Thursday, October 7, 2010

Chesapeake Bay TMDL, Virginia WIP and the Northern Virginia Public Meeting

EPA has been having a series of public meetings in conjunction with the six Chesapeake Bay States to provide and information on the Chesapeake Bay strict pollution diet, the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), the Watershed Implementation Plans, WIPs and to encourage public comment. The Chesapeake Bay and its tidal waters are impaired by the release of excess nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment. These pollutants are released from waste water treatment plants, from agricultural operations, urban and suburban runoff, wastewater facilities, air pollution and other sources, including septic systems that enter the tributaries and Chesapeake Bay. These pollutants cause algae blooms that consume oxygen and create dead zones where fish and shellfish cannot survive, block sunlight that is needed for underwater grasses, and smother aquatic life on the bottom. 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 TMDL to restore the local waters. The TMDL (released as a Draft standard in July and to be finalized at the end of November) allocates a pollution budget among the states which will decrease over time. On Tuesday evening there was a public meeting at Northern VA Community College in Annandale.

Robert Koroncai from Region III of the US EPA Water Protection Division in Philadelphia made it quite clear that the federal government is in charge and in their evaluation of the Virginia WIP the plan did not meet the TMDL loading levels with “reasonable assurance.” The EPA found that none of the states met the reasonable assurance standard, but that Virginia’s WIP had a “moderate need” for federal backstops. Virginia’s WIP was found to have serious deficiencies. It did not meet allocations for nitrogen (6 percent over) and phosphorus (7 percent over), but did meet allocations for sediment (12 percent under). In addition, the EPA found that the Virginia WIP relied on pollution trading programs but had no commitment to adopt new regulations relying instead on market forces. The WIP was deemed to be vague and was found to have limited enforceability and accountability for filling the gaps identified by the EPA and few data points to demonstrate compliance. Stronger CAFO (concentrated animal feed operation), MS4s and wastewater treatment plants were all areas that Mr. Koroncai pointed out required federal backstops. Mr. Koroncai stated that Virginia needed to reduce their nitrogen release by an addition 12 million pounds per year, and their phosphorus release by 1.7 million pounds per year beyond those identified in the WIP.

EPA is invoking a “moderate levels of back stops” for Virginia to ensure adequate reduction in nutrient pollution to the Chesapeake Bay. This means that the WIP aggregate point source allocations for storm water and animal agriculture (CAFO) sectors were adjusted by the federal government to match levels determined to be adequate in Maryland’s WIPs. More stringent waste load allocations were applied to waste water treatment plants (regulated via federal programs); so that the waste stream from wastewater treatment plants was assigned to be 4 mg/L total nitrogen and 0.3 mg/L total phosphorus. For municipal separate storm sewer systems, MS4s, the federal government has imposed the requirement that 50% of urban MS4 lands meet aggressive performance standard through retrofit/ redevelopment; 50% of unregulated land will be treated as regulated, so that 25% of unregulated land meets aggressive performance standard. I’m, quite frankly, not sure what that means in terms of installation and operation of storm systems. Erosion and sediment control will be required on all lands subject to Construction General Permit. Finally, in animal agriculture and CAFO operations waste management, barnyard runoff control, mortality composting will be required. In addition, precision feed management for all animals in unpermitted animal feed operations, permitted CAFOs but not to dairies.

Mr. Koroncai did make positive comments on the Nutrient credit exchange program that Anthony Moore, the Assistant Secretary for Chesapeake Bay Restoration of Virginia, highlighted. Mr. Moore was the primary speaker for Virginia and highlighted the WIP for the audience. It was clear that addition requirements will have to be placed on existing homeowners, neighborhoods and communities. Animal agriculture will have to expand best management practices, BMPs and waste water treatment plants will have to be retrofitted with additional equipment. This all comes down to the limitations to land use freedom, increased regulation, costs and taxes. The Virginia homeowner and citizen needs a voice in the process to determine the balance of regulations, taxes and fees that occur in meeting the TMDL. The Chesapeake Bay will be cleaned up, that is not in question, how we pay for the cleanup is in question. Significant changes in land use regulations, storm water management, waste treatment plant operation, septic regulations and operations, agricultural practices will have to be made to meet the TMDL, the federal regulators should allow Virginia to decide how to best meet the TMDL and not impose the command and control method of compliance they prefer. There is cost to achieve a healthy Chesapeake Bay, let us determine how to pay for it.

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