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Topic 1: The Watershed Approach

2010 March 16

EPA has long focused on identifying impaired waters and restoring their water quality.  Recently, EPA has begun efforts on the protection and conservation of healthy, functioning watersheds, which provide the ecological support system essential for achieving water quality restoration. Our challenge is to weave a range of voluntary programs, regulations, and strategies into an effective method of protecting whole geographically based drainage areas.

•    If you have experience with protecting watersheds, what has worked and what hasn’t?

•    How can we protect and improve watersheds given the challenges of various sources of pollution?

•    What examples of effective practices and strategies can be “scaled up” to State and national levels for greater effectiveness and broader use?

For more detail about why and how conference participants will be approaching this topic, please see the Discussion Document at right.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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104 Responses
  1. March 31, 2010

    The United States can have neither healthy waterways nor healthy communities based on a “watershed approach” unless all of the waters of the U.S. traditionally protected by the federal Clean Water Act remain protected from pollution under the law. Support for legislation to ensure safeguards for these waters are restored must be the Obama Administration’s top priority when it comes to national clean water policy, and strategies to achieve passage of such legislation should be a major focus of this forum.

    The Clean Water Act, long considered one of the country’s most successful environmental laws, is broken due to confusion and uncertainty resulting from Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006. Only Congress can overturn the Supreme Court decisions that have led to much of the current disastrous situation for the nation’s waters. Every day that Congress fails to act, more streams, rivers, wetlands and other waters that have long been protected by the Clean Water Act are being polluted or destroyed.

    Why is this legislation urgently needed? Here are just a few of many reasons:

    The Environmental Protection Agency has admitted that they dropped enforcement of hundreds of alleged violations of the Clean Water Act, lowered others in priority, and has had to fight frequent attempts by defendants to escape legal responsibility. In sum, over 500 enforcement cases were affected during an 18 month period in 2006 and 2007. They have not done a new survey, but agency staff confirm this is an ongoing problem.

    Further, there are a great deal more foregone enforcement cases involving waters deemed to be “isolated” by EPA and the Corps. EPA has acknowledged that the government effectively stopped enforcing the requirement of its regulations that protects intrastate waters, the use, degradation, or destruction of which may affect interstate commerce. In 2008, EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Benjamin Grumbles testified before Congress that they have not asserted jurisdiction over any such waters for over seven years, even where the agency retains the legal authority to do so.

    The federal courts are struggling to determine how to implement the Supreme Court’s decisions, resulting in conflicting decisions and uncertain standards in different parts of the country. One EPA estimate suggests that, since the SWANCC decision in 2001, to date, the Corps has left well over 10,000 water bodies out of the Clean Water Act’s pollution control program – perhaps as high as 15,000.

    Public health and safety are threatened each day this situation continues until Congress fixes the law. Waters losing protections include headwater, intermittent, and ephemeral streams that supply public drinking water systems that serve more than 110 million Americans – 5,646 public water supply systems.
    More than 40% of facilities (14,800) with individual Clean Water Act NPDES permits discharge into small or intermittent streams, and already several such facilities are arguing that because or Rapanos and SWANCC, they no longer require permits which impose limits on their pollution levels.

    Dredging or filling streams, and draining and filling wetlands, can cause or exacerbate flooding downstream with significant public safety and economic implications. A single acre of wetland can store 1 to 1.5 million gallons of flood water. Wetlands in the continental United States save an estimated $30 plus billion in annual flood damage repair costs.

  2. March 31, 2010

    One of the things that has worked in the Long Island Sound watershed is creating watershed plans for small local or regional watersheds. If the watershed planning process includes local stakeholdres, the people on the ground have an investment in implememting the plan. Even without local input, the municipalitities and local orgranizations can use the watershed protection plan to help govern land use, development and conservation.

    Public outreach and education about simple information reagrding pollution and how individuals can amke a differnece is important. Infomraing people not to litter, to turn off their cars, conserve water, and create permeable areas are examples of this.

    The States should provide GIS infomation and mapping to the region.

