Free webinar to help water utilities on legal aspects of COVID-19 AWWA is offering a complimentary webinar on Monday, April 6, from 11 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. MT entitled 'Legal Aspects of COVID-19 for Water Utilities.' The rapidly evolving issues that the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is bringing to water utilities across the nation are also impacting various legal aspects of their operations. This webinar will cover the legal aspects of enforcement and compliance issues; discretionary changes under consent orders; procurement, contracting and force majeure issues; and water utility employee health and safety related issues. Learn from this webinar's esteemed presenters: Randal Brown, Esq; General Counsel; Great Lakes Water Authority Marcia Reuben; Vice President, Quality and Compliance; Inframark Andrew Stewart, Esq; Counsel; Sidley Austin LLP EPA issues temporary compliance policy for rules On March 26, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a temporary policy regarding agency enforcement of environmental legal obligations during the COVID-19 pandemic. While individual states oversee the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and other environmental statutes relevant to the sector, EPA recognizes that enforcement discretion may be warranted. The policy, released by Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Susan Bodine, clearly signals to states that every effort should be made to remain wholly compliant with SDWA requirements. In the event COVID-19 interferes with meeting that goal, the memo states maintaining disinfection of water is a federal priority, along with certain other rules. Utilities should thoroughly document the reasons for any noncompliance and maintain communications with regulators, the agency said. Water sector looks to fourth stimulus package U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, speaking along with U.S. Reps. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., and Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., in a conference call with reporters this week, said they want to include funding for low-income water customers and infrastructure investment in a proposed fourth stimulus bill to help the nation recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Pallone is the chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which has jurisdiction over drinking water policy, and DeFazio is chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which has jurisdiction over wastewater policy. At present, lawmakers are looking at $25 billion for the drinking water arena, with funding primarily going to the state revolving loan fund program and to measures to address per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). This group of House leaders is also proposing $50 billion for Clean Water Act measures such as that state revolving loan fund program, energy and water-efficient technologies, sewer overflows, stormwater, and industrial chemicals including PFAS. The water community has had recent discussions with congressional staff about including recovery and stimulus provisions for the water sector in a fourth stimulus bill, including assistance to water utilities suffering in the economic downturn. However, the latter discussion is in early stages. The first three stimulus bills were enacted quickly. They primarily addressed the agencies directly fighting COVID-19 -- sick leave, payroll taxes, unemployment benefits and loans or grants to help businesses in distress. During negotiations for the third stimulus bill , Pelosi circulated a draft bill of her own that included provisions to assist low-income water customers. However, the Senate logjam broke and that third bill became law. The water community sent a joint letter to Congress seeking assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic. EPA asks public not to flush wipes EPA has issued a public appeal for people to avoid flushing disinfecting wipes or similar items, particularly during this time of heightened awareness of contamination risks. The press release notes, “Preventable toilet and sewer backups can pose a threat to human health and present an extra challenge to our water utilities and their workforce. Flushing anything other than toilet paper, including disinfecting wipes, can damage internal plumbing, local sewer systems and septic systems. Fixing these backups is costly and takes time and resources away from ensuring that wastewater management systems are otherwise working properly.” Deadline approaching for source water, forestry plans The June deadline is approaching for water utilities to submit their source water protection concerns and needs to state foresters and their committees. Every state is required to have a Forest Action Plan to help focus federal and state resources on forestry needs throughout the state. Originally developed on or before 2010, these plans require an update for the first time by mid-2020. As part of these action plans, utilities are encouraged to communicate their forestry-related source water protection needs. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many state offices are physically closed, but key contacts are still reachable by phone or email. The National Association of State Foresters has a contact list for those in charge of each state’s forestry plan and additional information about the state forestry plan update process. Contact Adam Carpenter in the AWWA Washington, D.C. office for any questions. USGS broadens groundwater data The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) announced Thursday it has expanded the water quality information it can provide from 11 to 15 of the nation’s most heavily used aquifers. USGS explained, “In addition to summary fact sheets previously released for 11 principal aquifers, fact sheets are now available for the Columbia-Plateau basaltic-rock aquifers (northwestern U.S.), the High Plains aquifer (western U.S.), the Ozark Plateaus aquifer system (central U.S.), and the Biscayne aquifer (southeastern U.S.).” The agency is studying 1,100 samples of untreated groundwater that serve as public water supplies. About half the U.S. population relies on groundwater for drinking water.