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
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outdated sewage facilities; such facilities pose both a short term and long term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
- 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
- ASCE report card on our nation's wastewater infrastructure.