ARCHIVE SITE - Last updated Jan. 19, 2017. Please visit www.NACWA.org for the latest NACWA information.
June 6, 2014
NACWA, Municipal Groups Ask EPA for Further Clarification on Blending
NACWA, along with the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM), the National League of Cities (NLC), and the National Association of Counties (NACo), wrote Acting Assistant Administrator for Water Nancy Stoner May 30, expressing disappointment with EPA’s plans to limit application of the Iowa League of Cities decision on blending to states in the 8th Circuit. The letter noted that EPA has “unnecessarily created regulatory uncertainty regarding the practice of peak flow blending that will impose significant burdens on the nation’s communities”, and requested additional justification for the Agency’s decision not to apply the ruling nationwide. The groups stressed that EPA’s piecemeal approach “will only lead to a patchwork of interpretations on peak flow blending that will lead to greater confusion and result in more costly burdens for the nation’s communities.” The letter also addressed the upcoming public health forum on blending, noting that the issue of “public health impacts from peak flow treatment and blending is one that has been settled, with no evidence of an increased risk to public health following blending events.” NACWA and the municipal groups expressed concern that examining potential public health impacts in the context of technology-based standards creates an entirely new compliance standard under the Clean Water Act and will have ramifications for all communities with treated combined sewer overflow discharges and for stormwater best management practices. NACWA, together with the other municipal groups, plans to participate in the public health forum and will continue to follow-up with the Agency on its application of the Iowa League of Cities decision.
In a recent legal development that may impact this issue, the U.S Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued a decision May 30 that struck down EPA’s efforts to limit an adverse decision from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to only that circuit. Although the facts of the case dealt with a Clean Air Act issue – and not a Clean Water Act issue – the ruling still sends a strong signal that EPA should not try to limit legal decisions it does not agree with to the circuit in which they are issued. NACWA is currently exploring how to best use this new ruling to further push for national applicability of the Iowa League blending decision.
NACWA met this week with key staff from EPA's Office of Science & Technology (OST) to discuss the Agency's efforts to develop water quality criteria for viruses. The Association learned earlier this year that EPA was working to develop a criterion for bacteriophage, a viral indicator with properties similar to many of the viruses the Agency is concerned about. During the meeting, OST officials brief NACWA on their efforts to develop a bacteriophage criterion based on existing data in the peer-reviewed literature, and to develop and validate a test method for bacteriophage for use in Clean Water Act (CWA) programs. EPA's current timetable would have a proposed criterion ready for public comment in one to two years. For decades, CWA programs have relied on fecal indicators such as fecal coliform or E. coli and enterococcus to evaluate public health risk associated with effluent, combined sewer overflow control, and other programs. In discussing the issue with EPA, NACWA stressed that development of a criterion for viruses could have widespread and major impacts on all aspects of the CWA and encouraged the Agency to move forward cautiously. The Association also urged OST staff to work closely with their counterparts in the Office of Wastewater Management to evaluate the impact on the CWA permitting program. NACWA also recommended that EPA work with the Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF) to conduct studies on how bacteriophage behaves in wastewater treatment plants, how it is effected differently by current disinfection practices, and how levels of bacteriophage compare to current indicators that are tracked by clean water agencies. NACWA will be discussing this issue and potential next steps, at the upcoming Water Quality Committee meeting during NACWA's 2014 Summer Conference in Portland.
NACWA is encouraging its members to take advantage of EPA’s offer of technical assistance for integrated planning. The Association has been urging the Agency to provide communities with funding to help craft integrated plans. Although limited to a total of $335,000 in technical assistance, EPA’s assistance, announced May 9, could provide advantages beyond just the dollar amount. A strong response to this offer of technical assistance would likely bolster NACWA’s efforts to obtain further funding for an integrated planning pilot program in the FY 2015 appropriations bills. Advocacy Alert 14-12, sent to the membership this week, provides additional information on applying for the technical assistance.
Following up on last month’s meeting, the technical Workgroup that is addressing issues related to the flushability of wipes held a conference call this week to further address background facts about flushability from both the wastewater and manufacturer’s perspective. The Workgroup, comprised of representatives from NACWA, the Water Environment Federation (WEF), the American Public Works Association (APWA), and INDA (the trade association of the nonwoven fabrics industry), receives funding through the Association’s Targeted Action Fund (TAF). The Workgroup will meet again on June 27, with its work to develop consensus recommendations scheduled to conclude by the end of the summer.
