2014 Briefing Recap: Great Lakes Wastewater Infrastructure

On Monday, June 23, 2014, the NEMWI hosted a Capitol Hill briefing, entitled “How to keep the waste out of the Great Lakes: Regional challenges and successes in wastewater infrastructure,” on challenges and innovations for wastewater infrastructure in the Great Lakes region. The Great Lakes Task Force co-chairs, Sens. Carl Levin (MI) and Mark Kirk (IL), and Reps. Candice Miller (MI-10), John Dingell (MI-12), Sean Duffy (WI-07) and Louise Slaughter (NY-25), served as honorary co-sponsors of the briefings. Joel Brammeier, Executive Director for the Great Lakes Alliance, provided background on the many issues in the Great Lakes that stem from declining infrastructure, including combined sewer overflows, closed beaches, and algal blooms. He also discussed federal funding resources for water infrastructure projects, including Clean Water State Revolving Funds (funded at $1.45 B in FY2014) that are the main source for gray infrastructure projects, like upgrades in wastewater treatment plant technology, storage facilities, and pipes. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative does not fund gray infrastructure but does provide support for green infrastructure projects, such as rain gardens, and restored green spaces. Darnella Robertson, Manager of Government Affairs for the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, discussed the background of the Sewer District, their Consent Decree in 2010 requiring them to improve their infrastructure, and the high costs and limited sources of revenue available to them. She also noted that improvements in policy could help municipalities, such as additional flexibility in payments and infrastructure options. The Sewer District estimated the cost of complying with the Consent Decree at $3 billion over 30 years, which will include funding for at least 12 green infrastructure projects. Bill Schleizer, Managing Director of the Delta Institute, discussed his work linking rural and urban water users to meet water quality compliance standards. Their work focuses on Wisconsin, where a nutrient trading pilot project may help to decrease the overall costs of compliance by aligning funding and incentives to reduce non-point and point source reduction. He noted these approaches require flexibility and adaptive management in order to implement lessons learned. The speakers closed by stating that grant money for infrastructure is almost non-existent, so flexibility is critical to complying with the required water quality standards.