Policy dimension of adopting wetlands assimilation to increase the NPDES compliance rates for municipal wastewater plants in Mississippi

Author(s): Ko, J.; Day, J.

The Clean Water Act has been contributing to water quality improvement and enhanced ecological integrity of natural ecosystem in the United States. However, water pollution driven by poorly treated municipal wastewater still has been significant deterrent factor in achieving the goals of the Clean Water Act, especially in the economically depressed Southern Region, causing harms to the human health, and the aquatic ecosystems. Academicians and government officials have advocated incorporating ecosystem services as a tool to increase compliance rates of the environmental regulation.

Economically poor communities across the Southern Region show poor compliance records of the NPDES regulation. For example, as of 2008, the compliance rate among the 1,437 NPDES permits of the wastewater treatment plants in State of Mississippi was below 50%, and so far, no significant compliance improvements have been reported. Wetlands assimilation is one of the Best Available Technology (BAT), allowed by the EPA. However, the State of Mississippi has not adopted the wetlands assimilation as a policy tool. On the contrary, the State of Louisiana has adopted policy guidelines of using natural wetlands to assimilate nutrients in secondarily treated municipal effluent, thus utilizing ecosystem services of natural wetlands, and improving the EPA regulation with reduced financial burdens to local communities.

We reviewed the state policy formulation process of wetlands assimilation in Louisiana by analyzing the implementation of the Clean Water Act from an inter-governmental relation among federal, state, and local governments for expansion of wetlands assimilation, and we found that the communities which have adopted the wetlands assimilation method have complied their NPDES permits successfully, with reduced financial burdens.

Local communities in Mississippi have been under serious financial burdens, resulting from declining residential population, and declining property tax base. In addition, increasing regulations and unfunded mandates, compounded with political pressures of no-property tax increase have been declining local government’s capacity to comply with the environmental regulations.

State of Mississippi may need more active and trustworthy dialogues among State and local governments, scientists, and local community leaders, with results from science-based field studies, and the case studies available from neighboring states. We believe that the wetlands assimilation method is a strong alternative for cost-effective ways in increasing the NPDES compliance in Mississippi.

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