Sunday, September 17, 2023

UK keeps Nutrient Neutrality

Nutrient neutrality rules were first introduced in the European Union (EU) in 2017. These rules were designed to stop developers from polluting local wetlands and waterways in protected areas when building homes. When Great Britain left the EU they retained those environmental protection rules to prevent excessive nutrient pollution of vulnerable waterways and wetlands.

Excessive amounts of nutrients can lead to a “Dead Zone” which refers to a volume of hypoxic water that is characterized by dissolved oxygen concentrations less than 2 mg/L, which is too low for aquatic organisms to thrive. Within the hypoxic area life of the waterway dies and a “Dead Zone” forms. They occur most often in estuaries and coastal waters, but also in inland lakes, rivers, and streams.

 Increasingly water bodies across the globe are experiencing hypoxic conditions every year, with the severity varying from year to year, depending on nutrient and freshwater flows into the water from agriculture, suburban and urban runoff and wastewater treatment/ release, wind, and temperature. Better nutrient control  in wastewater was able to eliminate the Dead Zone in the Thames River.

The current “nutrient neutrality” means that 62 local authorities in the UK cannot allow new developments unless projects in protected areas can be shown to be "nutrient neutral" – not releasing anymore nutrients after the development than before. In practice the rules ensure that any increase in nutrient pollution from stormwater runoff is offset by a reduction in pollution in the same area. This increased the costs for home builders in the UK. The current UK Tory government has been under pressure to increase the country's housing stock, after warnings earlier this year that residential construction could fall to its lowest level since World War II.

So, the Government introduced an amendment in the House of Lords - to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill that would have seen the policy removed. The attempt was rejected by the House of Lords members, the peers, over the risk it would pose to the environment. The “nutrient neutrality” rule stands and the government will have to introduce a new bill to try again.

Closer to home, we have the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint” the newer and better name for the enforceable pollution limits for nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution in the Chesapeake Bay (formerly called the Bay TMDL) mandated by the EPA to Virginia and the other five Bay states and the District of Columbia. Each of the jurisdictions created a plan (approved by the EPA) called Watershed Implementation Plans or WIPs, to meet the required reductions in nutrient pollution by 2025. The states agreed to have the 60% of the needed programs and practices in place by 2017, and to complete the job by 2025.

Virginia remains on track to achieve its 2025 pollution-reduction commitments, largely due to aggressive action the Commonwealth took on wastewater treatment plants. Those actions account for over 90% percent the nitrogen and phosphorus reductions since the Blueprint’s establishment. This progress currently keeps Virginia on track overall, even though the Commonwealth is not meeting commitments to reduce polluted runoff from agriculture and urban and suburban areas.

In June researchers from the Chesapeake Bay Program, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, University of Michigan and U.S. Geological Survey announced that they are predicting this year's dead zone will 33% smaller than the historic average (from 1985-2022), which would be the smallest dead zone on record if the forecast proves accurate. This was a feel good moment for the Chesapeake Bay. 

However, the significantly smaller than average size is forecast due in large part to a lack of rainfall and mild drought this past spring. Less rainfall means lower flows of the rivers, but also generally means there is a lower amount of nutrients being washed off the land and into the water. The apparent progress may be temporary. Pollution from stormwater continues to grow with population and increased intensity of rainstorms could end up undermining all our other efforts. 

No comments:

Post a Comment