ARCHIVE SITE - Last updated Jan. 19, 2017. Please visit www.NACWA.org for the latest NACWA information.
Association Hosts Water Sector Discussion on Top Advocacy Priorities
NACWA convened a meeting on October 6 of water sector organizations to review current advocacy priorities and discuss potential challenges and opportunities for collaboration, primarily on legislative issues. Discussions focused on remaining matters before the 114th Congress – including the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA); omnibus funding legislation; and initial priorities for next year including the Presidential and Congressional transition, Water Week 2017, and the next Farm Bill.
NACWA also continued its efforts to advocate on behalf of clean water agencies with Congressional staff regarding advancing the 2016 WRDA legislation. Now that the House and Senate have passed their respective WRDA reauthorization proposals, the task before staff during the Congressional recess is to reconcile them so that upon return to Washington in November, Congress can enact a final bill.
The chambers took a divergent approach to their respective bills, with the House focusing narrowly on Army Corps of Engineers measures typically contained in WRDA reauthorizations related to flood control, navigation and ecosystem restoration, and the Senate going beyond these items to include investments in water and wastewater infrastructure and reforms to the Clean Water Act (CWA) to address affordability challenges. Both packages include financing to help the City of Flint, Michigan address issues associated with lead.
The Senate package includes many proposals for which NACWA has advocated for many years, including codification of EPA’s Integrated Planning Initiative, establishment of a trust fund for water infrastructure, and authorization of grants for wet weather abatement and innovative technologies. Both the House and Senate package includes a policy proposal to integrate flood control projects sponsored by the Army Corps of Engineers and stormwater projects undertaken by municipalities, a proposal that was developed and recommended by NACWA via a Targeted Action Fund (TAF) project. This week, NACWA will be releasing a detailed Advocacy Alert, where members can learn more about specific provisions in the House and Senate WRDA packages.
NACWA met with senior EPA Office of Science & Technology staff October 5 to discuss the Agency’s ongoing efforts to survey all 15,000+ clean water utilities across the country as the first phase of a multi-year study on the performance of secondary treatment at removing nutrients. The Association has already expressed concerns with EPA’s methodology in an August 1 letter, but the Agency remains focused on the use of a survey, administered under Section 308 of the Clean Water Act, to get the information it believes it needs.
NACWA has raised concerns that a survey may not be able to achieve the objectives of the study and that the use of Section 308 – which is typically used in the initial steps of an enforcement proceeding – will immediately put the clean water community in a defensive posture. EPA’s draft screener questionnaire is now out for public comment (see Advocacy Alert 16-12 for additional information) and NACWA is working with members of its Water Quality Committee to pilot the screener. The screener survey still contains some questions relating to wet weather treatment that are unacceptable to Association members, which NACWA and EPA also discussed during the October 5 call. EPA is planning a webinar in November to demonstrate the electronic version of the screener survey, with more details to follow as soon as they are available.
Following the initial comment period, EPA has one more hurdle – a public review process initiated by the White House Office of Management & Budget – before the survey can be sent out. NACWA’s leadership will discuss the survey and the broader nutrient issue when it meets November 15-16, during the Fall Strategic Leadership Retreat.
The Energy Workgroup met for the first time last week via webinar to discuss the innovative work being done at the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority’s (MWRA) Deer Island Plant. MWRA’s Director of Wastewater Treatment and Energy Workgroup Co-Chair, David Duest, outlined the status of MWRA’s sustainability initiatives, as well as future projects. Of the total energy demand at the Deer Island Plant, 28% is met through renewable energy. Of this 28%, digester gas figures most prominently at 23%, however a diverse portfolio of hydro, wind and solar make up the remaining 5% of energy production. Renewable energy saves the plant more than $15 million dollars depending on electricity prices.
On October 6, EPA and the State of West Virginia filed briefs at the request of the court in Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition v. Fola Coal Co., which is currently pending before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The appeal before the Fourth Circuit arose from a decision by a federal district court that a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit provision incorporating water quality standards by reference actually created an independently enforceable effluent limitation, compliance with which is a prerequisite for protection under Clean Water Act (CWA) §402(k). Section 402(k) establishes that compliance with a NPDES permit is compliance with the CWA and provides a shield from citizen suits (the permit shield). In reviewing the decision, the Fourth Circuit requested that EPA and West Virginia file briefs to inform the court regarding the breadth of the permit shield’s reach and application.
EPA argues in its brief that the court need not even address the question of application of the permit shield, but that instead the question “will be rendered moot” by the court’s finding that the water quality standards incorporated into the permit constituted effluent limitations. The Agency further asserts that because the district court found that Fola Coal Company was in violation of those limits, the permit shield does not apply.
By contrast, West Virginia urged reversal of the district court’s decision, arguing that cooperative federalism establishes a system whereby the federal government relies on state level experts to make determinations about how best to protect local water quality, and that the court should not substitute its judgment for the state. West Virginia further explains that a sweeping requirement to comply with state water quality standards cannot reasonably be interpreted to impose a substantive requirement given the specific effluent limitations in the permit, and argues that it instead is an instruction to the state to impose requirements necessary to meet water quality standards.
NACWA filed a brief in April as part of a coalition of friends of the court (amici) to highlight the broad national impacts of the district court’s decision, and has also worked to educate state regulators regarding the potential consequences of the decision. Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for October 27, 2016, and NACWA will report on any developments
As the California drought enters its sixth year, Governor Jerry Brown recently signed Assembly Bill (AB) 2022, which will allow Californians to conveniently sample recycled water as part of an effort to garner public support for water reuse. The bill has been supported by the Orange County Water District (OCWD), NACWA Member Agency the Orange County Sanitation District (OCSD) and the WaterReuse Association.
OCWD and OCSD have partnered for over 20 years to plan, design, build and operate one of the world’s most advanced water reuse facilities, the Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS). AB 2022 will take effect in January 2017 and will allow the bottling of advanced purified drinking water to support educational outreach efforts. The bottled water will be used as a means to further educate audiences about the cutting-edge technology that is being used to purify reused water to near-distilled water quality in their community. Both districts are gearing up to make this happen.
“We are pleased that the Governor has signed this important piece of legislation into law,” said Orange County Sanitation District Board Chair John Nielsen. “Until now, only those fortunate to tour the Groundwater Replenishment System facilities were able to sample the purified water. Now, this legislation allows the bottling of small amounts of advanced purified water, which will help to teach the importance of water reuse and the technology used to recycle the water.”
NACWA applauds OCSD for embodying the Utility of the Future concept and utilizing innovative means to enhance water security and availability.
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