Water Blog #2 - October 3, 2018

What is the clean water act?  

Overview. For decades now, the Clean Water Act has helped establish a basic structure of regulating both the discharge of pollutants into waters and the regulation of water quality standards for surface waters. The basis of the Clean Water Act was devised in 1948 as the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, but was reorganized in 1972 and has since then lead the EPA in regulating water safety standards. The overall mission of the law is to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of our nation’s waters. To date, the Clean Water Act has helped improve the quality of lakes, rivers, and streams in the United States along with restoring areas for fishing and recreation and keeping industrial pollutants out of water sources.

National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). The NPDES program requires that any site operator (on a 1+ acre project) and/ or building facility intending to discharge into U.S. waters obtain a permit before initiating any type of stormwater release. NPDES permits help improve water quality in various bodies of water by preventing pollution from point sources. Point source pollution is considered any single identifiable source of pollution from which pollutants are discharges, such as from factories or sewage treatment plants.

Eventually non-point pollution, or pollution caused by rainfall picking up and carrying away pollutants, was identified as an additional contributor to reduced water quality.  In 1987, the Clean Water Act was amended to require medium and large municipalities to obtain NPDES permits for stormwater from various categories of discharge, including medium MS4s (municipal separate storm water sewer systems). In 1999, regulations were amended again to require stormwater permits for small MS4s and construction sites of one to five acres.

Funding Opportunities. The Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) was established by the 1987 amendments to the Clean Water Act as a financial assistance program for a wide range of water infrastructure projects. It is a federal-state partnership that provides communities a permanent, independent source of low-cost financing for a wide range of water quality infrastructure projects. The EPA funds state CWSRFs with a 20% state match and communities, private entities, nonprofits, or citizen groups are eligible depending on the state and project type. Projects can include municipal wastewater facilities, water reuse, control of nonpoint pollution, green infrastructure projects, and project estuaries. CWSRFs offer a variety of financial assistance options including low and no interest loans and subsidization.

Current Status. Because of the Clean Water Act, waters today are substantially better off with less pollution and better regulations. The goal of the Clean Water Act, however, has not been met as many United States waters are still not considered fishable or swimmable. The 2012 National Lakes Assessment found that 35% of lakes have excess nitrogen, and the Rivers and Streams Assessment of 2009 found that less than 30% of rivers and streams are in good condition. The Trump Administration is working diligently to roll back more stringent clean water rules of the Obama Administration, including the 2015 Waters of the United States rule that was designed to limit pollution in about 60% of US bodies of water. The Trump Administration has also threatened to reduce protection for streams and wetlands throughout the administration’s term.

Source: United State Environmental Protection Agency

Water Blog 1 - August 21, 2018

What Does the ‘One Water’ Movement Stand For?

Ultimately, all water can be considered recycled water since the same water droplets are repeatedly part of the Earth’s water cycle. Stormwater that makes it into the aquifer is absorbed by plants, transpired into the clouds as condensation, and then falls to the ground again as precipitation. Modern day civilization has managed to interrupt this perfect cycle by over-extracting and introducing contaminants, but water remains valuable regardless of how it’s been treated. Where previously water was defined by its use- stormwater, wastewater, drinking water- the One Water movement is working to promote the intrinsic value that all forms of water represent.

Underlying the One Water approach is the desire to design and implement projects and programs with a focus on achieving multiple economic, environmental, and social benefits. These designs must respect and respond to the natural flows of watersheds and the ecosystems, geology, and hydrology of the area. The US Water Alliance has developed a roadmap towards a more sustainable, One Water approach to water management that includes the following guiding principles:

  • All water has value: All water has an intrinsic value and all water must be managed carefully to maximize its benefit.
  • Achieve multiple benefits: Design and implement projects and programs with a focus on achieving multiple benefits- economic, environmental, and social.
  • Take a systems approach: Tackle problems based on the complete life cycle of water and larger infrastructure systems to identify and advance more effective and lasting solutions.
  • Watershed-scale thinking and action: Make decisions at the level of the watershed, taking into consideration the unique features of an area.
  • Right-sized solutions: Understand the appropriate scale for the most impact.
  • Partnerships for progress: Since all sectors are part of a water-secure future, partnerships are the cornerstone to progress.
  • Inclusion and engagement of all: Since all people have a stake in ensuring a water-secure future, everyone should be included.

 Since the One Water approach is gaining traction throughout various sectors, areas of action have been devised to help create the most impactful benefits. The arenas for action cover a range of issue areas, including: reliable and resilient water utilities, thriving cities, sustainable agriculture; competitive business and industry, social and economic inclusion, and healthy waterways. Together these actions should lead to tangible changes in the way water is managed, used, and expended.