Cities take issue with water-quality proposal

December 30, 2010 by  
Filed under Water Quality

Cities are fighting proposed state water standards that they say would show no benefits while costing up to $6 billion.

State regulators must review water-quality rules every three years to ensure they provide as much protection as national standards. The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources has recommended lower levels of heavy metals such as zinc, copper and chromium in treated sewage to help protect shellfish and other aquatic life.

Other states have met the standards, said Nikki Schimizzi, a senior DENR environmental specialist. North Carolina is the only state in the region that has not adopted them, she said.

Cities worry about the potential for burdensome costs to utilities customers. The N.C. League of Municipalities, which did a financial study of the proposals, said costs to local governments could range from $590 million to more than $6 billion over 20 years.

The proposed standards aren’t based on real-life conditions in state waters, said Erin Wynia, a policy analyst for the league. Only the most expensive interventions would get treatment plants to the proposed limits, she said.

Regulators are collecting information on costs for an analysis that must be approved by the state Office of Budget and Management. Then, the proposed rules would go through public hearings and a vote of the state Environmental Management Commission. The process will take a year or more.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the new limits for zinc and copper would help protect the state’s freshwater mussels. The new standards also could help protect sensitive species not tested now, fish and wildlife officials said.


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