Newsletter and Technical Publications
<International Source Book On Environmentally Sound Technologies
for Wastewater and Stormwater Management>
4.6 Policy and institutional framework (Topic f)
The primary regulatory policy is the protection of public health to reduce
human disease. Therefore, higher levels of treatment are generally required with
an increasing likelihood of human contact with plant effluent or biosolids. In
North America this policy is taken for granted, resulting in concentration on
the next priority objective, which is environmental protection.
Reducing the effect of water pollution is mainly accomplished by reducing solids
and organic loads to a receiving water, and by ensuring that the discharge is
not acutely toxic to aquatic life. Toxicity is most commonly determined at "end-of-pipe"
(i.e. without taking into consideration dilution in the immediate vicinity of
the discharge). Receiving environments are biological systems with an inherent
assimilative capacity for non-toxic organic material. The overall objective
is to ensure that the assimilative capacity is not exceeded, and to achieve
water quality that allows normal growth of native aquatic organisms, as well
as human use.
Water quality standards have been set for receiving bodies of water
throughout North America. In sensitive bodies of water such as inland lakes and
some estuaries, nutrient removal is an issue to prevent eutrophication
(excessive weed and algae growth). In the United States, total watershed
management and total daily maximum contaminant loads are being implemented to
identify why some bodies of water have not met water quality standards.
Industrial discharges to municipal systems are generally controlled through
regulated pre-treatment programs, and punitive Discharge Bylaws, to prevent
damage to the collection and treatment system, and to protect the quality of the
treatment plant effluent. Charges established by Discharge Bylaws make it more
cost effective for certain industries to initiate measures to reduce the
contaminant loading to the sewer through source control, best management plans,
and the construction and operation of onsite pre-treatment facilities.
In many jurisdictions, certification of wastewater treatment plant operators
demonstrating a minimum level of technical expertise is mandatory. This
certification is done at the state (US) and provincial (Canada) levels through
the Association of Boards of Certification, based in Ames Iowa.
Some jurisdictions, such as the province of British Columbia, are requiring
owners of new treatment works to have performance bonds, insurance, or other
financial security for the government to access in the event the treatment plant
does not meet its effluent discharge requirements. For example, the province of
British Columbia, Canada, now requires dischargers to annually contribute to a
fund for repairs, and for the eventual replacement of the entire treatment
facility at the end of its life expectancy (about 30 years). State and
provincial governments often also require municipalities to produce a liquid and
solid waste management plan.
Cross border initiatives, such as the Great Lakes Cleanup Project, and
phosphorus bans, are in place between Canada and the U.S. to protect common
In Canada, the federal departments which are most concerned with wastewater
treatment and the potential impact of discharges into the environment are
Environment Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The
Fisheries Act in Canada is very powerful due to the general nature of its
requirement that all effluent discharged into fish-bearing waters must not
contain any deleterious materials. Environment Canada provides technical
assistance to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and produces environmental
standards for federal facilities such as airports, penitentiaries and First
Nations reserves. Legislation which is the responsibility of Environment Canada
is general in nature when applied to wastewater treatment.
Specific discharge requirements are set by provincial legislation. Each
province has a provincial Ministry of the Environment, and each Territory has a
Water Resource Division. These government agencies are responsible for producing
environmental discharge and monitoring standards and guidelines, and for
regulating and enforcing discharges. Permits are issued for each wastewater
discharge. In some jurisdictions, such as British Columbia, Canada, permits will
not be required in the future - rather, a minimum criteria set by regulation
will have to be met.
Each province/territory also has a Ministry of Health, which regulates and
monitors smaller effluent flows which are discharged into ground disposal
systems. In general, individual household on-site treatment and disposal
systems, and small cluster systems with flows under about 22 cubic metres per
day, fall within Ministry of Health jurisdiction.
Larger service providers are mainly local municipalities and regional
districts, who arrange for construction and operation of wastewater treatment
plants using public funds. There are also private operations such as trailer
parks, and small local treatment works for new developments. A relatively recent
trend is to have operations of public treatment facilities contracted out to a
private wastewater operations company. As well, some suppliers of individual
package plants offer system servicing.
In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) oversees most
aspects of wastewater treatment, setting minimum specific standards which must
be met throughout the country for all types of discharges, and implementing the
Federal Water Pollution Control Act and the Clean Water Act. The EPA oversees
the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), which issues
permits that are required to discharge treated wastewater to US waters. The
NPDES is administered by local branches of the EPA, except where the EPA has
delegated the permitting process to some individual states for management and
control. State regulatory bodies may also set more stringent effluent criteria
which must be met locally. For disinfection, individual states develop criteria
based upon the use and quality of the receiving water body.
There are some multi-state regulatory agencies for river management still in
effect which predate the EPA; for example Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation
Commission (ORSANCO), formed to protect the Ohio River [http://www/orsanco.org].
In most states, the State Department of Health is responsible for regulation
of on-site systems, which discharge to ground.
Service providers are mainly local municipalities, counties, and regional
governments, who arrange for construction and operation of wastewater treatment
plants using public funds. Lately, there has been a trend for private operations
companies to offer to operate public facilities, for a savings to the
administrative body. There are also private operations for small local treatment
works for individual developments, trailer parks and resorts. Operation of the
latter may also be contracted out to a wastewater operations company.
An interesting recent development is that private power and gas utilities in
the US and Canada are becoming interested in owning and operating wastewater
treatment facilities. The US based Energy and Power Research Institute is
currently carrying out two initiatives in this area. The first is coordinating a
US $5 million study into a number of issues surrounding decentralized (cluster)
wastewater treatment systems, and the second is carrying out business plans on
behalf of two member utilities for the private operation of wastewater treatment
facilities in the US.
Some states are also moving towards central servicing requirements for
individual treatment systems, with the objective of improving performance. Some
states have implemented environmental reporting to the EPA via the Internet, as
a cost and time saving measure, and to also make data more accessible to the