Thank you Chairman Crapo and Senator Graham for holding this important oversight hearing on implementation of the Clean Water Act. I appreciate the opportunity to raise an issue of great concern for my state and region – the availability of Clean Water Act Section 319 funding for development and implementation of the Phase II Storm Water Program.
Yesterday, I visited the site of a devastating fish kill in Rhode Island, caused by the absence of dissolved oxygen – an anoxic event – in an area known as Greenwich Bay. As the former Mayor of the City of Warwick, which encompasses Greenwich Bay, I had undertaken a massive bond issue several years ago to provide funding for improving septic systems and restoring the water quality of this area. Visiting the fish kill site yesterday, I was disheartened to learn how much more needed to be done. In combination with other factors – including the ongoing deficiencies of private septic systems – stormwater has been found to be a significant contributor to the nutrient loads entering Greenwich Bay and disrupting its natural balance.
In Rhode Island, as well as many other highly urbanized areas, stormwater ranks high on the list of top-priority pollution sources impacting the water quality of our lakes, rivers, streams, and bays. As states proceed with development of the federally mandated Phase II Storm Water Program, the costs of implementing the requirements of the program are becoming a major concern for states and municipalities.
At issue is whether funds provided to states through Section 319 of the Clean Water Act may be used for the purposes of developing and implementing the Phase II Storm Water Rule that went into effect in March 2003. Last year, this Committee approved an amendment, signed into law as part of the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain Act of 2002, that provided a one-year fix, during fiscal year 2003, for states to retain maximum flexibility in utlizing 319 funding for addressing their stormwater concerns.
In recent years, the EPA Nonpoint Source Program has increasingly focused on impaired waters and stormwater-related impairments. Although the Clean Water Act appears silent on the eligibility of Section 319 funding to address storm water or NPDES-related issues, EPA has thus far interpreted the Act to prohibit 319 funds from being used for implementation of the Phase II Storm Water Program. In recent months, a lack of clarity also exists on the use of Section 319 funding in geographic areas covered by the Phase II Program. Phase II applies to all populated areas of 1000 people or greater per square mile. In Rhode Island, nearly all of the state’s impaired waters are included in Phase II areas. Given a strict EPA interpretation of the law, Section 319 funds could not be used in any of these areas.
In the weeks ahead, I will be exploring the idea of introducing a bill to provide permanent authority for states to utilize Section 319 monies for development and implementation of the Phase II Storm Water Program. I look forward to working with my committee colleagues and EPA on this legislation.