Field Trip Enlightens Utah Water Quality Policy Makers –
Funds Research

THE BACKGROUND: The EPA mandated that by 2020, states must implement new nutrient pollutions standards for wastewater, but gave states some flexibility to decide how to meet the new standards. In 2017, Utah’s wastewater regulator – Utah Division of Water Quality (UDWQ) – began exploring a stringent, costly approach that would require Public Owned Treatment plants (POTW) to make multi-million dollar facility upgrades that address only one of the potential nutrient standards that the EPA could impose.

POTW’s were concerned that before enacting the new nutrient standards, Utah should explore a holistic, sustainable approach to wastewater treatment that includes current research on ecological impacts and broader policy issues.

The Wasatch Front Water Quality Council, a coalition of eight POTW’s (Coalition), asked Holland & Hart’s Government Affairs team for help to persuade UDWQ and Utah legislators to press pause before taking further action.

THE CHALLENGE: How to (1) persuade legislators to hear and accept input from affected stakeholders; and (2) pause ongoing nutrient pollution standard setting efforts and consider a more inclusive process that incorporates a cost benefit analysis.

THE METHOD: On behalf of the Coalition, the Government Affairs team introduced a legislative resolution during the 2017 session that alerted legislators of the necessity to base the nutrient pollution standards in best available scientific research and include water stakeholders in the policy discussions.

Believing in the adage “a picture is worth a thousand words,” the Coalition believed legislators needed to physically see the entire wastewater system to truly understand the need for a holistic policy approach. The Government Affairs team pulled off an organizational feat, marshalling a group of 50 legislators, regulators, Coalition scientists, members of the public, and media on a half-day field trip in mid-September. After a presentation, a tour of a sewer plant, and a pontoon boat tour to illustrate the complexity of the issues and entities involved the legislators and regulators understood the need to assess and consider big-picture wastewater impacts and vowed to allocate funds for research in advance of future policy discussions.

THE RESULT: By retaining a Government Affairs team with both legal/policy expertise and political savvy, the Coalition achieved its goals of getting legislative attention and shifting the regulatory approach from a narrowly-focused standards reform to an iterative approach that includes appropriate research and decision making by al the stakeholders, including local and state elected officials.

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