Clean Water Current - April 18
This past week NACWA members and other clean water professionals from across the country gathered in Washington to advocate for the clean water sector during the 2016 National Policy Forum, Fly-In, and Expo – the anchor event of Water Week 2016. Over 200 participants engaged in the Policy Forum, and in total more than 60 national, state, and regional organizations collaborated in and/or sponsored the Water Week 2016 activities! In their home communities, many NACWA member agencies also engaged in #WaterWeek16 through events and outreach.
At a time of joint water crises in Flint, Michigan and growing drought concerns in the West, the Policy Forum and Water Week provided an opportune time to engage federal policymakers on key clean water challenges facing utilities all over the nation. The Policy Forum was presented by NACWA, the Water Environment Federation (WEF), the Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF), the WateReuse Association, and the Water Research Foundation (WRF). This collaboration generated a compelling, unified message to Congress and regulators from the clean water sector. It also helped develop a robust agenda of engaging speakers and roundtables for attendees.
The Policy Forum kicked off with remarks from top political journalist Amy Walter, who offered insights into the national political situation during this unprecedented campaign cycle. Deputy Assistant Administrator Joel Beauvais of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Water then spoke about key EPA water priorities (see related article). Remarks were also provided by John Sullivan, Chief Engineer of the Boston Water & Sewer Commission, who has played an important role in helping EPA assess the situation in Flint, Michigan. As many NACWA members are experiencing, the Flint crisis has gone far beyond the drinking water sector to spur new attention and scrutiny to clean water infrastructure, water quality, and water professionals themselves. To help kick off Hill visits and discuss the importance of engaging with Members of Congress, the conference also featured former U.S. Representative Jim Moran, formerly the Democratic leader of the House Interior & Environment Appropriations Subcommittee.
U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), U.S. Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA), and U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI) each addressed the Policy Forum to share their legislative ideas and the water priorities in their respective regions of the country. Three Members of Congress – Sen. Portman, Rep. Calvert, and Sen. Baldwin (D-WI) – were also awarded NACWA’s 2016 National Environmental Achievement Award for their efforts to advance sound legislation for the clean water sector and support federal funding for water infrastructure. And to hear from the individuals working on water legislation day-in and day-out, two Congressional Staff Panels were convened, including both Republican and Democratic staff of the House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee, House Appropriations Interior & Environment Subcommittee, and key Member offices.
Hill Visits Stress Importance of Water Sector Funding
Many of the Members of Congress and Hill staff who addressed the Policy Forum mentioned the value that a united water sector brings, with each organization leveraging their respective expertise to advance shared priorities. Speakers also mentioned the “zero-sum” realities of federal funding – when it comes time for Appropriators to allocate federal dollars between various worthy causes, the ‘squeakiest wheel’ may indeed come out ahead.
To help communicate shared clean water sector needs, Policy Forum attendees were able to leverage a compelling one-pager developed by NACWA, WEF, WERF, and WateReuse while also sharing their individual stories and concerns with their respective Congressional offices. While the visits are still being tallied, it appears that the 2016 Fly-In may have resulted in a record number of Hill office visits from clean water professionals. NACWA and our partners greatly appreciate the efforts of all who attended – and encourages those who were unable to attend to request a meeting with their Members of Congress or offer a tour of their facilities back home.
To celebrate Water Week, facilitate additional networking, and provide an opportunity to hear from more Members of Congress, a Congressional Reception was held Tuesday evening. Lovely weather and a great view of the U.S. Capitol set the stage for remarks by U.S. Reps. Bob Gibbs (R-OH), Paul Tonko (D-NY), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Jared Huffman (D-CA), and Jerry McNerney (D-CA).
Senior officials from EPA’s Office of Water provided their perspective on a range of priority issues during the National Water Policy Forum & Fly-In, including ongoing work in Flint, Michigan to restore a safe drinking water supply system and rebuild the community’s confidence in the regulatory oversight process. Joel Beauvais, Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water, addressed Forum attendees and encouraged utilities to view themselves as “agents of change”. Providing leadership on areas such as climate change, nutrients and the Utility of the Future will lead to the “best helping the rest” Beauvais said, where top-performing utilities can lead by example and help to bring broader change to the water sector.
A panel discussion with the directors for the Office of Water’s four main divisions and a series of roundtable discussions closed out the Policy Forum. Beauvais has encouraged the water office directors to look across the office and beyond their programmatic silos to explore new ways of achieving clean and safe water. When questioned about how to best make progress in the future, the water office directors stressed the importance of integrated water management but also recognized that obstacles remain, including ensuring that concepts discussed at the headquarters level are not lost as they are pushed out to the regions.
