Enforcement and Assistance in New England
Sustainable Water Infrastructure
In many Northeastern communities, the water and wastewater infrastructure is severely stressed from the effects of growth, overuse, deterioration due to aging, and the under funding of maintenance and replacement. Some water systems are more than 100 years old. While older systems continue to deteriorate, new infrastructure is needed to accommodate ongoing development pressures. We are committed to finding ways to address these problems and to promote sustainable water and waste water infrastructure in New England.
Over the past year, EPA held numerous discussions with stakeholders, including municipal officials, utility managers, non-profit organizations and financial services industry representatives, to hear their ideas for how we can better address sustainable infrastructure in New England. In April of 2007, we organized a two-day regional forum, attended by more than 100 stakeholders, to identify a course of action for the future. Participants identified four outcomes including: (1) the need for a “regional message” on the importance of long-term planning and financing for water infrastructure; (2) an increased use of the State Revolving Fund as a financing tool; (3) the need to promote energy efficiency; and (4) the need to promote regionalized approaches.
Promoting Energy Efficiency
Promoting energy efficiency at water and wastewater treatment plants is a priority for us. We are pursuing a multi-disciplinary approach as we encourage the water and wastewater utilities of New England to embrace energy efficiency. Examples of the significant resources we are devoting to this effort include: training workshops for local officials; development of an Energy Management Workbook; the development of regional pilots designed to reduce energy usage by employing the management concepts set forth in the workbook, the Community Energy Challenge Program; and promotion of the Energy Star benchmarking tool for wastewater utilities.
A Regional Approach to Eliminating Sanitary Sewer Overflows
Sanitary sewer overflows are releases of untreated sewage into the environment. They occur when there is an overflow, spill, or release of raw or partially-treated sewage from a sanitary sewer collection system into waters of the U S. Such releases regularly contaminate our nation’s waters, degrade water quality, and expose humans to viruses and other pathogens that can cause serious illness.
Discharges of untreated sewage from SSOs often occur due to root, grease and debris blockages, structural, mechanical and electrical failures, and extraneous flows that enter separate sanitary sewer systems due, in large part, to inadequate maintenance. An aging sewer infrastructure increases the occurrence and severity of overflows. New England is faced with sewer systems in some communities that are more than 100 years old.
EPA is using an integrated enforcement and assistance approach to eliminate sewage overflows and to bring municipal sewer systems into full compliance with the Clean Water Act. Over the past year, we established a partnership with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) to eliminate sewage overflows in Rhode Island. In January of 2007, we sent a letter to all Rhode Island regional treatment districts and municipalities with collection systems to remind them of their legal obligation to prevent sewage overflows and to encourage proactive maintenance and management of the wastewater infrastructure. Our goal for this multi-year effort is to ensure that all municipalities and utilities that manage wastewater collection systems prevent sewer overflows and take the necessary short and long term actions to operate and maintain their systems.
A critical component of our efforts to eliminate SSOs in Rhode Island is providing municipalities with assistance. In December of 2006, we conducted a workshop to inform wastewater plant operators about the requirements related to collection systems. In May, we hosted two trainings on asset management software designed to help communities implement long-term planning to address their infrastructure needs. Later this year, we will be hosting a workshop for all Rhode Island municipalities to assist them with assessing their current compliance with SSO requirements, as well as how they are doing with operation and maintenance of their systems.
We are providing municipalities with guidance through fact sheets and on-site assistance on how to develop long-term management and investment plans for future protection. We are also working with the communities to develop their capacity to map their sewer collection systems using GIS (Geographical Information System) technology. Current maps are often inadequate and out-of-date making it difficult for the municipalities to develop SSO prevention plans. To help municipalities identify and prevent problems with the operation and maintenance of their wastewater collection system, we are developing a model sewer preventive maintenance plan.
Due to the seriousness of this environmental and public health problem, we also issued Administrative Compliance Orders over the past year to 12 Rhode Island wastewater systems with the most serious SSO problems. These Orders require the systems to take the necessary steps to stop harmful raw sewage overflows from seeping from municipal pipes and wastewater systems into the State’s waterways, to comprehensively assess their sewer systems, and develop plans to address any deficiencies.