October 25, 2022
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing stricter limits on the amount of pollution Wrangell’s wastewater treatment plant will be allowed to release to Zimovia Strait.
The discharges from the Wrangell facility are not consistently disinfected, contain high levels of fecal coliform and enterococcus bacteria, and require large mixing areas to meet Alaska’s water quality standards for bacteria.
The new EPA permit will contain more stringent bacteria limits that will require upgrades to the existing plant. The plant will have five years to comply with the new requirements.
About waivers under Section 301(h) of the Clean Water Act
Most municipal wastewater treatment plants in the U.S. are required to conduct “secondary” treatment, which is a combination of physical and biological treatment requirements; the effluent quality for secondary treatment is defined in terms of biological oxygen demand, total suspended solids, and pH.
However, in limited circumstances, Section 301(h) of the Clean Water Act authorizes EPA — with concurrence from the state — to issue discharge permits requiring less than secondary treatment.
Congress mandated that the last year communities could apply for a waiver from secondary treatment requirements under Section 301(h) was 1982, with re-application required every five years. To qualify for renewal of a 301(h) waiver, applicants must satisfy specific criteria designed to maintain and protect the receiving water and ensure compliance with state water quality standards.
Since the 1980s, EPA has issued permits modified by 301(h) waivers for several other southeast facilities, including Haines, Ketchikan, Petersburg, Sitka, and Skagway. The permits were last reissued between 2000 and 2002.
Over the next several months EPA also will propose new Clean Water Act permits for Haines, Ketchikan, Petersburg, Sitka, and Skagway that would require their treatment plants to also significantly reduce releases of bacteria to local waters within five years.
For more information, please view the public notice at: https://www.epa.gov/npdes-permits/proposed-permit-wrangell-wastewater-treatment-plant-alaska