Clean Water Current - January 15
Board Member George Hawkins, CEO and General Manager of DC Water, and NACWA CEO Adam Krantz participated in a panel discussion this week to mark the first anniversary of the Administration’s creation of the Water Infrastructure & Resiliency Finance Center. Hosted at the White House by the National Economic Council, the event featured remarks from Stan Meiburg, Acting Deputy Administrator for EPA and Joel Beauvais, the new Acting Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water.
In his remarks on the work of the Finance Center, Krantz underscored the importance of focusing on affordability issues and ensuring that tools and assistance are in place for low income communities that enable utilities to raise rates as necessary to meet their needs. Krantz highlighted recent work on a potential Federal Low Income Water Assistance Program (LIWAP) and the need for continued federal investment in clean water. Hawkins stressed the importance of the Finance Center’s work to provide assistance to smaller communities that may not have the resources to take full advantage of the range of financing tools and opportunities that are available. There was general agreement that the Finance Center is playing a very valuable role in convening key stakeholders to discuss vital and timely finance and innovation-related issues. NACWA is coordinating with the Finance Center on several fronts and will continue to provide the membership with information on its resources and programs.
Earlier this week, NACWA sent letters of support to House and Senate sponsors of the Clean Water Compliance & Affordability Act. The legislation, if enacted, would require EPA to establish a pilot program under its Integrated Planning Initiative to work with fifteen communities across the country to develop and implement Integrated Planning programs. The bi-partisan legislation would also authorize EPA and states to extend the term of a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit up to twenty-five years for pilot communities. Additionally, the legislation would require EPA to report to Congress at the end of five years on the effectiveness of this approach to help communities control compliance costs under the Clean Water Act.
Ohio Senators Sherrod Brown (D) and Rob Portman (R) are cosponsoring the legislation in the Senate, and in the House, the lead co-sponsors are Ohio Representatives Steve Chabot (R) and Marcia Fudge (D). NACWA has supported funding an EPA pilot program for Integrated Planning in the past and is urging that funding be authorized as part of this legislation, as well.
NACWA convened and hosted a meeting this week of key national water sector and municipal organizations to discuss advocacy priorities for 2016. Conversation focused on areas where the various organizations will be working over the coming year, with each group providing a brief overview of its main advocacy initiatives.
The discussion revealed a number of shared advocacy goals, including work on the upcoming Water Resources Development Act in Congress; ensuring high levels of investment in the next budget for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds, and for the Water Infrastructure Finance & Innovation Act (WIFIA); engagement on EPA’s proposed Phase II stormwater rule; and, laying the groundwork for a new Congress and new presidential administration in 2017. NACWA also shared its primary advocacy objectives for 2016, including a push for targeted reforms to the Clean Water Act and key outreach to policymakers to “prime the pump” for larger discussions in the next Congress on changing the clean water paradigm.
Other organizations participating in the meeting included the Water Environment Federation (WEF), the Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF), the WateReuse Association (WateReuse), the U.S. Water Alliance (USWA), the National Association of Flood & Stormwater Management Agencies (NAFSMA), the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA), the National Association of Water Companies (NAWC), the National League of Cities (NLC), the National Association of Counties (NACo), the American Public Works Association (APWA), the Association of Clean Water Administrators (ACWA), and the Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments. All of the groups agreed to pursue continued collaboration and coordination. NACWA thanks these groups for their participation and looks forward to a continuing role in facilitating communication between the organizations.
NACWA and Water Environment Federation (WEF) members worked this week to compile comments on the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry’s (ATSDR) Draft Toxicological Profile for Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs). In a letter filed Thursday, NACWA echoed comments made by Member Agency the Hampton Roads Sanitation District, VA (HRSD), WEF, and the California Association of Sanitation Agencies (CASA) on the document’s handling of biosolids and land application. The Association extends special thanks to HRSD, who led the effort to develop the comments, and to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, IL for their contributions, as well as to a number of other NACWA and WEF members who worked quickly to compile the comments.
Many of the statements made in the draft document regarding biosolids are vague and without clear scientific basis – and could be easily misunderstood by those not familiar with the practice of land application. In addition, ATSDR’s document mischaracterizes the land application of biosolids as a disposal practice, instead of as beneficial reuse, and overlooks more recent research on the impacts of land application. NACWA and the other groups outlined a number of concerns and recommended revisions. The Association will follow up with ATSDR and encouraging them to better coordinate with the biosolids staff at EPA when revising the document.
