News Briefs: Senate Passes $9B Water Infrastructure Bill

In this week’s news briefs, Flint, Michigan, and other communities dealing with lead issues will benefit from a federal bill, and a Maryland utility’s water rate structure is called out for being discriminatory.
News Briefs: Senate Passes $9B Water Infrastructure Bill

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A $9 billion water infrastructure bill is onto the House after being passed by the U.S. Senate this week.

According to an article in the Washington Examiner, the bill includes $220 million to help handle the lead contamination issue in Flint, Michigan, and other communities dealing with the same challenge. The bill had wide bipartisan support in the Senate. It was introduced by Senators Barbara Boxer, a Democrat from California, and James M. Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma.

The bill, known as the Water Resources Development Act, comes around every two years, and rather than appropriating new tax dollars, maps out projects that need to be addressed when lawmakers do appropriate money. A majority of the bill — about $5 billion — is earmarked for infrastructure the Army Corps of Engineers maintains, such as ports, dams, locks, levies and canals. The $220 million package makes $100 million available to any state experiencing a drinking water emergency, $70 million for loans to upgrade water infrastructure, and $50 million for health programs to address and prevent the effects of lead exposure.

Source: Washington Examiner

Judge Deems Water Utility’s Rate Structure Discriminatory Against Larger Households
A judge has ruled that Maryland’s largest water utility has a pricing structure that discriminates against larger households.

According to an article in the Washington Post, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), which services about 1.8 million people in a two-county area, has a 16-tier pricing structure that encourages conservation. The more water customers consume, the more they have to pay per gallon. But whereas some utilities may charge customers a higher rate only for the number of gallons they use after reaching a more expensive tier, the WSSC charges customers the higher rate for the entirety of their water usage.

The legal case began in July 2015 when a WSSC customer filed a complaint with the Maryland Public Service Commission. He argued that the rate structure discriminated against households with three or more people because they could be charged nearly twice as much per 1,000 gallons as customers who live alone.

The judge’s decision is only a “proposed order” and does not require the WSSC to change its rate structure. A utility spokesperson said though, that the WSSC is reviewing its rates in light of the case and other complaints.

Source: Washington Post

EPA Developing Regulation Requiring Public Notice of Great Lakes CSO Discharges
A new U.S. EPA regulation being developed will require utilities to provide public notice of any CSO discharges into the Great Lakes.

“The public can’t have too much information about it,” Michigan Congresswoman Candice Miller said in support of the regulation, according to a Michigan Public Radio report. “I’m suggesting that you have dates and times of discharge, and where the discharge is happening, and how much volume of discharge. You have all kinds of health implications, you’ve got beach closures, and impact on our water supply.”

Miller is also encouraging that more be done to prevent CSOs in the first place like separating sewer systems, noting that there are 184 communities in the Great Lakes region with combined collections systems. She says the EPA should be tougher on repeat offenders who fail to separate their systems, such as making them ineligible for federal grants.

Source: Michigan Public Radio

Trench Collapse Kills Sewer Worker in South Carolina
A worker in Camden, South Carolina, was killed last week in a trench collapse while working on a sewer project.

According to a report in the Chronicle-Independent, Juan Tenalozo, 25, was working in a 7-foot-deep ditch when it collapsed. Tenalozo was not covered, but blunt force trauma from the impact of the collapsing soil killed him, officials determined. A second worker was able to escape without injury.

Tenalozo worked for Northeast Backflow, a subcontractor hired by a general contractor heading up a water and sewer infrastructure upgrade for the city of Camden. City Manager Mel Pearson told the Chronicle-Independent nobody with the general contractor, Carolina Tap and Bore, was on site at the time of the accident and that Northeast Backflow did not install proper trench safety measures.

“We do know they were absolutely negligent,” Pearson says. “There is no reason whatsoever for that to have happened. They should not have been in that hole.”

OSHA is investigating the incident.

Source: Chronicle-Independent


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