AC21 Preview: State Releases Informal Draft Sanitary Sewer System Order

Don't miss the AC21 information session discussing the informal staff draft Statewide Sanitary Sewer System General order on Tuesday, June 8
Alec Mackie, CWEA, Collection Systems

Don’t miss the AC21 information session discussing the informal staff draft Statewide Sanitary Sewer System General order on Tuesday, June 8

In March, the State Water Board released an informal staff draft Statewide Sanitary Sewer System General Order, sometimes referred to as the Update to the Waste Discharge Requirements or “WDR Update.”

The purpose of releasing an informal draft is to facilitate conversations on larger issues and for further refinements of a future formal draft Order.

State Water Board staff is inviting wastewater professionals and other parties to provide informal comments prior to the development of a formal draft Order for a formal comment period. The State Water Board may consider a final formal draft later this year or in early 2022 for adoption and implementation.

CWEA’s Collection System Committee is actively tracking the informal proposal and planning to informally comment. The Committee is your go-to resource for professional growth: technology, training, certifications, leadership opportunities and statewide networking.

CWEA interviewed Diana Messina, P.E., BCEE, Chief of the Surface Water Permitting Section, State Water Board about the informal draft Order. Diana and her team are facilitating online public workshops and other informal stakeholder discussions.

What parts of the informal draft Order are open for discussion versus provided for clarification only?

All parts of the informal document are open for the current intended informal conversations. Additionally, all parts of any further version of the draft Order are open for conversation and scrutiny throughout the entire public Order development process, up through the moment the State Water Board takes an action to adopt the Order.

The informal draft Order will not be presented to the State Water Board for consideration of adoption. After informal comments are discussed, Water Board staff will develop a formal draft Order and establish a public comment period for stakeholders and interested parties to submit formal written comments.

Typically, during the public comment period, the State Water Board holds a public Board hearing to hear oral comments directly from interested party representatives.

After the public comment period end date, all public written comments are considered, and a finalized draft Order is developed for State Water Board consideration of adoption.

Why does the informal order look different from what we discussed in preliminary meetings over the last two years?

During our preliminary stakeholder meetings, Water Board staff presentations contained common, repetitive themes where we discussed the need to address the items now listed in the informal draft Order, including: order clarification; better definitions; enhanced enforceability; resiliency planning and the costs of compliance.

As discussed in our preliminary meetings, preliminary Water Board staff outreach efforts were to gather input from all parties, including but not limited to sanitation agencies. Other interested parties also provided their input. The elements in the informal staff draft Order correspond with the issues we discussed during our outreach meetings.

The informal draft Order also looks different because we’re in 2021. The original SSS WDR was developed and adopted in 2006. Statewide orders today include more information for all interested parties. Additionally, the Monitoring and Reporting Program is currently a separate document. The informal draft Order combines the notification, monitoring and reporting requirements into one regulatory document.

Why does the informal draft Order not set a new standard that all collection system operators are certified?

This is a very important question and issue for CWEA and its members. During preliminary conversations, certified operators and other interested parties that see the value of certification demonstrated strong interest in establishing a new certification requirement. Many CWEA members expressed that a proposed requirement for operator certification in a reissued Order would uphold the professionalism and technical expertise needed to:

(1) maintain a well operated sanitary sewer system, and

(2) report quality data to the statewide compliance database

Feedback we received also compared this statewide Order to other State Water Board regulatory permits for drinking water systems, wastewater treatment plants and stormwater discharges that all list requirements for certified operators or professionals.

However, representatives concerned with local agency budgets expressed concern regarding the additional costs associated with training and increased salaries for certified operations.

As previously mentioned, the public release of this informal draft Order is to spark important conversations for further development of the formal draft.

The existing and proposed Statewide Sanitary Sewer System General Order are very important regulations as they directly impact most sewered communities in California and their rate payers; in addition, the regulations impact the sanitation and environmental health conditions in those communities.

The time invested to have these important conversations is crucial. Water Board staff’s outreach efforts continue to focus on providing interested parties a comfortable environment to speak up and share their expertise and experience

Disagreements during the public process are critical to flush out all issues. Water Board staff continues to value the education received through conversations with the experts out in the field, and take no offense at opposing views, both directly with staff and in public in front of the State Water Board as appropriate and necessary.

Staff continue to collaborate through CWEA per the established State Water Board-CWEA Memorandum of Agreement to continue providing training events and outreach discussions for wastewater professionals and other stakeholders.

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