Monday, August 23, 2010

Chesapeake Bay Watershed Basin Implementation Plans and the Homeowner

EPA has been having a series of webinars to provide the latest news and information on the Chesapeake Bay strict pollution diet, Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). Over the past quarter century the excess nutrient contamination to the Chesapeake Bay has decreased in total, but the Bay’s waters remain seriously degraded. As a result, US EPA took control of the situation and has developed a new federally mandated TMDL to restore the local waters. The TMDL (released as a Draft standard in July) allocates a pollution budget among the states which will decrease over time. The webinars serve as 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.

The states and DC have already received their draft nutrient allocation and the sixth and most recent webinar reviewed the sediment allocations to the states and D.C. and had the District. highlight their strategy for their implementation plan. Since my home has a considerable portion of the yard in resource protected area under the Chesapeake Bay Protection Act, I view myself as a steward of the watershed and I wanted to get an update on the program. So I “attended” the webinar. Anyone is welcome to attend the webinars or review past presentations. Just go to this page on the EPA web site. Draft Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) from each of the six Bay watershed states and the District of Columbia are due at EPA on September 1st and so time is running out to develop plans acceptable to the EPA and the consultant developed watershed models as meeting the mandated goals. These plans have probably already been developed and are now being finalized in the individual jurisdictions.

There will be a public comment period on the Bay TMDL and WIPs set to begin on September 24, 2010 and end on November 8th 2010. You should get involved. Though I strongly support protection of the Chesapeake Bay Basin, I question whether state regulators and their consultants can develop a WIP that will consider the interests of homeowners. My experience with the AOSS regulations in Virginia show that the homeowner has no representation and thus no voice in regulatory development and there is no rational limitation on regulatory overreach and cost impacts to the homeowner of their various regulatory schemes. (With the AOSS Emergency Regulations they included the requirements to sample septic systems along with the more reasonable requirements to maintain and inspect these systems. The intended purpose of the sampling was to gather data. The Virginia Department of Health believes that they are somehow going to obtain this data without any standard and appropriate sampling protocol and somehow use it. All they will achieve with this requirement is spending several hundred dollars of the homeowner’s money to the profit of the licensed operators who were well represented in the regulatory process.) Make no mistake the WIPs will ultimately impact homeowners who have had no representation on the process.

Based on the presentation by the EPA and the District Department of the Environment (DDOE) about their WIP, these plans will impact homeowners. In discussing the Storm Water Management and MS4 permit process in the D.C., Hamid Karimi, the Deputy Director of the DDOE mentioned that Storm Water Management Plans (SWMPs?... Swamps?) are required for all building over 5,000 square feet. He was asked if that included residential which it does and he went on to say that there had not been a push back on that. I dare say that most large homeowners in the district are unaware of that particular regulation. However, if the other states mimic that requirement and include basements in the square foot calculation, then a insignificant portion of the newer homes developed in recent years would be required to have Storm Water Management Plans. There is only one standard for Storm Water Management Plans, the cost of having each homeowner with a house that exceeds the threshold square foot limit produce the same Storm Water Management Plan as a suburban Walmart is ridiculous. (Such a requirement will be very profitable to an enterprising group of consultants without producing any improvement in the Chesapeake Bay basin.) Furthermore, EPA will be modifying their watershed model in relation to low density development in the coming year. So that suburban development will be fully incorporated into the WIPs in the future. Currently, Virginia exempts single family homes from the requirement for Stormwater Management Plans.

Sediment allocations are going to be controlled by submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) population and water clarity acreage goals. Excessive sediment clouds the water blocking sunlight from reaching underwater grasses which are need for shelter and survival or young fish and blue crabs. More than 16 species of underwater bay grasses, also called submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) are found in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Bay grasses are used as a measure of the Bay's overall condition because they are not harvested and their health is closely linked to the overall health of the Bay. EPA has apparently used historical records and photographs to generate SAV acreage goals for the 92 geographic segments that they have divided the Chesapeake Bay basin into. These goals are to achieve the best level of SAV that they have a record or picture of. Currently, 66 of those 92 segments (representing 185,000 acres) are not in compliance with the SAV/ clarity goals. I say SAV/ clarity goals because apparently each jurisdiction is allowed to count each clarity acre as 2/5th of an acre in meeting their SAV acreage goals.

EPA determines all these allocations based on models of the Chesapeake basin. These models are evolving and improving, but still are only approximations of the ecology of the watershed. EPA has found the model results tend to show more attainment from implementation than the monitored results. Thus, the allocation made reflect an arbitrarily applied margin of safety across the board. So, EPA is setting the basin wide total sediment allocation at 6.1-6.7 billion pound per year to achieve the desired 8 billion pound per year goal. Then based on the draft WIPs and draft TMDL will allocate sediment for each EPA designated segment in the basin.

There will be a series of 18 public meetings held across the watershed basin mostly in October and November. The First meeting is in Washington DC on September 29th followed by Virginia on October 5th 2010 in Annandale; October 6th 2010 in Richmond; and October 7th in Hampton. There will also be a webinar on October 7th. I encourage you to attend. While various interest groups like builders, regulators and “NGOs” have been fully represented in the process of developing the WIPs, no one has represented the interests of the home owners. The WIPs will evolve over time as TMDLs decrease. There is no organization monitoring the development of these regulations and ensuring rational regulatory standards for homeowners. There is no one to look out for your interests but you. While homeowners should be one of the largest stakeholder groups they are absent from the table.

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