Legislative Preview, EPA Rule Package, WEAT Logo & Website

All Under the Same Texas Heat

In this issue of Texas WET, I have applause and apologies to pass out. For those of you that are Texans by choice or by birth, good on you for staying here or getting here as soon as you could. And, I’m sorry! I’m sorry that with the beauty, diversity, and abundance of opportunity in our state, the tradeoff for many of us is enduring the searing heat of Texas summertime. For those of you that are hunkering down for hot summertime and the initial weeks of hurricane season, I hope you enjoy this latest issue of Texas WET and peruse all of our summertime conferences, symposiums, seminars, and webinars that are all conducted in air-conditioning!

As mentioned in the previous issue, the primaries didn’t offer the fireworks that some anticipated. Similarly, the party primary run-off results were somewhat predictable. The run-off elections were held on May 22 and the turnout was very low with 2.8% or slightly less than 500,000 of Texas’ 21.3 million adults of voting age casting a ballot. Some statewide primary runoff results to note are as follows:

  • Governor: Democrat Lupe Valdez received 53% of the vote to defeat Andrew White
  • State House of Representatives: Republican; There were 7 run-off elections with one incumbent beaten, Scott Kosper of Killeen who was defeated by Brad Buckley. One candidate endorsed by Empower Texans, Deanna Metzger, won her run-off election. The other winners were Bell, Harris, Leman, Smith, and Allison.
  • State House of Representatives: Democratic; There were 7 run-off elections. One incumbent was beaten – Rene Oliveira. The other winners were Cole, Goodwin, Zwiener, Sherman and Schexnayder.

One change that will be noticed in the interim and throughout the 86th Legislative Session is Rusty Smith’s departure as the Senate Committee Director on Agriculture, Water, and Rural Affairs. His successor, Katherine Thigpen, was previously employed with the TWDB and is not new to water issues in the state.

The interim Committee hearing schedules, some of which will have already passed by the time you are reading this, include:

House Natural Resources Committee (HNRC)

  • Wednesday, May 23rd
    Location: San Saba, TX
    Interim Charge #3 - Emerging issues in groundwater and surface water interaction, in particular in areas of increasing competition for scarce resources. (San Saba River issues related to Rep. Murr's bill heard in subcommittee during the session)
  • Tuesday, June 4th-5th
    Location: Mack Dick Group Pavilion at Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Canyon TX
    Interim Charge #3 - groundwater issues
    *Planning on a tour on Tuesday and having the hearing Wednesday, June 6th.
  • Tuesday, September 11-12th
    Location: Brownsville, TX
    Interim Charge #9 - water development opportunities with neighboring states and Mexico, Interim Charge #6 - CCN decertification process, and Interim Charge #3(d) - consideration of the service area of a water supplier when groundwater resources are allocated based on surface ownership
    *Planning on a tour on Tuesday and having the hearing Wednesday, September 12th.
  • Wednesday, September 26th
    Interim Charge #3 (g) - Emerging issues in groundwater and surface water interaction, in particular in areas of increasing competition for scarce resources. (TWDB testimony on the ongoing hydrogeologic study concerning Val Verde County, the Devils River, and San Felipe Springs)
  • Wednesday, October 18th
    Location: Baylor University, Waco, TX
    Interim Charge #4 - water markets, Interim charge #7 - WAMs
  • Wednesday, November 14th
    Location: Austin, TX
    Interim Charge #5 - water awareness, Interim charge #8 - deteriorated and abandoned wells, Interim Charge #10 - monitor agencies and oversee implementation of relevant legislation passed by the 85th Legislature

Senate Committee on Agricultural Water and Rural Affairs (SCAWR)

  • Monday, June 4th
    Location: Austin
    Interim Charge #2 - Study regulatory framework of Groundwater Conservation Districts and River Authorities.
    Interim Charge #3 - Reviewing licensing and fees associated with agricultural industry.
  • Tuesday, June 5th
    Location: Austin
    Interim Charge #1 - Streamlining Water Permitting
    Interim Charge #4 - Monitoring the implementation of legislation addressed by the SAWR Committee during the 85th Regular Session.

