Clean Water Current - February 5
NACWA joined with other key national water sector organizations this week in delivering a joint message to our respective memberships about the unfolding water crisis in Flint, Michigan. The message shows the common concern all the organizations share for the people of Flint and demonstrates a collaborative commitment to ensuring a swift and appropriate response to the situation. NACWA played a leading role in crafting the message.
The statement acknowledges that the technical drinking water issues at the forefront in Flint are best addressed by the national drinking water associations, and it confirms a commitment by all the organizations to ensure questions related to specific issues are directed to the organizations best suited to respond effectively and knowledgeably. At the same time, the signatory groups commit to help lead a broader discussion on water infrastructure needs facing the nation – especially related to affordability – at the appropriate time.
Organizations signing the statement include the American Water Works Association (AWWA), the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA), the National Association of Water Companies (NAWC), the U.S. Water Alliance, the Water Environment Federation (WEF), the Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF), the Water Research Foundation (WRF), and NACWA.
The Value of Water coalition, of which NACWA is a member, also released a well-crafted statement regarding Flint outlining guiding principles to secure our water future. AWWA is also providing key technical information on the lead-related issues in Flint available here.
NACWA will continue coordinating with the broader national water sector organizations regarding this important national discussion.
On Thursday, Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Richard Hanna (R-NY), and John Duncan (R-TN) introduced H.R. 4468, The Water Infrastructure Trust Fund Act. The bipartisan proposal will provide deficit-neutral revenue to help states replace and repair critical clean and drinking water facilities. The bill also requests – for the first time in federal legislation and with NACWA and the Water Infrastructure Network’s urging – a serious analysis of the affordability challenges facing low income populations with regard to drinking water and clean water services, including what role the federal government can play in helping to incentivize pricing that reflects the true value of water.
The bill would establish a Water Infrastructure Trust Fund that increases funding for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds through a voluntary labeling system for consumer goods. The legislation also addresses the widespread affordability challenge facing utilities by requiring EPA, working with the States, to study the challenges faced by low-income populations in paying for water services. The study will include an analysis of how the federal government could provide financial assistance to low income communities that would allow local communities to raise revenue as needed. Such an approach would empower utilities to raise rates necessary to fully invest in their systems while not overburdening their low income populations with higher rates.
Rep. Blumenauer, the lead sponsor of the bill, has been planning to reintroduce trust fund legislation for some time; however, the timing of the introduction was accelerated due to recent developments in Flint, Michigan. While the underlying causes of the Flint crisis are complex the crisis has also brought to the fore at a national policy level deep concern over the nation’s water infrastructure.
NACWA worked closely with Rep. Blumenauer to ensure the study on affordability and low income issues was included in the legislation, which the Association believes must be a critical component in any discussions moving forward. Please see NACWA’s press release for more information. The NACWA is a strong supporter of the bill and the Association’s CEO, Adam Krantz, was quoted in the Rep. Blumenauer’s official press release.
The drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan is threatening to bring down comprehensive energy legislation under debate in the Senate as Democrats wage an effort to force action providing financial aid for the City before they will allow final votes on the bipartisan package. The Senate has been debating comprehensive energy legislation for the past two weeks, which includes measures to strengthen the links between water and energy policy and measures to incentivize energy efficiency at water and wastewater treatment plants. As the drinking water crisis in Flint has unfolded, pressure has mounted for Congress to respond with a financial aid package to help city residents replace their lead pipes and address public health impacts.
Michigan Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters are seeking $600 million in financial aid, and Senate Democrats have threatened to filibuster the energy package until a deal is negotiated. Completing an energy bill is a top priority for Republican leaders – and they are also interested in proving financial support for Flint – but disagreements exist over the amount and form of the assistance. Congressional negotiators are trying to work out a deal this weekend so that completion of the energy package can move forward.
Meanwhile, the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee held a hearing on the Flint crisis on Wednesday. Despite strong calls from Democrats, Michigan Governor Snyder was not invited as a witness. Susan Hedman, former head of EPA Region 5, and Darnell Earley, former Emergency Manager for Flint, also did not attend the hearing. Representatives on both sides of the aisle passionately questioned witnesses to determine the facts and the timing of events. Future hearings on this issue will continue to address key questions of how the crisis occurred and how to prevent similar situations across the country. A video recording of the hearing and key documents can be found here.
The Flint crisis has also sparked calls for additional federal funding to the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) and the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF). Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a senior member of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, sent a letter to the White House this week requesting additional funds for these programs. This likely sets the stage for additional Congressional discussions, possibly as part of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) that funds the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. WRDA is expected to move forward in the spring. NACWA will continue to be closely engaged in all of these efforts and report to the membership on developments.
The Obama Administration recently released a report outlining the various federal initiatives fostering water technology innovation and identifying some of the most pressing national water challenges. The document does not announce any new programs, but instead highlights the Administration’s ongoing efforts to provide technical support, data aggregation, and form strategic partnerships. The Build America Investment Initiative, the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Infrastructure Opportunity Fund, EPA’s Water Infrastructure & Resiliency Finance Center, and the Department of Interior’s Natural Resources Infrastructure Center are all discussed in the report to showcase the President’s commitment to the idea of balancing public and private financing for infrastructure.
Reclamation of municipal wastewater, which the National Research Council estimates could increase the equivalent of 27% of the public supply of fresh water, is another area of innovation highlighted by the report -- especially with regard to the drought-stricken western U.S.
