Mar 26, 2002

Washington News

Committees Review Water Budgets

Congressional committees that deal with water issues are
considering a proposed administration budget that calls for total spending of
$3.2 billion for “clean and safe water” in the fiscal year
beginning Oct. 1.

This amount is $524 million under the same allocations for
the current fiscal year, with most of the reduction coming from the recommended
elimination of so-called congressional “earmarks” through which
funds are channeled to specific projects in states and localities.

The budget also calls for a reduction of $138 million in
federal funds for Clean Water Act State Revolving Funds, or a proposed total of
$1.2 billion in the new fiscal year. The appropriation for Drinking Water State
Revolving Funds would remain unchanged at $850 million.

In other recommended changes, State Nonpoint Source grants
will rise slightly to $238.4 million, while Section 106 pollution-control
grants would drop to $180.3 million from $192.4 million.

Funds for protecting facilities from terrorist attack were
listed for the largest percentage increase—from $3.7 million this year to
nearly $17 million in the new budget. Money for protection of water supplies
also is budgeted in broader measures under the heading of “homeland


Funding Levels Hit

The budget for water programs came under fire almost

Sen. James J. Jeffords, I-Vt., chairman of the Senate
Committee on the Environment and Public Works, said he was concerned that
“the proposed budget does not provide adequate funding for the
replacement and maintenance of our nation’s aging water
infrastructure.” He also said that no new funds were proposed to help
communities comply in a timely manner with the new arsenic standards and that
Clean Water Revolving Funds were being cut 10 percent “at a time when
water systems are coping with the additional costs of security.”

Jeffords said that most of the budget savings come from
“the rather naive expectation that there will be no Congressional
earmarks in the next budget.” He said he would let the Environmental
Protection Agency and members of the appropriations’ committees resolve
that issue but that he would fight to preserve sufficient core program funds
against any efforts to shift them to earmarks. (Jeffords authorization committee
deals with policies and sets spending limits but a separate appropriations
committee sets actual spending levels.)

On the other side of the Capitol, Rep. John Duncan, R-Tenn.,
chairman of the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment, said
in his comment on the EPA budget that while increased federal assistance was
needed to meet water quality goals, “we need to develop innovative,
cost-effective approaches to managing all of our water quality problems.”


Bipartisan Senate Group Backs Infrastructure Plan

Senior members from both the majority and minority sides of
the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee have introduced legislation
calling for a $35-billion, five-year program to improve the water
infrastructure and improve the financial management of water programs.

The measure would authorize a total of $20 billion over five
years for clean water programs and $15 billion over the same period for safe
drinking water projects.

The sponsors are Chairman Jeffords, Sen. Robert Smith, R-N.H.,
senior Republican on the committee; Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., and Sen. Michael
Crapo, R-Idaho. Graham and Crapo are the chairman and senior minority member,
respectively, on the environmental panel’s subcommittee on water issues.

Jeffords said as the bill was introduced that its provisions
would “help water utilities better manage their capital investments using
asset management plans, rate structures that account for capital replacement
costs and other financial management techniques. . . . [It would] encourage
utilities to seek innovative solutions by asking them to review options for
consolidation, public-private partnerships and low-impact technologies before
proceeding with a project.”

The stated purposes of the act include the modernization of
state water pollution control revolving funds and the allocation of those funds
to ensure they reflect water quality needs and the streamlining of water
pollution control and state drinking water treatment assistance programs to
maximize the use of federal funds.

The Water Environment Federation said in reporting on
introduction of the bill that “there is support for the increased
funding, but municipal groups are concerned the bill goes too far in mandating
local actions such as asset management, full-cost rate structures and
consideration of public-private partnerships as a condition of obtaining a

Jefford’s committee began hearings on the bill shortly
after its introduction. A water-infrastructure measure also was being prepared
for introduction in the House.


EPA to Implement CSO Mandate

EPA said it will begin implementing the Clean Water
Act’s (CWA) “shall conform” provision relating to combined
sewer overflow (CSO) projects. The CWA section requires that future permits or
other enforceable mechanisms for CSOs conform to the agency’s basic CSO
control policy.

The agency gave that notice in a status report it recently
submitted to Congress on progress in dealing with CSOs.

While a broad range of activities to regulate and control
the overflows is underway at all levels of government, EPA said, “CSOs
continue to pose a serious environmental and health threat.” The report
noted estimates that set annual CSO discharges nationally at 1.2 trillion
gallons per year.

EPA said challenges to CSO control included financial
constraints on systems facing mounting water and wastewater infrastructure
costs on one hand and “the resource-intensive nature of CSO
controls” on the other.

In addition to enforcement of the “shall
conform” provision, EPA said other actions to make more progress on CSO
problems would be to ensure that all CSOs are covered by a National Pollution
Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit “or other enforceable mechanism”
and to advocate CSO control on a watershed basis. The agency said it also would
work with states to speed the water quality review and revision process.


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