Key Clean Water Victories & Defeat of Great Lakes CSO Language

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Overnight, Congressional negotiators reached final agreement on an omnibus FY 2016 federal spending package, and have encouraged its swift passage by both the House and the Senate. The bill includes a number of important priorities for the municipal clean water community, including robust funding levels for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) and a bi-partisan approach to address water quality concerns in the Great Lakes.

Most importantly, the final bill removes very controversial and dangerous language regarding sewer overflows in the Great Lakes that was included in the Senate version, and instead replaces it with a common sense approach to investing in Great Lakes water quality through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) and through reasonable, responsible reporting of combined sewer overflow (CSO) events.  We view this initiative as a much more effective and efficient way to address water quality issues in the Great Lakes rather than a total ban on CSO discharges.

We pursued every available avenue to make sure that cooler heads prevailed on the CSO language, leading a coalition of NACWA members along with national and regional stakeholders over recent months in strong opposition to the Senate measure. The agreement includes language for reporting CSO discharges to the Great Lakes and NACWA worked hard to ensure that it is consistent with current CSO Policy requirements and other existing reporting requirements under the Clean Water Act. Specifically, the EPA Administrator is required to work with States to develop a reporting and notice standard for CSO events containing information on timing, volume and impacted areas. The language is contained in Section 425 of Division G of H.R. 2029, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016. The specific language on CSO reporting is also available here. EPA has two years to develop guidance implementing the reporting language, and NACWA will work closely with EPA during that time to ensure the Agency’s actions are consistent with Congress’s intent.

Section 426 of the bill authorizes the GLRI for one year with $300 million in funding, including for projects focused on addressing non-point sources of water quality impairment such as nutrient runoff from farms and sediment erosion from stormwater. The GLRI program enjoys broad, bi-partisan support and is typically funded at $300 million annually. Several NACWA members have received grants under the GLRI for non-point water protection initiatives, including the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD). MMSD has used the program to fund its work on controlling pathogens, phosphorus, and sediment in three key watersheds and the Milwaukee River Estuary and also for floodplain, habitat restoration and green infrastructure projects. Other NACWA members that have received funding from the GLRI include the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department for its work on green infrastructure projects within the Near Eastside Drainage District; the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District for a project to develop a predictive model for urban beaches to more accurately diagnose unsafe water conditions; and NEW Water in Green Bay for a nutrient reduction project working with farmers to install permanent agricultural non-point pollution control practices on crop fields in the Silver Creek watershed. NACWA views the GLRI as a much more effective and efficient way to address water quality issues in the Great Lakes rather than a total ban on CSO discharges.

Finally, FY16 appropriations for the CWSRF will continue to see robust support from Congress, receiving $1.393 billion. By funding the CWSRF at this level, Congress rejected the Administration’s proposal to cut this program by nearly 30% and sent a clear signal that it considers investments in clean water a national priority and that funding levels should not be reduced or shifted to other programs.

We very grateful to all of our members and collaborators that sent letters, made phone calls, and engaged in other advocacy actions over recent months in help influence this legislative process, especially related to the Great Lakes sewer overflow issue.

Congress is expected enact the spending package later this week.

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