Environmental Groups Contest Water Transfer Rule

Aug. 1, 2008
Environmental groups have sued the Environmental Protection Agency in New York and Florida federal courts to block its new water transfer rule ...

by Patrick Crow, Washington Correspondent

Environmental groups have sued the Environmental Protection Agency in New York and Florida federal courts to block its new water transfer rule, which does not require National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits for transfers of water from one body of water to another.

In New York, plaintiffs led by Trout Unlimited's Catskill Mountains Chapter, alleged the EPA action was arbitrary and a violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. They said under the rule, salt water could be transferred into fresh water, sediment-laden water into drinking water reservoirs, and such.

The Florida Wildlife Federation raised similar arguments. It said the rule reversed EPA actions dating as far back as 1973 and effectively overturned recent court decisions.

In announcing the rule, EPA said permits should not be required to route water through tunnels, channels, or natural stream courses for public water supplies, irrigation, power generation, flood control, and environmental restoration.

Benjamin Grumbles, assistant administrator for water, said the rule gives communities greater certainty and avoids a new federal permitting process.

"Clean water permits should focus on water pollution, not water movement. EPA is committed to working with our state, tribal, and local partners to reduce environmental impacts associated with transfers and will continue to use all appropriate tools such as standards, best management practices, and watershed plans," he said.

Several court cases have focused on the need for a NPDES permit in recent years. The final rule defines water transfers as activities that convey or connect U.S. waters without subjecting the transferred water to intervening industrial, municipal, or commercial use. Pollutants introduced during the water transfer would require an NPDES permit.

Best Management Practices

EPA and six associations representing the U.S. water and wastewater sector have issued a series of tools to promote best management practices at utilities.

The tools are based on the 10 Attributes of Effectively Managed Utilities and Five Keys to Management Success, which were identified in a report released by the coalition in May 2007.

The six groups are the American Public Works Association (APWA), American Water Works Association (AWWA), Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA), National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), National Association of Water Companies (NAWC), and the Water Environment Federation (WEF).

"These tools were developed by utility mangers for utility managers," said WEF Executive Director Bill Bertera.

The tools include the Effective Utility Management Primer for Water and Wastewater Utilities, which is designed to help managers make practical, systematic changes to improve utility performance. Produced by water and wastewater utility leaders, it will help utilities establish a performance baseline and begin to measure their progress.

Also released was an online Resource Toolbox with links to key resources and tools. The primers can be downloaded at each of the associations' Internet sites.

Global Warming

Eight water interest groups have urged Congress to be aware of the potential impacts of global warming legislation on drinking water supplies, wastewater treatment systems, and flood and stormwater management programs.

The action came on the eve of a U.S. Senate vote on the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act. The Senate failed to prevent a filibuster against the bill and the measure was defeated.

Global warming legislation is expected to be a priority in the next Congress, since apparent presidential nominees Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) both advocate action to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

The eight groups were AWWA, AMWA, NACWA, NACW, WEF, the National Association of Flood and Stormwater Management Agencies, the Water Utility Climate Alliance and the Western Urban Water Coalition.

They said lawmakers should consider three broad objectives in legislation:

Research to develop and improve climate prediction models, necessary data resources, alternative water sources, new water management techniques, and evaluations of new carbon control technologies.
Federal and other financial support for climate adaptation projects, including infrastructure enhancements, that may be needed to neutralize the regional impacts of climate change.
Incentives that encourage utilities, along with other small-scale emitters, to voluntarily reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

"Federal law and policy on climate change must fully consider the effects on water supply and all elements of water management and treatment, and include provisions for increases in federal financial support and incentives to stimulate other forms of investment for responses ranging from research to mitigation and adaptation tools to infrastructure needs," the groups said.
In other Washington news:

Thirteen oil companies have agreed to pay water companies $423 million to clean methyl tertiary butyl ether from water supplies. More than 150 water providers from 17 states sued the oil firms after leaks of the gasoline additive caused ground water contamination.
EPA has given the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority $42.4 million to further capitalize its Clean Water State Revolving Fund. Over the past 20 years, the state has received more than $1 billion from EPA to capitalize the fund.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors has passed a resolution urging its members to phase out the use of bottled water and to promote use of municipal water. The International Bottled Water Association said the action failed to recognize the necessity, practicality and health benefits of bottled water.
The Plastic Pipe and Fittings Association has issued a Life Cycle Inventory which evaluates the environmental profiles of plastic pipe used in service line, water distribution, and drain, waste and vent applications.
The Eleventh Circuit Federal Court of Appeals has upheld EPA's 2005 rule allowing wastewater treatment facilities in 24 Florida counties to dispose of treated domestic wastewater in Class 1 underground injection control wells.

The court rejected arguments that the rule violated the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.

The U.S. section of the International Boundary and Water Commission has decided to upgrade the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant at San Diego, Calif., to secondary standards rather than build facilities in Tijuana, Mexico.
EPA said its Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force has released a plan to reduce hypoxia in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. The plan covers a 31 state watershed.
EPA said four large home builders -- Centex, KB, Pulte and Richmond American -- have agreed to pay civil penalties totaling $4.3 million to resolve allegations they failed to control runoff from construction sites, a violation of the Clean Water Act.
A recently enacted law requires the Interior Department to study ways to clean and use "produced water," water extracted with oil and gas production, for irrigation and other purposes in Western states.
AWWA and the Awwa Research Foundation plan a study on how to address the challenges that an aging and changing workforce present for water and wastewater utilities.
The Louisville, Ky., water company has won AWWA's best tasting water contest for 2008. The Mal Paso Filtration Plant in Puerto Rico won second place and the Blythe, Ga., water utility won third.
EPA's annual report on the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund shows that the program has committed $12.6 billion in assistance to 5,555 projects through the end of 2007. Its 2008 allotments for states totaled $829 million, slightly lower than last year's $837.5 million.
EPA has approved 99 alternative analytical methods water suppliers can use to test for regulated contaminants. The June 3 notice was the first under an expedited approval process for such tests.

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