By Linda Roeder
Making water systems more sustainable and focusing efforts in key geographic areas to restore and protect the nation's watersheds are top priorities in the Environmental Protection Agency's recently released fiscal year 2013 National Water Program Guidance.
The guidance defines the process for developing an “operational plan” for EPA, state, and tribal water programs for FY 2013, according to the agency.
The document was sent April 26 from Michael Shapiro, EPA deputy assistant administrator for water, to Office of Water directors, regional water division directors, and program managers.
In a memorandum sent with the guidance, Shapiro said for FY 2013, grant guidance for the drinking water state revolving fund was included “as part of the ongoing effort to issue grant guidance more efficiently.”
The final guidance follows draft guidance Shapiro sent Feb. 15 to regional planners and large aquatic ecosystem planners seeking comment on priorities, program measures, and regional targets.
In addition, “to recognize the importance of reducing nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in the Nation's waters,” EPA is including a new nutrient measure called WQ-26 based on a nutrient framework articulated in a policy memorandum issued by Acting Assistant Administrator Nancy Stoner on March 16, 2011, Shapiro said (52 DEN A-16, 3/17/11) .
EPA said in the guidance that pollution from nitrogen and phosphorus “is one of the most serious and pervasive water quality problems in 2013.” To address it, the document said EPA managers should continue working with states to help develop numeric water criteria for nitrogen and phosphorus.
The agency encouraged states to immediately begin setting priorities on a watershed or statewide basis, establishing nutrient reduction targets, and adopting numeric nutrient criteria for at least one class of water bodies by no later than 2016. EPA said it has added the new measure to track progress in this area.
According to Shapiro, the agency's planning process provides for development of draft EPA regional and national commitments on a range of water issues for FY 2013, based on the targets for measures identified in the guidance by July 6. Final commitments will be negotiated over the summer and finalized by Oct. 19.
Once final commitments are in place, EPA's national water program will monitor progress throughout 2013, he said. “I strongly encourage EPA regional offices to do their best to develop realistic but ambitious commitments while reflecting the needs and priorities in each region,” Shapiro wrote.
To improve sustainability, EPA said it would work with its partners to promote innovative solutions, such as green infrastructure and the WaterSense program, as well as to promote the use of tools intended to improve asset management.
To ensure healthy watersheds, the guidance said EPA will focus its efforts in key geographic areas, including the Chesapeake Bay, Great Lakes, and the Gulf of Mexico. “Complex issues, such as nonpoint source and nutrient pollution, require holistic, integrated solutions that emphasize accountability,” the guidance said.
Addressing the drinking water state revolving fund, EPA said it will continue to develop the next generation of the Safe Drinking Water Information System and to partner with states to support implementation of the Public Water System Supervision grant program.
“The agency and its state partners need to continue to look for ways to improve public health protection and data management and quality” for drinking water, the guidance said.
EPA said that in 2013 it will push to make sure all funds appropriated for the drinking water state revolving fund “move as expeditiously as possible.” The guidance stressed the need to move unliquidated obligations in the program expeditiously to address near-term needs (52 DEN A-16, 3/17/11).
The agency also said it will increase the drinking SRF's utilization rate for projects from a 2002 level of 73 percent to 89 percent in 2013, and it will work with states to monitor the number of projects that have initiated operations from a cumulative 2005 level of 2,600 to 7,000 projects in 2013, the document said.
Regarding drinking and wastewater system security, the guidance said it will initiate a national outreach strategy to encourage water utilities to adopt effective contamination warning system practices. EPA also will refine and provide outreach and training on a risk assessment tool to help utilities address “risks from all hazards,” including climate change.
The guidance also cited strategies to protect and restore fresh and coastal waters and wetlands. In 2013, the agency will issue the National Rivers and Streams Assessment report, which will contain findings from the he 2008-2009 rivers and streams survey.
In another area, the agency said it will continue to work with partners to identify and control greenhouse gas emissions through energy and water efficiency and help adapt core water programs to impacts from a changing climate.
More information on EPA's National Water Program Guidance for Fiscal Year 2013 and the accompanying memorandum is available at http://water.epa.gov/resource_performance/planning/FY-2013-National-Water-Program-Guidance.cfm.