Water Environment Federation (Alexandria, Va.) was one of many parties, including
New York City, the American Water Works Association (Denver), and the National
Association of Clean Water Agencies (Washington, D.C.), that filed an amicus
or “friend-of-the-court” brief in support of the district, asking the court to
overturn the previous lower-court ruling.
work is done,” said Gail Farber, chief engineer of the district, in a Jan. 8
press release after the Supreme Court’s ruling was announced. “The fight for
clean water is ongoing and remains a collective priority of the District and
our many water quality stakeholders within the region.”
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC; New York) expressed displeasure with
the ruling in its own Jan. 8 news release.
continue to seek to hold the Los Angeles County Flood Control District
responsible for cleaning up its water pollution,” said Steve Fleischli, senior
attorney and director of NRDC’s national water program.
The issues of the case
to the NRDC press release, the stormwater case began back in 2008, when NRDC and
the Los Angeles Waterkeeper (formerly the Santa Monica Baykeeper), filed a
lawsuit seeking to “hold the county responsible for the toxic mix of mercury,
arsenic, cyanide, lead, and fecal bacteria found in billions of gallons of
case eventually made it to a U.S. District Court, which in 2010 ruled in favor
of the district, but when the case went to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals, the court ruled against the district, stating that pollution detected
at the monitoring stations along concrete-lined sections of the San Gabriel and
the Los Angeles rivers demonstrated discharges in violation of the district’s
National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. The court
stated that the NPDES permit requires the district to ensure that flows from it
meet regulatory standards, whether these flows originate in the district, from
incorporated portions of the county, or from any of the 84 cities covered under
an umbrella permit, along with the county and the district.
the time the case reached the Supreme Court in December, one of the questions
presented before the justices was whether the transfer of water through the
concrete-lined sections of the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers constituted a
“discharge” under the NPDES system’s Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems
(MS4) permit. Both parties agreed during their oral arguments before the
Supreme Court that the transfer of water through the concrete-lined sections of
the rivers and past the monitoring stations did not qualify as a discharge
under the Clean Water Act (CWA), and, therefore, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals ruling was either mistaken on facts or legally incorrect. The two
parties asked the Supreme Court to instead focus on the scope of the district’s
responsibility under its MS4 permit to detect pollution at the in-river
monitoring stations, regardless of any demonstrated connection to the
district’s stormwater outfalls.
Supreme Court explains its decision
her written opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg explained that the court
decided to overturn the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision because of a
previous Supreme Court case, South Florida Water Management Dist. v.
Miccosukee Tribe, in which the court “accepted that pumping polluted water
from one part of a water body into another part of the same body is not a
discharge of pollutants under the CWA.” The court elaborated by explaining that
in the Miccosukee case, “polluted water was removed from a canal, transported
through a pump station, and then deposited into a nearby reservoir. … We held
that this water transfer would count as a discharge of pollutants under the CWA
only if the canal and the reservoir were ‘meaningfully distinct water bodies.’
It follows, afortiori, from Miccosukee that no discharge of
pollutants occurs when water, rather than being removed and then returned to a
water body, simply flows from one portion of the water body to another.”
wrote that, therefore, the justices ruled in the case of Los Angeles County
Flood Control District v. Natural Resources Defense Council that the “flow
of water from an improved portion of a navigable waterway into an unimproved
portion of the very same waterway does not qualify as a discharge under the
Clean Water Act.”
A new spin on public outreach
Nontraditional methods can help educate the public about water and wastewater systems
When it comes to getting the word out to
customers, water and wastewater utilities have many communication methods at
their disposal: press releases, newspapers, newsletters, bill stuffers, public
service announcements, signage, social media, etc. But some innovative
utilities and municipalities are reaching out to customers through more
nontraditional routes, with much success.
Reaching out to the public in various ways
is extremely important, said Jean Marie Walsh, communications manager at the
San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. She said her utility will have to
raise rates to fund infrastructure improvements in upcoming years, so it really
wants to educate customers about the system.
“And many of these customers are not going
to go to town council meetings,” but utilities still have to reach these people
within the community, Walsh said.
Educating kids about water
Since 2007, the City of Rio Rancho, N.M.,
has hosted a water festival that teaches thousands of school children about
water conservation, quality, recycling, and treatment.
“Before that, we had a group of Rio Rancho
students who went to Albuquerque [N.M.] for their water festival,” said Marian
Wrange, program manager for the city’s Environmental Programs. “It would
include about 200 to 250 students from Rio Rancho and about 600 to 800 from
Wrange said that for the first 2 years, the
festival in Rio Rancho was run by a consultant who had organized similar
festivals in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, N.M.
“She did the legwork and secured the
initial funding,” Wrange said.
But eventually, the city got a grant from
the New Mexico Bureau of Reclamation to hold the annual 2-day event for 3
years, and now the city organizes the festival itself.
“By 2012, it was fully funded through
donations from businesses,” said Lynn Kronowit, an administrative specialist at
CH2M Hill (Englewood, Colo.) who works with Wrange on the city’s Environmental
Programs public outreach.