The final morning of the Policy Forum also featured a short session on an important collaboration among EPA and the major water sector organizations. Since 2007 the water sector and EPA have embraced the Effective Utility Management concept and the ten attributes and five keys to management success first laid out by a group of utility leaders nearly a decade ago. In 2015 the collaboration embarked on an effort to revise and update the attributes and keys to better reflect today’s water utility. The report from that effort was released earlier this year and the session marked a renewed commitment from the collaborating organizations to keep working together on the EUM initiative.
The Association’s Board of Directors met on April 11 for their spring meeting, taking action on a number of items to position NACWA for the future. Included in their actions was the approval of a FY 2017 – 2021 Financial Plan, preliminary FY 2017 General Fund and Targeted Action Funds (TAF) budgets and a Compensation Philosophy for the National Office. The adopted FY 2017 – 2021 Financial Plan charts a path for growth for the Association that will allow NACWA to aggressively pursue its strategic advocacy, membership engagement, and communications objectives. The preliminary FY 2017 General Fund and TAF budgets, developed with the Financial Plan as a backdrop, included a thorough review of revenues and expenditures, as well as an assessment of NACWA’s ability to maintain and enhance its delivery of essential services to its members. Both Board-approved preliminary budgets will be forwarded to the membership for review and comment prior to their final consideration by in July.
NACWA’s Board also acted to appoint Chris Crockett, Deputy Commissioner, Planning & Environmental Services, of the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) to a Region 3 seat on the Board. Crockett, who currently the Chair of NACWA’s Climate & Resiliency Committee, will fill the seat previously held by former PWD Commissioner Howard Neukrug. The Philadelphia Water Department is a founding member of NACWA and has a long tradition of commitment to – and leadership in – the Association. In acting on the appointment not only did the Board secure an exceptional Board Member, they also ensured regional balance on the Board.
In other actions, NACWA’s Board approved FY 2016 Targeted Action Funds for an update to the Association’s consent decree handbook, Wet Weather Consent Decrees: Protection POTWs in Negotiations, as well as engagement in an amicus curiae brief in Ohio Value Environmental Coalition v. FOLA Coal Company to help preserve the permit shield as a strong defense for NPDES permittees to unreasonable citizen suit enforcement.
The Board also engaged in a ‘mega issue discussion’, East Meets West . . . Connecting the Dots on Critical Water Priorities, which focused on enhancing a unity of interests between Western and Eastern water quality issues and a “all for one, one for all” approach to achieve the best overall outcome for clean water. NACWA’s Board of Directors will next meet in July during the Association’s Utility Leadership Conference & 46th Annual Meeting, Leadership Strategies for the Smart Utility.
As part of Water Week 2016, NACWA, the Water Environment Federation (WEF), and the National Association of Flood & Stormwater Management Agencies (NAFSMA) convened 30 municipal stormwater thought leaders from around the nation for a dialogue on advancing new stormwater policy initiatives in the United States. The dialogue prioritized actionable policy issues and identified potential policy objectives that the associations, as part of a broader municipal stormwater advocacy community, could work to achieve. Participants in the discussion expressed hope that it would serve as the beginning of an ongoing, longer-reaching series of strategy sessions.
From Capitol Hill to the White House and EPA, federal policymakers are more and more interested in mitigating the effects of urban stormwater runoff. In light of this, the national municipal stormwater sector needs a broader policy discussion to articulate the sector’s most critical needs, identify where and how federal resources can be most helpful, and advance a unified, comprehensive advocacy agenda. This is critical not only during the last year of the Obama Administration, but also to best position municipal stormwater advocacy issues for a new Administration and a new Congress next year. NACWA looks forward to continued work with WEF and NAFSMA to advance this important discussion.
EPA is continuing its efforts to develop recreational water quality criteria using coliphage as an indicator for viruses, although the Agency’s timetable has slipped somewhat since NACWA first learned of the Agency’s work. EPA is now targeting the end of 2017 to propose draft recreational criteria for coliphage. The Agency outlined its new schedule during the 2016 Recreational Waters Conference held in New Orleans April 12-15. During a session dedicated to coliphage research, EPA provided an update on a recent experts workshop the Agency held in March. While NACWA was not permitted to participate in the workshop, an expert review commissioned by the Association and the Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF) was provided to the experts. The review, funded in part my NACWA’s Targeted Action Fund (TAF), indicated that the available scientific literature regarding coliphages and health risks of water recreation is quite limited. A full summary of the workshop will not be available until early 2017. Based on EPA’s summary and other presentations during the conference, data are still lacking that clearly link coliphage with illness levels and where data are available, they suggest that the linkages are no better than the current indicators. NACWA is working to set up a briefing on the issue for its members and is hopeful that EPA will provide access to the presentations from the conference.
