EPA Issues Water Infrastructure Sustainability Policy

By Patrick Crow, Washington Correspondent

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued its long-awaited Clean Water and Drinking Water Infrastructure Sustainability Policy.

EPA said U.S. communities face challenges in making upgrades and repairs to their aging sewer systems and treatment facilities. It said that making the infrastructure last longer while increasing its cost-effectiveness is essential to protecting human health and the environment — and maintaining safe drinking water.

The federal policy emphasizes the need to continue promoting sustainable water infrastructure. It also focuses on working with states and water systems to use planning processes that result in projects that are cost effective, resource efficient, and consistent with community sustainability goals. It encourages utility management practices to build and maintain the technical, financial, and managerial capacities needed to ensure long-term sustainability.

EPA drafted the policy with input from its federal, state, and local partners. It will provide technical assistance and target funding sources to support the sustainability of water infrastructure.

Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe said, “Through cost-effective, resource-efficient techniques — like green water infrastructure alternatives — this policy aims to make our communities more environmentally and economically sustainable. These smart investments in our water infrastructure, along with increased awareness of the importance of these investments, can keep our water cleaner and save Americans money.”

Separately, EPA issued its 5-year strategic plan (for fiscal years 2011 to 2015) with five goals for advancing its environmental and human-health mission. They are: acting on climate change and improving air quality; protecting waters; cleaning communities and advancing sustainable development; ensuring the safety of chemicals and preventing pollution; and enforcing environmental laws.

Incineration Rule

EPA has proposed standards under Section 129 of the Clean Air Act (CAA) that would affect the options that local governments have for the management of sewage sludge.

The National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) said nearly a fifth of all the sewage sludge produced annually in the U.S. is burned in incinerators. It said EPA’s proposed new source performance standards could effectively eliminate the construction of new incinerators, and the tougher standards for existing ones could force many communities to abandon incineration as early as 2016.

The association said EPA now regulates the incinerators under regulations in Section 405 of the Clean Water Act (CWA). NACWA has urged that incinerators be regulated under Section 112 of the CAA but it said EPA, in response to a series of court rulings, developed the proposed standards under Section 129.

EPA has estimated the new standards will require most existing incinerators to install additional pollution control devices at a total capital cost of more than $200 million and annual operating costs of $100 million. The agency said some of those costs would be avoided since many public wastewater utilities would abandon incineration and send their sludge to a landfill instead. NACWA said EPA’s analysis understated the costs and environmental impacts of placing sludge in landfills.

NACWA said, “Rather than encouraging upgrades to newer, cleaner incinerators paired with energy recovery that can offset a significant amount of the energy needs for treating wastewater, the proposed standards will result in many of the nation’s wastewater utilities abandoning their significant capital investments and simply sending an energy-rich secondary material for disposal in a landfill.

“During a period of time where municipalities are facing enormous economic challenges and an ever-expanding regulatory landscape, it is critical for EPA to ensure its policies are environmentally and economically sound, and ensure those policies allow municipalities to manage their resources wisely and engage in practices that can maximize their resources and limit their carbon footprint.”

Climate Change Study

The American Water Works Association (AWWA) will lead a two-year study on how municipalities can forecast water demand within the context of anticipated climate change.

The project, funded by a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration grant, will provide recommendations on how to improve current water demand forecasting and identify areas of essential future research.

The study will include an assessment of current computer models, workshops to identify knowledge gaps, development of research priorities, and recommendations for reducing risk through improved demand forecasting. Researchers will conduct model simulations at two drinking water utilities.

AWWA Executive Director David LaFrance said, “This project is historic in its focus. Most studies on climate change and drinking water have focused on the supply side, looking at water resources. The examination of water demand adds an important new perspective.”

AWWA Director of Federal Relations Alan Roberson will serve as principal investigator for the project. Other members of the team will include faculty from George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and the University of Colorado at Boulder, along with staff from the environmental facilitator, Kearns & West.

In other Washington news:

  • EPA has notified the Office of Management and Budget that it plans to regulate the chemical perchlorate under the Safe Drinking Water Act. EPA will have up to two years to propose a rule after the decision to regulate is published.
  • A National Center for Atmospheric Research study has warned that global warming may cause the U.S. and other heavily populated countries to face the threat of severe and prolonged drought in coming decades.
  • The National League of Cities said the economic recession is continuing to hurt municipalities. It said cities have reported their revenues will decline 3.2% and spending 2.3% next year. NLC said those cutbacks are the largest in the history of its annual surveys.
  • The American Farm Bureau Federation is opposing a Senate bill, the Chesapeake Clean Water and Ecosystem Restoration Act. It warned, “The bill makes sweeping changes to the CWA and sets adverse water policy precedents that would impact watersheds throughout the nation.”

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