Planning Framework for Managing Stormwater, Wastewater Released

Carolyn Berndt, National League of Cities

June 19, 2012

Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released an Integrated Municipal Stormwater and Wastewater Planning Approach Framework (Framework) to help local governments meet Clean Water Act (CWA) water quality objectives and prioritize capital investments. While an overarching principle of the Framework is to maintain existing CWA regulatory standards, an integrated planning approach will allow local governments to meet those requirements in an efficient and cost effective manner through sequencing and scheduling of projects.

The Framework, outlined in a June 5 memo to EPA Regional Administrators from Nancy Stoner, Acting Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water, and Cynthia Giles, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, provides guidance for EPA regions, states and local governments on developing and implementing integrated plans under the CWA. The Framework identifies the operating principles and essential elements of an integrated plan.

The integrated planning approach is voluntary, placing the responsibility to develop an integrated plan with local governments and relevant utilities. Those interested in pursuing this approach may begin immediately by reaching out to local utilities, states, and regional EPA offices.

“EPA’s framework outlines new flexibility to pursue innovative, cost-saving solutions, like green infrastructure, and will help communities as they develop plans that prioritize their investments in storm and wastewater infrastructure,” EPA stated in a press release.

In developing the Framework, EPA sought stakeholder input, which the National League of Cities (NLC) provided. In a letter to EPA, NLC called on the agency to consider affordability issues for communities, grant local governments flexibility to evaluate and make improvements to the plan, and to rely on the permit process, rather than through consent decrees, for the implementation of long-term integrated plans.

Addressing some of NLC’s concerns, the Framework recognizes the varying financial capacity of local governments (Element 4) and describes a process for modifying an existing integrated plan (Element 6). While the Framework acknowledges the key role state National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit authorities play, it still leaves the door open for enforcement actions as a means of implementation.