Legislation is now on the books to strengthen an Environmental Protection Agency program letting localities tailor their plans for complying with wastewater and sewer overflow permits under the Clean Water Act.

The measure, which President Trump signed on Jan. 14, codifies a 2012 EPA framework for integrated planning, allowing local water agencies to develop plans to gain permits for activities such as combined sewer overflows, sewer collection systems' management, operations and maintenance and stormwater or wastewater discharges. [View text of new legislation here.]

The integrated plans can include water reclamation, recycling, reuse or “green infrastructure.”

Final congressional approval of the legislation, the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act, came on Dec.22, when the Senate passed it. The House had cleared the legislation on Dec. 19.

The new statute also establishes a “municipal ombudsman” within the EPA administrator’s office to help municipalities with Clean Water Act compliance and to let them know about the integrated planning options they have.

In addition, the measure calls on the EPA administrator to “promote the use of green infrastructure” in various activities of the agency.

The National Association of Clean Water Agencies praised the bill's enactment. Association Chief Executive Officer Adam Krantz called it “a major win for clean water utilities large and small across the country,” and said it “helps communities better sequence and prioritize, in a holistic fashion, how they comply with their clean water permit obligations.”

Sen. Tom Carper (Del.), the top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement, “What might seem like a small bill will make a big difference for American families, especially those in smaller, more rural areas.”

Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), another supporter of the legislation, said that cities such as Omaha “will have more flexibility to update water infrastructure and protect drinking water in a more effective and affordable manner.”

Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio), who introduced the House bill, said in a December statement after the chamber passed the measure, “Many of our nation’s cities, towns, and municipalities are faced with EPA mandates, aging water infrastructure and rising repair or construction costs."

Gibbs noted that local residents end up paying for those repairs and added that "integrated planning can help bridge the gaps between these issues, encourage innovative solutions and prevent undue financial burdens on ratepayers."