AMWA Seeks Revisions to Sewage Overflow Act

The Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) has urged Congress to revise legislation to require publicly owned treatment works (POTWs) to ...

Dec 1st, 2007

by Patrick Crow, Washington Correspondent

The Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) has urged Congress to revise legislation to require publicly owned treatment works (POTWs) to notify downstream drinking water facilities about sanitary and combined sewer overflows.

AMWA Executive Director Diane VanDe Hei testified at a House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment hearing. Similar versions of the “Raw Sewage Overflow Community Right-to-Know Act” have been introduced in the House and Senate.

Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said notification of sewer overflows is covered only by a patchwork of federal regulations, state laws, and local initiatives aimed at limiting human exposure to discharges.

VanDe Hei said, “Drinking water systems carefully monitor the quality of source water intakes and take precautions necessary to make water safe for their customers. At times, this may require temporary increases of disinfectants or shutting off the intake pumps for a specific area for a short period.

“Setting up a system that facilitates communication between POTWs and downstream community drinking water systems immediately following significant sewer overflows will help ensure that needed precautions are taken,” she said.

AMWA said the legislation goes too far by requiring POTWs to issue public notifications for each overflow that “has the potential to affect human health.” It said, “Most small, isolated overflows do not actually have an impact on human health. But the bill’s requirement of individual public notifications after each and every overflow with the ‘potential’ to do so, no matter how small, could lead the public to needlessly question the quality and safety of their drinking water.”

Congress Overrides Bush Vetoes of WRDA

Acting on their previously announced pledges, President George W. Bush vetoed the massive Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) and congressional leaders promptly overturned the veto.

The 79 senators voting to override Bush’s veto included 34 Republicans who broke ranks with their party’s leader. Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma led the revolt.

“I am proud to have led the effort in the Senate to ensure enactment of this critically important national infrastructure bill,” said Senator Inhofe, ranking member and former chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

The $23 billion bill mostly authorized waterway projects by the Army Corps of Engineers but also included some drinking water and wastewater projects. Congress would have to appropriate funds for the projects later. The last WRDA was enacted in 2000.

In his veto message, Bush said the House-Senate conference committee compiled a bill costing 50% more than the original House and Senate bills.

“The bill’s excessive authorization for over 900 projects and programs exacerbates the massive backlog of ongoing Corps construction projects, which will require an additional $38 billion in future appropriations to complete,” the president said.

Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said, “State and local governments desperately need the funding authorized in this bill for navigation, flood control, environmental restoration, recreation, water supply studies and environmental infrastructure.

“The Bush administration claims that the cost of the legislation is too high, but this is not just one WRDA bill. It represents a backlog of seven years of project requests.”

Legislation May Target Water Chemical Security

The American Water Works Association (AWWA) said the Bush Administration has reversed itself and will support legislation next year to put water and wastewater utilities in the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Security (CFATS) program.

Administered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the program requires facilities using and storing specified chemicals (including gaseous chlorine) to prepare a security vulnerability assessment and implement a site security plan.

Water and wastewater facilities say that would duplicate their compliance with the 2002 Bioterrorism Act.

AWWA said the administration has not fully decided whether the Department of Homeland Security or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should regulate the water sector’s chemical security.

Water industry groups were surveying their members to determine what actions would be needed to bring the water sector into the CFATS program and whether additional security measures would be reasonable.”

In other Washington news:

  • On the 35th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, the Water Infrastructure Network has urged Congress to find a continuing funding source for the $300-500 billion needed for water projects over the next 20 years. It also said the Senate should approve the House-passed Water Quality Financing Act, which allocates $14 billion over four years for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund.
  • The National Research Council has warned that water quality could be harmed by projected increases in the use of corn for ethanol production. It said expanding biofuels crops could change irrigation practices and greatly increase pressure on water resources. Plus, it said increased fertilizer and pesticide use for biofuels could impact the quality of groundwater and rivers.
  • The House Natural Resources Committee has reported a bill that would create a federal commission to develop a national water strategy. It would identify incentives intended to ensure an adequate U.S. water supply for the next 50 years, including financing options.
  • Based on a review of Food and Drug Administration data, the Environmental Working Group has concluded that one of every 16 one-year-old children in the U.S. is exposed to unhealthy levels of perchlorate in food or water. It complained that the EPA has declined to set a safety standard for the rocket fuel chemical in tap water.
  • The EPA has published its revised Lead and Copper rule. AWWA said, “While lead is rarely present in water leaving treatment plants or traveling through distribution systems, it can leach into drinking water from lead plumbing, solders and fixtures. That means both the utility and the consumer have important roles to play in assuring the water remains safe for drinking.”
  • The House of Representatives has passed a bill establishing a $201 million grant program for the rehabilitation and repair of publicly-owned dams. States would have to pay at least 35% of project costs.

More in Infrastructure Funding