NACWA has participated in a number of discussions with the White House on this issue in recent weeks, including a meeting on January 29. The Association and Member Agencies will also participate in a White House Water Summit on March 22 to further explore concepts of water innovation discussed in the report, raise awareness of broader water challenges in the United States, and identify potential solutions.
On Wednesday, EPA filed a brief in the litigation Center for Regulatory Reasonableness v. EPA currently pending in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals dealing with the blending issue. The case stems from the Eighth Circuit’s 2013 decision in Iowa League of Cities v. EPA, striking down EPA's efforts to regulate blending through application of secondary treatment limits internal to the treatment plant before the final point of effluent discharge. The Agency has subsequently indicated that it will not apply the Eight Circuit decision nationwide, leading to additional litigation over whether EPA is legally justified in taking that position.
In its brief filed this week, EPA argues that it did not take any final agency action regarding blending that warrants review by the D.C. Circuit, and that it is entitled to invoke “the doctrine of intercircuit nonacquiescence” in its application of the Iowa League of Cities decision as other circuit courts could choose not to follow the Eighth Circuit’s ruling for any number of reasons.
NACWA filed a brief in the case in October 2015, pushing back against EPA's regulatory approach to blending and arguing that the Iowa League decision should be applied nationwide. Additional information on the case is available on the Association’s Litigation Tracking page.
On Tuesday, Chairman Bob Gibbs (R-OH) of the House Water Resources & Environment Subcommittee led a roundtable policy discussion regarding stakeholder priorities for the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which was attended by NACWA staff. WRDA authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ work including flood control, navigation, and environmental restoration and protection.
Roundtable participants included Ms. Barbara Romero, Deputy Mayor of City Services in Los Angeles, who spoke about the City’s WRDA priorities including restoring the LA River, investing in the Port of LA, and addressing water quality and supply – including through stormwater capture and reuse and groundwater recharge. This testimony helped direct attention to opportunities for the Corps to better respond to local stormwater and water reuse issues.
NACWA is exploring opportunities to advance municipal stormwater and water reuse priorities as part of the WRDA bill. This week’s roundtable marks the start of the legislative process to develop the legislation. House majority leadership has expressed their intent to maintain regular order and pass a 2016 WRDA bill this year, which will likely mean the need to keep the legislation relatively narrow. Leadership, however, has also expressed interest in additional tangible reforms, and appears open to small changes that facilitate more collaborative and efficient relationships between the Corps and local governments and utilities. It is also likely that developments in Flint, Michigan will result in additional funding requests for water infrastructure being tied to WRDA (see related article).
Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) filed an amendment this week to the Senate energy bill that would change the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to expand tax exclusions for financial subsidies issued by utilities to homeowners for water conservation measures and installation of green infrastructure to reduce stormwater runoff. There has been growing concern about whether these types of subsidy programs – along with programs to address inflow and infiltration in private laterals – must be reported by homeowners to the IRS as income, thus potentially dampening the willingness of homeowners to participate.
This week’s amendment, which is in line with the recent work NACWA and a coalition of other interested groups has undertaken, raises awareness of the positive contributions these types of subsidy programs make to the health of their communities. While the chances of the amendment’s ultimate passage are still very uncertain, it does demonstrate the continued attention that Congress is paying to this important issue. NACWA will continue its engagement on this matter and keep members updated.
NACWA convened a meeting of the National Stormwater Advocacy Network (NSAN) this week to discuss EPA’s Phase II stormwater proposal. The proposal would modify EPA’s regulations for small stormwater systems to allow for more public input on state general stormwater permit requirements. The various options laid out in the proposal will affect each state differently depending on how their current general permit program (if they have one) is structured.
Representatives from the state and regional stormwater groups on the call relayed their preferences and concerns. NACWA and NSAN are exploring potential common ground with various stakeholders as the process moves forward and are determining if the NSAN will file comments with the Agency. Comments are due on March 21.
NACWA presented this week at the American Law Institute’s (ALI) Environmental Law Conference. Amanda Waters, General Counsel & Director of Public Affairs, participated in a panel discussion on the Latest Developments Concerning Water Resources, Water Quality, and Wetlands. Her presentation focused on nutrient pollution litigation and developments in municipal wet weather enforcement.
For more than 45 years, the ALI Environmental Law conference has attracted a national audience of lawyers and environmental professionals to explore the latest developments and emerging trends in the field of environmental law. The 2016 conference, held this week in Washington, DC, examined environmental law as the end of the Obama Administration nears.
NACWA is assisting the Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF) as it conducts a national survey on integrated planning. The survey results will be used to develop a Users’ Guide to help communities better navigate the integrated planning process and obtain regulatory support for cost-effective and implementable integrated plans.
The WERF project team has devised an online survey to gather input. The project team is looking for one response from each community and encourages each utility to designate a point-of-contact to complete the online survey located at: www.surveymonkey.com/r/WERFIntegratedplanningSurvey.
The survey should take approximately 30 minutes or less depending on your utility’s engagement with integrated planning. The WERF project team is requesting your community’s response by no later than Monday February 29, 2016.
The New Alchemy: Turning Waste Into Energy
Guest blogger Helen Cantril Dulac, with NACWA Member Dallas Water Utilities, discusses how two utility initiatives at her agency have generated enough energy to power over 3000 homes on a yearly basis. What are these programs and how have they changed the utility? Read on to find out more.
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