Member Pipeline - Clean Water Current - March 23, 2007
March 23, 2007
NACWA Presentation at EPA Conference Disputes Benefits of Privatization
NACWA Executive Director Ken Kirk countered claims made by EPA at its Paying for Sustainable Water Infrastructure conference in Atlanta that private activity bonds (PABs) and the Agency’s “Four Pillars” approach would alone resolve the huge water infrastructure funding crisis facing the nation’s municipal clean water agencies. NACWA’s presentation documented that the Agency’s approach would cover only about 18 percent of the $300 - $500 billion funding gap. Kirk said that municipalities have already tried and tested privatization – in efforts that were largely unsuccessful. In addition, the PABs being pushed by EPA would require Congress to change the tax code and would further drain resources from the U.S. Treasury. Kirk emphasized the importance of water as a public trust and the need to keep operations of its facilities in public hands. NACWA supports EPA’s other efforts to promote water efficiency, asset management, and additional measures to foster sustainability in the nation’s clean water infrastructure. However, these measures, while helpful, will do little to cover the cost of replacing aging pipes and other critical infrastructure.
At the conference, Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin discussed the variety of measures her city has used to address its water and wastewater infrastructure problems; including raising rates so that Atlanta’s water and sewer fees are the highest in the country. Mayor Franklin reiterated NACWA’s point that, despite rate increases and enhanced efficiencies, the funds generated are still not enough. “The federal government needs to step up and make sufficient federal funding available so cities can fix their water infrastructure,” she said.
EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson and Ben Grumbles, EPA assistant administrator for water, both touted NACWA’s activities on green infrastructure, including the Green Infrastructure Statement of Support the Association drafted with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) that now has nearly 25 other groups signing on. Johnson also highlighted NACWA’s work to refine a list of attributes of effectively managed utilities. Grumbles pointed to the work of the Milwaukee Sanitation District, a NACWA member agency, with its “Green Seams” program to reduce the impacts from nonpoint source pollution.
Several NACWA members made presentations on innovative approaches they are using to meet the water quality challenges of the 21st century, including discussions about a clean water trust fund and green infrastructure initiatives. Copies of presentations from the conference will be made available on EPA’s website, and NACWA will provide the link next week.
Court Grants NACWA Intervention in BEACH Act Case
On March 19, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California ruled that the NACWA may intervene as a plaintiff in Natural Resourced Defense Council (NRDC) v. EPA, a legal challenge over EPA’s failure to establish new recreation water quality criteria as required by the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Costal Health Act (BEACH Act). A copy of the court’s order may be found at http://www.nacwa.org/getfile.cfm?fn=2007-03-19plain.pdf. The BEACH Act requires EPA to assess potential human health risks from exposure to bacteria and other pathogens found in costal recreational waters, and to then publish resulting bacteria and pathogen indicators by 2005. However, EPA missed this deadline and NRDC filed suit last summer against the Agency. The NACWA Board approved participation in the case in September, and NACWA filed a Motion to Intervene in the case in December so that the Association could bring the clean water community’s voice to anticipated settlement discussions.
As an official party to the case, the Association will now be able to participate in settlement negotiations that have already started between NRDC and EPA. EPA has acknowledged that it failed to meet the implementation deadline set forth by the BEACH Act; accordingly, the primary issue to be discussed in settlement talks is the court-ordered schedule that EPA will follow to meet the Act’s requirements. NACWA looks forward to taking part in these discussions and ensuring that any court-imposed deadlines provide EPA sufficient time to conduct comprehensive, scientific water quality studies prior to promulgation of new recreational water quality criteria. More information on the case and relevant court documents may be found on the Litigation Tracker page of the Member Pipeline at www.nacwa.org.
NACWA, NRDC Meet With White House on Peak Flows Policy
NACWA and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) held a productive meeting March 21 with the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to push for final Administration approval of the peak flows policy. Also present at the meeting were representatives from the Environmental Protections Agency’s (EPA’s) Office of Wastewater and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The policy, jointly crafted by NACWA and NRDC, has EPA’s support but has been stalled the past few months awaiting final interagency review at OMB, which has expressed concerns over the proposal’s lack of a cost/benefit analysis. NACWA and NRDC used the meeting as an opportunity to explain to the Administration the importance of final approval of the policy, stressing that both the clean water community and the environmental community are supportive of the initiative and eagerly await its release. NACWA and NRDC also pointed out that there will be little incentive for the regulated and environmental communities to collaborate on future issues if the final product will ultimately be stymied due to bureaucratic resistance. Administration officials were very receptive during the meeting and appeared to understand the importance of moving forward with the proposal soon. NACWA is hopeful that the progress made during the meeting will translate into quick action on the rule. We will keep the membership apprised of any developments.
