Although EPA’s recently released Integrated Planning Framework promises additional flexibility for clean water agencies, ensuring that the framework is put to use remains a challenge. Many utilities remain skeptical that the framework can help their agency or are hesitant to draw the attention of regulators. Questions remain over how the framework can be used, the appropriate scope of integrated plans, the roles and responsibilities of EPA, state regulators, and utility managers, among other issues. Although several utilities have begun to explore integrated planning on their own, NACWA is working to ensure that clean water agencies nationwide have an opportunity to evaluate the benefits of integrated planning for their communities. NACWA and the Association of Clean Water Administrators (ACWA) worked together to convene the first of what will be a series of regional workshops. This first workshop, held on October 24 in Washington, D.C., included discussions of a range of implementation issues and barriers and lessons learned from communities already developing integrated plans.
The facilitated discussion provided the clean water agencies in attendance an opportunity to pose questions to state water regulators and staff of EPA Headquarters and Region 3. An unexpected benefit from the participation of state and EPA regulators was the identification of potential bottlenecks within EPA and the state regulatory agencies that will need to be addressed to better facilitate the development and approval of integrated plans.
The dialogue helped those communities currently developing integrated plans better navigate the process and helped those utilities still evaluating integrated planning assess when and how to begin. A key discussion topic was the importance of stakeholder involvement, specifically who to involve in the planning process and when. Utilities also highlighted the challenges of integrating stormwater and wastewater issues when different municipal authorities have responsibility for these function, or where different state agencies are responsible for the permitting of these two programs. Utilities across the country are facing these and other issues.
Integrated planning has great potential, but it will only be successful through this kind of feedback and learning on both sides. By providing this opportunity for dialogue, utilities across the country may be able to find the relief that EPA’s framework may be able to provide. Both EPA and ACWA have expressed interest in participating in additional workshops in other regions around the country. NACWA is working to identify potential dates and locations and will provide the schedule when it becomes available.