Expected to be one of the first pieces of legislation President Barack Obama is asked to approve, the second economic recovery package includes healthy allocations for water infrastructure. In addition, Congress is expected to pass the $6.5 billion reauthorization of the Clean Water State Revolving Fund with Obama's support.
The U.S. EPA's 2002 Gap Analysis found that $485 billion to $1.2 trillion is needed over the next two decades to shore up the nation's pipelines — many of which have been untouched for more than a century — and improve treatment facilities to meet the demands of growth and climate change.
“Water professionals have a huge challenge in front of them. They must continue to ensure that the best science, technology, and policies are applied to protect water in their communities,” says Rebecca West, president of the Water Environment Federation (WEF). “They must build understanding of water's value, its connection to public health, and the vital need for resources to support smart, sustainable management of the water environment — and that includes infrastructure investment.”
Even more funding may come from a Water Trust Fund, an idea floated by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.). He's joined House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair James Oberstar (D-Minn.) and Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) in asking the General Accounting Office to consider ways to provide at least $10 billion annually to maintain and upgrade existing facilities. They asked that results be available by Jan. 15.
On the regulatory front, an EPA rule that goes into effect next month requires concentrated animal feeding operations to submit a nutrient management plan as part of a Clean Water Act permit application.
Designed to prevent 56 million pounds annually of phosphorus, 110 million pounds of nitrogen, and 2 billion pounds of sediment from entering streams, lakes, and other waters, the regulations have been criticized by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) because of a technicality. Operators may be exempt if they simply claim they don't discharge into waterways. As a result, if a facility does contaminate a waterway, the EPA isn't required to take enforcement action.
The NRDC has indicated that it may challenge the rule in court, according to Tim Williams, managing director for government affairs for WEF.
Another proposed EPA rule, which was issued in November, would regulate stormwater runoff from construction sites by limiting effluent. It would require contractors to install erosion best-management practices that “are generally recognized and accepted as effective.” Sites that are 10 acres and larger would have to install sediment basins to treat stormwater discharge.
Several holdovers from the 110th Congress are expected to be reconsidered this year as well, including the Clean Water Restoration Act. It would amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to replace the term “navigable waters” with the term “waters of the United States,” defined to include lakes, rivers, wetlands, sloughs, and even roadside drainage ditches. The EPA would govern all activities affecting those waters.
“The question is: How broad is the coverage of the Clean Water Act?” Williams says. Opponents argue that, technically, deleting “navigable” would allow Congress to include even potholes. Oberstar has said that Congress doesn't intend to add new regulations, and he plans to reintroduce the bill.