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Water: Water Treatment

Drinking Water Treatment

We are beginning a new rulemaking to address the direct discharge of drinking water treatment residuals to surface water, together with the indirect discharge of residuals to wastewater treatment plants. This rulemaking, titled "Drinking Water Treatment Effluent Guidelines," may include large, as well as medium and small, drinking water facilities that discharge suspended solids, aluminum salts, organic matters, radionuclides, iron salts, polymer, lime, arsenic, desalination concentrates, or other residuals.

The docket number for the drinking water treatment rulemaking is EPA-HQ-OW-2004-0035 and is accessible from Regulations.gov. Enter the docket number in the space provided under "Advanced Search."

Clean Water Act Requirements

The Clean Water Act directs us to develop national industrial technology-based regulations to limit the amount of pollutants that are discharged to surface waters (usually called "effluent guidelines") or to sewage treatment plants (called "pretreatment standards"). Pretreatment standards ensure that pollutants do not pass through or interfere with the safe and effective operation of these treatment plants. The Clean Water Act also directs us to develop national industrial technology-based regulations (called "new source performance standards") for new facilities.

Furthermore, the Clean Water Act requires us to identify industries, not yet regulated by effluent guidelines, which may be discharging more than trivial amounts of toxic or "nonconventional" pollutants, such as nutrients. Drinking water treatment was one of three such industries recently identified by us for the development of effluent guidelines. We must complete effluent guidelines for these newly identified industries within three years.

Potential Effluent Guidelines for the Drinking Water Treatment Point Source Category

Public comments on our proposed 2004 Effluent Guidelines Program Plan urged us to develop effluent guidelines for drinking water treatment facilities. After considering all comments and gathering additional data, we concluded that drinking water treatment facilities may be discharging more than trivial amounts of toxic and nonconventional pollutants. Accordingly, we selected the "drinking water treatment point source category" as a candidate for an effluent guidelines rulemaking.

It is important to note, however, that we have made no decisions about whether any discharge controls are necessary for residuals produced by drinking water treatment facilities. More detailed investigations are warranted in order to support a final action.

In preparation for publication of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, planned for August 2006, we are collecting and analyzing data on drinking water treatment technologies, direct and indirect discharges of residuals, and environmental impacts from the discharge of residuals. Based on such information, we will decide whether the promulgation of effluent guidelines is necessary. We must take final action by September 2007.

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Data Needs for Determining Whether Effluent Guidelines for Drinking Water Treatment Facilities are Warranted

We will need additional information as a basis for determining the type of discharge controls necessary - if any - for drinking water treatment facilities. We are also gathering information concerning the potential regulatory burden on small drinking water treatment facilities.

More specifically, we are seeking to collect the following types of information on drinking water treatment residuals for large, medium, and small drinking water treatment facilities.

  • Typical forms of residuals, e.g., liquid, slurry, sludge, or solid;
  • Typical raw wastewater pollutants, loads, and concentrations for various drinking water treatment facility wastestreams;
  • Typical contaminants found in residuals sludge, such as treatment chemicals and thickening agents (and the likely range of contaminant concentrations in parts per million);
  • Data from discharge monitoring reports (DMRs) and NPDES permits (e.g., NPDES Form 2C data);
  • Likely source of pollutant contaminants in drinking water treatment residuals (e.g., source water, water treatment chemicals);
  • Pollution prevention or treatment options for drinking water residuals; and
  • Common management options for drinking water residuals (e.g., discharge to surface waters or sewage treatment plants, land application);
  • Regulatory controls and issues that affect residuals management, including types of permits, such as individual or general permits, and permit expiration dates.

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Surveying Treatment Facilities

EPA is collecting a variety of technical, financial, and environmental data from drinking water treatment utilities that will be used to support the development of effluent guidelines for the drinking water treatment point source category and will help us quantify environmental impacts, evaluate treatment technologies, and estimate pollutant removals and compliance costs for options for the proposed rule.

This data collection is being conducted, in part, by distributing an electronic questionnaire, the Water Treatment Plant Electronic Survey (WTP eSurvey), to a sample of the public water systems serving in excess of 10,000 people (approximately 620 public water systems). The WTP eSurvey asks for basic information that will help us quantify any adverse environmental impacts from the discharge of residuals from drinking water treatment facilities and will allow us to better understand current residuals generation and management techniques. The data collected by the WTP eSurvey will also allow us to better classify drinking water treatment facilities by treatment practices and residuals characteristics.

EPA began distribution of the WTP eSurvey on February 16, 2007, to public water system contacts identified from EPA's SDWIS database. Public water systems should likely receive the WTP eSurvey by certified mail no later than February 27th. The WTP eSurvey allows respondents to complete the survey and submit responses to EPA in an electronic format, as well as generate a hard copy report documenting responses. Please note that some utilities may receive two or more WTP eSurveys if they manage more than one public water system. See "Special Considerations Regarding the Definitions of 'System' and 'Utility' for the eSurvey" for directions and more information on EPA's use of "utility" and "system" for the purposes of this survey.

The response to the WTP eSurvey is due 45 days after receiving it. After completing the survey and certifying the information that it contains, use the enclosed mailing label to mail the completed survey and associated documents to:

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Water Treatment Survey
c/o Eastern Research Group, Inc.
14555 Avion Parkway, Suite 200
Chantilly, VA 20151

You may submit the completed electronic survey on a CD, floppy disk, or other media.

For help in completing this survey, you can use the following e-mail addresses:

The following documents provide WTP eSurvey respondents and the public with information related to the survey. More information on the development of the survey can be found at EPA's docket for this rulemaking, which is accessible from Regulations.gov [EPA Docket Number: EPA-HQ-OW-2004-0035].

You will need Adobe Reader to view some of the files on this page. See EPA's PDF page to learn more.

For more information

If you are interested in learning more about this rulemaking or are interested in helping us with its data needs, please contact us.

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