Tag Archives: MCWRS

Support H.2777 Today: Delegating NPDES Authority to MassDEP = Better Water Resources Protection Through Local Management

Maintaining the status quo for clean water permitting makes sense if the current program is working. But it is not, unless endless legal battles, permits 10 years out of date, and crippling regulatory demands are signs of success.

Significant gains under the Clean Water Act halted decades ago when the federal government stopped funding local wastewater projects. Since then EPA has lacked the staff, budget, and direction needed to continue progress toward cleaner waters using an approach that allows effective, economically sustainable use of local ratepayer dollars. Addressing today’s water resources challenges using yesterday’s approach, less the federal funds, does not work.

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It is time to change the strategy. MassDEP successfully manages the federal clean air, hazardous waste, and drinking water programs. Why would clean water be any different?  MassDEP managing the program creates an opportunity for a fresh start, allowing regulators, municipalities and environmental advocates to get on the same page. Right now, they are not even reading the same book. It’s worth a try to have MassDEP manage clean water permits and join 47 other states that figured out long ago how to make this work.

By February 7, 2018, the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture (JENRA) will either report H.2777 out to the full Legislature for a vote, or send it to study – essentially killing it and eliminating our chance to manage the program locally and more effectively. Read our position paper for more on why MCWRS supports NPDES delegation. We urge you to contact the JENRA members today to voice your support for MassDEP to administer the NPDES program!

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Help MCWRS Support MassDEP’s Authorization for NPDES Program Management by June 30!

This week, MCWRS submitted a comment letter to the Co-Chairs of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture (JENRA) expressing our support of Bill H.4254 – An Act to enable the Commonwealth’s administration of the Massachusetts Pollution Discharge Elimination System. This legislation would begin the process to have the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) seek delegation of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting authority for the Commonwealth. Currently, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administers the program in Massachusetts, while 46 (soon to be 47) other states manage their own NPDES permitting. We have been tracking this legislation and advocating for primacy in recent blog posts and since our 2007 White Paper. Our letter includes references to our Primacy Position Paper and testimony from MCWRS President and Chairman, Phil Guerin, at the May 17 legislative hearing.

As of yesterday morning, JENRA has filed an extension order with a new reporting date of Thursday, June 30. That means there’s still time for all MCWRS members and other supporters of Bill H.4254 to fill in the blanks in this template letter and submit it to the JENRA Committee Co-Chairs and their Representatives or Senators! Find contact information, including email addresses, for your legislators and the JENRA Committee members.

Both the Coalition’s and the template letters highlight some key points we hope our elected officials consider before they cast their votes:

  • Voting to delegate authority to MassDEP does not remove EPA from the permit process.
  • MassDEP already has delegated authority for drinking water, air quality, and other programs that it is managing with great success.
  • EPA’s one-size-fits-all approach to permitting does not consider location-specific environmental, social, and economic factors, whereas MassDEP is more familiar and in tune with the various regions, watersheds, and ecosystems in Massachusetts. Its water quality standards would be more site-specific and based on current scientific knowledge.
  • MassDEP management of the program would provide greater opportunity for municipalities to successfully implement integrated water resources planning and address multiple regulatory requirements and community infrastructure needs, all while maintaining affordable water and sewer rates.
  • Having MassDEP manage the program would ensure consistency with other state-run environmental initiatives.
  • MassDEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg has identified the resources needed to successfully run the NPDES program and has committed $4.7 million annually to do so.
  • MassDEP will manage NPDES permitting much more effectively and efficiently and produce a balanced program that protects the environment in an economically sustainable way.

We encourage our members to share a copy of their comments. This is a critically important opportunity for MCWRS to demonstrate our strength in numbers and leverage our impact!

EPA Grants Much-Needed Extension of Draft MS4 Permit Comment Period

On December 24, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 1 granted an extension of its comment period for the Draft Massachusetts Small Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) General Permit to Friday, February 27, 2015.  Thanks to extension requests submitted by numerous organizations, including MCWRS, its members, and NAIOP Massachusetts, EPA Region 1 changed the original due date of December 29.  MCWRS is thrilled about the extension as it allows for comprehensive and meaningful analysis and comment of this complex document.

