At Boxelder Sanitation District, wastewater treatment is our core mission, and we do it exceptionally well. On paper, we’re an organization of engineers, operators and support staff dedicated to the process of wastewater treatment, but we’re also stewards of our waterways who enjoy recreating on them whenever we get a chance. That’s partially why our District has a reputation for top-notch wastewater treatment; always working to stay a step ahead of new regulations, and we aim to keep it that way. We’re proud to be a three-time Gold Peak Performance Award recipient from the National Association of Clean Water Agencies.
But, complying with evolving regulations that stem from the Clean Water Act or various agencies isn’t always easy swimming. Many challenges can present themselves, such as making sure aging infrastructure meets new laws. So how does the District navigate wastewater regulations to ensure our facilities are in good standing, our customers are served, and our waterways thrive? Keep reading to find out.
Enacted in 1972, the Clean Water Act is a federal law designed to protect our country’s surface waters—lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands—from pollution and degradation. When we discuss wastewater regulations at the District, we’re usually talking about the Clean Water Act, which sets the direction for water regulations around the country, as well as new regulations that come down the proverbial pipe.
Through the power of the Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is granted authority to set standards for pollutants that can be discharged into our water. They also regulate a range of activities that may impact water quality.
The EPA created the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program, which is the primary mechanism for regulating the discharge of pollutants into surface waters. This is the permit the District holds for our wastewater treatment facility.
Under the NPDES permit program, treatment plants, including those operated by sanitation districts such as Boxelder, must obtain a permit before they can discharge treated wastewater into surface waters. The permit sets limits on the amount and types of pollutants that can be discharged, as well as other requirements for monitoring and reporting. In addition, the EPA also sets regulations for the pretreatment of pollutants before they reach the treatment plant which impacts our commercial customers.
Regulations and permit programs like the aforementioned Clean Water Act and NPDES program are essential for protecting our country’s water resources, but they come at a cost to wastewater treatment districts and customers.
As our understanding of pollutants grows, permits have evolved to become increasingly restrictive, requiring more processes and equipment to remove more pollutants from wastewater. Boxelder strictly follows these restrictions, and we also forecast any future regulations that might raise the bar for treatment. Doing this ensures we’re responsibly planning for the District’s future since new regulations incur new costs such as updating treatment processes, acquiring new equipment, etc.
For instance, in 2012, the State of Colorado created Regulations 85 and 31. The two regulations aim to protect and maintain the quality of Colorado’s surface waters by addressing specific pollutants that can have a negative impact on aquatic life and overall water quality. Regulation 85 specifically targets nitrogen and phosphorus levels in surface water, while Regulation 31 focuses on additional more stringent standards.
As part of our mission to responsibly serve our customers with reduced impact to the environment, we’re always tracking hot issues that could lead to new regulations. Our compliance onboarding window is typically at least five years, which gives us time to comply with any new regulations. Currently, we’re in discussions around potential responses to the following.
- PFAS: Known as “forever chemicals,” PFAS is an emerging contaminant that’s receiving national attention and regulations. Few facilities have the capability to test for PFAS, so for the District, testing will need to be outsourced to a third-party lab. Additionally, we’re also required to begin testing for PFAS in solids on a quarterly basis beginning this year.
- Wastewater Temperatures: The temperature of treated wastewater reintroduced back into waterways, such as the Poudre River, can have an impact on the ecosystem, which is why regulations limiting water temperatures are likely coming in the future.
When a new permit is issued, organizations like Boxelder often provide data to the regulatory authority to support their position and negotiate to find a balance that is both protective of the environment and sustainable for their operation. New permits may require new process equipment and additional expenses, so the negotiation process helps to minimize these costs while still ensuring compliance with regulations. This approach allows for a collaborative solution that benefits both the environment and wastewater treatment utilities.
The best way for District customers to stay informed about new regulations—short of creating a Google news alert—is to keep an eye on our website and our mailing material. Should any new regulations arrive that impact operations in a significant way, we’ll let you know. And of course, you can always help support Boxelder’s system and infrastructure by being conscious of what you flush down your drains. If you need a refresher on what not to flush, check out our What Not to Flush list.
Meanwhile, if you want to learn more about water sanitation, feel free to peruse our blog!