NACWA brought the wastewater utility perspective on wipes and other non-dispersible products to a wide variety of nonwoven fabrics manufacturers and retailers this week at INDA’s World of Wipes (WOW) Conference in Minneapolis. The Association highlighted the financial and regulatory constraints that utilities are facing; the huge additional costs of dealing with non-dispersible consumer products that are flushed into the sewer system; the hazards that utility workers face when dealing with clogged pumps; and, other problems caused by these products. The wide range of products NACWA is addressing through its Toilets Are Not Trash Cans! Campaign was also discussed, with a focus on ways to keep inappropriate products and additives out of the sewer. The Association’s ultimate objective is to lessen the cost and burden of non-dispersibles on utilities by changing behavior and increasing public awareness of responsible sewer use.
NACWA continues to evaluate and monitor potential legal action in this arena. The Association is aware of consumer class action lawsuits that have been filed against wipes manufacturers. The facts in those cases involve consumers who have purchased products marketed/labeled as flushable that when flushed have caused backups and blockages resulting in property damages. A large class action law firm also recently sent a solicitation letter to many municipal wastewater utilities on the issue of recovering costs related to flushable wipes. The letter invites utilities to join a potential lawsuit against wipes manufacturers, but does not provide details on what legal causes of action it could pursue to help utilities “recover operation, maintenance, and capital costs associated with ‘flushable’ wipes – at no cost” to the utility. NACWA has made multiple attempts to contact the firm to try to get a better understanding of their approach and objectives, but to date the firm has been unresponsive. Without the benefit of knowing more about the firm’s motives and legal strategies, and given their lack of response thus far, NACWA has serious concerns about the solicitation and proposed course of action.
This issue is a top priority for the Association and NACWA continue to take a leading role to reduce the burden of inappropriately flushed products for our members. A detailed update of NACWA’s advocacy strategy for wipes will be provided in an Advocacy Alert next week. In the meantime, we ask that ant Member Agencies that receive solicitations to join class action lawsuits to contact Nathan Gardner-Andrews at 202/833-3692 or
, or Amanda Waters at 202/530-2758 or
NACWA joined a number of other organizations May 30 to file a brief in litigation challenging a local biosolids land application ban in Washington State. The filing in State of Washington v. Wahkiakum County argues that a ban on land application of class B biosolids initiated by Wahkiakum County, Wash. violates state law and ignores decades of research that demonstrate the safety and environmental benefits of well-run land application programs. The brief also provides a national perspective on how the ordinance, and other similar local efforts to ban land application, could have far-reaching implications for utilities both within Washington State and elsewhere in the country.
NACWA is participating in the case on behalf of the Association’s Washington State members that are adversely impacted by the land application ban. Additionally, NACWA has expressed long-standing opposition to biosolids land application bans, especially those passed by local counties that could negatively impact municipal clean water utilities in neighboring jurisdictions. The Association is committed to preserving the ability of municipalities to choose the method of biosolids management that works best for their communities, including the option of land application.
NACWA joined with the Northwest Biosolids Management Association and other interested municipal group in Washington to file the brief. Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for July 1. Additional information can be found on NACWA’s Litigation Tracking webpage.
Following the release of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) Application for Project Funding last week, NACWA held a call with representatives from the USDA’s National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the agency responsible for implementing the RCPP, to review the application and answer questions. The RCPP encourages partnerships between agricultural producers and municipal entities, such as water and wastewater utilities, to help farmers tackle various conservation and environmental issues on a regional scale. Almost $400 million will be available in the first full year to support this work, and NRCS has indicated a strong interest in working with the clean water sector to help make the RCPP a success. Pre-proposal applications are due to NRCS by July 14th.
Be sure to register for the next installment of the Association’s Legal Hot Topics web seminar series, scheduled for June 18. Registration for NACWA members is free! The agenda for this seminar will address important recent legal developments impacting stormwater regulation and construction projects for municipal clean water utilities. Additional information and registration are available on NACWA’s website. Don’t miss this informative event!
On Tuesday, you received an e-mail invitation to participate in a survey from Avenue M Group, LLC, an independent market research firm. NACWA has retained Avenue M Group, LLC to conduct an important study to better understand and address Member Agency needs and interests, as well as the complex challenges its members and Affiliates. Your input and insights are both welcome and critical to the success of this project, as we work to better serve you and the clean water community.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) launched the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). Almost $400 million will be available in the first full year to support this work, and NRCS has indicated a strong interest in working with the clean water sector to help make the RCPP a success. What will this new program mean to you and your utility? Read on to find out more, or subscribe to The Water Voice and never miss a post!
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