Integrated Planning Implementation and Affordable Clean Water Solutions

Over the last 45 years, communities have been responding to a growing list of Clean Water Act (CWA) regulatory mandates to improve the nation's water quality. Often taking on compounded wastewater and stormwater responsibilities, many communities are struggling to adequately allocate strained financial resources to these clean water needs.

Thanks to advocacy efforts by NACWA, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and others, EPA recognized the regulated community’s need for flexibility, and developed its Integrated Municipal Stormwater and Wastewater Planning Approach Framework (IP Framework) in 2012. NACWA and its members have been working with EPA and state water regulators ever since to ensure the Framework can be utilized by communities when appropriate. Crucially, our advocacy resulted in Integrated Planning being codified into the Clean Water Act in 2019 – the most significant changes to the Act in decades.

A key element of the IP Framework is an assessment of what level of spending is affordable for the citizens of a particular community. NACWA has been pushing for changes to how EPA assesses a community’s ability to pay for its CWA mandates.  In response, EPA released a companion document to the IP Framework in 2014 on affordability, which outlines additional factors that can be considered when evaluating financial capability. NACWA continues to work with EPA and the water sector to improve EPA’s financial capability assessment methodology. 

Much progress has been made on Integrated Planning in the enforcement context, with utilities negotiating and renegotiating EPA consent decrees based on the concepts of Integrated Planning. Less progress has been made on the use of Integrated Planning in the context of permitting.

NACWA has hosted workshops across the country to highlight the opportunities that the IP Framework provides, and the Association continues to work with EPA and Congress to advance use of IP, including technical assistance and funding to support communities that wish to pursue Integrated Planning, especially through CWA permits. 

EPA is providing technical assistance to utilities working to develop Integrated Planning – more information can be found on EPA’s website or by contacting Amanda Aspatore, NACWA’s General Counsel.

Legislative Advocacy Efforts Codify Integrated Planning in Clean Water Act

NACWA advocated extensively over many years for Congress to codify the use of Integrated Planning and make progress on the challenge of water infrastructure affordability.

As a result of NACWA’s work and leadership, in January 2019, the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2018 (H.R 7279) was signed into law after passing the U.S. House and Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support. The legislation was championed by Representatives Bob Gibbs (R-OH), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), and Bob Latta (R-OH) in the House, and Senators Deb Fischer (R-NE), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Rob Portman (R-OH) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) in the Senate.

Strong leadership on the legislation was also provided by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman, John Barrasso (R-WY) and Ranking Member, Tom Carper (D-DE), current House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman, Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Senator John Boozman (R-AR), and Representatives Steve Chabot (R-OH), Cheri Bustos (D-IL), Dave Joyce (R-OH), and Marcia Fudge (D-OH).

The bill codifies into the law EPA’s Integrated Planning process, providing crucial legislative certainty to local communities seeking to develop an Integrated Plan to better manage costs and prioritize their clean water investments. Additionally, the bill includes provisions to ensure that EPA integrates the use of green infrastructure throughout its CWA compliance programs. It also establishes, for the first time, a Municipal Ombudsman office within EPA to act as a liaison between EPA and the municipal regulated community to help address regulatory concerns. These changes represent some of the most significant updates to the CWA in decades.

Since enactment of the legislation, NACWA has continued efforts with EPA and Congress to ensure it is implemented consistent with its intent.  This has included work to have EPA update its Financial Capability Assessment Guidance in line with recommendations from the both the Congressionally-directed National Academy of Public Administrators (NAPA) report and recommendations put forth by NACWA and other partners in the water sector. 

At the same time, NACWA has continued to provide important resources to its members to help educate them about the important opportunities available to pursue integrated plans, particularly in the permitting context.  As part of this effort, NACWA published a document entitled Considerations for Using Integrated Planning – What Clean Water Utilities Should Know in July 2022 that is designed to help utilities navigate the regulatory and legal considerations when considering integrated planning. 

NACWA also scored some important legislative wins on the integrated planning front in the Fiscal Year 2023 omnibus spending bill, which was approved in December 2022.  The legislation includes up to $2 million for EPA to work on programs to better educate state regulators on how to review and approve integrated plans – which to date has been a stumbling block in greater use of the program.  


Legislative Resources

Integrated Planning

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