EPA to toughen sewer standards;  cities' cost: $100Billion

Tuesday, January 9, 2001

Washington Post News Service

WASHINGTON -- To protect the nation's beaches, lakes, and streams from raw sewage discharges, the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed new regulations that would require municipalities to make up to $100 billion in improvements to eliminate all but the most unavoidable overflows.

Each year, heavy rains cause 40,000 overflows of municipal sewage systems nationally, washing polluted runoff into waterways and posing a variety of health hazards, such as gastrointestinal distress and nausea. The sewage also promotes toxic algae and can harm aquatic life.

"Our real goal with this rule is to direct tens of billions of dollars to new investment in water infrastructure throughout the country," said EPA Assistant Administrator J. Charles Fox. "Too many beaches in America must be closed due to contamination by raw sewage that threatens public health. Overflowing sewers are the major contributors to this problem."

The rules must be approved by the new Bush administration.

Currently, the federal government contributes about 30 percent of the $12 billion annual costs of maintaining and improving the systems nationwide. States pay about 20 percent, with municipalities shouldering the remainder.

Local governments, however, are often hard-pressed to afford the remedies for aging and failing sewage plants.

The new rules proposed by the EPA also would clarify how municipalities should prevent sewer overflows and require that health agencies and the public be informed of potential health threats when an overflow occurs.

The proposed EPA regulations also would require satellite waste systems -- sewage systems that feed into municipal plants -- to have EPA permits and to show that they are complying with the new regulations.