EPA Develops New Planning Approach to Improve Water Quality in U.S. Cities
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced a commitment to using an integrated planning process to help local governments dealing with difficult financial conditions identify opportunities to achieve clean water by controlling and managing releases of wastewater and stormwater runoff more efficiently and cost effectively. The integrated planning process, outlined in a guidance memo to EPA’s regional offices from EPA’s Office of Water and Office of Enforcement and Compliance, will help municipalities prioritize infrastructure investments to address the most serious water quality issues and provide flexibility to use innovative, cost-effective stormwater and wastewater management solutions.
“EPA is firmly committed to helping local governments identify opportunities to achieve clean water using a comprehensive integrated planning approach," EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe said. “An integrated approach allows communities to prioritize their investments to address the most serious water issues first and provides flexibility to use innovative, cost-effective storm- and wastewater management solutions – including green infrastructure.”
Aging sewer systems, not designed to handle heavy rain and snowfall in addition to handling the wastewater from growing populations and local industries, can overflow, releasing untreated sewage into waterways, onto city streets or into the basements of homes. As the runoff flows over the land or impervious surfaces, including paved streets, parking lots, and building rooftops, it accumulates debris, chemicals, sediment and other pollutants. Overflows and stormwater can carry a variety of harmful pollutants, including bacteria, metals and nutrients that threaten communities' water quality and can contribute to disease outbreaks, beach and shellfish bed closings, flooding, and fishing or swimming advisories.
To better protect water quality, EPA will work with local governments to review the Clean Water Act requirements that each municipality must comply with and look for opportunities to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of solutions developed to meet those obligations. This integrated approach will identify efficiencies where more than one water quality issue can be addressed by the same solution and where competing requirements may exist, including how to best make capital investments and meet operation and maintenance requirements.
Integrated planning approaches can also have other benefits, like leading to the identification of innovative, sustainable solutions that improve water quality and enhance community vitality. Green infrastructure, such as green roofs, rain gardens, planter boxes, and permeable pavement, is an example of an integrated solution that can reduce, capture, and treat stormwater runoff at its source before it can reach the sewer system. Green infrastructure provides a cost effective way to reduce overflows and add green space in communities.