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February 2021 Regulatory Update

March 15, 2021

The National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) is pleased to provide you with the February 2021 Regulatory Update.

Regulatory Perspective

Momentum Building to Keep Wipes Out of Pipes

The battle to keep wipes out of pipes has reached a new level in 2021, with five states currently pursuing legislation to require labeling of non-flushable wipes with a clear “Do Not Flush” logo.  These five states – California, Oregon, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Minnesota – are following the precedent set by Washington, which became the first state in the U.S. to pass wipes legislation last year. 

We have come a long way since 2008, when NACWA was first contacted by a member agency about the problems they were having with flushed wipes.  It took years to work through the issues involved with wipes, but we eventually developed the tools we needed to pursue policy changes. 

We came to a consensus with the wipes industry on an updated Code of Practice (COP) for labeling non-flushable wipes, which was published in 2017.  We also worked with the water associations from five other countries to develop the International Water Services Flushability Group (IWSFG) flushability specifications for wipes.  These specifications, which protect municipal sewer systems by ensuring that wipes labeled flushable break apart quickly, were published in 2018 and updated in 2020. 

The COP is the basis for the labeling requirements in the Washington state law and the other state bills.  Proper labeling of baby wipes, cleaning wipes, and other non-flushable wipes is the first step in educating consumers that these wipes should not be flushed, since they will see a prominent “Do Not Flush” logo each time they remove a wipe from the package.  Mandating these logos through legislation is necessary because wipes manufacturers did not fully comply with the COP on a voluntary basis.  INDA, the trade association that represents the wipes industry, is supporting these state bills. 

The IWSFG flushability specifications made a national appearance last year in Congress in the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act, and although this bill did not move, we expect similar legislation to be introduced this year. 

The wipes issue was also raised this week during a hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.  Oluwole “OJ” McFoy, General Manager of the Buffalo Sewer Authority and NACWA Board Member, testified on behalf of the Association and was asked about wipes by Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.).  McFoy stated, “We talk about flushable wipes, you know, to many of us in the utility industry, that’s a misnomer… they simply do not break down by the time that they reach our treatment facilities and hence they cause havoc not only in our sewer system but when they reach our treatment facilities.” Truer words were never spoken!

The current batch of state bills on wipes are an important step towards keeping non-flushable products out of the sewer system.  Until legislation establishes a standard on flushability, utilities will need to continue delivering the message to only flush the 3 Ps: pee, poop, and toilet paper. 

Please contact NACWA’s Regulatory Affairs Director, Cynthia Finley with questions.

Top Stories

NACWA Makes Inroads at HHS on Low Income Water Aid; Continues Affordability Advocacy

NACWA staff continues its outreach and met with program leads from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) who will be shaping the $638 million low-income water and wastewater ratepayer assistance funding secured in the December FY2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act.

HHS staff are working to determine how to allocate the funding among states and territories in accordance with the limited directives provided in the legislation, which called for factors based on poverty and rent burden – with no water-specific allocation considerations. HHS will also be developing guidance to states on how to implement their allocations, which they estimated would be provided in the April timeframe.

Given that HHS, and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in particular, traditionally works with the energy sector, the call was a good opportunity to help familiarize the Agency with the water sector. NACWA will be providing resources and recommendations to HHS regarding how we believe this program can best reflect the needs and circumstances of the water sector. NACWA has also created a document to help members understand the similarities and differences between LIHEAP and the new low-income water program.   

Effective implementation of the initial $638 million, and positioning this funding to ultimately become a reliable, permanent funding stream, is a core goal of the Affordable Water, Resilient Communities Campaign that NACWA and the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) recently launched. The campaign was timed with efforts on Capitol Hill to pass additional federal COVID-19 relief – which, at press time, seems likely to include additional water ratepayer assistance – and the development of broader infrastructure legislation. NACWA encourages all utilities to review the campaign’s advocacy resources and get engaged.

Contact Kristina Surfus at 202/833-4655 or Kristina Surfus.

EPA Finalizes Allocation Formula for Sewer Overflow and Stormwater Reuse Grants Program

EPA published a notice in the Federal Register on February 24 announcing an allocation formula for the Sewer Overflow and Stormwater Reuse Municipal Grants Program. The funding for this Program was originally authorized 20 years ago but money was never appropriated until the 2018 and 2019 America’s Water Infrastructure Act process that secured $28 million and $40 million in appropriations, respectively.

NACWA submitted comments to EPA in September 2020 highlighting several concerns with the Agency’s proposed allocation formula. Notably, the new allocation formula distributes funds to states based on a weighted scale that considers the most recent Clean Watersheds Needs Survey (CWNS)(50%), total population (16.7%), urban population (16.7%), and annual average precipitation (16.7%).

NACWA has expressed concern that the bulk of the allocation formula relies on the CWNS, which often has a significant time lag with its data.  As an example, the current CWNS data dates from 2012. The CWNS has never been used for specific funding allocations and to date has been more informational and voluntary in nature.

While EPA did not change the allocation formula from its proposed version to its final version, the Agency has separately acknowledged NACWA’s concerns about the need for more timely and complete data for the CWNS, especially given that it is now part of an important federal funding allocation formula. NACWA will continue to work with EPA and Congress to advocate for more robust and regular data collection and publication of the CWNS. 

