CEC receives a submission on municipal wastewater drop shafts in the US

Montreal, 5 November 2015—On 3 November 2015, the Secretariat of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) received a submission asserting that the United States is failing to effectively enforce the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) regarding sewer drop shafts used to convey municipal wastewater.

Submission SEM-15-003 (Municipal Wastewater Drop Shafts) was filed by Robert Schreiber, a resident of the United States, (the “Submitter”), and asserts that sewer drop shafts constitute “underground injections wells” that should be regulated under the permitting scheme of the Safe Drinking Water Act’s (SDWA) Underground Injection Control (UIC) program. These drop shafts generally transport municipal wastewater from shallow sewer lines to deeper tunnels as part of a city’s wastewater collection system prior to treatment. The submitter contends that these systems occur throughout the United States and includes specific information about systems in Georgia (including Atlanta and Gwinnett Cobb Counties), Wisconsin (Milwaukee), and Indiana (Indianapolis).

The Submitter alleges that the UIC program, which protects underground sources of drinking water (“USDW”), prohibits any “underground injection activity” unless authorized by permit or rule. The submitter specifically contends that drop shafts should be regulated as Class V wells, which are used to inject non-hazardous fluids underground. The submitter asserts that while the EPA and authorized States are generally achieving improved compliance under the Clean Water Act (CWA) that “does not excuse noncompliance with the SDWA.” The submitter asserts that the EPA has determined that because drop shafts do not fall within the definition of an “injection well” the SDWA is not applicable. As a result, the Submitter asserts that neither the EPA nor the States authorized to carry out the UIC program issue permits for these drop shafts and that this failure to enforce the SDWA “endangers public health, USDWs, and nullifies the [UIC] monitoring well requirements which provide the public and regulators with data to determine if USDW are being contaminated.”

The CEC Secretariat is reviewing SEM-15-003 to determine whether it meets the admissibility criteria for submissions set out in Article 14(1) of the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC).

NAAEC Articles 14 and 15 include procedures allowing residents or nongovernmental organizations in North America to make submissions to the CEC Secretariat asserting that a Party is failing to effectively enforce its environmental law. The CEC has published Guidelines for Submissions on Enforcement Matters explaining these procedures. In appropriate cases and upon instruction from the CEC Council, the CEC Secretariat may examine a submission further and develop a factual record. Article 11(8) requires that the Secretariat safeguard from disclosure, where appropriate, information that could identify a person or organization making a submission.

For more information, please visit the CEC’s Submissions on Enforcement Matters webpage and the registry of Submission SEM-15-003 (Municipal Wastewater Drop Shafts).