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EPA Hosts Summit on Clean Water Act Implementation

On April 15th, EPA convened a diverse group of stakeholders to attend a summit entitled, “Coming Together for Clean Water”, in Washington, D.C.  A diverse and prestigious group of stakeholders attended, including Administrator Lisa Jackson and past EPA administrators William Reilly and William Ruckelshaus.  The ASDWA representatives in attendance were Mike Baker (OH), Jill Jonas (WI), and Jim Taft (ASDWA).  The purpose of the summit was to both take stock of where we’ve collectively come in implementing the Act over the past 38 years, but, more importantly, to brainstorm about ideas for improving implementation of the Act and coming closer to obtaining the original goals of the Act —  to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.”

The summit began with some introductory remarks from several speakers.  Among the most memorable were those from a small town mayor (Mayor Adam Ortiz of Edmunton, MD), based on his experiences in implementing sustainable growth practices (e.g., modifying the town’s approach to handling wet weather flows):

  • Sustainable solutions are achievable, even though the challenges often seem daunting.
  • Part of the solution lies in breaking down false divisions that stand in the way of integrated solutions.  Policies, agendas, and local interests need to be aligned, to the extent possible.
  • Sustainable solutions need to be “sold” as responsible, long term solutions — so that, over time, best practices piloted on a small scale basis become common practices used widely.
  • Leaders need to lead and be willing to lay out a vision of a sustainable future with long term benefits.

The attendees were then subdivided into breakout discussion groups on “Healthy Watersheds” and “Sustainable Communities.”   A wrap-up summary that synthesized much of the discussion over the course of the day was provided by Bob Perciasepe, EPA’s Deputy Administator, and included the following points:

  • A great deal has been accomplished under the Act over the past several decades, but we’re collectively “treading water” to a certain extent – we need to build on the gains we’ve achieved thus far and do more to realize the goals of the Act.  A big “step forward” is needed at this stage.
  • We need to look at the various aspects of Clean Water Act (CWA) implementation in an integrated, holistic way.  We can’t solve one problem at the expense of another.
  • Framing our strategies and solutions in the context of watershed and placed-based approaches offer the best opportunity for breaking out of silos and achieving truly integrated solutions.
  • There is a great deal of flexibility inherent in existing CWA tools (e.g., TMDLs, NPDES permits, etc.) that we can better utilize to fashion creative solutions.
  • Everything we do needs to be transparent and communicated clearly to interested stakeholders and the general public.
  • EPA plans to reach out to other Federal partners and states to have further dialogue about the various topics discussed in the summit.
  • In the coming months, EPA plans to roll out a framework for action that builds on the various ideas offered at the summit as well as from their additional outreach.