Hope Dims for Passage of Water Funding Measures

Oct. 1, 2012
Water-related legislation appeared to have little chance of passage in the dwindling days of the 112th Congress, largely because there was slim hope for any bills.

By Patrick Crow, Washington Correspondent

Water-related legislation appeared to have little chance of passage in the dwindling days of the 112th Congress, largely because there was slim hope for any bills.

Legislators returned to work in September after a long recess for August vacations and the party conventions. They planned to adjourn in October for last minute campaigning for the November election. A "lame duck" session was possible following the election but such sessions seldom are very productive.

The only major legislation expected to pass this session was a continuing resolution to maintain the federal budget.

Despite the pessimistic scenario, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said if Congress considers climate change legislation, he would push for an amendment to provide federal funding to community water systems which must adapt their infrastructure to changing hydrological conditions.

Cardin, who filed a similar bill in 2011, told a recent Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on climate change science that in the future water systems could have "too little water in some places, too much water in other places, and degraded water quality."

A bill to improve cybersecurity, including the computer operations of water utilities, has been withdrawn from the Senate floor due to a Republican filibuster. It would have imposed federal cybersecurity standards for operators of critical infrastructure. The House of Representatives had approved a package of cybersecurirty bills earlier this year.

Also, water lobbyists hoped to get a rider changing consumer confidence reports (CCRs) attached to any legislation that had a chance of passage.

Water groups want Congress to allow utilities to distribute the annual CCR reports to consumers via the Internet rather than through the mail. Last June the measure fell two votes short of being added to the Farm Bill due to the opposition of Senate Democratic leaders.

Groundwork was being laid to create a Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program to increase federal investments in water and wastewater infrastructure, even though the legislation has no chance of passage until the next Congress.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said he would introduce a WIFIA bill before the end of the year. He said it would resemble the federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA), which helps communities obtain low interest rates for major transportation projects.

The bill would ensure that both large and small water utilities have opportunities to compete for WIFIA funding. It also would promote the use of "green infrastructure."

The Merkley bill would borrow from a WIFIA draft bill circulated earlier this year by Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio). Gibbs also was working to complete and file his legislation.

The Gibbs proposal would use WIFIA as a supplement to the existing Drinking Water and Clean Water state revolving funds (SRFs). It would offer direct EPA loans to major water infrastructure projects, rather than going through the SRFs. The funds only would be available to projects requiring at least $20 million in financing, and thus would be targeted toward large water projects.

Consent Decrees

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced four consent decrees resolving complaints of Clean Water Act (CWA) violations in Massachusetts.

The Boston Water and Sewer Commission (BWSC) will implement remedial measures to minimize the discharge of sewage and other pollutants. It also will pay a $235,000 penalty for CWA violations and will perform a $160,000 supplemental environmental project to address leakage at private sewer laterals.

Boston will use green infrastructure and low-impact techniques to control pollutants being discharged in its stormwater to local beaches, rivers and streams. BWSC will investigate drainage areas discharging to Constitution, Tenean and Malibu beaches.

The agreement requires BWSC to remove all identified sources of sewage as expeditiously as possible. It also must control pollutants other than sewage, such as phosphorus and metals, being discharged from its storm drain system.

Gloucester will upgrade its sewage treatment plant and work to stem overflows from its sewer system.

EPA said that while the city's primary treatment plant recently was upgraded, it needs additional work to meet the conditions of the current discharge permit. It said the problems have resulted in discharges of poorly treated sewage.

The consent decree modifies a 2005 combined sewer overflow (CSO) plan with a more cost-effective approach to mitigate, and in some cases eliminate CSO, discharges. EPA said

Because of the city's financial condition, the consent decree modification does not impose a penalty for the violations leading to this action.

Sterling Suffolk Racecourse will pay a $1.25 million penalty to resolve violations at its Suffolk Downs racetrack facility in Revere and East Boston, Mass.

The company is also spending more than $3 million to prevent polluted water from entering nearby waterways and will perform three environmental projects totaling $742,000 that will provide water quality monitoring and protection efforts for 123 square miles of watershed.

The federal complaint alleged that Suffolk allowed polluted wastewater, including horse manure, urine and bedding material, to discharge into Sales Creek, a tributary of Belle Isle Inlet and Boston Harbor. It also said Suffolk operated a concentrated animal feeding operation, which stables race horses from March through November, without a CWA permit.

On the west side of Boston, the city of Fitchburg will pay a $141,000 fine for violations and perform a $100,000 supplemental environmental project.

EPA said Fitchburg violated conditions of its permit controlling combined sewer overflows, bypassed wastewater flows around its secondary treatment system, violated numeric effluent limits on hundreds of occasions, and discharged untreated overflows from the collection system without permit authorization.