Thursday, January 13, 2011

Potomac Watershed Roundtable Meeting:The Chesapeake Bay, the Virginia Watershed Implementation Plan, and the EPA mandated TMDL

The most recent meeting of the Potomac Watershed Roundtable was in Warrenton, VA at Lord Fairfax Community College and had a series of speakers on the Chesapeake Bay strict pollution diet, the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) mandated by the EPA to the six Chesapeake Bay Watershed states and the District of the Columbia. The TMDL addresses only pollution from excess nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment. No action has been taken on other pollutants that might be present in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

On November 29th 2010 Virginia, submitted the final version of the Virginia Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The introduction to the revised plan states that full implementation of the plan would cost more than $7 billion dollars the WIP went on to state that “In these austere times, we cannot guarantee what additional funding will be provided by our General Assembly. It is our position that the success of the WIP may be subject to the provision of sufficient federal funding to assist in covering these massive new unfunded mandates.”

If you recall the first version of the Virginia WIP the plan did not meet the TMDL loading levels with “reasonable assurance.” On December 29th the EPA accepted the revised version of Virginia’s WIP and issued the “final” TMDL, but Virginia will have enhanced oversight. The January 7th 2011 meeting of the Potomac Roundtable addressed the next steps for the counties and towns in the Potomac Watershed. Russ Baxter, from the Virginia Department of Environment Quality, DEQ, closed the meeting with the State’s perspective and issues facing the state and local governments in implementing the WIP. I found Mr. Baxter’s perspective to be very enlightening and so I share some of his points.

Mr. Baxter was emphatic that the WIP is a living document intended to attain the TMDL and contains proposed management action among the sectors of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed that are the source of nutrient contamination to the Bay. The WIP is designed not only to satisfy the demands of the Federal regulators but to allow flexibility to the local governments in implementation to allow them to use the most cost effective approach to achieve the TMDL goals. Also, Mr. Baxter acknowledged that the septic portion of the WIP read like a limitation on developing new housing in the region, but that was not intended to happen.

When the Chesapeake Bay Model is revised to correct know deficiencies in the near future the TMDLs mandated to Virginia and the other states and DC will be revised and the Phase II of the WIP will have to be developed to reflect these changes. Though, the Phase II WIPs are supposed to be due in 2011, EPA has yet to notify the states and DC of the changes and in reality it is unlikely that the changes will be available before the annual Virginia Legislative session. Mr. Baxter pointed out that the WIP is intended to achieve the current 2017 check points with “reasonable assurances” and achieve a restored Bay by 2025. We know what direction we are heading in and can start this leg of the journey, making course corrections as we go.

The Potomac Watershed Roundtable was founded in 2000 and serves as a regional government-citizen forum to collaborate and cooperate on environmental issues among the various local government and stakeholder groups of nine counties, six towns and cities, the six soil and water conservation districts and various stakeholders including interested citizens.

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