Water Groups Back Private Activity Bond Proposal

Water groups are backing bills in Congress to remove the state volume caps on private activity bonds for public-purpose water and wastewater projects.

Aug 1st, 2011

By Patrick Crow, Washington Correspondent

Water groups are backing bills in Congress to remove the state volume caps on private activity bonds for public-purpose water and wastewater projects.

The Sustainable Water Infrastructure Act of 2011 was filed in the Senate by Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and in the House of Representatives by Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.) and Geoffrey Davis (R-Ky.).

The American Water Works Association (AWWA) praised the bill, saying it would broaden the pool of capital available to repair and replace aging water infrastructure.

“Greater use of private activity bonds should benefit water consumers served by those utilities that make use of this tool. If more funds are currently available to make needed investments in water and wastewater infrastructure, fewer critical projects will be deferred -– a practice that typically results in more expensive fixes. These higher costs ultimately are reflected in customers’ bills,” AWWA said.

The association also supports the creation of a proposed federal Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Authority, which it said would make low-cost loans available directly to water projects and to state revolving funds.

The National Association of Water Companies (NAWC) also is backing the bill. It said many public water systems are threatened by age, deterioration and lack of investment. It said financing tools such as exempt facility bonds would encourage private capital investment, create jobs and provide more affordable financing for water projects.

Michael Deane, executive director of NAWC, said, “There is a $500 billion need for capital investment in our nation’s aging water and wastewater infrastructure. Exempt facility bonds are the single most effective financing tool the federal government can provide to communities to bring new money into long-term, capital-intensive infrastructure projects.”

NAWC said removing the bond caps would give water projects equal standing with airports, high-speed rail and solid waste disposal, all of which are exempt from existing caps. It said the bill also would generate significant tax revenue for state and local governments.

Stormwater Rule

The Water Environment Federation (WEF) has urged the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to revise elements of its stormwater regulatory program. The agency is expected to issue a new stormwater rule this fall.

Executive Director Jeff Eger said, “WEF members recognize that innovative and non-traditional approaches are needed to address stormwater challenges of the 21st century.”

The association is recommending that EPA update its regulations under the Clean Water Act (CWA), including: using a volume-based approach for stormwater treatment; supporting green infrastructure, increasing flexibility in the stormwater regulatory framework, considering climate change, and integrating a watershed-based approach into permitting.

Eger said, “While wastewater treatment facilities have done a tremendous job in addressing point source pollution, nonpoint source pollution such as stormwater runoff is a huge contributor to water quality problems in this country.”

Wetlands Fight

Legislators in both houses of Congress are trying to block an Obama Administration policy on wetlands.

In May the administration issued guidelines for EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to clarify how far Clean Water Act pollution prevention rules apply to streams, wetlands and ponds.

The guidelines address a decade-long dispute and reverse 2003 and 2008 U.S. Supreme Court decisions that denied CWA protection for intermittent and seasonal streams and wetlands.

EPA said the draft guidance will protect waters that many communities use for drinking, swimming, and fishing, and will provide clearer, more predictable guidelines for determining which water bodies are protected by the CWA.

But the House Appropriations Committee passed a fiscal 2012 energy and water spending bill that included a provision prohibiting the Corps of Engineers from spending funds to support the guidance. The full House was expected to vote on the spending bill later.

In the Democratic-controlled Senate, 41 Republican senators have urged EPA and the Corps to abandon the draft guidance.

The senators said because the draft guidance will substantively change how the agencies decide which waters are subject to federal jurisdiction, it has regulatory consequences and goes beyond being simply advisory guidelines.

“The draft guidance will shift the burden of providing jurisdictional status of water from the agencies to the regulated communities, thus making the guidance binding and fundamentally changing the legal rights and responsibilities that they have. When an agency acts to change the rights of an individual we believe that the agency must go through the formal rulemaking process,” the senators said.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) added, “Whether it’s global warming or clean water, the Obama EPA is aggressively trying to achieve through regulation what could not be achieved through legislation, and this guidance document is a prime example. The agencies should immediately abandon it and work to implement an effective balance between state and federal authority (which) is the best way to achieve substantial progress in protecting water.”

Inhofe, a frequent critic of the Clean Water Act and EPA, was briefly hospitalized before the July 4th holiday after swimming in a lake near his summer home, according to news reports. He blamed blue-green algae blooms in the lake. Several other people also fell ill after swimming in the lake. A spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality said the blooms were most likely caused by unusually heavy nutrient runoff carried by spring floods.

The Sierra Club reportedly sent Inhofe a hand-written condolence letter wishing him well but also pointing out the relationship between pollution, water-borne illness and the Clean Water Act.

In other Washington news:

• President Barack Obama has nominated Ken Kopocis, the staff director of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee, to become EPA’s assistant administrator for Water. Kopocis will succeed Peter Silva, who resigned in February.

• The National Ground Water Association has released an iPhone application of groundwater and water well system terms.

• The Centers for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and AWWA have issued a guidance to help health care facilities develop an emergency water supply plans.

• The Department of Justice has alleged that the wastewater plant at Unalaska (commonly known as Dutch Harbor), Alaska, exceeded its discharge permits more than 4,800 times from October 2004 to October 2010.

• EPA has honored Medicine Bow, Wyo., for installing nine wind turbines at its sewage and drinking water facilities to generate up to 21 kW of power.

• A U.S. District Court judge in Louisiana has sentenced Jeffrey Pruett, 58, of West Monroe, La., to 33 months incarceration for CWA sewage and wastewater violations. Pruett and the two companies he owned and operated also must pay a $310,000 criminal fine.

• The Natural Resources Defense Council reported there were 24,091 beach closing/advisory days due to pollution in 2010, the second highest U.S. total in 21 years.

• In an annual contest, the U.S. Conference of Mayors has declared Racine, Wis., has the best tasting city water in America. Other finalists were: Albany, N.Y.; Denton, Tex.; Pembroke Pines, Fla., and Rochester, N.Y.

• Sen. Inhofe has filed a bill prohibiting EPA from taking an enforcement action against a drinking water system serving fewer than 10,000 people without first verifying that the community could afford any required upgrades. He has introduced the bill in every Congress since 2003.

• The Water Research Foundation is updating its 1999 Residential End Uses of Water study, which water utilities, regulators, and government planning agencies use as a benchmark for single-family home indoor water use. The new study is due completion in late 2013.

• EPA said improvements in its Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) tool will allow the public to determine if the drinking water in their community met Safe Drinking Water Act standards.

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