EPA Told Wastewater Utilities Should Not Be Compelled To Respond to Nutrient Removal

Wastewater utilities shouldn’t be compelled to respond to a national survey of their nutrient removal practices, state and water utility officials told the Environmental Protection Agency, citing concerns the information could be used for enforcement purposes.

Rather, the EPA should seek an alternative approach to gather information about the range and effectiveness of secondary treatment processes from utilities, wrote Peter LaFlamme, director of the Vermont Watershed Management Division who also is the president of the Association of Clean Water Administrators.

The EPA in late September announced plans to survey nutrient removal practices at 15,000 wastewater utilities by invoking Section 308 of the Clean Water Act, which compels a response. This method of information gathering is normally used by the EPA prior to enforcement proceedings and has been roundly criticized by groups representing state water officials and publicly owned wastewater utilities in comments to the agency.

“Providing this type of information via Section 308 has raised serious concerns regarding future enforcement, despite EPA’s assurances that it only intends to use this information for research purposes,” wrote Chris Hornback, chief technical officer at the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, which represents public wastewater and stormwater utilities.

The EPA attributes most nutrient pollution in the nation’s waters to stormwater and agricultural runoff and wastewater discharges. The agency said the survey would provide a database of cost-effective, nutrient-removal practices during secondary treatment of wastewater at public utilities.

State water officials said they recognize that the EPA wants a statistically significant sample of responses because a voluntary survey could result in a low or unrepresentative survey response rate, but they question the need for invoking Section 308.

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