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Proposed EPA Policy Allowing Blending of Municipal Wastewater Treatment Discharges During Wet Weather Conditions

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 Position:
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have drafted wet weather abatement plans and invested in new technologies and infrastructure, many more have outdated sewage facilities; such facilities pose both a short term and long term threat to the environment and human health.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.
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