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October 21, 2014
EPA’s water administrator defines water policy priorities
By Amanda Czepiel, JD, Senior Managing Editor

At this year’s Water Environment Federation Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC) in New Orleans, Ken Kopocis, deputy assistant administrator in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Water, presented at the conference’s annual Clean Water Policy Update session. Kopocis was the keynote for the event and presented what he considers EPA’s priorities for water in the upcoming year.

Waters of the United States proposed rule.Kopocis began with a discussion of the waters of the United States proposed rule, which was also the highlighted topic of EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy’s speech earlier that day at WEFTEC’s opening session. Kopocis stated that it is one of the agency’s highest priorities, stating “what EPA is trying to do is to provide the type of protection that the enactors of the original law (the Clean Water Act) in 1972 intended to do.” He went on to say that EPA’s goal is to have people understand what waters will be protected and what waters will not be protected.

The proposed rule has been very controversial, igniting dissent in many industries, including agriculture and construction. The EPA has received hundreds of thousands of public comments, and Kopocis said that the public should still anticipate a final rule in 2015.

Nutrient pollution. The next topic on Kopocis’s agenda was nutrient pollution, with the focus on nitrogen and phosphorus. He zeroed in on agriculture, stating that “it’s part of the problem and needs to be part of the solution,” and called for public/private partnerships to reduce the nutrients in waters in a way that “makes sense and is the most economical.”

Drinking water. Concern about emerging contaminants and how technology is the key to keeping drinking water safe were the target of Kopocis’s next topic. Pointing out that the United States has the cleanest drinking water in the world, he said that the EPA intends to make its efforts and successes much more visible in communities, asserting that the “EPA is part of everyone’s life and is taken for granted.”

Climate change and green infrastructure. The EPA is targeting how to respond to climate change, according to Kopocis, who stated, “Water is the area where climate change will be felt first.” This was not breaking news—the EPA has been working on its National Water Program strategy for responding to climate change for years—but with more frequent extreme weather patterns, climate change has become a larger part of all discussions relating to clean water and has brought an increased awareness of green infrastructure’s relationship with climate resiliency. The EPA wants communities to realize that investing in green infrastructure has a multitude of advantages, including cooling effects, recreational benefits, and ecological restoration.

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