News Feature | April 19, 2017

With The Prospect Of Lighter Restrictions, Wastewater Upgrades Could Be In Vain

Source: Aerzen
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Wastewater Utilities Weigh Cost Of Upgrades Under Trump

With the Trump administration likely to loosen wastewater treatment regulations, utilities face a conundrum.

All over the country, wastewater utilities are searching for ways to make desperately needed upgrades. Treatment facilities are required to clean effluent to an increasingly-stringent degree and many have made expensive changes in order to meet regulations and receive necessary permits. But with President Trump poised to roll regulations back, some utilities fear their efforts to this point have all been for naught.

Treasure Valley, an area of Idaho, embodies the concerns that many of the country’s wastewater utilities now have.

“Though President Donald Trump and members of Congress announced plans to loosen regulations enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency, Treasure Valley cities are still spending millions of dollars to meet current wastewater treatment standards,” reported the Idaho Press-Tribune.

Specifically, the city of Meridian has long-term plans to make costly changes based partially on natural growth, but also on the types of regulations that have been par for the course under President Obama.

“Over the next 10 years, Meridian is on track to spend $160 million to expand and improve its wastewater treatment plant, according to city engineer Warren Stewart,” the Idaho Press-Tribune reported. “About half of that cost is related to population growth, but the other half, roughly, is related to meeting stricter federal rules, he said.”

Upgrades to meet tight federal regulations often have direct impact on consumers. In Meriden, CT, for instance, ratepayers faced the prospect of significantly more expensive bills to pay for nutrient removal.

“City residents could be looking at a 33.5 percent increase in their water and sewer bills to cover a $47.8 million wastewater treatment plant upgrade to lower phosphorus levels,” according to the Record-Journal.

Meanwhile, in Nampa, ID, Public Works Director Michael Fuss is skeptical that recent upgrades will really be made obsolete by rule changes.

“Fuss does not anticipate that any changes playing out at the federal level will immediately impact the course the city is now on because the rule-making process can take years to put in place,” per the Press-Tribune. “A new rule may come down from the EPA, but is up to the states to determine how to implement that rule.”

Still, utility leaders like Fuss will keep an eye on how President Trump’s administration changes things and any opportunities it presents through less-restrictive, and therefore less-costly, regulations.

“Which way the EPA goes may change things, and it may change everybody’s rules,” Fuss told the Press-Tribune. “And we would certainly look at how that affects the permit and the cost of doing things. Certainly anything that lowers the cost of our permit we would explore, but I think that’s not very likely.”

Image credit: "Paper money" Kevin Dooley © 2007 used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/