Monday, July 26, 2010

The Next Steps in Chesapeake Bay Restoration in Virginia

On Friday, Governor McDonnell announced the appointment of a new Assistant Secretary for Chesapeake Bay Restoration in Virginia, Anthony Moore. Mr. Moore recently served for six years at the US EPA as a Senior Policy Advisor for the Office of Water. Prior to serving at the EPA, Mr. Moore briefly served as the Director of Policy for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, was Assistant Secretary of Natural Resources for the Commonwealth of Virginia, and worked as a Chemist for Dominion Power for 15 years. This appointment marks the first step in Virginia’s response to the anticipated release of the final total maximum daily load, TMDLs for nutrients and sediments.

If you will recall, this past spring EPA released the “Strategy for Protecting and Restoring the Chesapeake Bay Watershed” developed under President Obama’s Executive Order. The Strategy was released in May 2010 and outlines actions that will be taken by each federal agency to control pollution, restore habitat and wildlife, conserve land, and increase public awareness and accountability in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. The executive order complements and overlaps with the settlement agreement resolving the lawsuit brought by former Maryland State Senator Bernard Fowler, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Maryland and Virginia watermen’s associations, and others filed against the EPA in January 2009 alleging the Agency failed to fulfill its duties under the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement. EPA settled the lawsuit with the “settlement agreement,” which requires EPA to:
Establish and implement a Chesapeake Bay total maximum daily load, TMDL, for nutrients and sediments. This will include reviewing watershed implementation plans (WIPs) by the Chesapeake Bay watershed states and the District of Columbia to ensure those jurisdictions achieve the nutrient and sediment allocations under the TMDL.
Review state-issued permits, including proposed construction general permits and NPDES permits for “significant point source discharges of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment” in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Develop new storm water regulations by 2012 and concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) regulations by 2014.
Issue guidance on permitting for municipal separate storm sewer systems.

Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources, Doug Domenech, in a press conference last week said the amount of nitrogen from cars, power plants, fertilizer and other sources is down 20 percent bay wide since 1985. According to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, this decrease in large part to the water shed states reducing point source reductions by improving sewage treatment plant discharge. The new TMDLs are to take effect next year; the federal government could punish states that do not meet requirements by withholding grant money, imposing more regulations and taking other measures. Mr. Domenech called the consequences "unnecessarily aggressive,” but it is still unclear what how the reductions will be measured, documented and enforced. Mr. Domench argued the current approach, in which states are encouraged not required to meet EPA pollution reduction goals, is working and therefore should not be changed. Pointing out that new regulation could lead to job losses, especially among farmers, ranchers and land developers.

Yet, despite more than 25 years of effort, the Bay’s waters remain seriously degraded and considerably short of attaining the 2010 water quality goals set forth in the Chesapeake 2000 agreement by the states. As a result of the court order, the US EPA is required to draft a new Bay-wide cleanup plan by May 2011. After point source reduction, which was mandated by federal regulation, improvements in water quality of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed stalled. All of the states failed to meet the 2010 deadline for water quality in the Bay. The new federally mandated Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) plan is will establish and apportion an allowable pollution budget among the states and review the implementation plans for achieving those goals. The US EPA will set nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment limits for each impaired tributary and the Bay, together with maximum allowable point source and nonpoint source loadings.

The Federal Clean Water Act gives regulatory authority to the states to restrict pollutants discharged into the waters of the Bay from point sources, such as wastewater treatment plants. In contrast, that authority does not extend to non-point sources, such as farms, ornamental gardens, horse facilities and septic systems. The states need to address these non-point sources using other regulatory schemes. That lack of bright line regulatory authority has been the root cause of the stalled cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay. There were always other calls for the resources of the states. Reductions in discharge of contaminants can be achieved through the implementation of “agricultural best management practices” operations and sensible management of septic systems in the state. In Virginia, the Soil and Water Conservation Districts work with farmers, and livestock owners to develop BMP implementation plans. The property owners are not “required” to implement BMPs and there is no system to verify the BMPs are followed. The most recent budget cycle has slashed the Soil and Conservation budgets throughout the state. There has never been and mechanism for enforcing the adoption and maintenance of BMPs now it seems there will be no budget for developing them.

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