Wrange said much
planning goes into the Children’s Water Festival held in October. The event is
led by a steering committee composed of city staff and representatives from
CH2M Hill, the New Mexico Environment Department, the Master Gardeners program
of the American Horticultural Society (Alexandria, Va.), and others.
“We meet once a month starting in March,”
Wrange said, and they discuss everything from who they will ask for donations to
the festival theme to who will be presenting at festival that year. Presenters
have come from such varied sources as the U.S. Forest Service and Rio Rancho
Public Schools plumbers.
The event usually is held at the local
arena, the Santa Ana Star Center. Booths are set up in a fair format, and
children are assigned three different activities that cover the subject matter
highlighted at the festival.
According to the city’s website, the 2012
festival reached 1357 students, which accounted for 100% of Rio Rancho
“That was the largest group we’ve ever had
in attendance,” Kronowit said, “but we really wanted all of our Rio Rancho
students to attend.”
Wrange said the only negative feedback
received from the teachers was that they wished the students could participate
in five activities, as they had in previous years, as opposed to three, as they
did in 2012.
“But we had to compress it to three to fit
everyone,” Wrange explained. “If we didn’t, we would have been there for
“We told the teachers that we’d gladly
volunteer to cover whatever material they wanted for in-class presentations,”
Wrange and Kronowit
have made similar presentations for kindergartners through fifth graders during
after-school programs. They even have conducted the presentations at summer
camps, Kronowit said.
“We usually start each presentation with
about 10 minutes of talking about the water cycle, the basics of water
treatment, etc.,” Wrange said.
Then they introduce plastic models of nonpoint
source pollution and landfills. The presentations often include a game modeled
after the television show Jeopardy!®. They also have the younger
students read a story, then provide them a coloring book based on that story.
Kronowit said utility staff have learned
how to adapt the material to capture their audience. “We can tell if something
isn’t keeping their attention,” she said. “We don’t continue it if it’s not
Embracing the quirky
San Francisco is known for being an
innovative city, Walsh said. “We have a lot of tech companies, artists, and
quirky residents,” she said. “It’s in our environment.”
So, the San Francisco Public Utilities
Commission definitely has a lot more latitude than some utilities in how
creative its outreach campaigns can be. For example, Walsh said the commission
has started to hold bike tours through a partnership with the San Francisco
“San Francisco is a very bike-friendly
city,” Walsh explained, and the commission has several bikers on staff. She
said they held the first tour a few years ago with mostly staffers. They biked
around San Francisco, looking at infrastructure, such as pump stations. The
tour included roughly 35 people, 25 of whom were staff. The remaining 10 who
were not staff still seemed to enjoy the tour, so the commission began to
explore the idea of opening up the bike tour to the public, she said.
In 2012, the commission held two open bike
tours: One focused on water resource recovery facilities and pump stations, and
the other focused on green infrastructure installations.
“It was a tremendous success,” Walsh said.
“And we didn’t invest any real money in this.”
They used a grassroots effort to promote
the tours by making flyers and posting them in bike shops and coffee shops. They
also promoted the tours online and listed tour information in the San Francisco
Bike Coalition newsletter.
Seventy-five people attended the first
“You basically needed a bullhorn to be
heard,” Walsh said. “We were trying to get around the city with this giant
group of cyclists. People couldn’t fit on the sidewalk. We were a victim of our
For the second tour, they tried to cap it
at 35 people, but many others showed up anyway, Walsh said. The commission
received more calls later from people who had missed the tours, asking when the
commission would hold the tours again.
Another unique way the commission has
tried to reach the public is through its participation in “Nerd Nite” at a
popular bar in San Francisco.
“You pay an $8 cover charge, and you
listen to three speakers talk about nerdy stuff,” Walsh said. “I thought, ‘Hey,
we’ve got a lot of nerds on staff. Why don’t we participate in this?’”
Walsh said she gave the presentation. She
showed a 30-second video of a grease clog being removed. “It’s kind of a gross
video, but people loved it,” she said. “They wanted us to come back and show it
again.” She also showed historical photos of the wastewater system.
Walsh said not only has she been able to
move forward with these communications ideas because there are “internal
champions who have been really supportive,” but also because it’s easier to get
ideas across based on past successes, such as the bike tours and Nerd Nite.
But Walsh admits that some ideas have been
a little too creative to get the green light. She once suggested that the
commission hold a free giveaway that would involve printing information about
the San Francisco Wastewater Enterprise on recycled toilet paper and handing it
out to the public.
“It was totally shot down, but I’m not
giving up!” she said.
U.S. EPA roundup
U.S. EPA updates rule for pathogens in drinking water, limit for Escherichia coli
In February, the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) finalized the Revised Total Coliform Rule, which
revises the 1989 Total Coliform Rule. The purpose of the 1989 rule, according
to an EPA fact sheet, is to protect public health by ensuring the integrity of
the drinking water distribution system and monitoring for the presence of
EPA said it anticipates greater public
health protection under the revised requirements, which are based on
recommendations by a federal advisory committee and public comments.
