DEP Expands Emergency Plan Requirements for Sewer Plants
Could the silence mean that everyone is afraid to challenge Gov. Christie’s Climate Denial?
[Updates below - where did these new requirements come from? Why done under the radar?]
I have been highly critical of the Christie DEP’s failure to consider extreme weather events that will increase in severity and frequency as a result of climate change and for DEP’s refusal to develop a climate change adaptation plan.
I also have criticized DEP’s failure to monitor and enforce existing NJPDES permit requirements for sewage treatment plants regarding emergency planning and response, including the need to have back up power systems to keep plants operational under emergency conditions.
Those failures are interrelated and they exacerbated the extended outages and discharge of billions of gallons of raw sewage by scores of sewage treatment plants knocked off line by Sandy due to loss of power or storm surge.
However, I am stunned to report progress on all three issues, based on a recent review of several draft DEP NJPDES permits issued to several sewer authorities to control “Combined Sewer Overflows” (CSO) (more on the CSO aspects in a future post).
New conditions of those draft CSO permits suggest that DEP has learned something from Sandy failures and imposed new requirements to correct those failures.
Specifically, DEP has quietly imposed two significant new emergency planning requirements in NJPDES permits.
First, DEP now requires that sewer plants plan for the 500 year storm event.
Historically, the DEP regulations and permits were based on the 100 year storm event.
A 500 year storm is considerably larger in terms of volume and rate of water (inches per hour and total rainfall, and storm water runoff rate and volume); in the elevation of floodwaters and storm surge; and in the land area inundated by flood waters and storm surge.
The term “500-year flood” is the flood that has a 0.2% chance of being equaled or exceeded each year. The 500-year flood could occur more than once in a relatively short period of time. Statistically, the 0.2% (500- year) flood has a 6% chance of occurring during a 30-year period of time, the length of many mortgages.
Second, DEP now requires that sewer plants plan for extended power outages, up to 14 days in duration.
Both significant new technical requirements were built into this new condition in the NJPDES permit (see page 9 of 18, item J.)
The permittee shall also include in the O&M Program and corresponding Manual, an Emergency Plan, in accordance with N.J.A.C. 7:14A-6.12(d). The Emergency Plan shall provide for, to the maximum extent possible, uninterrupted treatment works operation during emergency conditions using in-house and/or contract based services. The Emergency Plan shall include Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), which ensure the effective operation of the treatment works under emergency conditions, such as extreme weather events (including 100 and 500 year storm events) and extended periods of no power, (e.g., 7 days and 14 days).
I assume that this is a boilerplate condition that will be imposed in all sewage treatment plant NJPDES permits, and should also be included in DEP’s water infrastructure asset management program and across the board in virtually all DEP land use and related regulatory programs as a climate change extreme weather adaptation policy.
The new permit requirements generate a host of questions.
We note that these new requirements are in draft permits that are not yet final.
We don’t know if similar conditions have been inserted in other permits that are draft or final.
We don’t know what the position is of the sewer authorities and whether they will contest these new requirements.
We also don’t know what DEP’s actual technical guidelines are for how to manage and prepare for the 500 year storm and supply back up power for 14 days.
Or how to fund the necessary upgrades required to meet these new requirements.
Or how they will be monitored and enforced by DEP.
Perhaps answers and those technical aspects of the program will emerge during DEP’s development of the much touted new “Resiliency Bank”.
We are a skeptic of that effort, which is why we were stunned to see the above NJPDES permit requirements.
Those new permit requirements were not mentioned by DEP Commissioner Martin when he was asked specific questions about DEP’s response to Sandy sewer outages during DEP budget hearings this spring, or more recently by Assistant Commissioner Kennedy, during legislative oversight hearings on DEP’s new “asset management” and CSO programs.
We’ll try to get some answers and keep you posted.
In our next post, we look at new DEP permit requirements for asset management and green infrastructure.