  3. March 31, 2010

    As stated in the discussion document, EPA should begin addressing more diverse sources of pollution. Agricultural and silvicultural (forestry) runoff, stormwater discharges from urban and suburban development, and hydrologic and habitat modification (such as channeling, creating dams or waterway erosion) are among the leading sources of water quality impairments in the United States, and they are even more important to consider in as-yet-unimpaired watershed where new development is occurring.
    EPA can integrate its watershed protection work with its Smart Growth initiatives – the biggest threat to many watersheds is the current land use patterns of low density, sprawling subdivisions, shopping areas, and office parks. To maintain a watershed’s health in the face of increased population, communities must change current patterns of development by encouraging higher density where infrastructure already exists, and holding onto natural areas so they can continue to provide the ecological services necessary to maintain quality of water, air, land, and life.
    This becomes especially important climate change concerns – it will be even more important to maintain a watershed’s resiliency against climate change by keeping its natural areas, and to bring greater efficiencies to our cities, transportation systems, and infrastructure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. (see for more information on climate change’s impact on a watershed level)
    We would support further EPA efforts (the Healthy Watersheds Initiative) on the protection and conservation of healthy, functioning watersheds, which provide the ecological support system essential for achieving water quality restoration. Identifying the locations of healthy watersheds and using that information to prioritize restoration and protection efforts can provide a strategic, cost-effective approach for State water resource management.
    EPA needs to have more tools to address nonpoint sources of pollution from agricultural lands and maintained drains in rural areas. USDA should require performance measures of conservation practices and expand cost-share programs through the Farm Bill to include two-stage channels as an accepted conservation practice – this will require a change in how the national Farm Service Agency values BMPs based on soil type.
    We recommend EPA expand TMDLs to flow impairments and iIntegrate the TMDL program with state and federal programs for regulated dams, including FERC relicensing. We have successfully used TMDL’s to create watershed management plans for many of the subwatershed in the Huron River watershed – EPA needs better enforcement to ensure the plans are implemented by the stakeholders (local communities, etc.) who participated in creating the plan.

    EPA needs to provide adequate personnel and financial resources at state level so focus is on protecting and restoring water resources.

    Michigan needs riparian buffer protection at the state level. Currently each of the 1800 local units of government in Michigan make their own regulations regarding all manner of land use planning, including stormwater, setbacks from waterways, wetland protection, etc. Many regulations related to watershed protection could be made more consistent through enacting state laws.

  4. March 31, 2010

    Farm Bureau supports the concept of cleaning up our nation’s waters with a focus of meeting fishable and swimmable standards. It is important that EPA recognize that efforts to regulate agriculture in a manner that sets unattainable standards or places undo financial burdens on farmers, will ultimately not help EPA meet the objectives of the Clean Water Act.
    As EPA moves forward to protect water resources, it is vitally important the agency recognize that 98 percent of America’s farms and ranches are operated by families; families who live and work on the land to provide food for our country. Our members strive to protect the natural resources that provide for their livelihood and seek to leave those natural resources in better condition than they received them in hopes of creating a future for the next generation of agriculturalists. It is in that vein that we encourage EPA to view America’s farmers and ranchers as partners, not as adversaries, in a broader effort to protect the quality of our nations waters.
    Voluntary, incentive based approaches to conservation are vital to protecting water quality. Programs administered at the local level with buy-in from local people and the farming community, are the best way to meet the goals of the Clean Water Act.
    It is important to note that the Clean Water Act does not give EPA the authority to regulate nonpoint source pollution controls as that power is vested with the states. For those reasons, Farm Bureau opposes any attempts by EPA to dictate specific practices and to place regulations to control nonpoint source pollution. To help move forward in addressing nonpoint water quality concerns in a fashion that is more compatible with farming interests, we recommend: (1) Nonpoint source programs that emphasize a voluntary, incentive-based approach; (2) Targeting efforts to address nonpoint runoff and improving water quality to impaired watersheds using a “worst case first” approach; (3) Providing federal funding adequate to develop site-specific information, technical assistance, cost-sharing for local programs. (4) Utilizing best management or accepted agriculture practices that are developed locally with farmer involvement.
    Furthermore, we believe BMPs should be used as an alternative to numerical standards to more effectively address the point and nonpoint sources of pollution which can greatly vary in a regional watershed.
    In closing, we encourage EPA to move forward with strategies that empower local people to take ownership and responsibility in helping protect water quality. As part of that process we believe EPA would be better served to recognize the positive role farmers and ranchers can play in meeting the objectives of the Clean Water Act and to work with them in a collaborative fashion to protect our water resources and the people who provide food for America.
    We appreciate the agency’s consideration of these comments.

