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Whether intended or not, the Clean Water Act established high public expectations for water quality, namely that all water bodies should be “fishable and swimmable” all of the time. There is a growing recognition, however, that the cost of achieving this goal (everywhere and all of the time) is not feasible. Furthermore, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Congress recently recognized that the gap between available funding and wastewater infrastructure needs for the next 20 years ranges between 1.5 to 13.6 billion per year (EPA, 2002). Capital costs to reduce sewer overflows are likely to exceed 140 billion (EPA, 2003a). Eventually, the public will need to acknowledge that the rising costs of wastewater management require a shift in our expectation that all waters should be swimmable all of the time, and an increased willingness to pay for wastewater improvements.

This paper explores the current state of six areas of wastewater permitting that establish levels of pollutant control for municipal discharges. These are: (1) water quality standards; (2) the Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) Policy; (3) a proposed sanitary sewer overflow (SSO) rule; (4) effluent blending; (5) Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs); and (6) watershed-based permitting. The role of water quality standards in setting policies for wet weather discharges is presented first, along with an update on advances being considered in the standards program. For the CSO Policy, information will be presented on how communities, EPA, and state regulatory agencies have struggled to fully implement the policy over the last 10 years. An update is provided on where the proposed SSO Rule stands and the remaining issues associated with its issuance. Because blending can be an integral part of wet weather flow management, a summary of the controversy associated with the proposed national blending policy is presented. For TMDLs, the implications of wet weather TMDLs on NPDES permit conditions is presented. Finally, some proposed approaches for developing watershedbased permits that recognize progress in controlling sewer overflows are identified.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2004-01-01

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