According to research at West Virginia University, wastewater treatment violations tend to decrease after the implementation of strict regulations make those violations spike.

Levan Elbakidze investigated compliance of water treatment facilities and how they meet new standards and regulations. Understanding how federal and state mandated regulations affect water treatment facilities could be the first step in improving water quality.

“Typically, as economists, we expect that if the rules are stricter, then compliance is more difficult and costly,” Elbakidze, an associate professor of resource economics and management in the WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, said. “Interestingly, after a year, the violations drop even below what was observed prior to the new rules being introduced.”

At the federal level, the Clean Water Act imposes regulations on all water treatment facilities in the United States; however, individual states can also impose their own regulations on those facilities, which can create water quality differences across the United States.

“We take advantage of the variation across states to see how violations or compliance changes,” he added. “When a state implements additional regulations, violations tend to go down a year after. That tells me there is a delay in implementing the necessary adjustments, be it technology, procedures or operations, which makes sense. That means the rules can improve both wastewater quality and drinking water quality."

Elbakidze said that income may be the driving force behind the difference in violations.

WVU research finds wealth affects water facility compliance

“Whether it is tax money or access to resources, compliance depends on how much money a facility has for improvements,” he added. “This includes availability of technical and administrative expertise.”

Elbakidze noted that underfunding non-compliant facilities may be detrimental for compliance in underprivileged areas. Funding underperforming facilities is the first step toward improving compliance.

“How is it decided which facility should get funding?” he asked. “Money generally is allocated to facilities that have poorer compliance. That’s a good thing, but some people may question if they’re rewarding bad behavior.”

With this data in-hand, he’s now focusing his research on how limited federal and state funds are allocated to facilities for improvements.

His paper, State Regulatory Heterogeneity and Compliance with the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water Acts, was published by Water Resources Research and featured in Eos, the magazine by American Geophysical Union.



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