EPA Region 1 released the draft permit on September 30, 2014. This permit, once finalized, will establish significant new stormwater management requirements in over 200 communities in the Commonwealth.  While the MS4 permit requirements may produce some environmental benefits, they will require significant work for and investment from municipal governments. Competing demands and dwindling budgets will make complying with the permit challenging or impossible for many municipalities, opening them up to potential enforcement action by regulators.  MCWRS hopes that comments and changes to the permit will uphold environmental needs while addressing the constraints of the permitted communities. Thus, MCWRS urges its members and other interested parties to submit their comments before the comment period closes on February 27, 2015.

As a reminder, any community that may want to appeal the permit when it becomes final must preserve its grounds for appeal through comments on the draft.  Appeals are limited to those issues previously raised during this comment period.  Comments are accepted in the following ways:

  • Via email to Tedder.Newton@epa.gov
  • Via mail to:
    Newton Tedder, US EPA – Region 1
    5 Post Office Square – Suite 100
    Mail Code OEP06-4
    Boston, MA 02109-3912

MCWRS encourages you to let us know what specific issues concern you about the permit by January 16, 2015, so we may incorporate them into our letter.  Please also consider copying us on your letter to EPA.  Visit our website for more information on this and other developing topics.

Water Dialogue Flowing on Beacon Hill

August is the driest month of the year in Massachusetts, but what has been prominent in the news? Water. And that’s a good thing.

With the transportation funding-dominated state budget finalized in late July, lawmakers are turning their attention to what many have been saying is another one of the state’s biggest needs – dedicating more resources to repair the state’s old and inefficient water infrastructure.

Senator James Eldridge of Acton has been one of the leading voices in the legislature. He told State House News Service this week that he is working on a legislative package that would propose a separate fund for providing cities and towns grants for water infrastructure projects, especially innovative ones. That was one of the recommendations in a 2012 report of the state’s Water Infrastructure Finance Commission, which was charged with developing a comprehensive, long-range water infrastructure finance plan for the Commonwealth and its municipalities.

Eldridge spelled out the water infrastructure crisis in a newspaper op-ed column this week written with State Rep. Carolyn Dykema of Holliston, his co-chair on the Water Infrastructure Finance Commission.

“Water infrastructure is crucial to our public health, quality of life issues and economy and it’s significant that Senate President Therese Murray highlighted water infrastructure as a priority this legislative session,” the legislators wrote. “It’s up to all of us . . . to work together to protect our state’s water supply and water resources for future generations. The quality of life of our residents and economic prosperity depend on it.”

Let’s Talk Water Infrastructure Funding

Water infrastructure is as critical to economic development as transportation infrastructure. Communities that cannot provide adequate water supplies and wastewater treatment, at reasonable costs, will be at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to economic development. Adequate water infrastructure also meets what we now consider to be basic human needs – clean water to drink and sanitary waste treatment to protect public health. We’ve heard some great news lately. Governor Patrick expanded his reference to infrastructure to include public infrastructure other than transportation and schools. And, Senate President Therese Murray specifically acknowledged the need to address drinking water and wastewater reform, noting that the Water Infrastructure Finance Commission concluded that the Commonwealth is facing a gap of approximately $10.2 billion in funding for drinking water and $11.2 billion in funding for wastewater over the next twenty years. Without funding assistance from the state and federal governments, publicly owned drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities cannot catch up on maintenance and capital investment back logs, let alone keep up with regulatory requirements. Tell us your ideas on how we can address the funding gaps?

Changes at EPA- Restoring Hope

When Lisa Jackson was appointed as the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) administrator in 2008, we hoped for a return to the type of relationship the agency had with communities before 1987. At that time, EPA treated communities like partners as it developed and implemented Clean Water Act regulations and provided funds to construct needed facilities. With Ms. Jackson, we got stepped up enforcement, little flexibility or reasonableness, and solidified barriers between the regulators and the regulated; hardly the foundation on which partnerships are built.  Now that Ms. Jackson is stepping down from her position, we hope – once again – for a change in the relationship between EPA and those it regulates rather than heavy handed, inflexible mandates. We will advocate for the Obama Administration’s choice for the next administrator to be a person who better reflects the varied interests of the nation, not just environmental advocacy at any cost. Today’s water quality problems are more subtle requiring more costly solutions that do not guarantee environmental benefits. It would be helpful for the next administrator to have expertise in local government to better understand the financial constraints and economic development impacts that communities face as they work to protect the environment. We must use a balanced approach as we seek to solve the 21st century’s water quality problems.

