Protecting Water to Remain Priority in Proposed EPA Budget

The Environmental Protection Agency's proposed fiscal 2011 budget allocates $3.3 billion for state revolving funds to maintain and improve water infrastructure, in addition to $6 billion provided in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

By Patrick Crow, Washington Correspondent

The Environmental Protection Agency's proposed fiscal 2011 budget allocates $3.3 billion for state revolving funds to maintain and improve water infrastructure, in addition to $6 billion provided in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The water funding would be a third of EPA's total $10 billion budget. Congress will determine the actual appropriations agency. The fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

The EPA budget request also includes $63 million for efforts to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay and $17 million to respond to non-point pollution in the Mississippi River Basin. The agency also would get $1.3 billion to clean Superfund sites that may be releasing harmful or toxic substances into surrounding communities.

The Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds (SRFs) would be cut slightly. The funds would get a total of $3.287 billion ($2 billion for the Clean Water SRF and $1.287 billion for the Drinking Water SRF), down from $3.5 billion in the fiscal 2010 spending bill. The number still would be more than double what the programs received in fiscal 2009.

Administrator Lisa Jackson said that although the EPA budget would cut overall spending, it would focus more on seven core priorities: climate change, air quality, chemical safety, toxic site cleanups, protecting waters, expanding environmentalism, and partnerships with states and Indian tribes.

In the water area, EPA noted it faces challenges related to stormwater runoff, nutrient loadings, invasive species and drinking water contaminants.

During his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama called for a three-year freeze on non-defense discretionary spending beginning in fiscal 2011. If Congress agrees to that, appropriations for EPA water programs would be held to their current levels through 2013.

EPA has launched initiatives to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and in Florida.

For the Chesapeake, it will draft rules to reduce runoff from stormwater and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in order to meet total maximum daily load (TMDL) pollution limits being developed for the bay watershed.

The agency said it would work with the six states in the watershed, plus the District of Columbia, to establish stronger programs for stormwater and CAFOs.

To help the states with permitting and enforcement activities, EPA will provide an additional $11.2 million for 2010, which more than doubles 2009 funding levels.

The agency plans to complete a national stormwater rule by November 2012 and a CAFO regulation by late 2013. Specifically for the Chesapeake Bay, it will draft a rule this year to provide options for offsetting pollution loads from new or expanding sources under the TMDL.

In Florida, EPA is proposing to set numeric limits on the volumes of phosphorus and nitrogen ("nutrients") that would be allowed in lakes, rivers, streams, springs and canals. EPA and the state were required to develop the plan under a 2009 consent decree with the Florida Wildlife Federation.

EPA said nutrient pollution can damage drinking water sources, increase harmful algal blooms, and form byproducts in drinking water from disinfection chemicals. It said some of those byproducts have been linked with human illnesses such as bladder cancer.

It said phosphorus and nitrogen pollution come from stormwater runoff, municipal wastewater treatment, fertilization of crops, and livestock manure. Nitrogen also results from the burning of fossil fuels, like gasoline.

In 2008, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection estimated that 1,000 miles of rivers and streams, 350,000 acres of lakes and 900 square miles of estuaries were not meeting the state's water quality standards because of excess nutrients. (Those were 16% of Florida's assessed river and stream miles, 36% of lake acres, and 25% of square miles.)

WEF, NOWRA Agreement

The Water Environment Federation (WEF) and the National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association (NOWRA) have formed a partnership to draft and promote an integrated approach to water, stormwater, and wastewater management.

WEF President Paul Freedman said, "WEF has long been the go-to source of information for centralized wastewater treatment training and education and NOWRA is the acknowledged leader for decentralized approaches. While these two approaches haven't been easily reconciled in the past, this strategic partnership demonstrates both organizations' interest in collaboration with a view toward a common goal of a cleaner global water environment."

The two groups said one-quarter of the U.S. population and one-third of all new residential and commercial development use decentralized systems for wastewater treatment.

Under the partnership, the two groups will promote knowledge sharing and training, technologies and applications for onsite and natural treatment systems, public education, and consistent government regulation.

NOWRA President Tom Groves said his group, based in Madison, WI, will relocate staff to WEF's office in Alexandria, VA (near Washington, D.C.), under the partnership.

In other Washington news:

    – EPA said Puerto Rico plans to use more than $8 million in federal grants to replace a 3-mile sewer line between Loíza and the Carolina Wastewater Treatment Plant.
    – EPA has penalized the Guam Waterworks Authority $57,000 for failing to fully comply with an order to assess the structural stability of Guam's steel tank water reservoirs.
    – The Food and Drug Administration plans studies on the possible health risks of bisphenol-A (BPA), which is used for plastic water bottles. In 2008 FDA declared BPA was safe for use in food packaging but it now has "new concerns."
    – EPA said the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board has agreed to reinstate a program, stalled for several years in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, to reduce or eliminate sewage overflows into the Mississippi River, Lake Pontchartrain and its storm drainage canal system.
    – EPA has awarded Spencer, Iowa $146,000 to design a multi-phased combined sewer separation project. In 2008, the town signed a consent order with EPA to reduce or eliminate its combined sewer overflows into the Little Sioux River. WW

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