Three U.S. EPA officials share their perspective on the hottest topics in water and wastewater and the current state of rulemaking.
I recently attended the Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association (WWEMA) Washington Forum, April 13 to 15, allowing me rare access to several key members of the EPA. Here are some takeaways from their presentations that may serve as a guidepost for future utility operations.
Peter Grevatt, Director of the EPA Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water (OGWDW)
Grevatt’s responsibilities include the development and implementation of national drinking water standards, oversight and funding of state drinking water programs, and the implementation of source water protection and underground injection control programs. To say he covers a lot of ground is an understatement, but he was able to simplify the many issues he sees at OGWDW into two over-arching pain points: scale and source water quality.
Scale: Of the roughly 155,000 public water systems in U.S., 77 percent (~120,000) are “small” (serving 501 to 3,300 people) or “very small” (25 to 500 people). Grevatt said that many of these smaller systems struggle to meet regulatory requirements due to their lack of resources, calling for technological and managerial innovation as the solution.
Source water quality: Grevatt identified a subset of concerns, including…
Elizabeth Southerland, Director of the Office of Science and Technology in the EPA Office of Water
Southerland leads a multidisciplinary staff of 130, charged with implementing major science, technology, and regulatory programs under the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).
Like Grevatt, Southerland acknowledged the growing problem of toxic blue-green algae — technically Microcystis aeruginosa, also known cyanobacteria. She indicated that the EPA is working with states to develop their own strategies for nitrogen and phosphorus pollution. Three approaches are accepted and “equally scientifically defensible,” according to Southerland, for developing numeric nutrient criteria (NNC):
(Definitions via LimnoTech/Water Environment Research Foundation)
Southerland stated that in lieu of regulations, the EPA is in the process of developing a 10-day health advisory for cyanobacteria, as well as one for P-FOS.
She added that there is still much technical assistance needed to gain compliance for ammonia — yet another problem nutrient — though the rule was finalized in 2013.
Looking toward the future, the Office of Science and Technology is in the initial phase (literature review) of assessing bacteriophage, as opposed to coliforms, as an indicator of fecal contamination. Southerland cited the rise of water reuse as a certain driver for the research.
Andrew Sawyers, Director of the U.S. EPA Office of Wastewater Management
Sawyer oversees management of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), but his discussion to WWEMA members centered on the “Buy American” provision requiring that iron and steel used in water/wastewater projects financed by Clean Water/Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF/DWSRF) programs must be made in America.
Despite opposition arguments, particularly from WWEMA, that “Buy American” actually hurts U.S. business and infrastructure interests, it is now the law of the land — at least until the September 30, 2015 expiration date. Until then, the fight to have the provision removed, renewed, or amended will wage on.
In the meantime, Sawyer noted that the EPA will grant waivers to the rule if:
He additionally noted that external linings and coatings applied to iron and steel products are not subject to the rule.
Sawyers also talked about the importance of stormwater and graywater reuse, referencing a National Research Council report analyzing the costs, risks, and benefits, expected to be published shortly (expected this spring).
Finally, he issued a reminder that the EPA offers an Integrated Planning Framework for CWA compliance that, though it has existed for years, goes largely underutilized. The plan allows municipalities to work toward compliance on a priority basis — thereby postponing and receiving EPA latitude on competing and overlapping requirements — when municipal resources prove to be limited.