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Clean Water Current - August 7

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 August 7, 2015

Final Water Quality Standards Rule Contains Several Key Changes

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NACWA is thoughtfully reviewing the final Water Quality Standards Rule to identify changes made and whether the Association’s January 2014 comments pdf button were addressed. Signed by the EPA Administrator on Wednesday, the final rule tracks closely with the proposal, with mostly minor changes to further clarify the Agency’s intent.

A number of more significant changes, however, were made by EPA to key sections based on comments it received. While the rule, in theory, applies only to states and their development and implementation of their water quality standards programs, several elements of the rule will have impacts for permittees, as well. In the rule, EPA finalized revisions in the same six areas it proposed to change: 1) Administrator’s Determination; 2) Highest Attainable Use; 3) Triennial Reviews; 4) Anti-Degradation; 5) Variances; and, 6) Compliance Schedules.

Consistent with NACWA’s comments, EPA revised the language on triennial reviews to clarify that states are not required to adopt all new or revised 304(a) criteria recommendations released since the prior review, and that states may prioritize which criteria they have the resources to address during a particular review process. The section on variances was changed extensively, resulting in a mixed bag for clean water utilities. Language indicating that variances should expire no later than 10 years after state adoption has been removed; however, the provisions for renewal of variances have been struck from the final rule. Instead of limiting the length of the variance and allowing for renewals, the rule allows for more open-ended variances, but with requirements for revisiting variances at regular intervals (no less than every 5 years) and loss of the variance if it is not reviewed regularly. In general, NACWA believes the language on variances, though potentially limiting some past flexibility the states may have had, is a positive indication that EPA is committed to ensuring this important tool is actually used.

There were also significant changes to the sections on highest attainable use and anti-degradation that NACWA will outline in a forthcoming Advocacy Alert. EPA’s website provides a redline pdf button comparison of the proposed and final regulatory language for those interested in seeing the actual revisions. At this time it is unclear whether the Agency plans any additional outreach, webinars, etc. to explain the content and impact of the rule. NACWA will alert the membership to any developments.

EPA, OMB Briefed on Great Lakes Legislation

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This week, NACWA met with key staff for EPA and the Office of Management & Budget (OMB) to brief them on provisions related to sewer overflows in the Great Lakes contained in the Senate’s FY 2016 spending package for the Agency. The Association shared its members’ concerns that the provisions are inconsistent with the Combined Sewer Overflow Policy; would place an absolute ban on blending during peak wet weather events; and, would result in catastrophic rate increases in communities that would need to make significant investments in their systems in order to comply.

OMB will play a significant role in negotiating a final FY 2016 budget deal with Congress later this year and is in a position to ensure these provisions are either stripped from the final package or significantly scaled back. Both agencies understood the detrimental impacts these provisions would have on many communities and asked NACWA to stay in touch as advocacy efforts unfold.

NACWA also held meetings on Capitol Hill with key Congressional offices including with staff for Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Representative David Joyce (R-OH). In addition to these outreach meetings, the Association circulated a survey to all Great Lakes dischargers likely impacted by these provisions, seeking information on potential compliance costs and water quality benefits. This data is being gathered to bolster the Association’s stance that the cost of complying with these provisions for many communities far exceeds hoped for water quality benefits.

NACWA Supports Nanomaterial Reporting Requirements

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NACWA submitted comments pdf button this week supporting EPA’s proposed reporting requirementspdf button for nanoscale materials. The proposal rule would require one-time reporting for existing nanomaterials and for new materials before they are manufactured or processed. The Association supported this reporting, and recommended additional periodic reporting, as the current lack of information about nanomaterials makes it difficult to assess their potential risks to the wastewater treatment process and the water environment. NACWA’s other recommendations included removing the reporting exemption for zinc oxide; keeping the minimum 135-day reporting period before a nanomaterial is manufactured or processed; and, notifying clean water agencies when a nanoscale material will be manufactured or processed in their service area.

GAO Report Highlights Importance of Clean Water SRF

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The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report pdf button this week examining the sustainability of the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds (SRFs), and highlighting the important role SRFs play in infrastructure funding. The report notes that the SRFs have been important not only in “providing billions of dollars of federal funding for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure,” but also in creating “innovative ways to finance such infrastructure while achieving environmental and health benefits.” GAO further acknowledges the important role of federal financial contributions to the SRFs in making them viable sources of funding.

The report, however, also identifies concerns over the long-term sustainability of many state SRF programs, and analyzes a number of factors influencing the ability of states to maintain necessary funding. GAO concludes that greater assistance from EPA, in the form of financial indicators guidance to help measure and project the future lending capability of state SRFs, would be helpful to ensure SRF sustainability. EPA has agreed with this recommendation and plans to take action developing such indicators during fiscal year 2016.

NACWA was interviewed by GAO during the development of the report and was pleased with GAO’s acknowledgement of the critical role the SRF program plays in funding water infrastructure needs.

