving sustained continual improvement. The Kaizen was held during a week in 2015 and was facilitated by a consultant specializing in streamlining government processes. There were 14 participants, including regulatory agencies (Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. EPA, and DOH-CWB) and Section 401 WQC government applicants (Department of Transportation, City and County of Honolulu, and Department of Land and Natural Resources).
During the event, participants learned about Kaizen streamlining principles; discussed the existing Section 401 WQC process, concerns with the existing process, and potential causes of the long processing times; and applied Kaizen tools and principles to develop streamlining recommendations targeting the long processing times. It was determined that the existing Section 401 WQC process was lengthy due to 1) back-and-forth correspondence between the DOH-CWB and applicants regarding proposed Best Management Practices (BMPs) and monitoring plans; 2) the same applicants submitting Section 401 WQC applications for different projects with similar activities, but with different proposed BMPs and monitoring plans due to having different project consultants, resulting in DOH-CWB having to do project specific reviews for every application; 3) DOH-CWB reviewing each Section 401 WQC application in the same manner and imposing the same requirements regardless of project size and potential impact to water quality; 4) DOH-CWB having one reviewer for the entire state; and 5) the DOH-CWB reviewer spending a lot of time with applicants wanting to change their BMPs and monitoring plans after the Section 401 WQC is issued.
The DOH-CWB decided to implement a streamlining process based on a combination of recommendations from the Kaizen that addressed each of the causes of the long application processing times. This streamlined process is voluntary and involves applicants developing their own Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for activities they normally perform that require a Section 401 WQC. The SOPs must contain design requirements to protect water quality and have considerations to restore the natural function of receiving waterbodies; construction requirements with activity-specific BMPs; and administrative requirements to ensure that applicants include their SOPs in their contracts/bid documents and enforce their own SOPs. Once the DOH-CWB accepts the SOPs, the applicant can reference it in its Section 401 WQC applications for any activity requiring an Army Corps of Engineers Nationwide Permit, which are for activities that have relatively minor environmental impacts. Since the SOPs will have already been approved, the DOH-CWB will not have to review it again. This minimizes the causes of the long processing times identified in the Kaizen by ending the back and forth with the applicant over BMPs and monitoring plans. Also, the SOPs allow the applicant to pre-determine the suite of BMPs they know will work based on their experience, eliminating the need for different BMP proposals from their consultants and the need to change BMPs after the Section 401 WQC is issued. The DOH-CWB’s 1 reviewer will have more time to focus on larger projects with a greater potential to impact water quality.
Results to Date:
- The DOH-CWB held a series of group stakeholder meetings to explain the streamlining process.
- The DOH-CWB has also been meeting with individual applicants who are actively developing SOPs.
- The Department of Transportation, Highways Division and the Federal Highways Administration, Central Federal Lands Division developed SOPs that have been approved by the DOH-CWB. These SOPs were used in three of their applications, and the average processing time was 30 days. This is a 92% improvement in processing time compared to the previous one-year processing time.
Engineering Section Supervisor, Clean Water Branch
Hawaii Department of Health