Senate Bill Designed to Help Small Drinking Water Systems

James Inhofe (R-OK), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has introduced a bill to help water systems comply with federal drinking water standards.

James Inhofe (R-OK), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has introduced a bill to help water systems comply with federal drinking water standards. The Small System Drinking Water Act would require EPA to use all the resources provided by the 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act amendments (SDWA) to help smaller systems.

“In Oklahoma we continue to have municipalities struggling with the arsenic rule,” Inhofe said. “Furthermore, nearly 80% of our small systems, those serving less than 10,000 people, are not in compliance with the disinfection byproducts (DBP) stage I rule. In EPA’s most recent drinking water needs survey, Oklahoma identified $4.5 billion in infrastructure needs over the next 20 years. This does not include costs imposed by Oklahoma communities to meet Federal clean water requirements.

“If we are going to impose complicated requirements on water systems, we need to provide them with assistance in implementing those requirements. We simply must ensure that towns across the country have safe and affordable drinking water, and that the law is fair to small and rural communities.”

The legislation would reauthorize the technical assistance program in the SDWA; create a program to demonstrate new technologies and approaches for systems of all sizes; require EPA to examine the science behind the rules compared to new developments since their publication; direct EPA to identify barriers to the use of alternative treatment methods; and ban EPA from enforcing a federal standard if a water system has not received its federal funds for upgrade.

EPA Proposes Policy on Wet Weather Discharges

EPA has issued a proposed new policy for addressing peak wet weather discharges at wastewater treatment plants that is based on a proposal developed by the NACWA and NRDC.

The proposed policy “puts a premium on stopping leaks and spills, improving treatment, and increasing public oversight,” said Benjamin Grumbles, assistant administrator for the Office of Water.

The policy reflects the previously announced joint recommendations of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA). The policy encourages public participation via the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit process, and provides for public notification in the event that a diversion does take place.

The policy states that in limited situations, a NPDES permit can approve anticipated diversions around biological treatment units, provided the facility demonstrates that there are no feasible alternatives and that diverted flows receive a minimum of primary treatment. The policy affirms that end-of-pipe discharges must comply with Clean Water Act permits, including effluent limitations based on secondary treatment and any more stringent limitations for receiving waters.

NACWA Executive Director Ken Kirk said the policy “shows that progress can be made on tough issues when we work to find collaborative solutions to difficult problems.”

NRDC’s Nancy Stoner said, “Our joint effort produced a plan that goes a long way to protect public health, and we’re pleased that the EPA moved so quickly to endorse it.

EWG Study Examines Unregulated Contaminants

A two-year survey conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found drinking water in 42 states contained contaminants for which there are no enforceable health standards.

EWG said its survey of state environmental agency data found contaminants such as the gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), the rocket fuel component perchlorate, and a variety of industrial solvents. The group said more than 100 million people use water sources covered in the survey.

“The EWG analysis also found almost 100% compliance with enforceable health standards on the part of the nation’s water utilities, showing a clear commitment to comply with safety standards once they are developed. The problem, however, is EPA’s failure to establish enforceable health standards and monitoring requirements for scores of widespread tap water contaminants,” EWG said.

The environmental group said it would launch an online, interactive database of tap water quality testing from 39,000 public water supplies in the 42 states.

Tom Curtis, deputy executive director of the American Water Works Association (AWWA), said, “As EWG reported, nearly 100% of water utilities in the US meet all of EPA’s health-based standards. That’s good news, and it’s a reflection of water professionals’ ongoing commitment to protecting public health.

“EPA has a systematic approach to determining which substances should be regulated. Those regulations take into account occurrence data and health effects research, and should reflect the best available science,” he said.

Water Efficiency Organization Launched

A new water conservation organization, the Alliance for Water Efficiency, is being formed to serve as a clearinghouse and advocate for water efficiency research, evaluation and education.

The alliance will represent the water efficiency community, help develop initiatives for improved products, research technologies for saving water, and assemble programs for water utility involvement.

EPA is providing financial support for the alliance, which will be based in Chicago. The California Urban Water Conservation Council (CUWCC) developed the framework for group, which will be similar to national organizations that already exist for energy, such as the Consortium for Energy Efficiency.

EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson said, “Wise water use means more than just turning off a dripping faucet. Water efficiency is a smart, cost-effective solution to the quality and supply challenges facing one of our nation’s most precious natural resources.

“Together with partners like the Alliance for Water Efficiency, EPA is promoting the ethic of conserving our water resources -- ensuring the availability of clean water for future generations of Americans.”

Mary Ann Dickinson, CUWCC executive director, said, “There is extraordinary interest from a wide variety of groups including water suppliers, government officials, environmentalists, plumbing and appliance manufacturers, irrigation professionals, and building developers to pull together a program of water efficiency options that will benefit the nation as a whole.”

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