NACWA Water Quality Committee Talks Nutrients, PFAS

(May 29, 2019) - The Association’s Water Quality Committee met via conference call on May 22 and discussed the latest developments from the EPA and around the country.

EPA’s recent decision to reverse its disapproval of Washington State’s human health criteria, and an earlier decision regarding Idaho, were a top discussion item.  These decisions reflect the current administration’s focus on cooperative federalism and its desire to let states take the lead on water quality standards issues. While Washington is objecting to the EPA action largely for political reasons, supporting information which EPA developed for both decisions will be very helpful in the future on these issues.

During the member issue roundtable portion of the call, Committee members highlighted where PFAS-related concerns are leading their states to impose testing requirements. In addition to states like Maine and Michigan that have been out in front of this issue, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Washington and California are also taking steps, with testing for water, wastewater and biosolids coming soon for many.

The Committee discussed at length the current status of litigation over Montana’s nutrient variance. While the judge’s decision supports the role that variances, including those based on economics, play in implementing the Clean Water Act, elements of the decision regarding compliance with standards at the end of a variance - and EPA’s new concept of highest attainable condition - remain unresolved. Updates on a range of water quality criteria issues were also provided.

Shortly after the call, EPA’s final recommended water quality criteria for cyanotoxins were released. When initially proposed, EPA suggested that the criteria could be used by states as the basis of water quality standards or only as swimming advisories. NACWA raised concerns about establishing criteria for cyanotoxins, given the complexities of regulating something under the Clean Water Act that is not actually discharged, and recommended that EPA only publish the values as swimming advisories.