Three major water groups have developed a document they hope will be a springboard for legislative and regulatory changes that could help modernize how the Clean Water Act is interpreted and implemented.

The document, titled "Water Resources Utility of the Future: Blueprint for Action," was released on Jan. 31 by the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), the Water Environment Research Foundation and the Water Environment Federation. It highlights the ways utilities have evolved.

The blueprint is a living document, its authors say, and "represents an opening salvo in the effort to define and tie together a diverse realm of resource recovery activities and innovative approaches, many of which were never contemplated and likely could never have been foreseen 40 years ago, when the Clean Water Act was enacted."

Some of the report's recommendations include easing obstacles to pollutant-load trading and adaptive management and eliminating some regulatory barriers that inhibit energy recovery at wastewater utilities.

Adam Krantz, managing director of government and public affairs for NACWA, notes that while many utilities attempt to adopt innovative approaches to wastewater management, "some are hamstrung to some degree by either a way of thinking or interpreting the Clean Water Act [or by] inflexibilities in the Clean Water Act that make certain activities much more difficult." The report is an attempt to identify some of those barriers and set the stage for changes that address the current state of the wastewater industry, he says.

However, some utilities are resistant to change—in many cases, for good reason. Going too far out on a limb with an untested technology that ultimately doesn't work could prove disastrous for a utility trying to meet regulatory compliance deadlines, says Tom Sigmund, executive director of the Green Bay Metropolitan Sewerage District in Green Bay, Wis.