Cities win wastewater rules lawsuit against EPA

DES MOINES – A federal appeals court has sided with a group of Iowa cities challenging Environmental Protection Agency wastewater treatment rules that would have forced cities across the country to spend billions of dollars if the court had upheld them.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday struck down two rules – one that affects the way cities mix water to dilute bacteria levels before it’s released into streams and lakes and one that dictates how cities treat wastewater during heavy rains.

A three-member panel of the court ruled unanimously that the EPA’s policy on bacterial mixing zones should be vacated because it was implemented without proper notice and comment from the public.

Court documents said the EPA has since 1994 allowed cities to incorporate bacteria mixing zones to help control pollutants in water that is eventually released into streams and lakes. In June 2011 the agency sent a letter to U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, who was intervening at the request of the Iowa League of Cities to help clarify EPA regulations on the issue.

In that letter the EPA said mixing zones should not be permitted in areas where swimming or other body contact is allowed with water. The court concluded that the EPA essentially created new limitations on state regulators and cities without first notifying the public of a change or accepting comment.

The second challenged rule deals with the way cities blend wastewater from two different treatment processes during heavy rainfall when their facilities are sometimes overwhelmed with water flow.