Image of Lisa P. Jackson

Lisa P. Jackson

EPA’s recent focus has mostly been on enforcement to the limits of technology at any cost.  But in today’s complex world, where we are just starting to understand the intricacies of how the environment responds to changing conditions, a singular focus and simple solutions do not work.  Hopefully the new EPA administrator will model a new culture and way of working with communities to protect our water resources, including providing funding to help communities catch up with the current multi-billion dollar maintenance back log and keep up with new regulations. The Coalition especially hopes that its members and other communities write letters and meet with Congressional delegations and EPA leaders to push for changes in the way the Clean Water Act is administered to include existing sections that are currently ignored (e.g., Section 208 watershed based planning), updates that reflect our realities, reform for more flexibility and consideration of costs.

 

It has been rumored that deputy administrator, Robert Perciasepe, will take over the position temporarily (possibly permanently). This could be a welcome change and hopefully a positive impact for the water industry. Mr. Perciasepe was the nation’s top water official during part of the Clinton administration and helped to develop the Clean Water Action Plan in the mid-1990s, which advocated for more collaboration, funding and community based planning. If he does stay on as administrator, we hope he will continue to emphasize these principles. We will continue to monitor political and regulatory changes and with your help, we will work to effect the change necessary for sustainable, reasonable and balanced approaches to today’s water quality problems.

Worcester Water Main Break Highlights Importance of Hidden Infrastructure

The recent water main break in Worcester highlights the importance of our underground infrastructure. It is vitally important, but hidden from sight and often forgotten. Water mains bring clean water to your homes, businesses, schools, restaurants, and many other places you, your family and friends use daily. They provide for a basic need and are as important as highways, bridges and schools to our communities and economy. So why don’t they receive the same amount of attention as these other critical pieces of the fabric of our communities? And why isn’t the backlog of tens of billions of dollars in maintenance and upgrades of water systems being addressed with the same sense of urgency as is currently the case with highways, bridges and schools? Some people attribute this failure to lack of money and too many competing demands on scarce community resources. Maybe it’s an “out of sight, out of mind” issue or people just don’t think it’s important. That is, until an event like Worcester’s water main break impacts the daily routine of a major city’s population, as well as business and hospital operations. Even though the break was not caused by lack of maintenance, it did shine the light of day on these hidden pipes.

On the afternoon of Monday, November 12, a huge 30-inch water main broke at Chandler and May Streets in Worcester. It immediately flooded parts of the Worcester State University campus with some 10 million gallons of water and officials had to shut off the water supply to the entire city to bring the break under control. It took more than a half day before the water main was repaired but the city was still left with discolored water, low water pressure, and a precautionary boil water advisory for two days. This is unfortunate because we expect clean water when we turn on a faucet to fill a glass and we expect the toilet will flush. We should be able to rely on our communities’ infrastructure whenever we need it.

Water main breaks are inevitable and while they cannot be completely avoided there are measures that can be taken to reduce their likelihood and lessen their impact, while benefiting the environment, economy and society:

  • There needs to be significant, continuous investment in our water infrastructure. These capital expenditures need to be prioritized and based on an assessment of water system conditions, an understanding of current and future community water needs and identification of where systems are most vulnerable.
  •  Communities also need to take the lead in establishing fair and reasonable rates through which to pay for infrastructure improvement, while keeping water costs affordable. This may require grants from federal and state agencies. These agencies can also help by taking a break from issuing new, costly environmental regulations to further control communities.
  • What we really need are 20 to 30 years of uninterrupted focus on replacing, repairing and modernizing our critical water systems without the added burden of dealing with new, costly and ever-changing environmental rules.

A reliable water system is a key ingredient to spurring economic development, providing for public safety and protecting public health. Communities, municipal officials, and people like you must advocate for clean, reliable water systems. Speak up and contact your elected officials and urge them to help your community by providing more funding for critical infrastructure upgrades and by limiting the creation of more new, costly regulations that provide little benefit to people or the environment. In the end it’s your money being spent and you should demand it be spent wisely. Let’s all work together to get the most from our hard-earned dollar by investing in our public water systems.