NACWA welcomed the release this week of the long-awaited report from EPA’s 2012 Clean Watersheds Needs Survey. The Survey, conducted every four years, primarily captures more immediate investment needs – projects requiring action over a five-year period – to ensure compliance and proper operation needed to meet federal clean water mandates. The 2012 survey shows $271 billion in capital improvement needs for the nation’s wastewater infrastructure, including publicly owned wastewater pipes and treatment facilities ($197.8 billion); combined sewer overflow correction ($48.0 billion); stormwater management ($19.2 billion); and, recycled water distribution ($6.1 billion).
While the results of EPA’s survey clearly demonstrate a continuing need for substantial investment in the nation’s clean water infrastructure, the number does not include additional needs associated with the infrastructure gap utilities face just to maintain their existing infrastructure – estimated to be in the hundreds of billions of dollars over the next 20 years.
NACWA is also concerned that the underlying data feeding into the survey report do not capture the full extent of the needs. This could, in part, explain why EPA’s 2012 figure is more than $20 billion below its 2008 needs figure. A key issue in this apparent underreporting is the fact that the current Clean Water State Revolving Fund formula used to distribute capitalization grants is not tied to the actual underlying needs in each state.
The level of needs, the distribution formula, and related issues will all be topics of discussion in 2016 now that the survey report has been released. NACWA looks forward to working with EPA and the states to ensure the true extent of the investment needs facing the municipal clean water community is accurately understood.
NACWA is reviewing a summary document released by EPA this week, outlining data the Agency has collected on the performance of wastewater treatment during wet weather. An outgrowth of the Public Health Forum on blending EPA convened in 2014, the Agency compendium is intended to “highlight performance data for the spectrum of design and operational options associated with treatment of wet weather flows at municipal wastewater treatment facilities.” The new document summarizes the data the Agency has collected so far. According to EPA, the summary provides data from:
The Water Infrastructure Network (WIN) met this week with key staff from the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee to discuss the upcoming Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). Congress is anticipated to take up this legislation in the next few months. Although the bill will primarily focus on Army Corps of Engineers projects, WIN members discussed the possibility of including provisions related to water reuse, water recycling, and urban stormwater. Committee staff seemed open to this concept, and NACWA will be working with WIN in the coming months to further advance clean water priorities in these areas as part of the WRDA legislative package. NACWA is a founding member of WIN and participates on its Executive Committee.
The Treasury Department responded early this month to a recent letter from over 30 Members of Congress requesting a ruling that certain payments, made by water utilities make to private property owners to encourage water efficiency and stormwater management, are not taxable income. Although the response suggests that the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service believe the best way to avoid taxable income to homeowners from these programs would require a legislative change, the Department does commit to analyzing the legal issues involved and the potential for guidance.
NACWA’s recently-established Small & Medium Utility Advisory Workgroup will have its second conference call at 2:00 pm Eastern on Monday, January 25. Member Agencies serving populations of 50,000 or less that are interested in participating should contact Kelly Brocato.
Co-Chaired by Susan Holmes, NACWA Board Member and Chairwoman of the Central Davis Sewer District, Utah and Todd Danielson, Chief Utilities Executive of Avon Lake Regional Water, OH, the Workgroup was established to enhance the Association’s advocacy work on behalf of small and medium sized utilities and to explore opportunities to enhance the value of membership for both current and potential utilities. Member Agencies serving a population of 50,000 or less are strongly encouraged to get engaged in this effort.
NACWA Member Agency, The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District (MSD), recently unveiled its plan to spend $13.5 million to demolish vacant buildings as part of its $100 million green infrastructure program. The plan is awaiting EPA approval. Once buildings and other impervious surfaces are removed, stormwater will be able to seep into the ground rather than flow into sewers. The project will not only provide significant water capture for relatively little investment, the demolitions will add value to the community by removing eyesores, increasing public safety, increasing surrounding property values, and more than doubling the city’s efforts for such demolitions. MSD’s activities are aligned with the City of St. Louis’ Sustainability Plan. This effort is a perfect example of how NACWA members are using simple, low-cost green infrastructure projects to significantly address wet weather problems and have a big positive impact on their communities.
Looking Back – And Ahead
President Obama delivered his final State of the Union address this week presenting his vision for the future of the country, but notably missing from his discussion was any mention of increased investment in the nation’s infrastructure – especially water infrastructure. What has been accomplished during the Obama Administration on infrastructure, and what can we do in preparation for a new Administration and Congress? Read on to find out more.
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