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May 17, 2022  |  Written by Michelle E. Chester

Draft Statewide Sanitary Sewer System General Order Proposes New Requirements for Spill Prevention and Reporting

The California State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) is in the process of revising the Statewide General Waste Discharge Requirements for Sanitary Sewer Systems, Water Quality Order No. 2006-0003 (SSS WDR General Order), which establishes a regulatory program to address sanitary sewer overflows. A sanitary sewer overflow (SSO) is any overflow, spill, release, discharge, or diversion of untreated or partially treated wastewater from a sanitary sewer system. For a variety of reasons, sanitary sewer systems experience periodic failures resulting in SSOs that may reach surface and ground waters, potentially impacting public health and aquatic life. The existing order takes a proactive approach to ensure public entities that own or operate sanitary sewer systems of a certain size that collect and convey wastewater to a publicly owned treatment facility in the State have a system-wide operation, maintenance, and management plan in place to reduce the number and frequency of SSOs. The order also includes prohibitions and comprehensive reporting requirements.

Following a series of workshops to receive stakeholder input on the proposed reissuance of the existing SSS WDR General Order, the State Water Board released an Informal Staff Draft of revisions to the order in February of 2021 that proposed new requirements related to spill prevention and reporting. The Informal Staff Draft included notable increases in the regulatory scope of the SSS WDR General Order, such as discretionary regulation of privately owned sanitary sewer systems or sewer laterals and prohibition of any SSO from a system, as opposed to only those that reach Waters of the United States and those that create a nuisance.

State Water Board staff released a revised Proposed SSS WDR General Order in January 2022 that incorporated stakeholder input. While the proposed order was seen as a significant improvement over the Informal Staff Draft, regulated stakeholders have remaining concerns regarding expanded reporting requirements, prohibitions, and definitions. In general, the regulated community comments seek to reduce the substantial time and resources required to come into compliance if the proposed SSS WDR General Order is adopted without significant changes. Many comments address the expanded requirements for the Sewer System Management Plan (SSMP), a document required by the order that describes management activities used to manage a wastewater collection system and reduce SSOs. Notably, the Proposed SSS WDR General Order does not specify a date to execute or otherwise comply with the new or expanded elements for the SSMP—which could cause regulated agencies to be out of compliance with the proposed order as of the date it is adopted. Regulated stakeholders requested that the reissuance of the SSS WDR General Order be at least 180 days after the adoption of the order by the State Water Board to allow agencies time to update their SSMP to reflect the new and expanded requirements.

The State Water Board accepted oral and written comments on the Proposed SSS WDR General Order during a 60-day comment period that ended on April 8, 2022. The Central Valley Clean Water Association (CVCWA)—represented by Somach Simmons & Dunn—in cooperation with the California Association of Sanitation Agencies (CASA), the Bay Area Clean Water Agencies (BACWA), and the Southern California Alliance of Publicly-Owned Treatment Works (SCAP) worked with State Water Board staff to provide thorough comments on the proposed order that reflect first-hand knowledge of sewer system operations. As CVCWA and others noted in their submitted comments, the 60-day comment period was insufficient time to review and provide comments on all changes made in the Proposed SSS WDR General Order compared to the existing order. Accordingly, CVCWA and others requested that the State Water Board staff provide responses to the most recent round of comments and issue a revised Proposed SSS WDR for additional public review and comment before the order is presented to the State Water Board for consideration of adoption.

The State Water Board staff is currently in the process of reviewing comments. At this time there is no information from State Water Board staff if they intend to make additional revisions or whether any revisions will be made available for public comment before the order is submitted to the State Water Board for consideration. All drafts of the SSS WDR General Order and other relevant program information are available here.

For additional information, please contact water quality attorney Michelle Chester at mchester@somachlaw.com.

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