EPA Pledges to Develop "Integrated" Planning Process For Managing Wastewater, Stormwater Compliance Programs

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will continue to promote the use of green infrastructure and work to develop an integrated planning process to help local governments manage wastewater discharges and stormwater runoff more efficiently and cost effectively.

Dec 2nd, 2011

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will continue to promote the use of green infrastructure and work to develop an integrated planning process to help local governments manage wastewater discharges and stormwater runoff more efficiently and cost effectively.

By James Laughlin, WaterWorld Editor

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will continue to promote the use of green infrastructure and work to develop an integrated planning process to help local governments manage wastewater discharges and stormwater runoff more efficiently and cost effectively.

Looking ahead to 2012, managing stormwater and targeting Combined Sewer Overflows and Sewer System Overflows will remain a top priority, according to Nancy Stoner, Acting Assistant Administrator, Office of Water.

When it comes to drinking water, top issues are the review of fluoride in drinking water, studying the affects of Chromium-6, and development of regulations for perchlorate. The agency also hopes to finalize the next stage of the unregulated contaminant monitoring rule, UCMR3, scheduled for promulgation in 2012.

EPA will also be working to better understand the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources. The agency recently released its final research plan on hydraulic fracturing. The initial research results and study findings will be released to the public in 2012. The final report will be delivered in 2014.

EPA will continue to promote and fund the Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Fund Programs to both rebuild America's infrastructure but also to promote jobs, Stoner said.

"EPA estimates that each incremental increase of $1 billion in SRF capitalization creates a near-term increase of about 25,000 to 55,000 job years over a two- to four-year period," Stoner said.

In a memo dated Oct. 27, Stoner and Cynthia Giles, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, wrote about the need for an integrated approach to helping municipalities that are struggling with wastewater and stormwater management compliance.

In commenting on the memo, Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe said, "An integrated approach allows communities to prioritize their investments to address the most serious water issues first and provides flexibility to use innovative, cost-effective storm- and wastewater-management solutions -– including green infrastructure."

According to Stoner, EPA will work with local governments to review the Clean Water Act (CWA) requirements facing each municipality and seek ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of solutions developed to meet those obligations.

An integrated planning process would examine and prioritize overlapping and competing requirements that arise from separate wastewater and stormwater projects, including capital investments and operation and maintenance requirements.

"In embracing an integrated approach to waste- and storm-water management we are not suggesting that existing regulatory or permitting standards that protect public health and water on which communities depend be lowered," Stoner wrote. "Rather, we are simply suggesting that such an approach will help municipalities responsibly meet their CWA obligations by maximizing their infrastructure improvement dollars through the appropriate sequencing of work."

This will require coordination between permit and enforcement actions and complementary state actions.

"As we consider a particular municipality's financial ability to complete the required infrastructure improvement work we must be sure that we consider all of its CWA obligations."

As an initial step, the Office of Water and Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance are developing an integrated planning approach framework to help EPA, including its regional offices, work with state and local governments toward cost effective decisions. The framework will identify:

1) the essential components of an integrated plan;
2) steps for identifying municipalities that might make best use of such an approach; and
3) how best to implement the plans with state partners under the CWA permit and enforcement programs.

"Once the framework is in draft form we want to begin discussions and hold meetings with states and local governments, utilities and environmental groups to obtain their feedback on the draft framework in the coming months," Stoner wrote. "In addition, we hope to identify municipal leaders who are currently developing, or have developed, integrated plans that can serve as models for this work."

Green Infrastructure

As part of its integrated approach, EPA will continue to encourage the use of green infrastructure to manage stormwater as a resource, reduce sewer overflows, enhance environmental quality, and achieve other economic and community benefits.

In April 2011, EPA released a strategic agenda that outlines the activities the agency will undertake to help communities implement green infrastructure approaches. The strategy aims to clarify and advance where and when green infrastructure can be used within regulatory and enforcement contexts. To that end, EPA will work to improve outreach and information exchange, financing, and tool development and capacity building.

"Over the past several years, we have been working closely with state and local governments to incorporate green infrastructure approaches to water quality within permits and enforcement actions. We have many successful examples of cities who will utilize green infrastructure to meet regulatory requirements while also benefiting from green jobs, neighborhood enhancements and more sustainable communities," Stoner wrote.

"We have also launched a community partnership program that has currently identified 10 communities with which the Agency will work on green infrastructure implementation issues. The Agency hopes to add up to an additional 20 communities in the future," she said.

The agency also has started to develop technical assistance resources for communities on using green infrastructure on brownfield sites and evaluating codes and ordinances for barriers.

Effectively controlling stormwater and wastewater discharges is key to the health of urban environments.

"We have the tools in our existing regulations and guidance to find answers to these problems," Stoner wrote. "The current economic times make the need for sensible and effective approaches even more pressing. We have already seen the benefits that leadership and creativity … bring to resolving these issues, reflected in forward looking plans in Indianapolis, Cleveland, St. Louis and many others."

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