September 2019 Regulatory Update

The National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) is pleased to provide you with the September 2019 Regulatory Update.

EPA’s Nutrient Survey Rises from the (Near) Dead

As I write this on Friday the 13th, it’s hard not to think of a 1980’s horror film about a creature rising from the dead to attack some unsuspecting group of campers.

In the waning days of the Obama Administration, EPA’s Office of Science and Technology laid out plans for an ambitious, 5-year study to, in its words, “establish a nationwide baseline for nutrient removal at municipal wastewater treatment plants, and to characterize lower cost options, such as repurposing existing equipment or changing operation and management practices, that result in improved nutrient control (i.e., optimization).” NACWA fought hard to ensure the survey, if it moved forward, was completely voluntary–EPA wanted it to be mandatory. In addition, NACWA’s Board chose not to actively object to the survey, but it raised serious doubts about whether it was really needed.

The survey was to be distributed last fall, but the Trump Administration put the brakes on things while it evaluated concerns over privacy and whether utilities would be exposing their operations to potential enforcement actions and 3rd party lawsuits. Frankly, it seemed the Trump Administration was not convinced the survey and broader study made sense.

But over the past year, EPA staff have continued to push for the survey and the Trump Administration, just weeks ago, gave staff the green light to proceed. To mitigate the concerns over privacy, EPA is adding additional content to the survey to make it clear that utilities choosing to complete the survey can simply provide responses to the first part of the survey without providing monitoring data.

That begs the question, why do the survey at all if responses may be lacking the very data EPA was hoping to collect? EPA has indicated that even getting the basic facility information from utilities would be helpful, so they are proceeding with the survey.

What does this mean for your utility? During early to mid-October, POTW operators and plant managers should look for letters and emails inviting them to participate in the voluntary survey. Additional information, including an unofficial copy of the survey, will be made available on EPA’s website soon. Once the survey is initiated – EPA’s target date is October 22 – utilities will have 30 days to complete the voluntary survey if they wish to provide a response.

NACWA plans to hold a webinar (date to be determined) to provide utilities with additional background and will alert the membership as soon as the day and time are set.

Contact Chris Hornback, Deputy Chief Executive Officer, for more information or if you have questions.

Top Stories

EPA Testifies Before Congress, Addresses PFAS and Other Hot Topics

Dave Ross, Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Water, testified on September 18 at a hearing before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Water Resources Subcommittee.

The hearing, entitled “The Administration’s Priorities and Policy Initiatives Under the Clean Water Act,” focused on several current key Clean Water Act (CWA) issues.  A substantial emphasis of the hearing was on the Trump Administration’s repeal of the current Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule and proposed new rule that is expected by the end of the year.

Other key issues highlighted at the hearing included PFAS, where Ross outlined the EPA’s ongoing regulatory work under its PFAS Action Plan and the importance of the Agency’s regulatory process in helping to address the issue in a holistic and scientifically based manner.  EPA’s proposed rule for peak wet weather flow blending also came up, and Ross emphasized the wet weather challenges POTW’s face and the need for regulatory certainty in this area.

During the hearing, both Ross and Members of Congress also discussed the importance of water reuse and the opportunity for trading in helping address water quality impairment from a variety of sources including nutrients. 

During his opening statement to the committee, Ross recognized “the need to ensure a capable, knowledgeable, and diverse workforce of water professionals” and how “the great work of these environmental heroes protects public health and the environment every single day.”

NACWA looks forward to continuing to work with both Congress and the Administration on these key clean water issues.

Contact: Jason Isakovic at 202/533-1823 or Jason Isakovic or Kristina Surfus at 202/833-4655 or Kristina Surfus.

Muni Groups Press EPA on Integrated Planning Process

NACWA joined with a coalition of other municipal government organizations on a September 18 letter to EPA asking about the Agency’s progress in implementing the recent landmark integrated planning legislation, which was signed into law earlier this year. 

In the letter, the organizations ask EPA about its efforts to advise communities across the country on the ability to use integrated plans, what work the Agency is doing to help states become more comfortable with using integrated planning approaches, and how integrated planning concepts will be incorporated in Clean Water Act enforcement discussions going forward.  The letter also asks for an update on EPA’s work to create and fill the new Office of Municipal Ombudsman, which was a key element of the legislation. 

In addition to NACWA, other signatories on the letter include the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties, the American Public Works Association, and the National Association of Regional Councils.

During discussions at WEFTEC on September 23, EPA officials indicated they had received the letter, were moving forward to implement the legislation as quickly as possible, and looked forward to meeting with the municipal coalition soon for further discussions.  NACWA will keep the membership updated on developments. 

Contact: Nathan Gardner-Andrews at 202/833-3692 or Nathan Gardner-Andrews.

Emerging Contaminants

NACWA Takes National PFAS Perspective on the Road; Learns from Maine Public Clean Water Agencies

NACWA attended the Maine Water Environment Association’s (MEWEA) annual convention and first-time PFAS Summit September 13 in Northport, Maine.

The meeting drew nearly 300 participants from across Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont and included a robust three-tract conference along with a separate tract devoted specifically to PFAS and biosolids. Maine continues to be a hot spot for PFAS both regionally and nationally with stringent state regulations impacting resource recovery efforts and biosolids land application. Read the full story in the Clean Water Current.

Contact: Emily Remmel at 202/533-1839 or eremmel@nacwa.org

NACWA Comments on PFAS Analytical Method

NACWA submitted comments August 23 to EPA on a proposed new analytical procedure for validating 24 per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) using liquid chromatography/tandem mass spectrometry analysis.

