Summary of the matter addressed in the submission:

Submission SEM-15-003 (Municipal Wastewater Drop Shafts) asserts 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 and 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.”

Summary of the response provided by the Party:

The Government of the United States’ response in accordance with NAAEC Article 14(3) was prepared by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). EPA, in addressing matters raised in the Secretariat’s 16 December 2011 Determination, asserts two main points:

1)  EPA’s interpretation is that conveyance of fluids via drop shafts does not meet the Safe Drinking Water Act’s (SDWA) definition of underground injection because drop shafts “are not used for the emplacement of fluids below the surface of the ground” in geological formations or substrata but rather “convey fluid from one sewer to a lower sewer as it travels to a wastewater treatment plant.” Thus, EPA concludes that permitting or enforcement of these drop shafts under the SDWA’s Underground Injection Control (UIC) program would not be appropriate.

2)  EPA also asserts that there are alternative regulatory mechanisms available to provide requirements for groundwater protection from the operation of these drop shafts and conveyance systems. These include long-term Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) plans developed under the Clean Water Act (CWA). EPA argues that expanding the regulatory coverage of the SDWA to cover drop shafts would not reduce environmental harm but potentially undermines the environmental compliance status of CSO conveyance tunnels nationwide and disrupts a practice of great environmental benefit.

Names and citations of the environmental laws in question:

Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)


Robert Schreiber

Submission Timeline

November 3, 2015

The Secretariat received a submission and began a preliminary analysis of it under the guidelines.

Submission - Submission authored by Submitter(s) on 03/11/2015

Acknowledgement - Communication to Submitter(s) authored by Secretariat on 03/11/2015

January 21, 2016

The Secretariat determined that the submission met the criteria of Article 14(1) and requested a response from the concerned government Party in accordance with Article 14(2).

Determination - Secretariat Determination under Article 14 (1) and 14 (2) authored by Secretariat on 21/01/2016

April 15, 2016

The Secretariat received a response from the concerned government Party and began considering whether to recommend a factual record.

Party Response - Response from the Party under Article 14 (3) authored by United States on 15/04/2016

Acknowledgement - authored by Secretariat on 18/04/2016

Other Documents - Communication to Submitter(s) authored by on

June 15, 2016

The Secretariat determined not to recommend the preparation of a factual record. Under guideline 9.6, the process was terminated.

Determination - Secretariat Determination under Article 15 (1) authored by Secretariat on 15/06/2016