EPA Administrator Outlines Plans for Stronger Water Protection Rules

Administrator Lisa Jackson said the Environmental Protection Agency is developing a broad set of strategies to strengthen public health protection from contaminants in drinking water.

By Patrick Crow, Washington Correspondent

Administrator Lisa Jackson said the Environmental Protection Agency is developing a broad set of strategies to strengthen public health protection from contaminants in drinking water.

Jackson, in a speech before the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies' annual meeting in Washington, D.C., said EPA wants to find solutions that meet the health and economic needs of communities more quickly and cost effectively than the current approach.

The administrator said the shift in drinking water strategy would:

– Address contaminants as a group, rather than individually, so that enhancement of drinking water protection can be achieved cost-effectively.

– Foster development of new drinking water treatment technologies to address health risks posed by a broad array of contaminants.

– Use EPA's powers under multiple statutes to help protect drinking water.

– And partner with states to share more complete data from monitoring of public water systems.

Jackson said EPA's current approach to drinking water protection is focused on assessing individual contaminants and can take many years. She said that has resulted in slow progress in addressing unregulated contaminants and has failed to enhance health protection cost-effectively, including the use of advanced treatment technologies that address several contaminants at once.

Jackson also said that within the next year EPA would revise the existing drinking water standards for four contaminants that can cause cancer: tetrachloroethylene, trichloroethylene, acrylamide and epichlorohydrin.

The agency said tetrachloroethylene and trichloroethylene are used in industrial and/or textile processing and can be introduced into drinking water from contaminated ground or surface water sources. Acrylamide and epichlorohydrin are impurities that can be introduced into drinking water during the water treatment process.

EPA said it also is considering revisions for 14 other drinking water standards, including lead and copper; chromium, fluoride, arsenic, and atrazine; and perchlorate.

Tom Curtis, AWWA deputy executive director, said, "AWWA applauds EPA's stated intention to draw on multiple statutes to protect our precious water sources from contamination and supports leveraging the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act and the Toxic Substances Control Act to limit pollution in groundwater and surface water. AWWA is also encouraged by the agency's intent to foster the development of new treatment technologies."

James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the senior Republican on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, said he was concerned about EPA's proposed methodology.

Inhofe said, "Using the Safe Drinking Water Act to 'leverage' other statutes that regulate chemicals is not the most effective way to provide safe drinking water or regulate chemicals."

Inhofe said he wants to know whether EPA assessed the impact on small, rural drinking water systems and whether it sought input from stakeholders such as farmers and small businesses.

Water, Sewer Funding

The U.S. Conference of Mayors has predicted that water and sewer rates for American households will double or quadruple over the next 20 years.

In a report, it said future spending for public water and wastewater systems will range between $2.5 and $4.8 trillion over 2009 to 2028, compared to $1.6 trillion over the past 53 years.

The report said more than 95% of total expenditures for public water and wastewater infrastructure are made by cities. It said, "In 2008 local government spent $93 billion on water and sewer services and infrastructure, while Congress provided only $2 billion in grants to states, who then disbursed the money in the form of loans to local governments which have to be paid back with interest."

The report said that current federal financial assistance programs are fragmented and are not targeted to metro-urban areas that the nation depends on for employment, economic growth, and environmental stewardship. It said the State Revolving Fund loan program is inadequate and has received flat funding during a period when the federal government dramatically increased mandates on local governments.

The study said the combination of unfunded federal mandates and increased costs related to population growth, urbanization, and aging infrastructure "are forcing local governments onto a spending treadmill where ever-growing annual investments may not be sufficient to guarantee safe, affordable and adequate supplies and services or meet state and federal requirements."

Tom Cochran, CEO and executive director of the Conference of Mayors, said, "The bottom line is that our federal water and wastewater programs must be reformed and directly fund our cities to meet these challenges. Otherwise, families will be hit with unrealistic bills they cannot afford."

In other Washington news:

– The National Association of Water Companies has lauded the House of Representatives for passing the Small Business and Infrastructure Jobs Tax Act. Among other things, the bill would remove state volume caps on private activity bonds for water and wastewater financing.

– A study commissioned by the International Bottled Water Association said the U.S. bottled water industry has a very small environmental footprint. It said in 2007 the energy used to produce small-pack bottled water containers was only 0.067% of U.S. usage and bottled water packaging discards were only 0.64% of total municipal solid waste discards.

– The Water Quality Association has named Robert Hague of Hague Quality Water International, Groveport, Ohio, as its new president.

– EPA said Anchorage Water and Waste Water Utility and Pruhs Construction Co. have paid a $9,850 fine to resolve allegations that they violated Clean Water Act rules for discharges.

– The agency said that a federal judge has ordered St. Croix in the Virgin Islands to install additional pumps at the Figtree Pump Station after equipment failures discharged millions of gallons of raw sewage earlier this year.

– EPA will spend $1.9 million in fiscal 2010 to study the potential impact of gas-well hydraulic fracturing on water quality. The agency said has begun to design its hydraulic fracturing research program.

– The National Association of Counties and the National Association of Development Organizations have told a House agriculture subcommittee that the shortfall of water and wastewater infrastructure spending is a major roadblock to economic development in small town and rural America.

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