The revised rule establishes a health goal
(maximum contaminant level goal, or MCLG) and a maximum contaminant level (MCL)
for Escherichia coli. It also replaces the MCLG and MCL for total
coliforms from the 1989 rule with a treatment technique for coliforms that
requires assessment and corrective action.
Under the revised rule, water distribution
systems that are vulnerable to coliform contamination are required to assess
the problem and take corrective action to reduce illness and death. There is no
longer a monthly MCL violation for multiple total coliform detections.
The rule also establishes criteria for
systems to qualify for and stay on reduced monitoring, which could reduce the
water system burden and provide incentives for better system operation.
The revised rule also updates provisions
in other rules that reference analytical methods and other requirements in the
1989 rule (e.g., Public Notification and Ground Water Rules).
The 1989 rule remains effective until
March 31, 2016. Regulated parties must comply with the revised rule’s
requirements on April 1, 2016.
For more information, visit EPA’s Total
Coliform Rule page at water.epa.gov/lawsregs/rulesregs/sdwa/tcr/regulation.cfm.
New criteria for fecal indicators in recreational waters
New water quality criteria from the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were released in November and are
intended to protect swimmers, surfers, and divers in coastal and inland waters.
The criteria help states address a broader range of symptoms, better account
for pollution after heavy rainfall, encourage early alerts to beachgoers, and
promote rapid water testing.
The criteria do not impose any new
requirements, according to EPA; instead, they are a tool that states can choose
to use in setting their own standards.
Like past EPA recommendations for
primary-contact recreational uses, including the agency’s previous set of
recreational water quality criteria in 1986, the 2012 criteria are based on
indicators of fecal contamination.
The criteria, which incorporate the latest
scientific knowledge, public comments, and external peer review, were released
in November pursuant to an order from a U.S. District Court and as required by
the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act of 2000.
The recommendations include
a short-term and a long-term measure of bacteria levels that are to be used together to ensure that water quality is properly evaluated;
stronger recommendations for coastal water quality so public health is protected similarly in both coastal and fresh waters; and
a new rapid testing method (EPA Method 1611) that states can use to determine if water quality is safe within hours of water samples being taken.
EPA Method 1611 is a quantitative
polymerase chain reaction method to detect and quantify fecal indicator
bacteria more rapidly than the culture method for ambient waters. The method is
anticipated to provide increased public health protection by facilitating
timely notification to swimmers of elevated levels of fecal indicator bacteria
(including fecal coliforms, Escherichia coli, enterococci, and Enterococcus
spp.). According to EPA, enterococci, as measured by EPA Method 1611, have
shown a stronger relationship to gastrointestinal illness in a recent EPA
epidemiological study, compared to other methods tested.
For more information,
visit the EPA Recreational Water Quality Criteria page at
NACWA, U.S. EPA trade arguments on sewage sludge incineration rule
In a brief filed in December, the National
Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA; Washington, D.C.) reiterated its
legal challenge to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 2011 rulemaking
on sewage sludge incinerators (SSIs).
At press time, the case was waiting for
the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to schedule an
oral argument. The argument most likely will be scheduled in late spring, with
a decision expected soon after, according to Nathan Gardner-Andrews, NACWA
NACWA’s brief was filed in response to an
EPA brief in October, which, in turn, responded to NACWA’s challenge (which can
be downloaded here www.wef.org/NACWA_SSI_LegalBrief_072412)
that SSIs should be regulated under Sec. 112 of the Clean Air Act and not Sec.
129, which requires maximum achievable control technology implementation.
Sec. 112 addresses air toxics, and Sec.
129 regulates solid waste combustion. Under Sec. 112(e)(5), SSIs would be
regulated as publicly owned treatment works, while under Sec. 129(g)(1), they
would be regulated as solid waste incineration units, according to NACWA. Solid
waste incineration units are defined as “a distinct operating unit of any
facility which combusts any solid waste material from commercial or industrial
establishments or the general public.”
According to EPA, the Clean Air Act’s
“unambiguous language” required the agency to set pollution limits for SSIs
under Sec. 129.
EPA’s brief can be downloaded here.
The final EPA SSI rulemaking can be viewed here.
Federal agencies collaborate on pharmaceuticals research
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA), U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services, and U.S. Department of the Interior have agreed to improve
coordination and collaboration on issues related to pharmaceuticals in drinking
water through a new memorandum of understanding (MOU).
The MOU formalizes sharing scientific data
and coordinating future research on the presence of pharmaceuticals in drinking
water, their sources, and potential health effects.
According to the MOU, EPA faces challenges
in obtaining sufficient occurrence and health effects data on pharmaceuticals
and other contaminants in drinking water to help support analyses and decisions
to identify which, if any, pharmaceuticals should be regulated under the Safe
Drinking Water Act.
To date, these efforts have been largely
informal. The agencies formulated the MOU in response to a recommendation by
the U.S. Government Accountability Office in 2011.
A copy of the MOU can be downloaded here.