EPA Releases Report to Congress: Substantial Decline in Discharges

According to a new report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), sewer overflows cause up to 860 billion gallons of wastewater to be discharged annually into U.S. rivers and lakes.

The report recommends $140 billion over 20 years to solve the problem.

EPA’s Report to Congress on the Impacts and Control of Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) and Sanitary Sewer Overflows (SSOs), the second of two reports required under the fiscal year 2001 Appropriations Act amending the Clean Water Act, does not make recommendations on how to solve overflows but rather is a report detailing numbers of overflows, costs of controls, and health and environmental impacts.

According to the report, 756 communities in 32 states have combined sewer systems with 9, 348 outfalls regulated by 828 NPDES permits. EPA estimates that combined sewer overflows (CSOs) discharge 850 billion gallons of untreated wastewater annually, a drop from more than a trillion gallons before 1994. In 1994, EPA issued a policy requiring municipalities to take specific measures to reduce their spills.

The 1994 CSO policy laid out a set of "nine minimum controls" cities should implement, including proper maintenance of the system, control of debris, public notification of discharge points, etc. These policies were to have been implemented by cities in a long-term control plan by 1997. The 2004 report states that 59% of the CSO communities have implemented the measures.

The report estimates that $10 billion has been spent since the early 1990s on controlling overflows. The report cites EPA’s Clean Water Needs Survey which discussed the need for a greater investment of $140 billion to curb CSOs by 85% and control SSOs. The primary funding mechanism is the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund (CWSRF). Although in the past it has been appropriated at $1.35 billion, the Bush Administration only requested $850 million in FY05, severely diminishing any hope that sufficient funds would be available to address overflows.

The report also details EPA’s enforcement actions against municipalities for sewer overflows. These include 15 CSO and 25 SSO enforcement cases, with more than $14 million in civil penalties and $11 billion in injunctive relief from settlement agreements.
EPA’s Report to Congress on the Impact and Control of Combined Sewer Overflows and Sanitary Sewer Overflows, is available at: http://cfpub.epa.gov/npdes/cso/cpolicy_report2004.cfm.


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