Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Alliance Report On Great Lakes CSOs & CWSRF Funding

Jun 19: A new report by the Alliance for the Great Lakes (Alliance), Reducing Combined Sewer Overflows in the Great Lakes: Why Investing in Infrastructure is Critical to Improving Water Quality, looks at the success of the Federal Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) in helping finance the projects, and reminds that the fund's future is critical to keeping Great Lakes water clean. A subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to consider funding for the vital program as soon as Wednesday. The House Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies meets June 20, at 1 PM, to consider the FY2013 Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill. The Subcommittee mark up will not be webcast.
    The Alliance indicates that drenching spring and summer downpours often overwhelm municipal wastewater treatment plants and spill billions of gallons of raw sewage and stormwater into the Great Lakes. In response, communities are upgrading aging sewage infrastructure and pipes, separating combined sewer systems that allow stormwater to mix with household wastewater, and adding rooftop greenery, rain gardens and other green infrastructure. Such solutions are costly, however, and can be tough to finance even in strong economic times. The CWSRF provides low-interest loans and flexible financing to help local governments carry out much-needed wastewater management projects and innovative green infrastructure development. Since its inception in 1987, the fund benefitted from a $33.5 billion investment from the Federal government and provided $89.5 billion in loans to states for municipal wastewater facilities, nonpoint-source pollution control and estuary management projects. For every Federal dollar appropriated, states contribute 20 cents. The fund grows as a result of principal repayment, interest earnings and proceeds from leveraging the loans.
    The Alliance indicates that recently, "the CWSRF was funded at a higher level than much of the 2000s, but the annual allocation of Federal funds to the program have decreased since 2011 and another cut is proposed for 2013. These decreases come at a time when public support for Federal funding of Great Lakes restoration is high." A poll released earlier this month by the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition found 72 percent of Ohio voters support continued federal funding of Great Lakes restoration, and 54 percent reject the idea that the Great Lakes should take a budget cut. Lyman Welch, Alliance Water Quality Program director and co-author of the study said, "Investments in wastewater infrastructure create jobs, save money and are a solid use of taxpayer dollars at a time when the nation needs to make smart choices. If we don't make these investments today, it will cost us more tomorrow."
    The Alliance points out that in 2011 alone, some 18.7 billion gallons of combined sewage and stormwater was dumped into the Great Lakes by seven of the basin's largest dischargers. The bacteria, viruses and other pathogens in untreated sewage pose a significant health risk and often contribute to Great Lakes beach closings. These closings come at a cost to local economies, with some studies showing the value of a beach trip to range from $20-$36 per person, per day. At the same time, investment in the Great Lakes' overall health is more than a safe bet: a 2007 Brookings Institution study reported a $2 return on every $1 invested.
    They indicate that the largest sources of combined sewer overflow pollution into the Great Lakes by volume come from the wastewater treatment facilities of the region's biggest municipalities: Detroit, Cleveland and Milwaukee. Chicago also contributes a significant amount, and several smaller municipalities -- Buffalo, NY, Hammond, IN and Toledo, OH, also experience significant overflows. The Alliance report highlights two communities -- Rochester, NY and Grand Rapids, MI -- which, thanks to the CWSRF, have achieved substantial reductions in their CSO volumes.
    Access a release and link to the complete report (click here). Access more information on the Subcommittee meeting (click here).
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Hearings & Comments On Upper Great Lakes Water Levels

Jun 18: The International Joint Commission (IJC) announced that it is inviting public comment on the final report of its International Upper Great Lakes Study Board, Lake Superior Regulation: Addressing Uncertainty in Upper Great Lakes Water Levels. Comments will be accepted at public hearings and by mail, email and on-line until August 31, 2012. In Michigan, hearings are planned for Gross Pointe Farms (July 10) and Holland (July 12).
    The Study examines whether the regulation of outflows from Lake Superior through the compensating works and power dams on the St. Marys River at Sault Ste. Marie might be improved to take into consideration the evolving needs of users on Lakes Superior, Huron, Michigan and Erie. The report also examines the potential future impacts of climate change, a management strategy to better anticipate and respond to future extreme water levels, the feasibility and implications of restoring water levels in lakes Michigan-Huron and multi-lake regulation and its impacts throughout the Great Lakes St-Lawrence system. The report and related supporting documents and peer review are available at the Upper Great Lakes Public Hearings website.

    Access a release from IJC with meeting details throughout the Great Lakes region and commenting details (click here). Access the report, summary and background (click here).

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