Recently I had the good fortune to attend the Florida Rural Water Association’s annual “Focus on Change” seminar. This program brings together state and county regulators to talk to operators and utility folks about the upcoming changes to regulatory issues in water and wastewater operations and compliance.
At this year’s event, one presentation from a Florida Department of Environmental Protection water administrator really stood out. It was about the new America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018. I had to do some research into this and I found out that there’s not a lot of information out there yet.
The bipartisan bill, approved by Congress and signed by President Trump in October 2018, provides more than $6 billion in funding for water infrastructure projects across the United States, including post-Hurricane Harvey wetland restoration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, and hydropower projects.
According to President Trump, “This bill authorizes needed funding and tools to enhance our coastal ports; reduce flood risks; restore ecosystems; upkeep our inland waterways, which are in deep, deep trouble, but they won't be for very long; upgrade our dams, hydropower, and irrigation systems; and improve drinking water treatment, storage, and delivery.” This new legislation will help the water industry in many ways, including reviewing aging infrastructure for upgrades or improvements.
The America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 addresses a wide variety of issues, including:
- Flood control
- Water resource development
- Hydropower development
- Ecosystem restoration
- Small system technical assistance
- Financing of infrastructure improvements
- Water supply assessments and communication
The Army Corps of Engineers: Its New Role
Water infrastructure is vital to every community in America. Our drinking water systems, dams, reservoirs, levees, shipping lanes, and ports support and promote economic growth, and are vital for our safety and security. This new legislation looks to shore up these areas, which are necessary for our continued prosperity.
With the new law, the Army Corps of Engineers will see changes in the way it operates. The Corps is tasked with addressing flood control, water resource development, ecosystem restoration, and hydropower, and it will construct, expedite, and implement over a hundred new water resource projects across the country. These projects will improve the economy, reduce flooding, and enhance water supplies for many areas, particularly in the drought-ridden western U.S.
The Corps is also tasked with more flood control projects, and building or rebuilding new dams and levees. It will work with local communities in the central U.S. to mitigate flooding and snowmelt events, and in the eastern part of the country, it will address storm and hurricane flooding relief projects or infrastructure rebuilding. Let’s hope the Corps is up for this huge endeavor.
Small System Technical Assistance
The new law amends part of the Safe Water Drinking Act (SWDA), which was first passed in 1974, for small systems with populations under one thousand. The law looks to rural America to improve compliance and increase water supply for these smaller areas.
A new partnership between the federal government and the states for funding is being created to help with water issues. The federal government will loan funding to the states for the systems that are currently in violation. The law addresses serious Tier 1 violations (a fairly large number) in this small-system category (mainly in Texas, California, New York, and North Carolina) to improve drinking water treatment storage and distribution in small-town America. In the past, many of these systems have been unable to make necessary improvements due to a lack of funding.
Water Supply Assessments and Communications
This area affects most of us working in water operations and compliance for our utilities. The legislation addresses:
- Lead testing and fixture replacement
- Consumer Confidence Report changes
- Innovative water grant program
- Asset management
- Risk and resiliency assessments
- Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR) continuation
Lead Testing for Schools
The SDWA was expanded to include public schools and their drinking fountains. This update looks to test these fountains and other fixtures for replacements or replumbing if lead contamination is found. The act is also looking to expand the testing to childcare facilities in the future; however, at this writing, I don’t have a timeline. The new program is promoting the “3Ts” system to reduce lead in schools and childcare facilities. The 3Ts tool kit includes:
- Training - Public awareness and education training on lead for parents and children and the risk and possible mitigation of lead contamination.
- Testing - Develop a sample plan for schools and daycare centers to test water used for drinking and cooking.
- Taking Action - After the results are received, taking action for corrective measure to prevent lead contamination.
Many schools are already ahead of this and are deeply involved in the process. My Hillsborough County School District has tested every fixture in its school system and is in the process of taking action where it’s needed. The district has done a great job of commutation and replacement.
