March 2017 Metrics Report

Clean Water State Revolving Fund Loan Program

Nebraska’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) loan program provides low interest loans and grants to Nebraska communities for a variety of wastewater infrastructure projects. The NDEQ works daily to help communities across the state solve technical, financial, and managerial challenges and bring low cost financing to the people that need it the most. Approximately 75% of Nebraska’s communities have populations below 800 and over 300 communities have less than 400 residents. The NDEQ works to ensure that proper conditions are maintained for public health and water quality in these communities while simultaneously ensuring that they are able to comply with the terms and conditions of their loan agreements.

Among the challenges these small communities face are aging infrastructure, expensive treatment costs, declining populations, and current user rates that do not adequately meet the communities’ needs. It is not uncommon for small communities to undertake projects of $500,000 or more to address their wastewater needs. As a result, the community may have to raise user rates by 100-200% to finance the project. For the small, often fixed-income populations, this is extremely difficult to afford and manage.

The graphs below show the total of funds obligated to communities with populations under 10,000 between the years 2012 through 2016. The different colors represent the type of assistance that were awarded. Project Planning Activities and Report (PPAR), Small Town Grant (STG) and Loan Forgiveness are grants geared towards smaller communities with financial hardship.

NDEQ utilizes several tools to help our communities throughout the state. An innovative tool, that is unique to Nebraska, is the Assessing Wastewater Infrastructure Needs (AWIN) program. AWIN was developed to assist struggling communities to better afford, maintain, operate and develop wastewater infrastructure projects. The tool determines the sustainability risk of a community’s ability to pay for infrastructure needs in the future by analyzing a community’s population trends, economic status, and resources over a 20 year time period. AWIN rankings quantify a community’s economic sustainability and growth capability, which is then categorized in relation to other communities. The higher the AWIN number the greater a community’s risk. Communities with a low sustainability risk are likely to have sustainable growth and need little additional assistance. Moderate sustainability risk requires further evaluation as a community’s growth potential is uncertain. Communities with high sustainability risk are unlikely to have sustainable growth and need additional financial assistance as they will likely have trouble meeting future infrastructure needs.

AWIN provides the CWSRF a framework to identify and prioritize communities that have the most need for financial assistance such as loan forgiveness, small town grants and planning grants. NDEQ’s engineers use AWIN when reviewing plans and design specifications for projects to provide justification for allowing alternative options for project scale and ensure it fits the needs of communities today and into the future. Nebraska’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program also uses AWIN to establish timetables for communities in addressing NPDES violations and administrative orders. A community with a high “sustainability risk” may be granted an extended compliance schedule to address certain violations. Furthermore, AWIN information is publicly available and can be utilized by a community for any budgeting and long-term planning efforts.

Emerging Issues/Risks: NDEQ received a request from the Public Service Commission (PSC) to review the application they received from TransCanada Keystone Pipeline, L.P. for the construction of the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline. The Obama administration denied the original request; the new application submitted by TransCanada is nearly identical to the previous one submitted. NDEQ reviewed the original Keystone XL application and submitted a letter to Governor Heinemann on January 4, 2013, informing the Governor that the related environmental issues had been addressed. The same NDEQ team that reviewed the original Keystone XL application also reviewed the new application and found no new issues. On March 14th, Director Macy sent a letter to the PSC, informing them that NDEQ’s review was complete and we did not identify any issues.

Accomplishments: NDEQ’s Agriculture Section recently initiated a team building exercise intended to identify areas where additional effort would improve overall operations. The event occurred over two days and a number of ideas were presented and are now being acted upon. A key outcome is moving toward online submittal of permit applications.

The Army Corps of Engineers issued a Nation-wide General Permit for Section 404 permits. These permits are needed if waters of the United States are going to be impacted by proposed activities. NDEQ commented on the Corps proposal with Nebraska-specific conditions for inclusion in the permit. The General Permit program will save the Corps, NDEQ, and the affected entity time and resources.

Misc. Items of Note: NDEQ staff met with NioCorp representatives and their consultants to discuss various waste management issues. NioCorp informed NDEQ of design and operational standards and procedures which should serve to reduce the environmental footprint of the facility.

The Small Business Compliance Advisory Panel met March 3rd to discuss NDEQ’s small business assistance activities that occurred in 2016. The Panel is made up of both legislative and gubernatorial appointees. In their 2016 report to the Governor, the Panel stated they will continue to pursue their goals of commenting on NDEQ regulatory proposals as well as commenting on NDEQ’s assistance initiatives.