BY PANOS PREVEDOUROS PHD – October 2012 was the 40th anniversary of the landmark Clean Water Act (CWA). On this anniversary, the U.S. Conference of Mayors voiced concernswith what is seen as an increasingly unequal partnership with the federal government. The nation’s towns and cities face a “fiscal crossroads with affordability” as a result of the costs associated with the CWA.
Jim Suttle, the mayor of Omaha, Nebraska and former director of its public works department states that the EPA’s reliance on consent decrees is a factor that has impeded the search for innovative solutions to sewer overflows and other problems pertaining to clean water. He argues that the federal government must stop pursuing consent decrees and instead rely on the permitting process to manage water quality problems.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors brings up as an example Lima, Ohio, a town of 39,000 residents. To comply with the Clean Water Act, Lima devised a $60-million long-term control plan, but in 2005 the EPA rejected the plan, and has sought to impose a consent decree that would entail $104 million in capital costs. As a result, Lima’s population will face sewer rates amounting to 4% to 7% of their household income. The CWA compliance costs come to about $2,700 per Lima resident.
Honolulu is in a similar predicament with the overreaching consent decreethat Mayor Hannemann signed with the EPA for secondary sewage treatment which is expected to cost no less than $2 billion (The $1.2 billion figure in this article is old and partial.) The same consent decree mandates a number of other replacements and upgrades that will cost about $2.5 billion for an approximate total cost of about $4.5 billion. The CWA compliance costs come to about $4,600 per Oahu resident, almost twice those for Lima residents.
These figures indicate that EPA has gone wild with its requirements for small and large cities. Michael Bissonnette, the mayor of Chicopee, Massachusettshas requested revisiting the consent decrees that are already in place. The U.S. Conference of Mayors is calling on Congress to amend the CWA to make it less burdensome to local governments. The group wants a cap placed on costs to ratepayer associated with unfunded water mandates.
In Honolulu, KITV has already reported that local residents are calling the Board of Water Supply because they can’t afford to pay the rapidly escalating water and sewer rates. (View KITV story.) Therefore, high on the agenda of the new mayor of Honolulu should be the revisiting of the exorbitantly expensive EPA consent decree. This however, would be highly unlikely with mayor-elect Caldwell because he considers this outrageously expensive agreement as an accomplishment.