Cooling towers are often used with air conditioning systems to make large commercial buildings feel comfortable. They are also used for cooling industrial processes that create a lot of heat. Cooling towers work by circulating water through pipes to remove unwanted heat.
Cooling towers release water at times, for instance, during maintenance. The water may contain chemicals to prevent algae, corrosion and scale; heavy metals; sediments; and other pollutants. These pollutants can harm fish and wildlife and degrade water quality if they flow into the storm drainage system or local streams.
Fairfax County must approve cooling tower connections to the public sanitary sewer or the county storm drainage system, which are two separate systems. Water released from a cooling tower is not allowed to flow into the storm drainage system unless it complies with state and local water quality regulations
The Virginia Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (VPDES) permit program limits the amount of pollutants that are allowed to flow into state waters. Under the program, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) issues permits for noncontact cooling water discharges; that is, cooling water that does not come in direct contact with raw materials, products or wastes. Permittees need to pay permit registration fees, monitor discharges from their cooling towers and submit monitoring reports.
The Stormwater Management Ordinance (Chapter 124 of the Fairfax County Code), prohibits discharges of non-stormwater to state waters unless the discharge is authorized by a state permit. Any unauthorized discharges to state waters through the county storm drainage system is considered an illicit discharge. Owners of existing cooling towers are required to correct violations in a timely fashion. If uncorrected, a violation may result in a civil penalty in an amount not to exceed $32,500 according to the County Code Section 124-8-3. Each day of a violation constitutes a separate offense.
Cooling Tower Fact Sheet
Fairfax County has prepared information to help owners and operators of cooling towers to comply with state and local water quality regulations.
Cooling Towers: Options for Property Owners
Frequently Asked Questions about Cooling Tower Discharges
I want to change a cooling tower connection from the storm drainage system to the sanitary sewer. Who can I contact for help with filing a plumbing permit application?
- Please contact the Land Development Services Customer Service Ombudsman at 703-324-1528, TTY 711 for permitting help and minimum submission requirements. Customers may also visit the Permit Application Center on the second floor of the Herrity Building at 12055 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax.
How do I determine the registration fee amount for a VPDES non-contact cooling water general permit?
- DEQ posts the VPDES permits, fees and regulations online.
My company manages several buildings that have cooling tower discharges that flow to the storm drainage system. Does each building require a separate permit?
- One VPDES non-contact cooling water general permit can cover multiple buildings as long as the cooling tower discharges, as a whole, do not exceed 50,000 gallons per day. Additionally, the buildings must be on one contiguous campus to be covered by one permit.
My cooling tower discharges into a stormwater management facility (i.e. dry pond, wet pond, underground detention, etc.). Do I still need a VPDES permit?
- DEQ may consider the presence of stormwater management facilities when they review the permit application. If there is a potential for the pollutants to reach surface waters then a permit may be required. If you have further question, please call DEQ at 703-583-3800.
If my permitted cooling tower does not produce an overabundance of chemicals or pollutants, can my permit be terminated?
- According to the general permit, a permit termination may be requested if the cooling tower changes discharge locations (i.e. plumb the discharge to the sanitary sewer) or the building changes ownership.
- Please contact Fairfax County's Industrial Waste Section at 703-550-9740 x252, TTY 771, before changing the discharge location from the stormwater system to the sanitary system. For questions about obtaining a plumbing permit, please contact the Land Development Services Customer Service Ombudsman at 703-324-1528, TTY 711.
Are there certain chemicals that DEQ allows to be discharged?
- Discharges must comply with Virginia Water Quality Standards. Please refer to the general permit regulation at 9 VAC 25-196-50 for examples of substances that are not allowed.
- DEQ does not maintain a list of approved commercial products.
Does Fairfax County provide a list of contractors/companies that can monitor the cooling tower discharge per the general permit requirements?
- Neither Fairfax County nor DEQ maintains a list of companies to contact for the permit's monitoring requirement. Any laboratory selected by the permittee must comply with Part II.A of the VPDES non-contact cooling water general permit. Please check back periodically for more answers to FAQs.
Please check back periodically for more answers to FAQs.
For additional information, email the Stormwater Planning Division or call 703-324-5500, TTY 711.