Member Pipeline - Clean Water Current - July 27, 2007
July 27, 2007
NACWA Hosts Meeting of Key Municipal Organizations
NACWA hosted a meeting this week of the leading organizations representing municipal interests to discuss priority clean water issues and, where viable, develop joint advocacy positions that benefit the nation’s municipalities. Representatives of the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM), the National League of Cities (NLC), the National Association of Counties (NACo), the National Association of Towns and Townships (NATAT), the American Public Works Association (APWA), the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA), and the Water Environment Federation (WEF) focused primarily on the Clean Water Restoration Act of 2007 (H.R. 2421) and the importance of moving forward jointly in voicing concerns about the bill’s more expansive definition of “waters of the United States.” The groups generally agreed that their support for the bill hinged on the inclusion of specific exemptions for a variety of treatment techniques, stormwater retention efforts, and groundwater. The groups also discussed the importance of getting an objective legal opinion as to whether these concerns are valid under a close, legal reading of the legislation and then moving forward with a joint letter to all members of Congress outlining municipal concerns once this debate picks up again. Congress is expected to take up the issue when it returns from its August recess after Labor Day (see related story).
Other issues discussed at the meeting were: 1) the need to ensure that the language in the House version of the EPA budget bill blocking EPA’s permit fee proposal makes it through the House-Senate conference and gets sent to President Bush for signature; 2) that the Senate takes action as swiftly as possible to introduce water infrastructure funding legislation similar to the House-passed Water Quality Financing Act of 2007 (H.R. 720), which would provide $14 billion over four years to the clean water state revolving fund (CWSRF); 3) that the municipal coalition advocate for the passage in the Senate of the Water Quality Investment Act of 2007 (S.836), which would provide $1.7 billion for sewer overflow control projects; and 4) that the coalition provide joint support for increased conservation funding in the Farm Bill and for the Regional Watershed Enhancement Program (RWEP) specifically, which would provide $300 million for cooperative partnerships between local government units and farmers to address water quality concerns in the nation’s watersheds. NACWA intends to hold such municipal meetings on a regular basis and will keep members informed of joint efforts that ensue from such discussions.
Water Sector Group Meets on Security Issues
The Water Sector Coordinating Council (WSCC), consisting of representatives from key water/wastewater sector associations, met this week with the Government Coordinating Council (GCC) to discuss security issues affecting water and wastewater utilities. The councils were updated on the status of two Critical Infrastructure Partnership Advisory Council (CIPAC) Workgroups formed by the WSCC and GCC. The CIPAC Metrics Workgroup has developed a draft set of measures to gauge the security progress of the water sector. The Metrics Workgroup is also considering a specific metric to evaluate the water sector’s consideration of chlorine gas safety. The measurement system, which will be finalized this fall and implemented in early 2008, will rely on anonymous, voluntary reporting by drinking water and wastewater utilities. The CIPAC Decontamination Workgroup has begun developing guidelines for dealing with the decontamination of water and wastewater utilities and for handling other decontamination wastewater. NACWA’s publication, Planning for Decontamination Wastewater: A Guide for Utilities (http://www.nacwa.org/getfile.cfm?fn=2005-10decon.pdf), is playing an important role in the efforts of the Decontamination Workgroup.
The Risk Analysis and Management for Critical Asset Protection (RAMCAP) project, administered through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is progressing with work to make existing vulnerability assessment tools compliant with the RAMCAP framework. This framework makes it easier to make comparisons across all security sectors, considering terrorism and all other hazards. Currently, pilot studies are being conducted at different water and wastewater utilities, including some NACWA members, to assess the adaptation of existing vulnerability assessment tools, such as NACWA’s Vulnerability Self Assessment Software Tool (VSAT™) and Sandia Laboratory’s Risk Assessment Methodology for Water Utilities (RAM-W™), to the RAMCAP framework. NACWA will keep members informed on the progress of the RAMCAP project, the CIPAC Workgroups, and other security issues affecting the water sector.
Feingold Introduces Bill on Defining “Waters of the United States” in Senate
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) introduced the Clean Water Restoration Act (S. 1870) in the Senate Wednesday, seeking to clarify which waters are covered by the Clean Water Act (CWA). The legislation has 19 sponsors — all Democrats — and is nearly identical to the House bill (H.R. 2421), introduced by Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Both bills would remove the term “navigable” from the statute and replace it with the broader term “waters of the United States,” defined according to language in the regulations of both the Corps of Engineers and EPA. The breadth of this definition remains unclear. For example, several NACWA members responded to Legislative Alert 07-02 (http://www.nacwa.org/private/legreg/legalrts/la07-2.cfm) with concerns that the proposed revisions would expand CWA coverage to groundwater. Others questioned whether storm water impoundments and conveyances, such as gutters and ditches, would be covered. NACWA will continue to study the bill, assess comments from its members, and discuss the issue with key congressional staff to gain clarity on these issues. NACWA also convened a meeting this week with other municipal groups to discuss the legislation (see related article.) Feingold’s bill was referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee whose chair, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), is listed as a cosponsor.
House Expected to Wrap up Work on Farm Bill Legislation Today
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Farm, Nutrition, and Bioenergy Act of 2007 (H.R. 2419) reauthorizing the 2002 Farm Bill in a 231-191 vote today. NACWA and other water sectors organizations have been successful in arguing for stronger measures aimed at improving water quality. The full House began debating the bill yesterday afternoon and defeated an amendment by Reps. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) that would cut back on subsidies to farmers and shift some of the spending to conservation programs, boosting their funding to $3 billion over five years. One of the highlights of the legislation is the new Regional Water Enhancement Program (RWEP), supported by NACWA, that would authorize $60 million annually from 2008-2012 for cooperative agreements between the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), agriculture producers, and other entities including local government units, to improve regional water quality or quantity in certain areas selected by USDA. The bill was revised in committee to target 50 percent of RWEP funds for projects outside of the Chesapeake Bay, the Klamath basin, the Everglades, and Upper Mississippi River Basin, which had been identified as priority areas. NACWA and other water sector groups had raised concern that other areas may be overlooked as a result of designating priority regions.
The RWEP program is designed for projects that focus on a specific geographical region such as a watershed or an irrigation, water, or drainage district; identify a water quality or water quantity issue of concern; and establish a method for determining a baseline assessment of water quality, water quantity, or other resource condition. In addition, priority will be given to projects that include the highest percentage of agricultural lands and producers in the area, have the best ratio of on-the-ground activities versus administrative costs, include performance measures that allow the effectiveness of the activities to be assessed once they are complete, capture surface runoff from farms through the construction, improvement or maintenance of irrigation ponds, have the highest likelihood of addressing issues of concern, and help producers meet regulatory requirements. The Senate is not expected to begin marking up Farm Bill legislation until at least September after work on reauthorizing the Water Resources Development Act (S. 1248) is complete.