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Water Pollution Control Act of 1956

Grants for assisting in the construction of municipal treatment works were authorized and, for the first time, funded with federal appropriations. The Surgeon General was directed to prepare comprehensive programs for pollution control in interstate waters in cooperation with states and municipalities, and the state was to prepare plans for prevention and control of water pollution. If there was no approved plan, no grant was to be made for constructing treatment facilities. $50 million annually in grants was authorized. Grants were limited to 30% of the cost of construction, or $250,000, whichever was smaller. Legislation in the states increasingly required secondary treatment for polluted waters.

Water Quality Act of 1965

For the first time, each state, to receive grants, was required to have water quality standards, expressed as water quality criteria applicable to interstate waters. If the state did not develop standards, the FWPCA was required to do so. To comply with these standards and criteria, secondary treatment was increasingly necessary. Construction grants were raised to 30% of reasonable costs, and an additional 10% was allowed where the project conformed with a comprehensive plan for a metropolitan area. At least 50% of the first $100 million in appropriations had to go to municipalities of less than 125,000 population. Individual grants were limited to $1.2 million, with a limit of $4.8 million for multiple municipalities.

Water Quality Improvement Act of 1970

The Water Quality Improvement Act of 1970 did not contain any new provisions regarding required standards. The requirements for state water quality standards were continued. However, in hearings for the act, the authority of EPA to require uniform treatment limitations for discharges, such as secondary treatment, was questioned.

Figure 2-4 Timeline of federal water pollution control acts, 1948-1971.

• Developed activities that required states and the federal government to work as partners in solving pollution problems in interstate waters.

The act set forth a loan program designed to provide up to $100 million per year for states, municipalities, and interstate agencies to construct needed wastewater treatment works. Each loan was not to exceed $250,000 and was to bear an interest rate of 2%. Unfortunately, the loan program never saw the light of day because the program was never funded.

More successful, however, were the partnership programs developed between the states and the U.S. Public Health Service. The act required the Surgeon General to:

• Work with states and municipalities to prepare and adopt comprehensive programs for eliminating or reducing the pollution of interstate waters and improving the sanitary conditions of surface and underground waters.

• Encourage the enactment of uniform state laws relating to the prevention and control of water pollution.

• Take action against polluters of interstate waters, with the consent of the affected state.

In 1952, the Congress acknowledged that these partnership efforts were paying off and passed Public Law 82-579, which extended the activities authorized by the 1948 act for another four years. In 1955, the Senate issued a report that stated that the act caused more than half the states to improve their pollution control legislation and programs to better protect their water resources (Sen. Rep. No. 543, 84th Congress). The report also noted that some states were establishing water quality standards so stringent that they left municipalities with no choice but to implement secondary treatment at their facilities.

The Water Pollution Control Act of 1956, PL 84-660 This act was significant because it authorized a grant program for the construction of wastewater treatment facilities—and then actually funded it. A total of $l50 million was earmarked over the life of the program with a provision that no more than $50 million could be spent per year. Individual grants were not to exceed 30 percent of the reasonable cost of construction, or $250,000, whichever was smaller. There was one important caveat to obtaining a grant, however: to be funded, the project must be in conformity with a plan prepared by the state water pollution control agency and approved by the Surgeon General.

Though language in the act emphasized that the law should not be "construed as impairing or in any manner affecting any right or jurisdiction of the States with respect to the waters (including boundary waters) of such States," the requirement for federal approval of a state's water pollution control plan nonetheless established a new leadership role for the federal government. If a state did not follow an approved plan, grant payments could be held up pending an appeal to a federal court.

The Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1961, PL 87-88 Only a few changes were made in the 1961 amendment to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act. Congress's basic intent with this legislation was to extend the act through to 1967. Construction grants were authorized to the states in the total amount of $60 million for FY 1962, $90 million for FY 1963, and $100 million for each of the fiscal years 1964 through 1967.

A grant to a municipality was limited to $600,000 or 30 percent of the reasonable costs, whichever was less, with a limit of $2.4 million when the project would serve more than one municipality. At least one-half of the funds appropriated for projects were to go to cities of 125,000 population or less. The requirements for comprehensive pollution control programs and plans were carried over from the act of 1956.

Perhaps the most interesting development concerning federal involvement in water pollution control appeared not in the act itself, but in language contained in the accompanying Senate report. Here, for the first time, the Senate mentioned its desire to see secondary treatment used in municipal waste treatment plants. The same document also presented a vision for the future and an expression of hope for completion of the urban water cycle:

There is every reason to believe that a vigorous research attack on waste treatment problems would lead to breakthroughs and new processes which will make it possible to handle ever-increasing wasteloads, and even to restore streams to a state approaching their original natural purity ... If all waste or all water deteriorating elements could be removed by treatment, a region's water supply could be used over and over.

—Senate Report No. 353, 87th Congress Report on the Water Pollution Control Act of 1961

The Water Quality Act of 1965, PL 89-234 Two important elements were established with the passage of the Water Quality Act of 1965. First, it created the Federal Water Pollution Control Administration (FWPCA) as a separate entity in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. FWPCA did not reside there long, however. In 1966 it was transferred to the Department of the Interior. Then, in 1970, its functions were folded into the new United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). Second, the act required each state desiring a grant to file a letter of intent with the FWPCA committing the state to establishing, before June 30, 1967, water quality criteria applicable to interstate waters and submitting a plan for the implementation and enforcement of water quality criteria. If the state chose not to do this, the FWPCA would do it for the state.

