ARCHIVE SITE - Last updated Jan. 19, 2017. Please visit www.NACWA.org for the latest NACWA information.
GAO Report Highlights Water Infrastructure Challenges
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report last week highlighting the challenges cities with declining populations are facing in maintaining their water and wastewater infrastructure. NACWA was interviewed by GAO as part of its research for the report. The Association highlighted the specific and unique affordability challenges that communities with shrinking rate bases confront when seeking additional funds for clean water infrastructure investment.
The report, which was requested by Congress, looked at water and wastewater utilities in 10 cities with declining populations across the nation to examine the economic characteristics of those communities and their infrastructure needs, strategies the communities have used to address their needs, and what federal programs exist that could assist in meeting those needs. The report did not make policy recommendations regarding these issues; however, its findings highlight that these cities are facing increasing financial pressures in meeting their water infrastructure obligations and suggests that the currently available federal programs are not sufficient.
While the data outlined by GAO in the report will not surprise anyone familiar with the water infrastructure challenges facing public clean water agencies, it does reinforce the need for additional financial assistance to communities struggling with affordability challenges. As NACWA and its members continue strong advocacy for federal policy makers to address affordability and low income issues, this report can provide valuable data to help make that case.
NACWA has been carefully tracking EPA’s efforts on its planned study of nutrient removal and secondary treatment technologies, including the Agency’s development of a screener survey that will be sent to all 15,000+ publicly owned treatment works (POTWs) in the U.S. EPA hopes that the study will establish a nationwide baseline for nutrient removal at POTWs and characterize low-cost options, such as operation and management practices, that can result in improved nutrient control.
In advance of sending the screener survey, EPA is planning to send a letter to all POTWs explaining the purpose of the study and why the Agency believes it is necessary to conduct it via Section 308 of the Clean Water Act. In addition to the letter, EPA is hosting four webinars to provide background on the study. The webinars will also focus on demonstrating the content and electronic format of the draft questionnaire. The webinars will take place on November 2, 2016 and November 10, 2016 and will be offered at 10:00 am – 11:30 am and 2:00 pm – 3:30 pm Eastern Time on both dates. Attendees must register in advance, and EPA has indicated that space is limited. Registration for the webinars, a draft of the questionnaire, and more information on the study can be found at the study’s website.
The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit held oral arguments October 21 in litigation over EPA’s application of a previous federal court ruling regarding blending at clean water utilities. The case, Center for Regulatory Reasonableness (CRR) v. EPA, involves a 2013 decision by the 8th Circuit in Iowa League of Cities v. EPA, which struck down the Agency’s efforts to illegally regulate blending. EPA subsequently indicated that it believes the decision applies only in the 8th Circuit, and that it will apply the decision elsewhere in the country on a case-by-case basis.
The current litigation challenges the Agency’s refusal to apply the Iowa League decision nationwide and its case-by-case approach to blending. During oral arguments, the panel of three judges focused their questions on procedural issues, exploring whether the EPA’s refusal to apply the 8th Circuit ruling is subject to judicial review and whether the issue couldn’t simply be challenged at the permitting stage. CRR focused its arguments on the costly implications of the uncertainty created by the Agency’s refusal to consistently apply the decision, while EPA argued that even within the 8th Circuit it may still prohibit blending where appropriate and that permittees have the opportunity for comment and judicial review upon issuance of a permit.
Full audio of the argument is available on the court’s website. NACWA filed an amicus brief in the case in October 2015, providing a critical national utility perspective on the important issue of blending and arguing for application of the Iowa League decision nationwide. A decision in the case is possible in the next few months, and NACWA will keep the membership updated on developments.
NACWA kept up its advocacy last week on Capitol Hill for continued progress on the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2016. Both the House and the Senate both passed WRDA legislation this year with overwhelming bipartisan support. The House and Senate bills both contain U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ authorizations and provisions, including a NACWA provision to encourage collaboration with municipalities on stormwater management, as well as aid for Flint and authorization of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI). The Senate bill also includes a range of provisions that would address integrated planning, clean affordability and infrastructure investment. The House and Senate are now working to reconcile their bills. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has publicly stated that WRDA passage is a priority, but the path forward is hardly clear in light of the differences between the two bills and political uncertainty in this election year.
Representatives from several NACWA Member Agencies were featured throughout the program at World Water-Tech North America, October 19 – 20, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Kathryn Sorensen, Director of the Water Services Department for the City of Phoenix, AZ; Juliet Ellis, Assistant General Manager for External Affairs at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, CA; and Pamela Elardo, Deputy Commissioner for Wastewater Treatment at the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, NY headlined a panel discussion on infrastructure investment in response to the challenges of climate change.
NACWA CEO Adam Krantz also was on hand to chair a session titled Rethinking the Water Utility from an Energy Perspective featuring perspectives from Andy Kricun, NACWA Board Member and Executive Director/Chief Engineer for the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority, NJ and Steve Fancher, Public Works Director for the City of Gresham, OR.
World Water-Tech brings together utilities, technology providers, investment firms and other key stakeholders to accelerate the use of innovative technology in the water sector. NACWA was a supporting partner for the conference.
NACWA also participated in the 2016 Ontario Utility Management Forum in Toronto. Utilities from Canada asked the Association to participate to discuss the Utility of the Future (UOTF) concept and heard presentations from NACWA's Past President, Adel Hagekhalil, Assistant Director of the City of Los Angeles – LA Sanitation, CA who spoke about the innovative work the City is doing; Adam Krantz, who described how the UOTF came into being and how it continues to evolve and expand; and WEF Board of Trustees Member Jackie Jarrell, Operations Chief with Charlotte Water, NC who addresses the water sector’s collaborative work being done on the UOTF effort, including the joint UOTF Today recognition program.
NACWA submitted comments last week on the Federal Emergency Management Administration’s (FEMA) proposed Regulations to Implement Executive Order 13690 and the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard (FFRMS), outlining concerns and questions from the municipal clean water utility community. The FFRMS could potentially impact NACWA members using federal funding for an infrastructure project that is located in a floodplain, and the FEMA implementation policy would impact those using FEMA funding, e.g. the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.
NACWA’s comments requested that FEMA and other federal agencies work together to ensure that the implementation of the FFRMS is consistent across all agencies involved in the same project, and requested clarity on how green infrastructure installations used to manage wet weather flows would be treated under the FEMA guidelines. Other federal agencies are also required to revise their regulations and operating procedures to incorporate the requirements of the executive order/FFRMS. NACWA will monitor these proposals for their potential impact on clean water utilities as they are published.
NACWA participated in the Southeast Stormwater Association’s Annual Conference last week, providing a national update on top advocacy issues impacting the municipal stormwater community. The Association covered a number of important regulatory, legislative, and legal topics, including EPA’s current work on the new rule for the Phase II stormwater program, key elements of the Water Resources Development Act that could benefit stormwater utilities, and how the ongoing litigation over a recent stormwater permit issued in Massachusetts could have national implications.