Wastewater infrastructure needs serious attention and overhaul throughout California. Our waterways and communities are plagued with millions of gallons of raw, untreated sewage that are dumped into California waterways each year, due to failures in our sewer systems. This untreated sewage introduces dangerous levels of bacteria into our waters and can make anyone who comes in contact with this water sick with ear infections, upper respiratory infections, skin rashes, or the stomach flu.
California and its local communities must finance critical wastewater management and sanitation agencies, which are in need of multi-year projects to advance our sewer systems to prevent spills. Though, these projects cannot be at the expense of our watersheds and communities.
Representative Garamendi (D-CA 3) has introduced H.R. 1764, which would extend Clean Water Act permits issued to municipalities from five to ten years. On its face, this appears to be a decent approach to allow for infrastructure improvements and projects that last beyond the traditional five-year permit. The permit term extension, however, could have devasting consequences on water quality.
A permit term extension will only exacerbate the lag in Clean Water Act permit renewals.
In California, the review for many NPDES permits lags far beyond five years. For example, the permits for San Bernardino County, Ventura County, and Orange County were all last reviewed and issued in 2010. Extending the permit term to ten years could have devasting consequences in pushing back the review of these permits beyond ten years, which will delay the implementation of new technologies, the incorporation of new TMDLs, and new statewide policies adopted by the State Water Board.
Clean Water Act permits are critical to manage water quality.
Clean Water Act permits are critical to manage the amount of pollution that enters our waterways and affect our communities. Five-year permit terms are a key component of these permits, given that environmental factors, the amount of pollutants discharged within a community, and technological advances to better manage polluted discharge often change within that five-year period. The current five-year permit term allows both decision-makers and the public to consider what has changed within the community, within the environment, and to update the permit as new conditions arise.
Clean Water Act permit term extension is unnecessary.
The federal Clean Water Act already provides mechanisms to account for the reality of construction timelines that extend beyond the five-year permit term, while ensuring the permit is reviewed and updated regularly. California specifically authorizes compliance schedules to allow for infrastructure improvements and projects that require more than five years. These compliance schedules are already widely used for construction and infrastructure improvements that extend beyond the five-year term, which allows projects to move forward without preventing needed updates to individual NPDES permits.
The U.S. House of Representatives reconvenes on September 9, 2019. We urge everyone who cares about swimmable, fishable, and drinkable water to tell your representative that H.R. 1764 is both harmful and unnecessary.
Policy Analyst Kaitlyn Kalua represents CCKA and its member Waterkeepers in state regulatory and legislative forums to advance statewide water policy.