National Association of Counties
Washington, D.C.

 Ability to pay, new factor in Clean Water Act compliance

By Julie Ufner

EPA has directed its regional offices to consider local financial capacity when developing compliance schedules in order to meet Clean Water Act (CWA) responsibilities. EPA announced a CWA “affordability dialogue” with local governments to its regional offices Jan. 18.

EPA’s memorandum to the regional offices was coupled with a document EPA has titled, “EPA’s Dialogue with Local Government Financial Capability Framework.”

Bullet Click here to read a copy of the EPA Financial Capability Framework memo.

The framework clarifies how a community’s financial capabilities will be considered when developing compliance schedules to meet CWA responsibilities.  Since 2009, local governments have raised serious concerns about the high cost of compliance with several CWA requirements and enforcement actions, such as those in wet weather overflows and storm water management.

The dialogue between local governments and the EPA will play an important role in determining how local governments will invest in water infrastructure, provide essential water and wastewater services, while achieving CWA goals.

“NACo applauds EPA’s acknowledgement that the input of county leaders is critical to achieving the shared goals of the Clean Water Act,” said NACo President Chris Rodgers. “A reasonable balance between the costs to taxpayers and ratepayers, and compliance with CWA regulations must be considered as we work to protect and improve water quality in communities across the country.”

Within the dialogue, EPA and local government representatives (including those from NACo) will focus on the following topics associated with how a community’s financial capability is assessed and considered when developing schedules to meet CWA objectives:

  • how to expand the use of benchmark indicators of household, community and utility affordability such as increasing arrearages, late payments, disconnection notices, service terminations and uncollectable accounts
  • how to meet the obligations of the CWA by utilizing flexibilities in the statute and implementing regulations to prioritize necessary investments
  • how rate structures present both limitations and opportunities
  • how innovative financing tools, including public-private partnerships, are related to affordability
  • how to facilitate consistent policy implementation at EPA Regional Offices, and
  • how other community factors, including obligations under the Safe Drinking Water Act, should be considered when developing appropriate compliance schedules.

NACo, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National League of Cities are directly involved in these conversations with EPA.

NACo welcomes feedback from its members on both the scope of EPA’s affordability dialogue and specific county examples on CWA obligations and their associated costs.