Jul 03, 2007

Major Regulatory Deadlines Loom for California Cities

As key deadlines near for complying with statewide requirements relating to sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs), California cities and agencies that operate sanitary sewers should ensure that they have completed, or are on track to complete, the next steps mandated by the state's Waste Discharge Requirements (WDRs).

Adopted in May 2006 by the California State Water Resources Control Board, the WDRs establish minimum performance standards to significantly reduce SSOs. Consisting of untreated or partially treated wastewater released from a sanitary sewer, SSOs pollute surface and groundwater, threaten public health, and impair recreational activities. As mandated by the WDRs, agencies that own or operate collection systems more than one mile long must develop and implement a sewer system management plan (SSMP) that details such items as cost-effective management practices, proper sanitary sewer system operations, effective maintenance of sanitary sewer systems, and public education regarding related programs and projects.

Implementation of the WDRs is phased, with larger agencies generally required to meet earlier deadlines compared to smaller agencies. For agencies serving a population of more than 100,000 people, the next major implementation deadline is fast approaching. Such agencies have until August 2 to develop a plan and schedule to complete an SSMP. Agencies serving populations between 10,000 and 100,000 people have until November 2 to complete this task. Meanwhile, the deadlines for agencies serving 2,500 to 9,999 people and agencies serving less than 2,500 people are February 2, 2008, and May 2, 2008, respectively.

In a move that could catch some agencies off-guard, the State Water Resources Control Board recently clarified that certain steps must be taken as part of the process of developing the plan and schedule for completing an SSMP. Specifically, an agency’s governing board must approve the required plan and schedule at a public meeting before the agency’s legally responsible officer may certify that these steps have been completed.

“Many cities likely will be surprised to find out about this requirement to take their plans to their boards or councils,” said Dean Gipson, a program manager in PBS&J’s San Diego office. “As a result, I suspect that many cities and agencies will miss the upcoming deadline.”

For agencies serving a population of 10,000 people or more, additional steps must be completed before November 2. By this date they are required to identify their goals related to implementing the SSMP, select key staff to be involved in the process, and garner support from management. Agencies serving a population of 9,999 people or less have until May 2, 2008, to complete these tasks. The largest agencies then will have one year to develop programs related to operation and maintenance, SSO emergency response and reporting, and, if necessary, control of fats, oils, and grease. Depending on their size, smaller agencies will be required to complete these tasks by May 2, 2009, November 2, 2009, or February 2, 2010. The largest agencies have until May 2, 2009, to finalize and certify their SSMPs. Although deadlines for this requirement vary for smaller agencies, the smallest have until August 2, 2010.