[Update #1 – A Trenton source explains the origin of the new DEP permit requirements as follows – in which case, EPA should be glad to take credit for them. But, given how weak EPA Region 2 has been in oversight of NJ DEP during the Christie Administration, I am finding this almost as difficult to believe as the fact that DEP actually issued the permit requirements:
The 500 year storm and frequency in the CSO permits are part of settlement with Region 2 on CSO’s .Epa is also requiring sea level rise and storm surge requirements for sewer funding and NJ is using the 500 year storm as away of meeting that standard without mentioning climate or sea level rise.
Update #2 – Trenton source now says that EPA Regional Administrator Enck has already publicly taken credit for these new permit requirements – guess I just missed it.
Update # 3 – Trying to run down exactly how EPA allegedly imposed these requirements.
Here is EPA Region 2 draft Climate Change Adaptation Plan required by President Obama’s Executive Order – it notes extreme weather impacts, and NPDES and CSO programs, but is vague and makes no specific commitments and action items about directing NJ DEP to impose new permit requirements listed above. One hell of a way to run a government!
Region 2 sees future opportunities to work with state regulators during the planning and permitting process, for the air programs and the NPDES program with particular focus on sewage treatment plants, in accounting for climate change related issues. Region 2 sees future opportunity to work with state regulators during the planning and permitting process, for the air and oil sector and sewage treatment plants, in accounting for climate change related issues. This could require considering the elevation of a facility, location of facility intakes, and location of emissions control equipment to account for project climate change impacts. In the Caribbean, we could explore the possibility of implementing green infrastructure and green energy in consent- decrees and orders (for both Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act).
I could find nothing specific about this on EPA Region 2 Climate Adaptation web page either – and that page includes a link to “regulatory initiatives”, which this surely is.
This shouldn’t be so hard – no wonder the public is clueless.
[Update #4 - The NJ Future CSO Report provides extensive analysis of NJPDES CSO permits, but I could not find specific discussion of 500 year and 14 day permit conditions – I did find this, which is somewhat on point, but the context is cost, not NJPDES permit condition and I could find nothing specific about 14 day backup power:
Discussions with utility managers emphasize the coming competition between CSO costs and other water infrastructure expenditures, not to mention non-water infrastructure expenditures that have been identified as priorities, such as transportation systems and electric energy utilities. As one example, Passaic Valley Sewerage Commissioners (PVSC) own and operate the nation’s fifth-largest sewage treatment plant. PVSC faces $110 million in damages to the treatment plant from Hurricane Sandy, and a need for perhaps $250 million for improved resilience measures such as flood walls, protection of sensitive equipment, and backup power to achieve protection against both current flooding potential and future risks (using the 500-year or 0.2% probability flood as the risk benchmark). These costs are in addition to the anticipated costs of improving a 30- year old treatment facility that had a 25-year economic lifespan, and an aging interceptor line that was built in 1924.1
Update # 5 – this is exhausting – the Rutgers Climate Adaptation Alliance Report mentions NJPDES and water allocation permits, but not in terms of 500 year flood event or 14 day duration back up power.
Again, this is amazing because at the time both reports were issued, DEP had already included this as a permit condition. I can’t recall another example of where DEP regulators were out in front of virtually everyone. And there were no fingerprints on a significant new policy and permit condition.
[Update # 6 – in addition to the difficulty of trying to document the origin and basis for this permit condition, another very unusual fact is that DEP had multiple opportunities and obligations to mention this but did not. Specifically:
1) DEP didn’t issue a press release bragging about their new “resiliency” requirements or
2) DEP Commissioner Martin didn’t note it in his budget testimony (which emphasized all the sewage plants knocked off line) or
3) DEP Asst. Commissioner Kenedy did n’t mention it during his “asset management” and CSO program testimony to Assembly oversight
4) BPU and EDA didn’t say anything about that in the Resiliency Bank press releases and
5) Sandy HUD second round submission that had extensive section of resiliency bank concept to get the $25 million in federal funds. That funding was justified based on sewage plants failure.
Could the silence mean that virtually everyone is afraid to challenge Gov. Christie’s Climate Denial?