EPA defends Combined Sewer Overflow and funding policies

The EPA has criticised proposed Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) legislation as "a step backward" for efforts to implement its own CSO Policy, and has defended the ability of the State Revolving Funds (SRF) system to finance clean water infrastructure projects.

Testifying before the Congressional Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment, Charles Fox, assistant EPA administrator for water, opposed the Combined Sewer Overflow Control and Partnership Act of 1999 (CSOCPA) on the grounds that it would lower water quality standards and allow communities to avoid implementing the EPA’s nine minimum controls over CSOs – such as proper O&M and maximisation of flow to WwTPs.

Fox added there was a danger the bill could prevent States from implementing a long-term CSO control plan – also required under the CSO Policy – until they have completed a review of State water quality standards for waters affected by CSOs.

The Act would overturn long-standing enforcement orders issued to communities to implement remedies to CSOs, Fox said, and allow the extension of permits, resulting in delays to project implementation.

Defending SRF system’s ability to finance clean water infrastructure projects, Fox said the Federal Government’s stated goal to capitalise the SRF programmes to revolve at about $2Bn annually over the next several decades “will provide a substantial and sustained contribution to meeting the overall annual need.”

Fox went on to reject a $4Bn CSO grant programme set out in the CSOCPA and the Urban Wet Weather Priorities Act (UWWPA) as unnecessary given the ‘solidity’ of SRFs as a financial tool.

Fox also criticised rival estimates concerning the cost of infrastructure improvements published by the US Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies (AMSA) and the Water Environment Federation (WEF) in a report called The Cost of Clean.

The report puts US wastewater infrastructure needs at $330Bn (see World Water, May 1999, p. 7), as opposed to the Agency’s 1996 estimate of $128Bn. The EPA estimate includes $73.4Bn for various types of sewage conveyance projects. In addition, the Agency’s estimate for Sanitary Sewer Overflows (SSOs) costs has risen from $10.3Bn in 1996 to $81.9Bn in 1999.

The EPA, said Fox, requires that costs included in its own estimates be established by planning or design documentation, whereas The Cost of Clean does not. He also emphasised the fact that a significant portion of the costs estimated in The Cost of Clean are for replacement investments which were not included in the EPA’s 1996 Clean Water Needs Survey.

Fox also objected to the deadlines set out in the UWWPA for issuing regulations for Sanitary Sewer Overflows (SSOs). He reminded the Subcommittee that the EPA is working on its own regulatory framework for SSOs and said he thought the deadlines in the draft UWWPA are not practical given the complexities of the legislation.

Fox told members of the Subcommittee that the EPA is opposed to a provision in the UWWPA that would “exempt storm water discharges from a fundamental requirement of the Clean Water Act – that permits result in attainment of water quality standards.”

With the EPA’s Storm Water Phase II regulations (aimed at smaller municipalities and construction sites) due in the autumn, Fox argued that the Agency’s long-standing programme of reducing pollution from storm water runoff should not be undermined.

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