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Ammonia-Nitrogen Wastewater Concerns Reach the State Senate

VACo is closely following two bills introduced by Senator Mark Peake that seek to help localities mitigate the anticipated impacts on localities and wastewater authorities of the Environment Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2013 water quality criteria for guidance – if the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality DEQ adopts these criteria as they are currently proposing. If adopted, this new guidance would reduce the ammonia-nitrogen limits in wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) to approximately half of the level currently allowed, requiring major, highly expensive upgrades to hundreds of WWTPs across the Commonwealth that are neither designed nor constructed to meet these new levels.

According to a recent engineering study, this change cost their owners $512 million in capital construction as well as an additional $34 million in operating costs. The study estimates that 590 treatment plants would be impacted, though the Virginia Department of Planning and Budget has estimated 370 plants would be impacted.  While the impacts will be felt across the state, this burden falls most heavily on smaller treatment plants in Southside, West, and far Southwest Virginia.

Senator Peake has introduced two bills that seek to mitigate this potential harm as well as more adequately prepare to implement such guidance in the future. First, SB 344 (Peake) directs the State Water Control Board not to adopt the new criteria until all other states in EPA Regions III and IV have done so, unless the EPA Administrator informs the Commonwealth in writing that such timing is unlawful under the federal Clean Water Act. SB 340 (Peake) seeks to amend the Water Quality Improvement Fund (WQIF) guidelines to establish a grant funding priority (if funds were later appropriated) for the related construction of treatment plant upgrades.

SB 344 reported out of Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee, 8-7, while SB 340 reported out unanimously, 15-0.

VACo Contact: Chris McDonald, Esq.

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