We Ask EPA to Focus on Clean Water Act on its 50th Anniversary

This past October, Adam Ortiz became the new EPA Regional Administrator for Region 3. The member groups, colleagues, and allies of Waterkeepers Chesapeake look forward to working with Ortiz to advance a mission we share in common with the EPA—protecting human health and the environment. With the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act this year, we believe this to be an opportune moment to focus on how to improve the funding, implementation and enforcement of the Act at the state and local level in partnership with the EPA. Below you can find a summary of key issues and related asks that WKC has brought to Ortiz’s attention.

Stormwater and Combined Sewer Overflows 

Background: Current stormwater infrastructure is unable to handle the frequency and intensity of climate change-induced rainfall events, resulting in dangerous and destructive flooding. Adapting our stormwater systems will require region-wide EPA intervention.

Asks:

  • Limit trading programs that allow point sources to increase pollution discharge in exchange for projected reductions in nonpoint source pollution. These tradeoffs are difficult to regulate because there is not an exact way to measure load reductions from nonpoint sources.
  • Prioritize Clean Water State Revolving Fund funding for green stormwater management projects and ensure all stormwater permits meet water quality standards.
  • Include anticipated climate change in all stormwater project planning. The first step in this process is updating all stormwater manuals to include best-available climate data.
  • Allocate resources towards the protection and restoration of wetlands that mitigate storm damage.

Emerging Contaminants and Plastic Pollution

Background: “Forever chemicals,” including PFAS, are chemicals that never disappear from the environment and are linked to health issues. These chemicals have been found in Chesapeake Bay waterways, drinking water, and seafood.

Asks:

  • Identify priorities to address the “forever chemical” issue in our region. WKC supports national efforts underway to revise plastic requirements, but hopes to discuss region-specific plans.
  • Ask that utilities provide public health notices to citizens about known PFAS issues
  • Implement additional testing requirements for water treatment plants, facilities, drinking water, and surface water
  • Provide information about the EPA’s plans for more extensive research on emerging contaminants 

Identify and Address Impacts of Changes to Definition of “waters of the United States” 

Background: The 2020 Navigable Waters Protection Rule eliminated protections for many water bodies across the U.S. and is resulting in an increase in unregulated pollution in areas that were previously protected under the CWA.

Asks:

  • Provide the public with information about unregulated discharges, dredging, and filling so that they can adequately protect themselves from pollution and engage in the stakeholder process
  • Help us identify where states are engaging in deregulatory actions in response to the 2020 NWPR. The EPA, as a regulatory agency, has access to this information that the public does not.
  • Use all of the legal authorities available to you as the EPA to act urgently to protect the public and the environment from this newly unregulated pollution

Require Environmental Justice Impact Review for Permitting Decisions

Background: Low-income and minority communities routinely suffer at the hands of flawed permitting processes that result in disproportionate numbers of high pollution activities within these communities.

Asks:

  • Ensure that permitting decisions incorporate environmental justice data into their cost-benefit analysis
  • Promote more meaningful participation in permitting decisions, specifically in areas with historically low participation

Improve Transparency of Water Pollution Data

Background: Inaccessible, inconsistent water quality data that is difficult to understand for those who are not water quality professionals is a large obstacle in the way of effective public participation in decisions affecting watershed health, especially for low-income and minority communities.

Asks:

  • Make water pollution data more accessible to the general public by establishing  clear and consistent standards for data quality and documentation, bridging the gap between data and information, and considering a federated data system

Clean Water Act Sec. 401 Water Quality Certifications in the Chesapeake Region

Background: Section 401 of the Clean Water Act grants states and tribes the authority to review and subsequently accept or deny permitted activities that would affect waterways in their jurisdiction. This is a powerful CWA provision that leads to better water quality protection. While the current regulation strips a significant amount of the authority, WKC supports current efforts by the EPA to fully reinstate this power.

  • After the new 401 rule is issued, WKC hopes to see greater support for state permitting standards
  • Communication and collaboration between EPA and state agencies necessary to clarify scope of water quality certification 

CAFOs

Background: Agriculture – specifically unregulated and under-regulated CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) – continues to be the primary source of water pollution within the Chesapeake Bay. Current regulation of these CAFOs is inadequate for a healthy Bay.

Asks:

  • Reprioritize regulation of CAFOs. Dedicate resources to increasing transparency, permitting, inspection, monitoring, and enforcement.
  • Review adequacy of the EPA Regional Permits and state programs for compliance with requirements of the CAFO NPDES Regulation
  • Evaluate how the EPA/states are assessing CAFO pollution contribution to TMDLs
  • Work with states to develop and implement numeric water quality criteria for nitrogen and phosphorus
  • Redirect EPA grant funding away from unpermitted CAFOs and towards facilities and projects that demonstrate a willingness and ability to reduce discharges/land application