Water Week 2022 Recap

Adriana Caldarelli

Last week in Washington, water professionals from around the country once again come together for Water Week. This year, after two years of virtual events, attendees came in person to Washington to advocate to federally elected officials and key policymakers the importance of ensuring all communities have access to clean water. Some key water policy priorities included increasing federal infrastructure investment, addressing water affordability, supporting water research & development, and making critical infrastructure more resilient.

In order to support participants engaging with their elected representatives, the participating organization developed a number of tools, including:

  • A Congressional Toolbox that everything needed to locate, contact and set up a meeting with elected officials and resources needed to plan and conduct a compelling facility tour with that lawmaker. To access the Congressional Toolbox please visit: https://www.waterweek.us/#resources
  • A one-page leave-behind during the Congressional visit that highlights priorities for the water sector, as a whole. some stormwater priorities include funding for the Healthy Streets Program, and funding for stormwater or watershed-based planning. To access this resource, please visit: https://www.waterweek.us/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/ww22-onepager.pdf
  • A separate document was developed for stormwater. The Recommendations to Improve the Stormwater Program in the U.S. 2022 include specific recommendations regarding increased funding for stormwater, as well as recommendations for country-wide implementation of Atlas 14 and specific recommendations regarding stormwater source control. To access this document, please visit: https://wefstormwaterinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Stormwater-Recommendations-Document_SWI_2022.pdf

The cornerstone event for Water Week this year was the National Water Policy Fly-In. This event was on Wednesday, April 27, and included panel discussions by key senior EPA staff, other government officials, and Members of Congress.  

The EPA panel included remarks by Andrew Sawyers, Director of the Office of Wastewater Management. This office oversees both the NPDES permitting program and the Clean Water State Revolving Fund CWSRF) program. Some of the priorities highlighted for this office were:

  • Clean Watershed Needs Survey: This survey is an assessment of capital investment needed nationwide for publicly-owned systems to meet the water quality goals of the Clean Water Act; this survey does include stormwater needs, though responses relating to stormwater have historically been low. The results of this survey are reported to Congress and informs appropriations for future CWSRF rounds. Staff is currently working on ensuring that there is a robust response, particularly from stormwater and small communities.
  • Disbursement of funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL): Funding from BIL, which was enacted this past November, will be disbursed through the CWSRF program. The CWSRF application process can be daunting for those municipalities and agencies that do not regularly apply, particularly small and disadvantaged communities; therefore, EPA staff is working on ensuring that there is sufficient technical assistance to allow all communities to take advantage of this funding, which will also include grants/principal forgiveness for water infrastructure projects.
  • Emerging contaminants: There is particular interest in addressing emerging contaminants in stormwater, specifically PFAS. Staff is currently working to determine the best ways to mitigate this pathway.
  • Climate Environmental Justice: Green infrastructure (GI) and other nature-based solutions are more frequently being used to build resilience into built environments; however, historically, the use of GI has often led to gentrification of an area resulting in displacement of residents. Staff is currently researching and developing approaches and best practice to ensure that all residents benefit from the use of GI.
  • Stormwater:
    • Integrated Planning continues to be a high priority; with funding becoming available from BIL, it is more important than ever for communities to look at their water systems holistically, and Integrated Planning is a tool that can help communities to prioritize investment.
    • Staff is also working on issues around the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permits, particularly the impacts that have occurred due to the 2020 Census action that changed the definition of urban areas, which was used for classification under the MS4 permit.
    • Nutrient mitigation is also a high priority for this office, and a rule process for the use of market-based approaches to address excess nutrients is likely to begin later this year.

Brian Frazer, from the Office if Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds, which oversees the Impaired Waters and Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL) program and the 401 Certification program, spoke about the priorities for this office, which include:

  • Waters of the United States (WOTUS): Staff of this office is working on comments received earlier this year. Additionally, ten (10) more regional roundtables will be held this year to gather additional information regarding geographic differences; they are also looking to hear from additional stakeholders, including those from agriculture, conservation groups, developers, drinking water and wastewater managers, environmental organizations, communities with environmental justice concerns, industry, Tribal nations, and state and local governments. For more information on these roundtables, please visit https://www.epa.gov/wotus/public-outreach-and-stakeholder-engagement-activities
  • 401 Certification Rules: The draft rules are currently being reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget and are likely to be out in late spring or early summer.
  • Gulf Hypoxia Task Force Action Plan: EPA will be offering technical support to states and tribes on developing nutrient reduction plans. EPA will also be partnering with the Department of Agriculture and other stakeholders to collaborate on solutions to this issue.

The second panel included highlighted specific programs from both EPA and other federal agencies, including Sharon Napier, National Program Leader for Water Reuse. This  program that communities build capacity to pursue water reuse projects. She highlighted some accomplishments from the past year, which included:

David Palumbo, Acting Commissioner at the Bureau of Reclamation highlighted the work his agency is doing in response to the historic drought in the western US, specifically the launch of their Addressing Drought Portal. This is an interactive platform that highlights Reclamation’s efforts and investments to mitigate drought impacts, increase drought resiliency, reduce reliance on declining water sources, and increase the efficiency of water deliveries. This web-based portal can be found at: https://www.usbr.gov/addressing-drought/index.html

The final panel featured Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and Senator Tom Carper (D-DE). These Congressional representatives discussed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and the continuing work they are doing to ensure that sufficient funding is allocated for water infrastructure projects.

For more information about Water Week, please visit: https://www.waterweek.us/#about-water-week

For more information about the Fly-In, including agenda and speaker biographies, please visit: