Senate Blocks Infrastructure Bank Measure

In November the Senate blocked consideration of a bill to create a $10 billion National Infrastructure Bank, which was designed to offer loans to transportation and water projects.

By Patrick Crow, Washington Correspondent

In November the Senate blocked consideration of a bill to create a $10 billion National Infrastructure Bank, which was designed to offer loans to transportation and water projects.

The measure had been part of President Barack Obama's larger $447 billion "American Jobs Act" proposed in September and rejected by the Senate in October. Both bills were 9 votes short of the 60 needed to advance under Senate rules.

After the main bill was rejected, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) began bringing pieces of the legislation separately to the Senate floor.

Also, Sens. Reid, Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) have filed a bill to help drinking water and wastewater utilities adapt their infrastructure to the changing hydrological conditions caused by global warming. Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) has introduced the same bill in the House.

The measure would establish an EPA grant program, based on a proposal that the American Metropolitan Water Association (AMWA) developed for the 2009 climate change bill.

Diane VanDe Hei, AMWA executive director, said, "In the decades ahead, the nation's water and wastewater systems are expected to face a series of water quality and quantity challenges brought on by severe drought, melting snowpack, more frequent heavy precipitation events, and rising sea levels.

"AMWA has estimated that adapting to hydrological conditions brought about by climate change may cost U.S. water and wastewater systems nearly $1 trillion through 2050. This bill's modest authorization of $50 million per year will help utilities begin addressing these needs today, while also creating thousands of jobs."

Whistleblower Case

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has awarded $99,000 to a man fired for reporting illegal wastewater treatment practices at the Oklahoma golf course where he was head greens keeper.

OSHA determined the Southwestern Oklahoma Development Authority (SWODA) violated the whistleblower protections in federal anti-pollution laws when it fired Gy Bennar, who disclosed that SWODA was using untreated wastewater for irrigation.

Bennar worked at the Clinton-Sherman Industrial Air Park public golf course that SWODA managed. OSHA said that after SWODA ignored his complaints, Bennar reported the violations to the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality and the EPA in August 2010. SWODA then fired Bennar without explanation.

SWODA told OSHA that it had fired Bennar for "insubordinate, irresponsible, disrespectful behavior and attitude and poor work performance." But the federal agency said SWODA did not allege misconduct when it fired Bennar and that it previously had given him high performance marks.

OSHA ordered SWODA to pay Bennar $99,040 in back wages and benefits, expenses incurred from losing health coverage, housing and moving expenses after eviction from employer-provided housing, and attorneys' fees. OSHA ordered SWODA to inform its employees of their whistleblower rights under federal anti-pollution laws.

NACo Report

The National Association of Counties (NACo) has reported that counties appear to be settling into the "new normal" of revenue, staffing and service delivery levels after years of revenue losses in a struggling economy.

NACo said its latest survey showed counties are continuing to make difficult budget decisions and are still scaling back or deferring certain activities to help them through their current fiscal years.

The association contacted 2,000 counties that have professional managers, clerks or administrators. It said the 233 counties that responded were a good sample of counties in the nation by population.

The association said only 35% of responding counties adopted balanced budgets this fiscal year. More than half (51%) said declining revenues from state and federal governments were the main cause of their shortfalls. Two-thirds (66%) employed fewer persons this fiscal year, compared to fiscal 2010.

The NACo survey found that 31% of the counties reported budget cuts in public works, buildings and grounds, water, sewer and waste management services.

Chicago River

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved the State of Illinois' new and revised water quality standards for five segments of the Chicago and Calumet Rivers.

In May of this year, EPA notified the State of Illinois that upgraded water quality standards were necessary to protect the health and safety of the increasing number of people who use these rivers for recreation, said EPA Regional Administrator Susan Hedman.

"We are pleased that Illinois acted quickly to adopt new standards, which will help to further the transformation of the Chicago river system from sewage canal to valuable recreational and economic asset," she said.

More than half the volume of the Chicago River is partially treated water discharged from sewage treatment plants. The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District has agreed to begin disinfecting those discharges and set standards for acceptable bacteria levels.

The approved standards apply to the North and South Branches of the Chicago River, the North Shore Channel, the Cal-Sag Channel and the Little Calumet River. EPA continues to review the other new and revised water quality standards that the State of Illinois has proposed for the Chicago Area Waterway System and the Lower Des Plaines River.

In other Washington news:

-- Patricia Mulroy, general manager of Las Vegas Valley Water District, has been elected president of the American Metropolitan Water Association. Chuck Murray, general manager of the Fairfax County (Virginia) Water Authority, was named vice president.

-- EPA said the Charles River Pollution Control District will pay a $16,500 fine and perform a $60,000 evaluation to resolve CWA violations at its wastewater treatment facility in Medway, Mass.

-- The agency has approved new standards for controlling urban stormwater runoff in Washington, D.C. The renewed municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) permit requires sustainable techniques including green roofs, tree planting, and retaining rainfall on-site from redevelopment projects.

-- Lisa Sparrow, president and CEO of Utilities Inc., has been named president of the National Association of Water Companies board of directors, succeeding Eric Thornburg, who is the chairman, president and CEO of the Connecticut Water Co.

-- The Healthy House Institute and the Water Quality Association have formed a partnership to educate consumers about technologies to improve residential water quality.

-- NPD Group, a foodservice market research firm, has reported that tap water accounts for 8% of the 50 billion beverage servings ordered at restaurants and it is one of the fastest growing drinks ordered. It said revenue-generating beverages have been declining the past five years.

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