EPA Allows Changes in Permits, Plans, Orders In Approach to Sewer, Stormwater Overflows

Integrated Municipal Stormwater and Wastewater Planning Approach Framework  

Key Development: EPA issues final integrated planning approach framework, allowing municipalities to modify permits, plans, and enforcement orders to allow better management of stormwater and sewer overflows.

Potential Impact: The framework is expected to give municipalities the flexibility to modify plans to suit their needs rather than being locked into long-term plans.

What's Next: EPA will publish practical examples of how this approach can be implemented by municipalities.

By Amena H. Saiyid  

Municipalities will be allowed to modify permits or enforcement orders for managing combined sewer overflows and stormwater under an integrated planning framework released June 12 by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Integrated Municipal Stormwater and Wastewater Planning Approach Framework contains a provision that allows municipalities for the first time to modify a plan, a permit, or an enforcement order to comply with Clean Water Act obligations.

The provision also gives municipalities the opportunity to identify, evaluate, and select new projects and make changes to ongoing projects and implementation schedules.

This provision, which is supported by the municipal wastewater treatment community, was absent from the earlier draft version of the framework that EPA released in January (43 ER 151, 1/20/12).

The final integrated planning framework responds to concerns by cash-strapped municipalities that are hard-pressed to build or upgrade water infrastructure to manage stormwater and wastewater overflows.

Flexibility in Existing Regulations.

This approach offers municipalities the option to use either their existing Clean Water Act permits or enforcement orders to meet state water quality standards that might be violated owing to sewer and stormwater overflows. Most importantly, the approach allows municipalities to use green infrastructure, such as grassy swales and permeable pavement, to manage stormwater instead of requiring the use of traditional storm drains and other “gray” infrastructure. The approach also allows municipalities to use water quality trading to meet stormwater runoff requirements.

The framework, which was released in the form of memorandum to EPA regional administrators, was jointly written by Nancy Stoner, EPA's acting assistant administrator for water, and Cynthia Giles, EPA's assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance, who signed the document June 5.

In the memo, EPA identified six elements of an integrated plan. The flexibility provision is the final element.

Framework Elements.

The six elements are:

• a description and identification of human health threats, water quality challenges, and future requirements, such as new water quality-based requirements arising from a total maximum daily load set for nutrients;

• a description of existing wastewater and stormwater systems that would be part of an integrated plan;

• a process for enabling public participation in an integrated process;

• a process for identifying alternative means of compliance, such as the use of green infrastructure;

• a process for measuring and monitoring effectiveness of controls, compliance, and alternative measures such as green infrastructure; and

• a process for identifying, evaluating, and selecting proposed new projects or modifications to ongoing or planned projects and implementation schedules based on changing circumstances, and if this requires modification of a plan, permit, or order, collection of appropriate supporting information.

Practical Examples to Follow.

In the memo, EPA said it will provide further guidance and practical examples of how municipalities implement the integrated approach on its website in the future.

EPA also emphasized that municipalities will have to work closely with states that implement National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits. The agency said the responsibility for developing an integrated plan rests with the municipality, which will set priorities for water projects and include a rationale and description for how these priorities reflect the impact on human health and a municipality's financial capability.

Utilities Welcome Flexibility.

Chris Hornback, the National Association of Clean Water Agencies' senior director of regulatory affairs, told BNA that an initial read of the document revealed some positive changes.

Hornback said the vast majority of the document remains unchanged. But he said the addition of the provision allowing modifications should a utility's circumstances change is very significant. “It will allow utilities to be adaptive instead of being locked into a 20-year plan,” Hornback said.

Benjamin Grumbles, president of Clean Water America Alliance, told BNA, “EPA is taking a good and important step towards integrated, 'one water' management, but the broader journey won't be complete until many more miles are traveled and other aspects, such as drinking water requirements and actions, are taken into account.”

Drinking water utilities, represented by the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, have told EPA and Stoner that an integrated approach that allows utilities to prioritize wastewater compliance needs will divert already scarce funds away from drinking water obligations.

By Amena H. Saiyid  

The Integrated Municipal Stormwater and Wastewater Planning Approach Framework is available at http://www.epa.gov/npdes/pubs/integrated_planning_framework.pdf.