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House Energy & Commerce Holds HABs Hearing

The House Energy & Environment Subcommittee on Environment & the Economy held a hearing on November 19th to learn more about harmful algal blooms (HABs) and their impacts on drinking water. In general, Committee members from both sides of the aisle, U.S. EPA, and the panel of witnesses drawn from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, AWWA, and Clean Water Action all agreed that issues surrounding HABS — ranging from causes and contributing factors to prevention and cleanup — need to be addressed now. Grants and the DWSRF were both mentioned as sources of funds to support these efforts. The issue is complex and the solutions must be comprehensive and engage Federal, state, and local partners in agriculture, wastewater, and health. Highlights of the hearing and the principal points of the panelists were as follows:

  • U.S. EPA is invested in ongoing research into two of the three most prevalent algal toxins — microcystins and cylindrospermopsins — and expects to finalize health advisories for them in early 2015. Other efforts, including use of the Contaminant Candidate List (CCL) and Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR) to gather and analyze more data, are underway to advance our understanding of these HABs.
  • Ohio EPA’s representative described their proactive approach to HABs and reiterated their position that a national approach is needed to resolve HABs problems. Such an approach should focus on: health effects, detection, additional ecological research, and treatment. Ohio EPA also called on state and Federal leaders to begin now to find effective ways to address nutrient pollution.
  •  AWWA highlighted the connection between HABs and nutrient overloads in water bodies. While there is technology available to remove HABs from drinking water, the technology is expensive to install; complex to use; and still does not address the adverse effects on upstream ecosystems. AWWA said that water utilities need Federal help and called on the Federal family to make nutrient removal a higher priority for both the wastewater and agricultural communities.
  • Clean Water Action urged the Committee to support “aggressive action to reduce the nitrogen and phosphorus pollution that causes Harmful Algal Blooms, which in turn produce cyanotoxins.” Trying to manage this escalating pollution problem solely through the Safe Drinking Water Act is inadequate and unfairly transfers pollution cleanup responsibilities to drinking water utilities.

The Committee Chair and the Director of Ohio EPA both referenced and expressed appreciation for ASDWA’s letter to the Committee (see attached) which highlighted a number of future actions needed, at all levels, relative to the causes and effects of HABs.

You may view the hearing and download testimony and other relevant documents from the House Energy & Commerce webpage at http://energycommerce.house.gov/hearing/cyanotoxins-drinking-water.

Attachment — Letter of Comment on HABs Hearing before House (11-14-14)