As an operator, I would suggest that you contact your local school district to see how you can get involved. Some schools have licensed water operators, but many do not; these are the ones that need our expertise to help them properly collect samples and maintain their distribution system for water quality. Remember, if there is a lead problem in the schools, the public may be contacting you for answers, so it’s best to get ahead of the situation!
More information about this is available at https://www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/3ts-reducing-lead-drinking-water-toolkit.
Consumer Confidence Reports
For systems serving populations of 10,000 or more, the annual Consumer Confidence Report (CCR) with become a biannual report to the public (that’s twice a year). Now the report will require more, expanded, and easier-to-read information to be communicated to citizens about their water supply.
As of right now, it looks like Oct. 23, 2020, will be the target date for the new biannual reporting. I don’t have the full requirements of the language on this as of yet, as it’s still in development at EPA. There will also be a change in electronic delivery requirements with this new act.
Innovative Water Grant Program
This new grant is for innovative water technologies that address drinking water supply, water quality, treatment, or security of public water systems served by wells or other source waters. The only limitation I see is the dollars allocated ($10 million) for this program, which I don’t feel will be nearly enough.
The act will increase asset management programs in water systems across America. The law includes training for operators and utility personnel for guidance and implementation of asset management plans to all water systems within five years of its signing; so by Oct. 23, 2023, have your asset plans in place.
Risk and Resiliency Assessments
Like the previous requirements for vulnerability assessments and emergency response plans in the SWDA, the new law looks to update and further the planning process by including risk and resiliency to every water system serving a population of 3,300 or more. The identification of every risk to every water asset in the system by category includes:
- Risk to the system by malevolent acts or natural hazards.
- Resiliency of the pipes and conveyances, barriers, source water, water collection and intakes, treatment and storage of water, distribution facilities, and electronic and computer systems used by the water system.
- Monitoring practices of the system.
- Financial infrastructure of the system.
- Storage and handling of chemicals.
- Operations and maintenance of the system.
This will have a large impact on most systems across the country. The goal of this planning is to ensure safe and reliable drinking water to all parts of the U.S.
The schedule to implement all of this is very tight. Water systems must be self-certified as follows:
- Water systems serving a population of 100,000 and up by March 31, 2020
- Water systems serving a population of 50,000 to 100,000 by Dec. 31, 2020
- Water systems serving a population of 3,300 to 50,000 by June 6, 2021
A revised emergency response plan (ERP) will have to be completed based on the new risk assessments for six months after completion, including record maintenance for all water system serving a population of 3,300 or more. Also, a schedule of capital improvement plans are to be developed based on risk and resiliency funding. There is some technical assistance in the grant proposed under this act that would address all the areas I’ve stated, but at this point, I haven’t seen a funding level allocated.
Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule
This act looks to continue the process of the UMCR and expands requirements for UCMR monitoring of all water systems serving a population of 3,300 or more; before, only systems with a population of 10,000 and up were impacted. There will be some funding available for this monitoring and sampling, although I don’t believe it’s enough. Small systems will be impacted financially and operationally, so get the funding you’ll need in your budget planning now.
Where We Go From Here
Overall, the act looks to improve water system infrastructure across the country, increase compliance, create jobs, and protect our precious water resources and public health.
Improved communication and working with the public and your community is the common theme for the act. Public awareness and the flow of information to your customers are critical for the future success for your system. Happy sampling!
Check out the resources I used for this article and the signed bill at https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate-bill/3021/text.
Operators Showcase at Florida Water Resources Conference
April is the month for the Florida Water Resource Conference. This year it will be held April 14-17 in Tampa at the conference center, and the technical program will have many sessions of interest to operators.
With the guidance of Tom King and Scott Anaheim, this year’s Operators Showcase, an open-forum-style discussion on operator issues, will continue its popular run and be held at the conference on Sunday, April 14, from 2 to 4 p.m. in Room 21.
This year’s topics include:
- First responder status
- Succession planning for retiring operators and utility staff
- Getting younger people in the utilities industry
- Trainee programs
- State licensing
Feel free to bring other discussion topics and I’ll see you at the conference!