Climate Bill Includes Water System "Adaptation" Grants

Nov. 1, 2009
Landmark climate change legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate includes significant water efficiency provisions.

By Patrick Crow, Washington Correspondent

Landmark climate change legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate includes significant water efficiency provisions.

The 800-page-plus bill will be the subject of hearings this fall before the Environment and Public Works Committee. Principal authors are committee chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.).

The Boxer-Kerry bill would create a nationwide "cap-and-trade" system designed to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 20% by 2020. The water efficiency provisions included a section authorizing the Environmental Protection Agency's WaterSense voluntary program for labeling water-efficient high-performance products and services. Another section would direct federal agencies to purchase WaterSense or energy efficient products whenever possible. A third section authorizes incentives for consumers who buy WaterSense products.

Separately, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) introduced a "stand-alone" bill similar to those three water efficiency provisions in the climate bill.

Another section of the climate bill would create "Water System Mitigation and Adaptation Partnerships" to help communities adapt to climate change. It would provide grants for drinking water and wastewater projects that help utilities adapt to expected impacts of climate change.

The projects might include improvements to protect water quality or quantity through conservation or metering; to modify or move plants put at risk by climate change; to build water reuse or desalination facilities; or to adopt advanced water management techniques.

To receive funding, water systems would have to detail how their project would address a climate change-related risk. States would choose programs on a competitive basis but also would encourage projects using environmentally friendly techniques.

The National Association of Clean Water Agencies said the Senate bill recognized "that climate change is fundamentally about water."

NACWA Executive Director Ken Kirk said, "Climate change is one of the most significant challenges facing the clean water community today. This bill is an important step in our efforts to address this issue in a responsible fashion while recognizing that a key concern is its impacts on water."

Diane VanDe Hei, executive director of the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA), said, "Global climate change is expected to lead to a host of challenges for American water systems, ranging from severe drought and melting snow pack that stresses water supplies to increased heavy precipitation events and rising sea levels that threaten water quality." She said the grant program would help water systems adapt to those challenges.

"The legislation also requires that these projects have a clear nexus with climate change. Utilities applying for funding will be required to cite available research describing a climate change-related risk, explain how the project would address that risk, and demonstrate that the project is consistent with state-level climate change adaptation plans."

Chemical Security

The Obama Administration has decided that the Environmental Protection Agency, not the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), should regulate the security of chemicals held at drinking water and wastewater plants.

Water groups had expressed concern that pending chemical and water security bills in the House of Representatives ("Drinking Water Facility Security Act" and the "Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Act") would have given DHS oversight of wastewater utility security and EPA oversight of drinking water utility security, creating the potential for contradictory and duplicative regulations.

The administration's position was disclosed in testimony at a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee hearing on the bills. Assistant Administrator for Water Peter Silva said EPA did not want power to require utilities to impose "inherently safer technology" (IST). He said state agencies enforcing the Safe Drinking Water Act should have the authority to force the highest-risk water systems to consider IST alternatives to chorine and other chemicals.

Brian Ramaley, director of the Newport News, VA, Waterworks testified as president of AMWA. He praised language in the drinking water bill that would block EPA from imposing IST mandates on drinking water utilities and said EPA should regulate both drinking water and wastewater utility security.

On the IST issue, Ramaley said, "Drinking water utilities across the country work closely with state enforcement agencies. I am confident that state enforcement agencies would act responsibly when reviewing a utility's disinfectant choice, and generally defer to the water treatment determinations made by local water experts."

The House Energy and Commerce Committee was expected to consider the legislation this fall.

In other Washington news:

– EPA, along with the Departments of Agriculture and Interior, is drafting a strategy to improve water quality and habitat in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. It is expected to tighten regulations on concentrated animal feeding operations and stormwater run-off from urban areas.

– Joint Ocean Commission Initiative, a federal-private sector task force, has reported that protection of ocean and Great Lakes shorelines is regulated by a hodgepodge of federal and state agencies and should be revamped under a comprehensive national system.

– EPA has released its third list of drinking water contaminants that are known or anticipated to occur in public water systems and may require regulation. The contaminant candidate list (CCL 3) includes 104 chemical contaminants or groups and 12 microbes.

– The U.S. Geological Survey said a study has found elevated levels of chloride, a component of salt, in more than 40% of northern U.S. urban streams that it sampled. But it said chloride levels exceeded federal standards in less than 2% of drinking-water wells sampled. USGS said use of salt for deicing roads and parking lots is a major source of chloride in the northern U.S.

– The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will study three Western river basins where climate change, drought, population increases, and environmental needs have heightened competition for scarce water supplies. The studies will cover the Colorado River, Yakima River, and Milk and St. Mary River systems.

– The U.S. Department of Justice has asked a federal court to order the Scranton Sewer Authority to stop discharges of untreated sewage into the Lackawanna River in Pennsylvania. The complaint alleged the utility illegally discharged more than a billion gallons of untreated sewage in 2008.

– A U.S. District Court in Muskogee, Okla., has sentenced the former supervisor of the Fort Gibson, Okla., water treatment facility to serve six months home confinement for submitting false statements that concealed Safe Drinking Water Act violations. Christopher Neil Gauntt also will pay a $5,000 fine and serve five years probation.

– EPA said the city of Plainview, Neb., has agreed to pay a $14,940 civil penalty for violating its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit. It said an April 2008 inspection found that Plainview had failed to meet effluent limits.

– EPA said it plans to toughen its standards for water discharges from coal-fired power plants. It said current regulations, which were issued in 1982, have not kept pace with changes that have occurred in the electric power industry over the last three decades. WW

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