Groundwater groups urge EPA to fund better stormwater systems

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People who live in small, rural communities know the importance of groundwater. More than 70% of community water systems serving 10,000 or fewer people are groundwater-supplied, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

On top of that, 34 million people live in communities that rely on private wells.

So when it comes to stormwater discharge and the pollutants it can bring into groundwater, small towns are more at risk and often have fewer financial resources or expertise to protect their drinking water, according to the National Ground Water Association and the Groundwater Protection Council.

“The federal government should be doing more or looking harder at ways to help these small communities manage their stormwater,” said Ben Frech, public relations manager with the National Ground Water Association.

The two groups are urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to support funding for communities that need help managing their stormwater and helping find ways to reuse that stormwater.

They sent a joint letter to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler Oct. 19 in response to the Proposed 2020 Financial Capability Assessment for Clean Water Act Obligations that was released in September.

Background

The EPA requested comment on an overhaul of the Financial Capability Assessment methodology used to determine a community’s ability to fund its Clean Water Act obligations. This is the first update to the tool in more than 20 years.

Under the Clean Water Act, municipalities and other entities like universities, hospitals or prisons are required to control their stormwater so that it does not pollute waters of the U.S., however, it’s an unfunded mandate. It’s up to communities to figure out how to manage stormwater systems and how to pay for them.

Stormwater is runoff from the land or impervious surfaces, like paved roads, parking lots and rooftops. While it’s necessary for refilling underground aquifers that supply groundwater, stormwater can also carry with it a number of pollutants like road salt, oil and grease from roadways, sediment, pesticides, manure and other garbage it picks up along the way.

The problem

The National Ground Water Association and the Groundwater Protection Council said in their comments that the EPA’s Financial Capability Assessment tool needs to take into account the cost of groundwater protective design in stormwater systems and small communities’ limited technical and financial abilities to put those measures in place.

The groups said some communities may opt for least cost or “insufficient methods” of stormwater management and disposal that won’t adequately protect groundwater.

“Costs for treating contaminated groundwater to be a water supply source may far exceed the cost of adequately designed and constructed stormwater measures that are protective of groundwater quality,” the groups said in their letter.

Additionally, if stormwater can be collected and treated, it can be injected back into the ground to recharge aquifers, Frech said. None of this work can be done, though, without proper funding.

The National Ground Water Association, based in Columbus, is a trade association representing more than 10,000 groundwater professionals in the U.S. and internationally. The Groundwater Protection Council, based in Oklahoma City, is an organization of state ground water regulatory agencies.

The EPA’s request for comments and proposed changes to the Financial Capability Assessment garnered 67 comments by the time the comment period closed Oct. 19.

The EPA proposed two approaches for its updated Financial Capability Assessment. The first expands the metrics that go into the calculations, giving more consideration to costs, poverty and debt in a community. The second approach would be more dynamic and consider the impact of rate increases over time on utility customers.

(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be contacted at 800-837-3419 or rachel@farmanddairy.com.)

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Rachel is a reporter with Farm and Dairy and a graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She married a fourth-generation beef and sheep farmer and settled down in her hometown in Beaver County. Before coming to Farm and Dairy, she worked at several daily and weekly newspapers throughout Western Pennsylvania covering everything from education and community news to police and courts.

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