EPA released a compendium of Drinking Water & Wastewater Utility Customer Assistance Programs (CAPs) on April 14, providing a national overview of programs used by communities to provide assistance to low-income ratepayers who cannot afford to pay the full cost of their water and sewer bills. The compendium includes detailed descriptions and of the various types of CAPs – Bill Discount, Flexible terms, Lifeline Rate, Temporary Assistance, and Water Efficiency. NACWA’s Water Finance Workgroup helped develop and review the report and provided many of the case studies.
Clean water utilities nationwide are adopting innovative ways to ensure their services remain affordable to their customers. The Association and its members have long stressed that the affordability challenge is one of the largest facing the industry today, and commends EPA for putting together this compendium.
To complement this work, NACWA is collaborating with other water sector organizations to develop a state-by-state analysis of legal and regulatory barriers to establishing ratepayer assistance programs. This analysis will help inform the types of policy changes that may be needed – at both the national and state level – to encourage development of rate assistance programs for low-income populations. The analysis is scheduled to be complete in early 2017.
On April 15, NACWA filed a reply brief in the remanded Gulf Restoration Network, et al. v. EPA litigation. The brief included NACWA and a larger coalition of industrial and agricultural organizations opposed to federally-mandated numeric nutrient criteria (NNC) for the Mississippi River Basin. It supports EPA’s position that the Agency provided a reasonable explanation, grounded in the Clean Water Act, for declining an environmental activist group request to make a necessity determination for federal NNC. NACWA and its partners previously filed a more substantive brief in the remand proceedings in January 2016.
The case involves EPA’s response to a petition from activist organizations requesting that the Agency develop federal NNC for the Mississippi River Basin and northern Gulf of Mexico. In 2012, after EPA declined to make a necessity determination on the need for NNC, the activist groups sued EPA. NACWA successfully intervened in the case in 2012 to protect the interests of its Member Agencies and argued against the development of numeric nutrient criteria. Briefing in the case is now complete and a decision from the court could come at any time. We will keep members updated on developments. Visit the Association’s Litigation Tracking page for addditional information.
On April 5, the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District (MSD) received voter approval for a district-wide property tax to fund operations and maintenance of the stormwater sewer system throughout MSD’s service area (Proposition S ). Voters also approved Proposition Y, which authorizes bond financing for the next four years of work required by the District’s $4.7 billion, 23-year agreement with EPA and the Missouri Coalition for the Environment.
MSD’s stormwater services have been funded through a variety of property taxes and a flat fee on each month's MSD bill. The amount of property taxes paid by an individual customer—and thus, the stormwater service received—is very much a function of where a customer lives. This system has resulted in a patchwork of inconsistent levels of service throughout the system, with large swaths of MSD’s service area receiving the lowest level of stormwater service possible. The new approach approved by voters will allow for a new stormwater maintenance tax that will be far more equitable and provide consistent levels of service system wide.
The stormwater tax proposition is the result of a November 2013 Missouri Supreme Court decision invalidating MSD’s previous stormwater user charge as an invalid tax because it had not been put to a voter referendum as required by Missouri law. NACWA and a number of other municipal groups filed an amicus brief supporting MSD’s efforts. The Association applauds MSD’s ingenuity in finding a path forward to fund necessary stormwater service despite the negative judicial decision.
The Missouri Supreme Court decision is one of many cases that are analyzed in NACWA’s white paper on stormwater litigation: Navigating Litigation Floodwaters: Legal Considerations for Funding Municipal Stormwater Programs. In coming weeks, NACWA will release the 2016 edition of the paper. This resource provides analysis on the types of legal issues impacting stormwater funding programs and helps equip members with critical knowledge and tools to prepare utilities that are creating, implementing or defending a stormwater program, utility or fee. The white paper is free for NACWA members.
Do you have perspectives to share – or want to learn more – about utility laboratory productivity and benchmarks? If you manage or work in a utility water quality lab and track productivity – either for individual methods or for generalized lab sections (e.g. bench chemistry, microbiology, or metals) – your experience and expertise could be invaluable to other clean water agencies. Join the robust conversation today on NACWA’s online community Engage™. Engage™ is the perfect place to ask explore operational and advocacy priorities and pose questions of clean water colleagues. Visit or join the community today!
Membership gives you access to the tools to keep you up to date on legislative, regulatory, legal and management initiatives.