TESTIMONY OF ERWIN J. ODEAL
NORTHEAST OHIO REGIONAL SEWER DISTRICT
SUBMITTED TO THE
SUBCOMMITTEE ON FISHERIES, WILDLIFE, AND WATER
SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
April 30, 2001
As Executive Director of the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (District), I appreciate this opportunity to provide information to the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Water, Committee on Environment and Public Works on wastewater infrastructure needs in the State of Ohio. The District has served the communities of Northeast Ohio for almost thirty years, bringing vast improvements to the water quality of the area and contributing to the rebirth of the Cleveland area. I appreciate the opportunity to tell you about the District's efforts and our needs and concerns for the future of the environment .
The District has invested significant resources to address water infrastructure needs in Northeast Ohio. Since its creation in 1972, the District has invested over $1.6 billion for capital improvements to the wastewater conveyance and treatment system throughout its 54 community service area. The major thrust of these improvements included upgrades of our three treatment plants (Easterly, Westerly and Southerly), construction of five major interceptors (Southwest, Heights/Hilltop, Mill Creek, Cuyahoga Valley and Northwest) and numerous intercommunity relief sewers throughout the District's service area. As noted at the top of the Attachment 1 Summary, these projects were financed in part by federal grants under the Clean Water Act Construction Grants Program (35%) and recent special federal appropriation grants (4%), with the balance (61%) paid for by the District's ratepayers either as repayment of low interest loans received under Ohio's State Revolving Fund program, the Water Pollution Control Loan Fund (WPCLF), or as pure NEORSD local funds.
The most recent regulatory requirement imposed upon the District is our combined sewer overflow (CSO) management and reduction program. This program resulted from Ohio's implementation of U.S. EPA's 1994 Combined Sewer Overflow Policy. Included in this effort is construction of CSO storage tunnels and tanks, relief sewers and treatment facilities, CSO system rehabilitation and/or modification, and potentially, sewer separation projects. These projects are being conducted on a watershed basis, enabling the District to identify and evaluate the impact of combined sewers and numerous other stressors to water quality in the Northeast Ohio area. As noted on the bottom of Attachment 1, the District has spent over $220 million to date on its CSO program, of which $26 million was funded through federal grants (11%) with the balance paid for by the District's ratepayers, either as repayment of low interest loans received from the WPCLF program (66%) or as pure NEORSD local funds. It is expected that the total cost to the District for CSO projects could approach $1 billion over the next 15 years.
As you can see from the numbers above and those in Attachment 2, the burden of wastewater infrastructure funding has shifted from significant federal grants, which do not require repayment, to state revolving loans, which must be repaid. The ratepayers' burden has increased from about 37% to over 90%. While it is impossible to calculate the potential rate increases that will be required by ongoing and future regulatory requirements, there is no question that, without additional funding resources in the form of grants and low or zero interest loans, the District's ratepayers will continue to bear essentially all of the costs of these expensive programs.
The District strongly supports the Water Infrastructure Network (WIN) and Water Infrastructure Caucus in their efforts to identify a mechanism for closing the large funding gap that exists today. The level of infrastructure improvement required by existing and future Clean Water Act requirements exceeds the amount of available funding by orders of magnitude. This fact is recognized by EPA as well as the State and local entities attempting to improve water quality and protect the public. A consistent source of funds, distributed in the form of grants and low or zero interest loans, is the only way that municipalities with limited resources will be able to maintain the water quality improvements achieved to date and assure further improvement in the future. Information on the WIN and Win's recent recommendation report, WINow, are included in the packet of materials provided.
In addition to funding wastewater infrastructure needs, however, the District believes that there is a great deal that can be done to improve local communities' ability to address water quality issues in an efficient and cost effective way. One of the key impediments to this is the lack of programmatic interaction between the current EPA mandates for CSOs, Separate Sanitary Overflows (SSOs), Stormwater management and Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs).
Currently, communities are required to address CSOs, SSOs and stormwater through three separate regulatory programs. Each program requires extensive monitoring, infrastructure modification/capital investment, and recordkeeping and reporting. Yet the need for these three programs is the same: the ability of municipal wastewater and stormwater systems to address wet weather impacts on water quality. It has been EPA's position that these separate programs will come together through the TMDL process. Yet even through TMDLs, the three programs remain separate and independently enforceable. There is no flexibility for communities prioritize their water quality issues and begin addressing the most significant sources of water quality impairment first.
As a member of the Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies (AMSA), we have been working toward proposing legislation that would give EPA the authority to combine these separate regulatory programs into a unified wet weather regulatory program. A unified program would enable municipalities to evaluate the sources of their wet weather water quality problems and rank them by environmental benefit, thereby allowing the community to address the most severe environmental stressors first and getting the "most bang for the buck." To date, EPA has spoken of the benefit of such a unified program, but has taken no action to pursue this course of efficient and cost effective environmental protection. A legislative mandate would certainly provide the legal authority and impetus for such a reworking of Clean Water Act requirements.
Increased flexibility also represents an opportunity to jump start the process of restoring urban streams through adoption of urban water quality standards that are tailored to specific watersheds. We believe that this tailoring also has the potential to result in substantial cost savings for the public. Typically, streams which predominately drain urban areas are affected by the complex land use patterns to such an extent that they are not capable of attaining the current water quality standards, which are benchmarked against the most pristine areas of the state. We believe that a cooperative program between watershed communities and regulatory agencies must be formed to start restoration processes and evaluate land use practices that threaten the last remaining habitat along streams. Communities need to be empowered and encouraged to understand urban impacts on streams and look at the potential value of the resource to the community. State regulatory agencies need flexibility within federal regulatory guidelines to adopt standards that make sense for streams that are substantially altered by their surrounding land use patterns.
We believe these are important new directions that have the power to result in substantial improvements to urban streams. However, at the same time we are concerned that these programs might be stalled by the inflexibility of current federal regulatory guidelines. Current regulations have been interpreted to allow revisions of water quality standards only where substantial and widespread social and economic impact is at issue. In addition, EPA has been resistant to accepting Ohio EPA's proposed use of biological criteria as a holistic measure of stream health. Clean Water Act requirements must be both realistic and accepting of innovation and creativity to encourage progress in improving urban water quality.
Encompassing all of these issues is the lack of a sound scientific basis driving the management of wet weather flows and determining appropriate water quality. While EPA has committed to do so, it has failed to pursue what we believe to be the key to effective wet weather management - the development of wet weather standards and associated management techniques. Until the impact of wet weather flows and urbanization are studied and scientifically defensible water quality standards are developed, municipalities will be spending billions of dollars to address non-existent or marginal water quality impacts simply because the current dry weather-based regulatory scheme requires such actions. In addition, the burden of water quality compliance will continue to be placed on point source discharges such as publicly-owned treatment works, when the most significant sources of impairment is actually from non-point source (i.e.) agriculture and urban runoff.
We would be most interested in continuing the discussion of modifications to current legislative and regulatory guidelines in ways that we believe would vastly enhance our potential to make substantial progress on the overall improvement of water quality and the restoration of urban streams. I appreciate the Subcommittee's interest in this area, and welcome any opportunity to be of assistance.