EPA has proposed guidance to clarify the
permitting requirements for blended discharges from publicly owned
treatment works (POTWs) under wet weather flow conditions. The
proposed rules would, in effect, provide a legal basis for
authorizing the discharge of untreated sewage into our nation's
waterways - a practice that is currently illegal under the NPDES
permitting requirements of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and, most
troubling, against the very intent of the CWA.
Under wet weather conditions, many
municipalities do not have the capacity to store and treat all of
the excess water resulting from storm water inflow and infiltration
into sanitary sewers. As a result, a substantial portion of this
water is often routed around biological wastewater treatment
processes (which are designed to kill pathogens and other dangerous
biological organisms), blended with treated effluent, then directly
discharged into our nation's waterways. Such discharges contribute
to waterborne illnesses, impact fisheries and shellfish habitats,
and are a leading cause of beach closures.
While wet weather flows present a significant challenge to the
nation's aging wastewater infrastructure, technical solutions exist
that could dramatically reduce the number of wet weather discharges
and mitigate the effects of any remaining emergency releases.
Example solutions include the implementation of wet weather
abatement plans, plant and sewer system upgrades, distributed
storage, and emergency disinfection systems. These solutions,
however, require a national, state, and local commitment, and, like
any problem of national significance, require adequate funding and
incentives. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave our
nation's wastewater systems a grade of "D" on ASCE's 2003 report
card on U.S. infrastructure, and noted that there is a 12 billion
dollar annual shortfall in funding, necessary to maintain and
optimize wastewater plant performance.
RtE recognizes that the issue of
overloaded POTWs during wet weather events is a common problem for
many municipalities in the United States. While many municipalities
have drafted wet weather abatement plans and invested in new
technologies and infrastructure, many more have outdated sewage
facilities; such facilities pose both a short term and long term
threat to the environment and human health.
However, RtE is opposed to the proposed policy to authorize
untreated effluent to be discharged to our nation's waterways
without a permit. RtE believes that the proposed policy is in
violation of the federal Clean Water Act, inadequately protects
human health and the environment and that the promulgation of such a
policy is beyond the legal authority of the EPA Assistant
Administrator. Blended bypasses, while necessary under certain
circumstances to prevent extensive damage to and long term
disruption of sewage treatment plants, are illegal under the NPDES
permitting requirements of the Clean Water Act. Any change in this
status must be made through the regulatory process, not through an
EPA policy document.
RtE believes that the only prudent solution to wet weather flow
problems is increased federal investment and incentives to upgrade
our nation's aging wastewater infrastructure. While the costs are
substantial, the long-term costs of not overhauling our wastewater
infrastructure will be even greater - these costs include the
societal toll of increased illness from surface water exposure to
viruses and microbial-based diseases, lost income from tourism due
to beach closures and fishing restrictions, and lost jobs and
revenue from loss of fish and shellfish habitats, and the
incalculable costs associated with the further environmental
degradation of our nation's waterways and all the species that
depend on them.
- RtE-POTW Bypass Letter.pdf
- Rock the Earth comment letter.
- Information on EPA's proposed blending policy.
- Federal Register Notice
- NRDC report on public health and environmental problems
associated with sewage discharges.
- ASCE report card on our nation's wastewater infrastructure.