CLF and Buzzards Bay Coalition Press EPA for Action in Cape Clean-Up

Sep 19, 2011 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

Just over a year ago, CLF and the Buzzards Bay Coalition sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in order to expedite the clean up of a nitrogen pollution scourge  on Cape Cod that was threatening the Cape’s bays and the local economy that depends on them. Today, CLF and the Bay Coalition filed a second lawsuit against EPA that focuses on the Agency’s failure to regularly approve and update a critical wastewater management plan that, if implemented, might have averted the crisis. CLF and the Bay Coalition’s actions seek to move the clean-up forward before it is too late.

In a press release, Chris Kilian, CLF’s director of Clean Water and Healthy Forests, said, “Cape Cod is on brink of ecological disaster. We need enforceable regulatory commitments to ensure that the clean-up happens before it is too late. The discussions of what solutions will work and how to pay for them are critical and must continue, but they can’t go on forever. We intend to hold EPA accountable for its obligations to review, update and enforce a working, time-bound plan to stop the flow of nitrogen-laden wastewater and stormwater into the Cape’s bays. It is the keystone of this clean-up effort.”

The parties will commence a mediation process known as Alternative Dispute Resolution on Wednesday, September 21 at EPA’s offices in Boston. The deadline for a resolution is December 6, 2011.

Read the full press release.

A “Green” Facelift for The Big Apple’s Waterfront

Mar 16, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Yesterday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the city’s 10-year Waterfront Vision and Action Agenda.  New England cities should take note of this forward-thinking plan, which knits together a dizzying array of restoration activities to ensure that NYC’s rivers, harbors and 500-mile waterfront remain world class amenities for its residents and visitors.

The waterfront plan incorporates key elements of NYC’s Green Infrastructure Plan, released last September.

Among other things, NYC plans to invest over $4 billion over the next 20 years in modernizing infrastructure to control pollution to the city’s waterways.  Recognizing it would need to invest huge sums to protect and enhance its critically valuable waterfront, the city did its homework.  Experts found that using green infrastructure approaches to reduce sewer overflows over the 20 years would result in cost savings of $1.5 billionNYC’s vision for restoring water quality now includes a mix of strategic investments in some “grey” or hard piped infrastructure – the sort cities have employed for the past century – along with a hefty proportion of green technologies.  In addition, the plan includes $900 million in private investment.

One inch at a time

Green stormwater management techniques, often referred to as “Low Impact Development,” model nature’s way of handling runoff from paved areas during storms – the runoff is cleansed by soil and plants in vegetated areas, then evaporates or is filtered back into the ground.  Wetlands, green roofs and even specially designed rain gardens and street trees can serve this function.  Dumping polluted stormwater runoff into natural wetlands isn’t on its own an acceptable solution, so green infrastructure approaches add new vegetated areas where the treatment occurs.

The status quo is that street runoff co-mingles with human wastewater in the sanitary sewer system, overwhelming the pipes and treatment plants.  Instead, the city plans to send street runoff into new green treatment areas designed to manage stormwater.  NYC has set its sights on diverting runoff from the first inch of rainfall from 10% of paved area. Keeping this quantity of runoff out of the combined sewer system, experts predict, will have dramatic water quality benefits.

Everybody pays, everybody wins

NYC’s waterfront vision is an impressive example of coordination across a tangle of city and state agencies, public and private entities.  The city’s action plan to cut back sewer overflows relies on public and private entities to restore water quality over the next 20 years.  The city will soon require new development to include state-of-the-art stormwater management, recognizing that private property owners will benefit from the improved waterfront and the public goals cannot be accomplished without their contributions.  If all goes as planned, many more New Yorkers will enjoy views of blue harbors from atop green roofs…

A Buried Problem, Bursting to be Solved

May 4, 2010 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

Out of sight, out of mind—until of course, 2 million people are left wondering why they don’t have clean drinking water.

This weekend’s Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) water main break, which spilled millions of gallons of drinking water into the Charles River, should alert us to a larger and often hidden crisis of under-funded water infrastructure across the country. The underground pipes that provide our drinking water and that convey our sewage away from homes and businesses are typically hidden from sight, but are increasingly drawing attention through catastrophic failures.

While the cause of the MWRA pipe burst is not yet clear (officials report the pipe was only 7 years old), this incident signals that continued oversight and investment is needed to keep our water infrastructure working to protect health and the environment.

In 2009, New England spent around $113M in federal funds on drinking water and wastewater infrastructure (plus $2.2M or more in state funds and further expenditures by cities and towns).   The U.S. EPA has estimated New England’s needs at $11.5B for drinking water infrastructure and $8.5B for wastewater infrastructure over a 20-year period.  A national EPA “gap analysis” backed by the General Accounting Office found that unless rates of spending on drinking water and wastewater infrastructure increase substantially, we will come up short by about $500B for necessary upgrades by 2020.  Industry groups representing the operators of drinking water and wastewater systems agree, and the American Society of Civil Engineers has rated U.S. water infrastructure a “D-.”

Major upgrades are also required for our storm sewer systems (the pipes that channel rain water from street catch basins, parking lots, and driveways into nearby rivers and streams) to reflect modern pollution removal methods and to prevent sewage from mixing with the rain water. (Recall the sewage overflows that occurred during storms this past March.)

How to fill the investment gap?

The U.S. EPA and state environmental agencies provide funds for all of the above through loans and grant programs, but these won’t fill the gap entirely.  One proposal in Congress, introduced yesterday, would remove caps on private investment and could potentially create new jobs and bring in significant tax revenues.  Another would create a national trust fund supported by taxes on corporations.  Another option is for local water and sewer rates to increase to reflect “full cost pricing.”

In Massachusetts, a Water Infrastructure Finance Commission has been convened, and CLF will be involved in the discussions.

If there is any silver lining to this incident, it is that we have been reminded how much we rely on our water and wastewater systems – and how disruptive the consequences will be if we don’t make the investment to manage them proactively.

To learn more, check out the trailer for Liquid Assets, a documentary about America’s water infrastructure, or EPA’s web site.