NACWA’s comments highlighted a number of concerns with this new methodology, including that nearly half the analytes tested revealed significant issues with reproducibility, response, recovery, stability, and chromatography. New, advanced analytical capabilities to measure PFAS down to the part per trillion level exposes concerns as to whether laboratories can obtain representative samples that are truly reflective of the population studied. 

Contact: Emily Remmel at 202/533-1839 or eremmel@nacwa.org

Pretreatment & Pollution Prevention

Oregon Becomes Sixth State with Pharmaceutical Take-Back Law

Oregon became the latest state to pass pharmaceutical take-back legislation with SB 212 Solid Waste: Pharmaceutical and Sharps Waste Stewardship, which was recently signed into law by Governor Kate Brown. Five other states – Massachusetts, Vermont, Washington, New York, and California – have similar laws, which require drug manufacturers to pay for and run pharmaceutical take-back programs.  Local take-back ordinances have been passed in many cities and counties. Read the full story in the Clean Water Current.

Contact: Cynthia Finley at 202/533-1836 or cfinley@nacwa.org.  

Regulatory Policy

EPA Water Office Moves to Rescind Draft and Interim Guidance

David Ross, head of EPA’s Office of Water, issued a policy memorandum in August rescinding any draft or interim guidance documents from the water office that were issued more than two years ago and never finalized in an effort to “increase transparency and regulatory certainty for stakeholders.”

The policy states that any documents recently issued must be finalized within two years of the draft date or they will be automatically rescinded, and also applies the same two-year deadline for all future draft documents issued by the Office of Water. The memo notes that the Office of Water has identified approximately 70 draft documents that have never been issued as final or formally withdrawn. Read the list of documents withdrawn and the full story in the Clean Water Current.

Contact: Chris Hornback at 202/833-9106 or chornback@nacwa.org.   

Water Sector Brief EPA, Congress on New Affordability Methodology

During meetings on Capitol Hill and at EPA in late August, the lead authors of the joint NACWA, American Water Works Association (AWWA) and Water Environment Federation (WEF) report, Developing a New Framework for Household Affordability and Financial Capability Assessment in the Water Sector, provided additional background on a proposed new approach to evaluate household affordability and utility financial capability to replace EPA’s current method that relies on median household income. Read the full story in the Clean Water Current.

Contact: Chris Hornback at 202/833-9106 or chornback@nacwa.org.  

Resiliency

Resiliency Planning Featured in Joint NACWA/AMWA Webinar

NACWA and the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) hosted a September 17 webinar, Understanding Resilience, from Concept to Implementation Strategy, which focused on resilience planning for water sector utilities. 

After an introduction by NACWA President John Sullivan, the webinar featured case studies with ties to the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) Initiative.  The Miami-Dade County Water and Sewer Department participated in the development of the 100RC City Water Resilience Framework, and the City of Cape Town, South Africa was a test implementation of the Framework during a period of extreme drought and limited water supply. Registration is now open for Part 2 of the series, Resilience & Smart Communities.  Read the full story in the Clean Water Current.

Contact: Cynthia Finley at 202/533-1836 or cfinley@nacwa.org.  

Stormwater

Stormwater Management Committee Discusses Hot MS4 Topics

NACWA’s Stormwater Management Committee held a conference call September 16 to discuss a variety of current issues for the municipal storm sewer system (MS4) community.

In particular, the committee heard updates on the ongoing stormwater litigation happening in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, as well as a recent hearing on Oregon’s MS4 Phase II General Permit. Both cases deal with overly prescriptive permits that contain provisions which exceed the traditional maximum extent practicable (MEP) standard granted to municipal stormwater permittees under the Clean Water Act. Read the full story in the Clean Water Current.

Contact: Emily Remmel at 202/533-1839 or eremmel@nacwa.org

Utility Management

NACWA partnered with the Water Environment Federation (WEF) to jointly host the annual Utility Leaders Morning at WEFTEC2019 on September 24, bringing together clean water utility leaders from across the country.

The topic of discussion this year focused on affordability challenges and how utility sector leaders can continue to make needed investments in their systems while also acknowledging the burden of higher rates on low income populations.  Speakers on the panel included authors from the recent joint affordability report from NACWA, WEF and the American Water Works Association (AWWA), Radhika Fox, CEO of the US Water Alliance, and Andrew Sawyers, Director of the Office of Wastewater Management at EPA. Read the full story in the Clean Water Current.

Contact: Nathan Gardner-Andrews at 202/833-3692 or Nathan Gardner-Andrews.

Water Quality

NACWA Comments on EPA Aluminum Document

NACWA has provided feedback to EPA on the shortcomings and inherent complications of the draft technical support document for the Agency’s December 2018 aquatic life water quality criteria for aluminum in freshwater.  The draft technical support document was published to help regulators with the implementation process for the new criteria.

NACWA’s comments outline particular concern that the modeling approach EPA recommends assumes the worst-case scenario and results in very conservative conclusions which are not likely to be representative of true site-specific water quality characteristics, bioavailability of aluminum, or the toxicity to aquatic life.

Contact: Emily Remmel at 202/533-1839 or eremmel@nacwa.org

Water Reuse

NACWA Participates in EPA’s Unveiling of Draft Water Reuse Action Plan

David Ross, the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water, unveiled a draft of the Agency’s much anticipated National Water Reuse Action Plan (WRAP) on September 10. The announcement was made at the WateReuse Association’s 34th Annual Symposium in San Diego, which NACWA attended alongside its Association partners involved in helping to shape the WRAP.

The WRAP includes 46 action items related to ten different strategic themes. EPA has opened a public comment period for 90 days.

Contact: Emily Remmel at 202/533-1839 or eremmel@nacwa.org