Cities Facing Costly Clean Water Act Mandates Can Use New Tool – May Bring
Congress passed the Integrated Planning bill in late 2018 legislative action; and, it potentially will have a direct financial impact on nearly every person who uses tap water, toilets, showers and other uses that end up in the sewer and wastewater treatment plant. HR 7279 the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act had strong bipartisan and bicameral support. It amends the Clean Water Act, by codifying EPA’s current Integrated Planning and Permitting Policy to allow municipalities to develop a plan that integrates wastewater and stormwater management, (Section 3). Any city that owns or operates a sewer system and/or wastewater treatment plant now has an opportunity to continue progress on water quality and stormwater controls but will have more flexibility when it comes to the intersection of affordability and compliance schedules. The Act has several provisions that are important to cities.
Section 3 – Integrated Plans
- Comprehensive Applicability: Municipal systems permitted under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) that incorporate an integrated plan may integrate all requirements under the Act addressed in the plan, including requirements relating to:
– combined sewer overflows
– sanitary sewer collection systems
– total maximum daily loads.
- Informing Cities about Integrated Plans: Whenever EPA takes an enforcement action under the CWA they MUST inform the city of the opportunity to develop an integrated plan.
- Modify Decrees and Settlements: A municipality under an administrative order or settlement agreement may request a modification of the order or settlement based on the municipality’s integrated plan.
- Incorporating Green Infrastructure: A plan that is incorporated into a permit may include the implementation of green infrastructure and projects to reclaim, recycle, or reuse water. Green infrastructure includes measures that mimic natural processes to store, reuse, or reduce stormwater.
- Flexible Compliance Schedules: A permit incorporating an Integrated Plan may include a schedule of compliance that allows actions for meeting water quality-based effluent limitations to be implemented over more than one permit term if the compliance schedules are authorized by state water quality standards.
Section 4 – Municipal Ombudsman
The Act establishes an Office of the Municipal Ombudsman in the Environmental Protection
Agency to provide:
- Technical assistance to municipalities seeking to comply with the Clean Water Act
- Information to the EPA to ensure that agency policies are implemented by all EPA offices.
- The Ombudsman is responsible for informing cities about federal financial assistance they may be eligible to receive.
- Ombudsman is also responsible for informing cities of what flexibility is available under the CWA.
It is expected that the Ombudsman will be able to help permit holders, cities, that raise concerns about requirements mandated by EPA Regional Offices.
Section 5 – Green Infrastructure
EPA is required to:
- Promote the use of green infrastructure.
- Coordinate efforts to implement green infrastructure with other federal agencies, states and tribal government.
- Conduct outreach and green infrastructure training in the regions.
- Establish a website for green infrastructure information sharing and technical assistance.