Protect water quality and assist communities in improving sanitation conditions.
- Identify, abate, and control water pollution in a cost effective, accountable manner to protect public health and preserve the many uses of Alaska's waters.
- Assist communities in providing sustainable water, sewer, and solid waste services in full regulatory compliance.
|Mission Results||Core Services|
|Mission Results||Core Services|
|A: Result - Identify, abate, and control water pollution in a cost effective, accountable manner to protect public health and preserve the many uses of Alaska's waters.|
|A1: Core Service - Identify, abate, and control water pollution in a cost effective, accountable manner to protect public health and preserve the many uses of Alaska's waters.|
Target #2: All dischargers managed by the State have current permits/authorizations.
Current Water Discharge Permits and Authorizations
Analysis of results and challenges: Since the Department began primacy assumption in 2008 for administering wastewater discharge permits to waters of the United States in Alaska, it has made substantial progress in issuing current permits. Permits issued under the Clean Water Act have an expiration not greater than five years, but the Department has authority to administratively extend permits beyond their expiration date as long as the permit still meets regulatory requirements and is protective of human health and the environment. The Department must balance the need to reissue permits within the five-year window with work to develop new permits in response to applicant needs or modify current permits which require immediate attention to remain protective of human health and the environment. The Department evaluates each permit task against available resources and applicant need to develop a projected permit issuance plan each year. A permit being on administrative extension is not an accurate indicator of that permit’s efficacy, and vice versa. Since primacy assumption began, the backlog of administratively extended permits has steadied, but the remaining extended permits are complex and controversial, with several having a history of litigation and appeal.
Overall, the Department's percentage of current permits is significantly greater than the percentage EPA was able to maintain while administering the program in Alaska. The variability from year-to-year results from the fact that a single general permit can have hundreds of authorizations under the cover of the general permit. When high-authorization general permits get administratively extended, it can drastically impact the number considered current for this measure. Additionally, the number of authorizations under general permits changes from year to year since many discharges are temporary in nature such as construction stormwater. The Department has largely stabilized this value at an average of 82 percent over the past five fiscal year s. This level is among the higher values provided by other states across the nation. Variability in the total number of permits largely reflects the number of general construction permits issued in a year, which are temporary in nature and trend with economic considerations. After assuring that new dischargers are permitted and addressing any immediate concerns to human health and the environment from current permits, the focus of the program is on general permits, because a large number of facilities in Alaska are covered by general permits. The Department has a plan to issue two controversial general permits in FY2022; the Cook Inlet Oil and Gas Exploration and Production permit and the Onshore Seafood Processor permit.
Target #3: All inspected facilities have performed follow-up actions required by inspection reports.
Analysis of results and challenges: A facility inspection report documents areas of permit non-compliance. Areas of non-compliance are further expanded upon in enforcement responses, both formal and informal, which identify the actions a permittee must complete to come into compliance. The enforcement response requires that the permittee take corrective actions by a specified timeline and notify the State once those actions have been taken.
When there is a threat to human health or the environment as the result of non-compliance, the Department of Environmental Conservation schedules an immediate follow-up inspection to verify that actions taken by the permittee fully address the identified areas of non-compliance. Most often, Department staff use collaborative communication with permittees to develop compliance schedules that are protective of the environment and to ensure that compliance is achieved as expeditiously as possible. For permittees who fail to report follow-up actions and/or where continued non-compliance poses a threat to human health or the environment, staff first contact the permittee to determine if the permittee failed to report, or if there is a reason the permittee was unable to comply. If the permittee fails to resolve the non-compliance, the Department will follow an escalated response up to, and including, formal enforcement action, consistent with the Department's Enforcement Manual and Division of Water Enforcement Response Guide. The Department uses a Schedule of Compliance to allow staff to determine if facilities have complied with follow-up actions and then take appropriate actions in regard to the non-compliance.
In FY2021, the Division of Water inspected 299 facilities, an increase of 130 facilities over the previous year. Of the facilities with completed inspection reports, 135 received inspection reports that required follow-up actions identified in a Compliance Letter or Notice of Violation. Of facilities where follow-up actions were required, 81% of the permittees performed the follow-up actions and 19% are still pending. This is an increase of three percent from the previous year, which is within the expected yearly deviation and the consistency can largely be attributed to nearly full staffing within the Compliance program in FY2020, and a well-developed enforcement response, including formal enforcement actions and penalties. Given the larger number of inspections in FY2021, there are a number of pending follow-up actions in process that are not yet completed as of the date the data was collected (August 18, 2021). Of the 26 facilities which have pending enforcement action deliverables, six are currently in formal enforcement proceedings.
|B: Result - Assist communities in providing sustainable water, sewer, and solid waste services in full regulatory compliance.|
|B1: Core Service - Assist communities in providing sustainable water, sewer, and solid waste services in full regulatory compliance.|
Target #1: 85% of regulated systems comply with drinking water supply system operator certification requirements.
Analysis of results and challenges: The State's Operator Certification program classifies water systems based on the size and complexity of a system and determines whether operators have experience and knowledge commensurate with the system's classification. Certification validates that water system operators have the qualifications necessary to safeguard public health. The Operator Certification program offers training and administers examinations to assist operators with achieving certification.
Although the Operator Certification program oversees certification in water treatment, water distribution, wastewater treatment, and wastewater collection, this measure is limited to drinking water supply system certification as public health is most closely related to drinking water safety. This measure also excludes systems with less than 25 users or systems where users obtain water on a house by house basis (private wells or rain catchments), since those systems are not subject to Operator Certification requirements.
The program places an emphasis on notifying systems of certification requirements, increasing the availability of exams for operators, and promoting operator training opportunities. Through these efforts, the percentage of systems employing properly certified operators has remained greater than 80% for the past eleven years. Several factors affect compliance rates, including frequent turnover of system operators, rising travel costs which inhibit operator travel to certification training, and increasing complexity of systems which drives up the certification requirements. Recognizing that full compliance is unlikely given these challenges, the program has adopted 85% compliance as the target to achieve and maintain. In FY2021, the compliance rate dropped from the prior year and the program fell slightly short of the target. This decrease in the compliance rate can be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic which resulted in the cancellations of training classes and the inability to administer paper-based and online certification exams due to the inability to secure proctors for the paper-based exams and the closure of online testing centers. In addition to current efforts, the program is moving forward with initiatives that will improve outreach to systems and increase technical assistance opportunities for operators. As these new initiatives are developed and implemented, the program anticipates a further increase in the number of systems with properly certified operators.
Target #2: All serviceable rural Alaska homes are served by safe and sustainable sanitation facilities.
Safe and Sustainable Sanitation Facilities in Rural Alaska
Analysis of results and challenges: The Village Safe Water (VSW) program continues its work to achieve the goal of providing in-home running water and sewer service to year-round occupied homes in rural Alaska communities. This service has historically been provided by centralized piped, closed haul systems, or individual septic tanks/wells.
Since the baseline year of 2015, three of the 34 unserved communities have received service and are no longer considered unserved. Additionally, six communities are currently funded for service, with projects in various stages of design and construction. The remaining unserved homes represent approximately three percent of all year-round occupied, serviceable homes in rural Alaska. The pace of progress has slowed in recent years as the cost of constructing centralized systems in unserved communities has escalated and the remaining unserved communities pose the greatest challenges to serve in terms of site conditions, capital costs, and local operational capacity. Additionally, an increasing share of total available funding has been needed in recent years to pay for necessary upgrades to existing water and sewer systems, making less funds available for constructing systems that will provide first-time service to homes.
Current as of November 10, 2021