Hydrological environmental engineers in the Last Frontier are not entirely sure how the rollback of Obama-era clean water regulations will impact their work. However, there is no question that their services will remain in high demand for the foreseeable future.
The Trump Administration announced the repeal of the 2015 Waters of the United States rule, which placed limits on polluting chemicals that could be used near streams, wetlands, and other bodies of water, in September.
Earlier in the year, the Environmental Protection Agency updated Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, which was established in 1972 and requires any applicant for a federal license or permit to obtain a water quality certification from the state in which any possible discharge of water might occur
"Recently the Section 401 permitting process is being perceived as adding delay and uncertainty for several proposed infrastructure projects," explains Paul Dworian, AECOM's Alaska manager for geosciences and remediation services.
The June update to Section 401 provides state guidance, pointing them toward reviewing the water quality of the actual discharge rather than the overall activity that is the subject of the federal permitting effort.
"It will be interesting to see how these changes affect our work," Dworian says. "AECOM does work for both agencies reviewing and proponents submitting permits, although obviously not on the same project."
Dworian says he welcomes legislation that creates a faster tempo for the permitting process, noting that in some cases reviews are not happening promptly because the state simply doesn't have the resources to review multiple applications all at once.
"It also means that the proponent needs to make sure their permit submittal is of the highest quality, contains all the necessary information, and is submitted early in the project," Dworian says. "That doesn't always happen, and we can help with that."
Nearly all of the work conducted by hydrological environmental engineers, from wetlands delineation and mapping to stream surveys and stormwater management, is dictated by the Clean Water Act.
"Our job is to identify the resources of importance for a project and help the client avoid and minimize impacts to wetlands, waters, and fish-bearing streams, which in turn streamlines the permitting process," says Victor Ross, a Stantec senior regulatory specialist based in Wasilla.
"The larger the footprint of a project, the greater potential to impact wetlands, waters, and fish habitat. As projects get larger, the more baseline data is required for state and federal...