ARCHIVE SITE - Last updated Jan. 19, 2017. Please visit www.NACWA.org for the latest NACWA information.
Over 130 individuals attended NACWA’s 2015 National Clean Water Law Seminar this week in Henderson, Nevada and engaged in robust discussions of key issues in clean water law. John C. Cruden, the Assistant Attorney General for the Environment & Natural Resources Division (ENRD) of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), keynoted this year's Seminar. Cruden highlighted some of the most critical legal issues impacting clean water at a national level. He also delivered a powerful endorsement of the important work NACWA members do every day. While acknowledging that DOJ may often be engaged in adversarial legal proceedings with clean water agencies, he expressed deep appreciation for the efforts of utilities to protect the environment. Serving as the Nation's top federal environmental attorney, Cruden is charged with advancing ENRD's mission to safeguard and enhance America’s environment through litigation in federal and state courts. With many NACWA Member Agencies currently negotiating, renegotiating or considering reopening federal wet weather consent decrees, Cruden’s perspective on DOJ's objectives was well-received. Patricia Mulroy, the former head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority and a recognized thought leader on water issues, also provided a powerful luncheon address sharing her perspective on actions and innovations that are necessary to battle the immense challenges facing the water sector.
This year NACWA’s Law Seminar included two primers that provided overviews of the environmental laws most relevant to clean water practitioners – the ever popular Clean Water Act Primer, and the new Stormwater Primer. Other highlights included panel discussions, roundtables and presentations on negotiating permits, enforcement, integrated planning, affordability, and stormwater management. The program also featured several new topics including: The Era of Big Data: Opportunities & Legal Considerations; Stealth Regulation: A Mountain or a Molehill?; Get Off My Lawn! The Role of Clean Water Utilities on Private Property; and Empowering Innovation: The Role of Clean Water Lawyers in Advancing the Utility of the Future.
Presentations from the Seminar are available on NACWA’s website. The Association thanks all of the participants and sponsors from this year’s conference and looks forward to another great event next year!
This week NACWA filed an amicus curiaebrief in pending litigation in federal district court on the application of certain testing requirements for whole effluent toxicity (“WET”). The brief also challenged the ability of EPA to indirectly impose requirements on dischargers by pressuring state agencies to adopt the Agency’s desired policies without going through the rulemaking process required by the Administrative Procedures Act.
Despite the fact that EPA has issued no further guidance beyond a 2010 draft on the Test of Significant Toxicity (TST) to evaluate WET tests – and has failed to seek formal public comment on the procedure – Region 9 has continued to push for its use in permits, particularly in California. Especially troubling for some permitees is the use of the TST together with a modified WET test design that limits them to a single test concentration and a control, eliminating the safeguard of evaluating multiple test concentrations to confirm the results of a WET test. NACWA has been closely following the developments in California for several years, and provided comments to the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board on the Tentative Permit for NACWA Member Agency the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County’s (LACSD) San Jose Creek Water Reclamation Plant, which included use of the TST and a limit on the number of test concentrations.
The American Public Works Association (APWA) joined the growing number of national and local stakeholders voicing their opposition to the Great Lakes provision in the Senate’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 appropriations package for EPA. This $70 billion policy rider , requiring elimination of combined sewer overflows to the Great Lakes and prohibiting the discharge of blended effluent, will have severe consequences for utilities in the Great Lakes, and potentially set a nationwide precedent for utilities elsewhere. It is imperative that the entire municipal clean water community express its opposition to this language and this week, NACWA sent an Advocacy Alert urging its members to call or write their congressional delegation to urge opposition. Congress is expected to finalize the FY16 omnibus appropriations package in the coming weeks prior to the December 11 deadline when the current Continuing Resolution expires, so action is needed today!
You can find contact information for your House and Senate member by clicking on these links. Talking points and examples of letters are available on NACWA’s Great Lakes Resources webpage. More information can be also found in Advocacy Alert 15-18 .
The NACWA Board of Directors met in Henderson, Nevada on Tuesday to consider a number of critical Targeted Action Fund (TAF) projects aimed at supporting the Association’s Member Agencies and its advocacy agenda.
Nutrients, Rates & Communication All Receive Attention
FY 2016 TAF funding in the amount of $35,000 was approved to provide additional resources for continued participation in Gulf Restoration Network, et. al. v. EPA. The case involves efforts by environmental activist groups to compel EPA to promulgate numeric nutrient criteria (NNC) for the Mississippi River Basin (MRB) and northern Gulf of Mexico. NACWA’s early intervention in opposition to the litigation helped achieve a successful district court ruling for the municipal clean water community in September 2013. EPA appealed the decision on procedural grounds, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued a ruling in April 2015 upholding the key portions of the lower court ruling; however, the Fifth Circuit also remanded portions of the case to the district court, resulting in a new round of briefings requiring NACWA’s continued involvement.