While NACWA understands that some parts of the country may have varying opinions about the new metrics in the formula, the Association believes that the allocation formula will—when combined with existing funding programs like the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) and the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program—help direct federal funds towards investment projects most in need of federal assistance.

Contact Emily Remmel at 202/533-1839 or Emily Remmel.

Biosolids

There is Still Time to Complete the National Biosolids Survey!

Given the multitude of issues the biosolids community is facing today, it is once again time to conduct a second National Biosolids Survey and collect more up-to-date and accurate information on biosolids regulation, quality, end use, and disposal. It has been almost 15 years since the first ever comprehensive National Biosolids Survey was conducted. The data collected from this Survey will be critical in helping inform biosolids advocacy strategies moving forward.

NACWA is helping fund this effort and has teamed up with the Northeast Biosolids and Residuals Association (NEBRA) to complete this second National Biosolids Survey. NACWA is asking our members with knowledge of their biosolids operations to take some time and complete the survey. Read the full story in the Clean Water Current.

If members have questions, please do not hesitate to contact either Chris Hornback or Emily Remmel for more information or with questions regarding the survey.

Emerging Contaminants

NACWA Weighs in on EPA’s Interim Guidance for Destroying or Disposing PFAS

NACWA submitted comments to EPA February 22 on the Agency’s recent Interim PFAS Destruction and Disposal Guidance. The draft Interim Guidance was a product of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 (FY 2020 NDAA), which directed EPA to publish within one year an informational document that addresses the current state of knowledge and the scientific gaps in the destruction and disposal of PFAS.

While the Interim Guidance is more informational in nature and not intended to dictate any EPA policy or carry the weight of regulation, NACWA has several concerns with how EPA characterizes the land application of biosolids, and more broadly, how the Interim Guidance discusses biosolids without fully acknowledging the actual sources of PFAS in wastewater.

EPA considered the land application of biosolids beyond the scope of the Interim Guidance (e.g., land application is not a destruction or disposal method), but NACWA highlighted in its comments that additional clarity is needed. Read the full story in the Clean Water Current.

Contact Emily Remmel at 202/533-1839 or Emily Remmel.

Energy, Climate & Resource Recovery

Member Input Requested: EPA Greenhouse Gas Inventory Now Available for Public Comment

EPA released the public review version of the Draft Inventory of US Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks:1990-2019 in the February 12 Federal Register. NACWA submitted comments on the Inventory in December 2020, during the expert review phase, and the Association will also submit comments during the public review phase.

The annual Inventory provides nationwide estimates for greenhouse gas emissions for different sectors and is intended to be used only for informational purposes. The wastewater treatment category in the Inventory includes publicly owned treatment works (POTWs), septic systems, and industrial wastewater treatment systems.

NACWA has reviewed and commented on the POTW emissions estimates in the Inventory since 2007, recommending revisions to more accurately characterize the sector’s emissions. For first time since 2007, however, this year’s Inventory has major changes from the previous year. Read the full story in the Clean Water Current.

Contact Cynthia Finley at 202/533-1836 or Cynthia Finley.

Environmental Justice

EPA Launching Environmental Justice Speaker Series

EPA is launching a new environmental justice speaker series by featuring The Mapping Inequality Project on March 4, 2021 at 12:00 – 1:00 pm EST.

This unique project and collaboration created a foundational resource for unprecedented research, education, organizing, and policy advocacy on redlining and current environmental challenges. It provides publicly accessible digitized versions of redlining maps for about 200 cities. Read the full story in the Clean Water Current.

Security & Emergency Preparedness

WaterISAC Offers Vital Cybersecurity Resources in Free Trial for Utilities in Wake of Florida Incident

In the wake of a cybersecurity incident at the Oldsmar, Florida drinking water utility, the Water Information Sharing and Analysis Center (WaterISAC) is offering a free two-month trial for water utilities, with no payment information required. 

WaterISAC provides all-threats security, information, and analysis specifically for the water and wastewater sector, with several hundred utility members, as well as members from regulatory, law enforcement, and other government agencies. NACWA is a partner organization of WaterISAC, and the Association recommends that all member agencies become WaterISAC members. Read the full story in the Clean Water Current.

For more information about WaterISAC, please use the form on the WaterISAC website or directly contact Michael Arceneaux, WaterISAC’s Managing Director. 

Stormwater

EPA Issues 2021 Industrial Stormwater Permit and Addresses NACWA’s Concerns

While EPA and the 10 Regional Administrators previously signed the 2021 Multi-Sector General Permit (MSGP) for industrial stormwater discharges, it never made it into the Federal Register by January 20 and was caught up in the Biden Administration’s regulatory freeze. This roadblock was removed on February 19 when EPA issued a Federal Register Notice for the final 2021 MSGP and appendices with an effective date of March 1, 2021.

NACWA previously submitted comments to EPA on several concerning elements in the draft permit that would not likely result in tangible water quality improvements. NACWA is pleased to see the final permit made significant and helpful revisions. Read the full story in the Clean Water Current.

Contact Emily Remmel at 202/533-1839 or Emily Remmel.

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