It is likely that the SCWRA Committee and House Environmental Affairs Committee will have completed their committee hearing schedule by early summer 2018. If you would like to review the 2017 Interim Charges including the special Harvey related charges, as well as Committee meeting schedules, please go to WEAT’s website at https://www.weat.org/legislative-issues .

Regulatory Issues

WEAT will continue to monitor and track the Chapter 312 Biosolids rulewriting process as we move from informal comment period, to TCEQ concept memo sign-off, and finally to a timeline and formal call for comments. WEAT is looking forward to providing comments to address clarity, readability, regulation of domestic septage, and when it’s permissible to add grit and grease to biosolids. Our informal comments can be viewed by going to WEAT’s website at https://www.weat.org/advocacy and then clicking on Regulatory Affairs button. How we treat and land apply this valuable soil amendment has been and will continue to be a pressing issue for WEAT members as seen within the Texas Legislature and changing regulation at the TCEQ. We look forward to providing formal comments likely in October or November of 2018.

WEAT also recently provided comments as requested by the EPA on the Clean Water Act Coverage of Discharges of Pollutants via a direct Hydrologic Connection to Surface Water, or, more succinctly referred to as Groundwater Discharge. Essentially, we have a few examples of case law that point to a broader interpretation of the CWA whereby indirect point source discharge that mixes with groundwater could be subject to enforcement or require a permit. Maui in the 9th circuit showed through use of dye that dye in the discharge reached the Pacific Ocean. It is no surprise that there was a connect the dots hydrological theory at play. What the real question should be, and that which WEAT provided in comment, is does this have a consequence on NPDES expansion and bring previously non-jurisdictional waters under the program?

Many in the regulated community, including WEAT, took the position that this was an expansion of the CWA beyond what Congress had intended when passing the act – so, beyond the scope to what the NPDES program intended. So, contrary to the Ninth Circuit’s holding in the Maui Case, many utilities and those in the regulated community say the scope of the CWA and the NPDES program simply does not extend to groundwater, sheet flow, or releases that are not directly discharged into Waters of the United States. There will likely be a both a judicial and a regulatory track to this and may be headed eventually to the US supreme court. EPA may release a rule proposal to address this but we haven’t heard anything definitive to this end.

Also recently announced by the EPA is a forthcoming rule package regarding blending practices at resource recovery facilities. Blending practices in times of heavy rain were especially scrutinized during the previous administration. Their position was that blending constituted bypassing secondary treatment, which is expressly prohibited under the CWA. However, with an 8th circuit ruling in the Iowa League of Cities case striking down the Obama interpretation, blending rules were unevenly interpreted based on being in the 8th circuit or not. So, this rule will clarify how all 50 states consider blending practices, and during which type of events mixing zones are allowable. WEAT encourages all of our members and utilities to engage on this issue and provide input.

New Look and New Website
If you have not already noticed, WEAT’s image and website has been updated to match our consistent push to be the leader and source for information in the water quality industry. We’re excited to continue to make live a number of webpages that speak specifically to some of the needs our members’ voiced:

  • A Public information page providing information to Texas rate payers on the value of water and investing in infrastructure;
  • A Job Bank page for members only that allows for posting and perusing in an effort to connect the dots of workforce needs and industry job seekers;
  • Committee pages devoted to archiving and chronicling individual committee activities;
  • A user-friendly and fully integrated database allowing for easier membership renewal and conference registration flows;
  • And pages devoted to our stakeholders including YPs, Operators, and those interested in the latest and greatest in the regulatory and legislative arenas impacting resource recovery facilities.

Please peruse, click around, and let us know what you like, as well as improvements that can be made or information that can be added. I look forward to receiving your feedback and continuing to incorporate your suggestions. What you do is critically important work; and WEAT exists to serve you and facilitate your life-sustaining work. Our website is a tool that’s intended to aid your work through educating the public, engaging the water quality industry, and advocating on issues of importance to the water quality industry! Looking forward to seeing you at our next event and hearing your feedback on how we can improve our site to assist you in your work.

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