The state's criteria and plan were to be the water quality standards for its interstate waters and tributaries. The act mandated that these standards must protect the public health or welfare and enhance the quality of water. Consideration was also to be given to the use and value of public water supplies, propagation of fish and wildlife, recreational purposes, and agricultural, industrial, and other legitimate needs.

The Construction Grants Program was continued in this act. The federal contribution was raised to 30 percent of the reasonable costs, plus an additional 10 percent when the project conformed with the comprehensive plan for a metropolitan area. The authorized amounts for construction grants were set at $150 million for FY 1966 and FY 1967, with at least 50 percent of the first $100 million appropriated in those years used for grants for municipalities of 125,000 people or less. Grants to municipalities were limited to $1.2 million, with $4.8 million set as the limit when two or more municipalities were served by the same facility.

The Clean Water Restoration Act of l966, PL 89-753 Basin planning was a key focus of the Clean Water Restoration Act of l966. Each state planning agency receiving a grant had to develop an effective comprehensive pollution control and abatement plan for basins. A basin was defined as rivers and their tributaries, streams, coastal waters, sounds, estuaries, bays, lakes, and portions thereof, as well as the lands drained thereby. Congress mandated that the plan must:

• Be consistent with water quality standards.

• Recommend effective and economical treatment works.

• Recommend maintenance and improvement of water quality standards within the basin, as well as methods for financing necessary facilities.

Grants for wastewater treatment facilities were set at 30 percent of the reasonable cost, which could be increased to 40 percent if the state agreed to pay not less than 30 percent of the reasonable costs. This maximum could be increased to 50 percent if the state agreed to pay not less than 25 percent of the estimated reasonable costs of all such grants. A grant could also be increased by 10 percent of the amount of a grant if it was in conformance with a plan developed for the metropolitan area. To be eligible for any grant, a project must be included in a comprehensive water pollution program and the state water pollution control plan. Grants were again limited to $1.2 million for individual projects and $4.8 million for multimunicipality projects. This limitation was waived, however, if the state agreed to match equally all federal grants made for the project.

Authorized amounts for grants gradually increased from a total of $550 million for FY 1968 to $1.250 billion for FY 1971. The total of $2 billion was authorized for FY 1972 by the Extensions of Certain Provisions of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1971, PL 92-240.

The Water Quality Improvement Act of 1970, PL 91-224 On March 18, 1968, FWPCA announced that the water quality standards of 28 states had been approved, and all of the states were expected to have approved standards by June. Soon afterwards, however, FWPCA attempted to cause states to amend their standards to include an effluent limitation of "best practicable treatment" or its equivalent for all discharges:

No standards shall be approved which allow any waste amenable to treatment or control to be discharged into any interstate water without treatment or control regardless of the water quality criteria and water use or uses adopted.

Further, no standard will be approved which does not require all wastes, prior to discharge into any interstate water, to receive the best practicable treatment or control unless it can be demonstrated that a lessor degree of treatment or control will provide for water quality and enhancement commensurate with proposed present and future water uses.

—FWPCA Guideline, 1968

People questioned what authority the FWPCA thought they had to set "best practicable treatment" as the minimum level of treatment and what they meant by that term. In House hearings leading up to the Water Quality Improvement Act of 1970, Secretary Udall explained that "in practice, this guideline usually, but not always, means secondary treatment of municipal wastes ... generally the States have agreed with us with regard to the requirement of secondary treatment." A number of officials from different states begged to differ with Secretary Udall and FWPCA's guideline. Not surprisingly, states offered up legal opinions that bluntly concluded that the FWPCA had no authority to set discharge limitations.

Against this backdrop, the Water Quality Improvement Act of l970 was passed. The act continued the authority of the states to set standards of water quality and the authority of the FWPCA to approve such standards. Congress, however, chose not to include any new provisions regarding standards or treatment levels.

Deciding that the battle for secondary treatment in municipal wastewater plants would best be fought on another stage, the FWPCA stepped back and issued a new construction grant regulation (36 FR 13029) in July 1971 that called for primary treatment as the minimum level of treatment:

To be eligible for a grant, a project must be designed to result in an operable treatment works, or part thereof, which will treat or stabilize sewage or industrial wastes of a liquid nature in order to abate, control, or prevent water pollution . . . such treatment or stabilization shall consist of at least primary treatment, or its equivalent, resulting in the substantially complete removal of settleable solids.

—FWPCA Construction Grant Regulation, July 1971 (36 FR 13029)

After the FWPCA was reorganized out of existence, USEPA aggressively picked up the secondary treatment torch. In June 1972, prior to the passage of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1972 in October, the Agency issued regulations that required grant projects to conform to secondary treatment requirements that included the removal of 85 percent of BOD5 from POTW influent.

The Agency ruled that secondary treatment could be waived only for projects that:

• Discharged wastes to open ocean waters through an ocean outfall if such discharges would not adversely affect the open ocean waters and adjoining shores, and receive primary treatment before discharge.

• Treated or controlled combined sewer overflows if such projects were consistent with river basins or metropolitan plans to meet approved water quality standards.

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