NACWA, Water Coalition Seek Increased Funding for Utilities in Farm Bill
This week, NACWA in coalition with several water sector agencies — including the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA), the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA), the American Water Works Association (AWWA), and the Water Environment Federation (WEF), among others — met with staff for Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) to discuss and offer support for his recently introduced Healthy Farms, Foods and Fuels Act of 2007 (http://www.nacwa.org/private/leg_outreach.cfm). The bill provides that 20% of all Farm Bill conservation funds must be targeted to the “Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative.” This would target billions of dollars in grants to be used for cooperative partnerships, including a requirement that 50% of these funds specifically go toward water quality improvement projects. According to discussions with staff, although municipalities are note specifically named in the bill, they would be eligible to receive these funds. NACWA is working to ensure this provision makes it into final Farm Bill legislation and to ensure that municipalities are deemed eligible for these funds.
NACWA and the water sector also sent a letter to the House and Senate Budget Committees this week urging them to significantly boost Farm Bill conservation funding in an effort to ensure that programs like the Cooperative Conservation Partnership have sufficient funding levels. This letter is available on the Association’s Legislative Correspondence & Outreach site (http://www.nacwa.org/private/leg_outreach.cfm). Rep. Kind’s bill has over 75 co-sponsors and that number is expected to increase in the weeks ahead.
NACWA Offers Input on Upcoming Chlorine Gas Legislation
NACWA met this week with staff in Senator Joe Biden’s (D-Del.) office to discuss chlorine gas legislation that he and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) intend to introduce in the coming weeks. They are working off of a bill Sen. Biden introduced in the 109th Congress titled the Community Water Treatment Hazards Reduction Act of 2006 (S.2920). S.2920 calls on the Administrator of EPA, with consultation from the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to compile a list of high-risk drinking water and wastewater facilities that use chlorine gas and to notify the listed utilities of their classification. These classification are made via three tiers with Tier 1 — the highest classification of concern — including utilities that “cover” a population of greater than 100,000 people. Tier 2 includes utilities that cover a population of greater than 25,000 people but less than 100,000 people, and Tier 3 utilities, which cover a population with greater than 10,000 but less than 25,000 people. Once the owner or operator receives notice from EPA of its classification it must, within 90 days, conduct a feasibility assessment on the viability of using inherently safer technologies, such as sodium hypochlorite.
Of great significance is the fact that S.2920 provides $125 million per year over five years in grants to pay for chlorine gas conversion and, significantly, unless the funds are made available the requirements do not become effective. Also, grants are available for utilities that have already made the switch to a chlorine gas alternative. Senator Biden’s office requested that NACWA review the original legislation and provide recommended changes to the bill next week. As such, the Association will be reaching out to potentially impacted members and will also work with the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) on this legislative effort – likely providing joint comments to Sen. Biden’s office next week.
Climate Change Concerns NACWA Members, According to Survey
NACWA’s recently completed Climate Change Survey indicates that climate change is a concern to many members and that NACWA should continue its advocacy efforts on this issue. Half of the survey respondents reported that their agency is currently concerned about climate change, primarily due to potential emissions reduction requirements, but also because of more intense rainstorms. Over 20 percent of respondents are already modifying or considering modifications to their wet weather programs due to possible changes in precipitation patterns. Almost all agencies (89 percent) reuse the methane gas generated in the wastewater treatment process for digester heating, building heat, electric power generation, or other purposes.
In related activity, NACWA has reviewed EPA’s Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks and will be submitting comments on the public review draft by the end of the month, indicating that conservative factors lead to overestimation of emissions estimates for wastewater treatment. Climate Change Survey respondents supported NACWA’s efforts to obtain more accurate emissions estimates, and also recommended that NACWA advocate for federal funding to support emissions reduction and promote the energy-saving efforts of members, such as methane reuse. NACWA will continue to monitor developments in greenhouse gas emissions that may affect clean water agencies and keep members aware of relevant climate change issues.
NACWA Forms Strategic Watershed Task Force
NACWA is forming a new task force to explore regulatory and legislative solutions to persistent clean water issues that present challenges today, 35 years after the Clean Water Act was passed. The Strategic Watershed Task Force, created by NACWA President Dick Champion, will formulate an advocacy plan for the future of clean water, addressing issues in a more holistic, watershed-focused approach as discussed at NACWA’s Strategic Watershed Action Planning Session in December 2006. Potential issues that the Task Force will consider include stormwater and collection systems, financial capability, and nonpoint pollution sources. The Task Force will be chaired by Frank Pogge, NACWA Board member and Director, Kansas City Water Department. Charlie Logue, NACWA Board member and Director, Regulatory Affairs Department, for Clean Water Services of Hillsboro, OR, will serve as Vice Chair. Approximately two face-to-face meetings, most likely held in conjunction with other NACWA events, and several conference calls are planned which will culminate in a set of recommendations on or around October 18, the 35th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. The membership of the task force, comprised of NACWA member agency representatives, is currently being finalized. If you have an interest in participating, please contact Cynthia Finley at email@example.com. NACWA members will be kept apprised as the important work of the Task Force gets underway.