Wastewater: Court Ruling Against EPA Opens Door to Wet Weather Treatment Policy Revisions

WEWJA WWTPIn a unanimous opinion released on March 25, 2013, the Eighth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals repudiated EPA’s attempts to revise rules concerning wet weather permitting and compliance options available to the municipal wastewater facilities (Iowa League of Cities (“the League”) v. EPA, No. 11-3412 (8th Cir. 2013). This is a major victory for municipal interests across the country in that the Court ruled that the EPA illegally revised rules that attempted to prohibit wet weather treatment options (blending).

This legal opinion ends a protracted battle over EPA’s authority to dictate wastewater plant design. The Court found EPA’s blending prohibition was both procedurally and substantively improper as it was “irreconcilable with both the secondary treatment rule and the bypass rule” and “exceeded EPA’s statutory authority” under the Clean Water Act. The Court decision prohibits EPA from regulating blending in the future.

KLH Engineers, Inc. has been at the forefront as an industry leader in the development of wastewater treatment processes that economically and reliably treat peak wet weather wastewater flows generated in sanitary or combined sewer systems, including blending.  KLH Engineers, Inc. has designed three PA DEP permitted WWTP’s that successfully utilize the effluent “blending” concept to achieve NPDES water quality requirements.  KLH was an innovator in the conceptual development of this nationally recognized wet weather treatment process including the mathematical models utilized in the WWTP design and operational protocol.

The “blending” concept and associated mathematical models were so innovative that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) consulted with KLH Engineers to develop an understanding of the process. At the time there was a belief that our input would lead to a change in the regulation. That change would be forced on the EPA through the court system.

  • The “blending” treatment process provides the following advantages in treating peak wet weather flows (PWWF).
  • Eliminates grossly oversize process units required to treat PWWF that occur normally less than 2% of the time,
  • Eliminates the difficulty and complexity in operating grossly oversized WWTP’s during normal dry weather flow periods,
  • Significantly reduces the capital costs associated with constructing grossly oversized facility,
  • Protects the biological portion of the WWTP from loss of biota and the subsequent degradation in effluent water quality,
  • Provides significant improvement in WWTP effluent water quality during dry and “normal” wet weather flows  thus improving water quality in the discharge stream and providing the operational staff with a margin of safety for NPDES water quality compliance,
  • Potentially can eliminate construction of wastewater storage basins which are costly,  not utilized 98% of the time, create septic and cold wastewater when utilized ,  require labor intensive  clean up after use,  can create odors,  require significant capital outlay while adding  no WWTP design capacity and  create significant  environmental impact as to  land use, location, construction,  odors, and noise.