NACWA Supports CWA Citizen Suit Reform Legislation

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On August 6, NACWA submitted a letter of support pdf button for proposed legislation pdf button, which would make responsible and needed reforms to the Clean Water Act’s (CWA) citizen suit provision. The proposed bill, introduced by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), would help curb some of the current abuse of the citizen suit provision while still preserving these suits as an important tool under the CWA.

The proposed bill would: 1) establish a maximum amount of total awarded attorney’s fees based off of local markets and the proportion of successful claims in each case; 2) clarify the definition of state and federal government “diligent prosecution” of alleged violations so that governments are able to exercise their enforcement authority; and, 3) allow for standard affirmative defenses to the Clean Water Act similar to those provided in other federal environmental statutes. These narrowly tailored amendments would help prevent meritless litigation that costs clean water agencies and communities millions of dollars in legal fees and settlements,

NACWA is backing efforts of the California Association of Sanitation Agencies (CASA), a leading voice in support of the legislation. Both CASA and NACWA members have been targets of abusive CWA citizen suits in recent years. The Association urges interested members to send letters of support to Rep. Hunter endorsing the legislation. Members are invited to use the NACWA letter of support to draft similar letters of their own.

Clean Power Plan Includes Opportunities for Utilities

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The Obama Administration unveiled its final Clean Power Plan on Monday, a measure that seeks to reduce carbon emissions from power plants. While the basic requirements of the Plan target coal, oil, and natural gas-powered electric generating units (EGUs), EPA has established an implementation framework that allows states to use increases in renewable energy, and improvements in demand-side energy efficiency, to meet their required state-level reduction goals. Consistent with comments pdf button filed by NACWA, the American Water Works Association (AWWA), and the National Association of Water Companies (NAWC) in 2014, the final Plan recognizes the role that water and wastewater utilities can potentially play in increasing energy efficiency and renewable energy generation. How utilities will be able to participate –and potentially access funding and incentives to generate renewable energy and increase efficiency – will be left entirely to the states. Association members are encouraged to follow efforts at the state level closely. The Clean Power Plan seeks to have all reductions in place by 2030, but legal challenges are anticipated, which could result in delayed implementation.

NACWA Lends Support to Five Cities Plus Conference

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NACWA CEO Adam Krantz keynoted the Thursday morning breakfast at the 2015 Five Cities Plus Conference this week in Cincinnati, Ohio. Krantz focused his remarks on the growing array of regulatory challenges that clean water utilities face, and the need for flexibility in carrying out the ever-expanding requirements of the Clean Water Act.

The conference was initially convened by five cities – Cincinnati, St. Louis, Columbus, Indianapolis, and Louisville –that joined together to discuss how to put together wet weather control programs, and negotiate and ultimately implement their wet weather consent decrees. The roster of utility partners in the region grew and now the conference enjoys nearly 400 attendees.

Krantz also participated in local media interviews with key utility leaders, including NACWA Board Members Tony Parrot, Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati, and Dave Rager, Northern Kentucky Sanitation District No. 1, as well as the U.S. Water Alliance President, Radhika Fox, who also spoke about the need to inform ratepayers of the true value of water as a means to develop support for increased local investment.

NACWA looks forward to closer collaboration with its utility partners to increase the Association's presence and support the 2016 Five Cities Plus Conference.

Dental Amalgam Rule Discussed at Region 6 Pretreatment Workshop

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NACWA’s Director of Regulatory Affairs, Cynthia Finley, participated in the annual Region 6 Pretreatment Workshop this week in Fort Worth, Texas. In remarks, Finley provided the Association’s position on EPA’s proposed dental amalgam separator rule pdf button, presenting an overview of the rule and its potential impacts on utilities. She also shared utility survey data in support of the Association’s position pdf button that the proposed rule is unnecessary and provides little environmental benefit at too high a cost. At the Agency’s request, NACWA recently provided additional mercury sampling data to EPA and is continuing to work with them and the Association’s Pretreatment & Pollution Prevention Committee on evaluation of the proposed rule and potential alternatives.

Coalition Unveils New Education Campaign & Toolkit

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This week, the Value of Water Coalition, of which NACWA is a member, unveiled its What's the Value of Water? campaign and toolkit. Using striking images, the campaign aims to shine a light on water – our most precious, but often invisible, resource.

The toolkit is available free of charge to any organization that is working to raise awareness about the importance of investment in water infrastructure and water resources. The kit has multiple downloadable resources including: bill stuffers, bill boards, social media images and more. The campaign was a product of collaboration among the 30 members of the Coalition and will be used for the upcoming Imagine A Day without Water pdf button, October 6-8.

 

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The Need for Public-Private Dialogue

Guest Blogger and NACWA President, Adel Hagekhalil discusses why the clean water community should be pulling up a chair at the table with the private sector to form a mutually-beneficial relationships. In Hagekhalil’s view, “There has never been a more important time for the public sector to share its story of success and be engaged in the dialogue on the role the private sector can play to supplement existing, municipally-led efforts. In this week’s blog, Hagekhalil also discusses NACWA’s partnership with the upcoming American Water Summit. Read on to find out more.

 

 

 
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