A $10,000 FY 2016 TAF investment was authorized by the Board for a white paper examining the viability of establishing an Environmental Utility in Illinois and Ohio. As envisioned, the Environmental Utility would be charged with raising capital and making investments in best management practices on private and public lands that reduce nutrient loadings in Illinois and Ohio tributaries flowing to the Gulf of Mexico. The Utility would focus on investments that support and develop markets that lead to multiple environmental, social and economic benefits. If successful, this effort could potentially demonstrate an alternative pathway to tackling nutrient challenges in a way that traditional statewide, regulatory-driven models do not – providing a model approach that could be replicated elsewhere and driving policy decisions at the Federal level.
NACWA plans to partner with the Water Environment Federation (WEF), Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA), American Water Works Association (AWWA), National Association of Water Companies (NAWC), Water Research Foundation (WRF) and the Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF) on a Resource Guide on Variable Rates & Subsidies. A FY 2016 TAF expenditure of not to exceed $25,000 has approved to move this important effort forward. NACWA members have urged the Association to advocate for policies that support rate subsidization programs to address Clean Water Act-related affordability issues. As proposed, the groups will conduct an information gathering effort and examination of subsidy program models in use with a specific focus on the statutory, regulatory, constitutional and policy underpinnings of variable rate programs at the state and local levels. The examination would provide a state-by-state analysis of different subsidy programs available, the legal frameworks that support them, and the specific legal or regulatory barriers to the use of variable rates. The findings will be published as a resource guide prepared in coordination with an effort by EPA to publish a compendium of rate assistance programs that have been implemented by water and wastewater utilities in select communities. The targeted publication date for both reports would be late fall 2016.
Building on a growing interest in strategic communications among NACWA’s staff and leadership, the Board acted this week to approve $100,000 in FY 2016 TAF funds for a comprehensive communications audit. The audit will include internal and external opinion research and an assessment of digital and social media effectiveness, as well as provide vitally important information on how NACWA can focus its efforts to obtain strategic earned media on its advocacy issues and utility successes. The audit will help the Association better understand how to best impact the national landscape while conveying a positive message for our sector.
In FY 2016, the TAF will continue to support numerous key Association initiatives and programs – bolstering the effectiveness of the Association’s advocacy agenda, maximizing the ability of Member Agencies to collectively conduct and complete initiatives identified as critical by the membership, and offering an incredible return on investment by saving clean water agencies millions of dollars annually in cost savings and avoided costs.
TAF Resilience Fund Approved
At their November meeting the Board also acted to create a special fund to ensure the resilience of the Targeted Action Fund. The new TAF Resilience Fund will support the vision of a TAF ‘war chest’ and provide funding to respond quickly to urgent, unanticipated requests. The goal would be for the Fund to reach $500,000 in ten years (FY 2026). Initial funding of $70,000 in unallocated FY 2015 TAF resources was provided to ‘seed’ the Fund – with future allocations of 40% of all annual TAF carryover funds allocated until a goal of $500,000 is reached. Expenditures from the Fund will require Board of Directors approval, as do all TAF expenditures.
This week, NACWA’s Board of Directors acted to appoint Dax Blake, Administrator of Sewerage & Drainage for the City of Columbus, Ohio to a Region 5 seat on the Association’s Board. In September, Board Member James A. ‘Tony’ Parrott stepped down as Executive Director of the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati, having accepted a similar position at the Louisville & Jefferson County Metropolitan Sewer District – thus creating the vacancy. Blake was recommended for the post by the Association’s Nominating Committee, having served as Co-Chair of NACWA’s Facility & Collection Systems Committee and as the President of the Association of Ohio Metropolitan Wastewater Agencies (AOMWA). Blake’s nomination to the Board was supported by NACWA Member Agencies the City of Ft. Wayne, Indiana; the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati, Ohio; the City of Akron Water Reclamation Services, Ohio; and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, Wisconsin. NACWA welcomes Dax Blake to its Board.
NACWA's November 2-3 Fall Strategic Leadership Retreat provided a unique opportunity for the Association's Board of Directors and standing committee, workgroup, and task force leaders to engage in strategic discussions and plan for the new fiscal year. In this transitional year for NACWA, a number of key strategic issues were discussed as the Association's leadership considered an updated and streamlined Strategic Plan – aligned with a new multi-year Financial Plan. The proposed Strategic Plan focuses in three key areas for NACWA – Advocacy; Membership Development & Engagement; and Communication – outlining both goals and the strategies to achieve them. Similarly, the proposed Financial Plan links the goals of the Association’s Strategic Plan to key financial outcomes, charting a path for growth over the coming years. Input received at the Retreat will be incorporated into the two proposed plans, which will be presented to the Board of Directors for approval when they next meet in February.
