Thursday, August 26, 2010

Chesapeake Bay Basin Pollution Diet Support Group

Over the past quarter century the excess nutrient contamination to the Chesapeake Bay has decreased, but the Bay’s waters remain seriously degraded. As a result, US EPA has taken control of the situation and has developed a new federally mandated Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) of nutrients and sediments to restore the local waters. The TMDL (released as a Draft standard in July) allocates a pollution budget among the states and is intended to decrease over time with the goal of restoring the Chesapeake Bay to the best conditions observed in the past 70 years. EPA describes the TMDL as a pollution diet and appropriately enough has created a diet support group. EPA has been having a series of webinars to provide the latest news, information, support and guidance for the state regulators and to provide an approach to implementing the new federal standards in the six Bay watershed states and the District of Columbia.

In the past 25 years much of the improvement in the Chesapeake Bay water quality has been achieved through regulation and control of point source contamination coming from sewage treatment plants and industrial plants combined with the improved management practices in agriculture. During this period, storm water pollution prevention and management planes were developed and implemented for large scale commercial construction. The largest producers of pollution have been regulated. The new pollution diets mandated by the EPA will require more reductions and a new strategy for achieving these reductions.

Nutrient and sediment contamination from mixed open, urban runoff and septic have all increased with the growing population and expanding suburbs over the past 25 years. So, while agricultural and industrial pollution have reduced their contamination of the Chesapeake Bay basin by a quarter to over half depending on which nutrient and which model is used to measure the pollution, the nutrient pollution form open space, urban runoff and septic have grown. To meet the new TMDLs sediment and nutrient limits that are being mandated by the US EPA the six Chesapeake Bay water shed states and Washington DC are going to have to reduce the nutrient pollution and sediment from urban and suburban residential sources.

The historic regulatory approach will not work with home owners and other small source contributors. Households do not have compliance officers to generate Storm Water Management Plans and implement and maintain best management practices. Many homeowners are not educated on the appropriate steps that should be taken to reduce run off and impact from their properties. Instead they are bombarded with advertisements for lawn care products, services and sprinkler systems and pressured by homeowner associations to maintain the appearance of their properties. Hospitals, libraries, schools, public spaces, parks, and retail locations are all landscaped and watered. The old maximum recommended elapsed time for pumping a septic tank is the one required in sensitive areas within the watershed and it is not monitored and enforced. Many homeowners seem unaware that septic systems require maintenance and care. We wash our cars in driveways instead of utilizing commercial operations with recycled water. There is no easy or obvious way to change this.

The entire state and Federal regulatory structure is geared toward large deep pocket corporate sources of contamination not towards ensuring that septic tanks are pumped with adequate frequency, fertilizer is used sparingly (if at all in ornamental applications) and storm water is adequately controlled in all areas. Many small and older developments were built without addressing the storm water flow and sheet flow of water off streets. This clearly needs to be addressed, but how that is to be accomplished in a non-punitive manner and consistently enforce and implemented is not clear. DC’s idea of requiring every structure of more than 5,000 square feet to have a Storm Water Management Plan does not appear workable in the suburbs where mile of developments were built without urban storm sewers, without storm water management plans, or the plans have proved inadequate over time.

I do not know how to improve homeowner behavior in maintaining a septic systems, lawns, garden care and in managing run off to and from residential properties without creating a regulatory and bureaucratic nightmare for the homeowner and a quagmire for the regulators. I look forward to reviewing the Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) when it is released for comment on September 24th 2010 to see how our regulators have chosen to approach the problem if at all in this first iteration of the WIP. I am planning on attending one of the Virginia meetings for a complete list of meetings go to the EPA web page listing. We should all be informed and know what the regulatory community has planned for us.

The schedule for the EPA public comment meetings in all jurisdictions can also be found on the EPA Bay TMDL page at


  1. Thanks for letting us know about these meetings. Four meetings in Virginia of 2 hours each plus one webinar doesn't seem like a serious effort to get the word out. And what about the other states that are not on the list?

    Will the meetings be advertised? How can we sign up for the webinar?

  2. The Webinars are not yet open for sign-up, but after September 28 you should be able to sign up at