NACWA weighed in on Idaho’s ongoing rulemaking to update the state’s human health criteria this week, encouraging the state to resist pressure from EPA Region 10 to make changes to its proposal. The Association’s letter highlighted that EPA’s role in the water quality standards program is limited and that the Agency should not try to influence the outcome of a state rulemaking to suit its policy preferences. While state standards must, by law and regulation, reflect the best available science and protect designated uses, the standards development process also incorporates numerous state policy and risk decisions. NACWA’s letter highlighted that Idaho has “demonstrated a sound and thoughtful process for evaluating what policy and risk decisions will work best for the state and be consistent with the CWA” and has “done its homework” to consider the current science and EPA guidance and make the policy and risk decisions necessary to protect human health – responsibilities that lie squarely within Idaho’s purview. As it did earlier in the year in Washington, EPA Region 10 has applied pressure on Idaho in an effort to influence the state’s rulemaking to ensure it includes key federal policy preferences. NACWA continues to believe that such tactics are inconsistent with the CWA’s cooperative federalism foundation that provides the states the responsibility for developing and approving water quality standards. The Association’s letter encouraged Idaho to “retain state autonomy in development of a human health rule based on science and state policy choices that are consistent with the CWA.” NACWA will remain engaged in the rulemaking efforts that continue in Washington and Idaho.
NACWA will be hosting a New Jersey Long Term Control Plan Workshop on December 10 designed specifically for New Jersey clean water utilities and municipalities that are beginning work on development of combined sewer overflow (CSO) long-term control plans (LTCPs). Since many New Jersey communities recently received new CSO permits requiring the development of LTCPs, now is an excellent time for utilities in the state to learn the basics of the LTCP process. The Workshop will include presentations from both federal and New Jersey regulators discussing how they view LTCPs and the important opportunity utilities have to pursue LTCPs through a permit approach; an analysis of the key legal and regulatory framework underlying the LTCP process from top clean water experts; and a series of case studies from clean water utilities that have already embarked on CSO LTCPs sharing how their utilities approached the planning phase and what they have learned during implementation.
The Workshop is being presented in association with Jersey Water Works, will take place immediately following the New Jersey Urban Water Conference on December 10 at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark. The Urban Water Conference will include important discussions on how transforming New Jersey’s inadequate urban water infrastructure can deliver not just sustainable infrastructure but multiple community benefits, including healthier, safer neighborhoods, clean waterways, local green jobs, flood and climate resilience and, ultimately, economic growth. NACWA encourages New Jersey clean water utilities and municipalities to attend both the Urban Water Conference and the following LTCP Workshop to gain the best understanding of how to address CSO and other clean water issues in the most comprehensive way.
Registration for the Urban Water Conference and the Workshop is free of charge, and more information is available on NACWA’s website. Make your plans to attend today!
The Environmental & Energy Study Institute (EESI) hosted a briefing on November 2, Farming & Water Quality: Conservation Policies Working to Reduce Nutrient Loss. The panel featured five experts on the issue, including NACWA Member Agency, the City of Cedar Rapids, Iowa represented by Tariq Baloch, Water Utility Plant Manager. Multiple speakers emphasized that farmers understand the problem, are dedicated to being part of the solution, and are making efforts and investing in practices to decrease nutrient runoff. The importance of innovative technologies to help farmers increase nutrient retention and decrease nutrient loss was also stressed.
Speakers also emphasized the importance of collaboration and working with farmers through voluntary and incentive-based approaches to tackle the nutrient issue. Baloch spoke about the $4.3 million Middle Cedar Partnership Project (MCPP), funded by the USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) and MCPP partners. The project is a voluntary partnership among many stakeholders in the region to implement conservation and best management practices to improve the Cedar River Watershed and conduct outreach efforts to educate more community members.
The RCPP was established in the 2012 Farm Bill and supported by NACWA and members of the Healthy Waters Coalition, a group of municipal water and wastewater organizations, state regulators and non-governmental organizations focused on strengthening the links between agricultural policy and water quality. The MCPP is one of many collaborations underway between the agricultural community and municipal water and wastewater utilities to improve both nutrient management practices and water quality.
The National Fish & Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) announced a request for proposals on November 3 for the 2016 Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration Grant Program. This program is a public-private partnership between federal agencies, associations, foundations, and private companies that seeks to develop community stewardship of local natural resources and address water quality issues in key watersheds. Priority will be given to projects that advance water quality goals in underserved communities and projects that directly advance priorities of the 19 Urban Water Federal Partnership designated locations. There will be approximately $2.4 million available in combined funding for the 2016 round of grants. Proposals are due Tuesday, February 3, 2016.
The FTC Flunks “Flushable” Wipes
Best of the Blog: The FTC Flunks “Flushable” Wipes The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced on Monday that it finalized a consent order with Nice-Pak Products, Inc. requiring the company to stop advertising its wipes as “flushable” unless it can substantiate the claim. This consent order is the first action by a government agencies to deal with the flushability issue, and represents huge step in the right direction for ensuring that any wipe labeled “flushable” should not cause problems for wastewater utilities. Will this case set the precedent to end wipes clogging pipes? Read on to find out.