  5. March 31, 2010

    Please consider the watershed scale impacts of fracking for natural gas. This process uses millions of gallons of water and yet no restrictions are made on what must happen to that water after it is contaminated. I live in the “Natural” State of Arkansas and gas companies are being allowed to dump their pollutants back into the pretty streams of our state. Please create and enforce regulations that would apply to gas and oil companies in regard to our Clean Water Act. Water is limited in the forms and quality that we need and we need to protect it.
    Also, please consider requiring riparian zones within the flood plains that you delineate and make the requirements for permitting much more stringent. These are highly sensitive areas along streams that take up nutrients and reduce bank erosion and sedimentation.
    Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

  6. March 31, 2010

    Taking a “watershed approach” is an encouraging idea but will require the agency’s and its partner’s deliberation into just what that approach really means, and investment toward how it can be developed. There are two significant obstacles. First, surprisingly, may be the Clean Water Act itself. Not that it is flawed but rather that it is antiquated and in serious need of revision and upgrade to be effective. Water quality management, and water quality, has changed radically and mostly for the good, but the CWA is poorly suited to today’s management needs and USEPA’s implementation of the Act is poorly suited to a watershed approach. The CWA is very pollutant and point-source directed, and devised primarily to address impairment issues. Its tools, such as NPDES, pollutant criteria, TMDLs, etc., have limited application and are inefficient for management at a watershed scale which requires coordinated attention to a variety of environmental effects not contemplated when the Act was originated. Many of these environmental problems only revealed themselves after the overwhelming effects of industrial and municipal wastes were controlled by the Act. If we look at the evolution of water quality issues, we have gone from controlling pathogens, to oxygen demanding wastes and general crud, to toxicity problems, to sublethal toxicity, to nutrients, to endocrine disruptors and PPCPs with yet-to-be disclosed effects. As each problem was controlled it revealed the next layer of problems. Layered over those pollution issues and interacting with them are stream alteration, riparian degradation, landscape change, flow, invasive species, and ………. climate change.

    The second obstacle is the agency itself. The design of the USEPA is very program-based. This has resulted in poor cross-program coordination, something that needs to be a key ingredient in a watershed approach. The agency has very defined programs, however, most all are focused on fixing a specific activity, which is often equated to making a waterbody fit some predesigned criteria. This engineering approach to ‘fix’ discrete problems will not work well in a watershed context where the interaction of stress and relief factors can be very complex, involving multiple waterbody types, and a mix of regulated and unregulated activities. Today’s language of impairment often identifies conditions as syndromes – complex interactions with variable and multiple responses. A watershed approach requires the ability to identify and analyze those syndromes, and then to propose remedies that engage a variety of resources efficiently. A second shortcoming of the agency is its perceived indifference to invest in the protection of high quality waters or the improvement of good quality waters to their potential. At the watershed scale, it is important to protect and improve the high quality resources along with repairing the impairments. In fact, if attention is given only to impaired waters then the agency will not be practicing a ‘watershed approach’ regardless of what you decide to call it.

    A watershed approach will absolutely require assessment of environmental response. The history of the agency has been to focus on monitoring sources and concentrations of pollutants, the input end of assessment but not the outcome-response end. This is much too inefficient given the suite of pollutants and other conditions identified above that determine watershed condition. Many states have already begun development of ecologically-based analysis of their waters. Biological assessment of waters provides an integrative outcome-defining tool that addresses the stress and relief conditions that are interactive within the watershed. That biological outcome is also what the public wants to know – is it a natural, sustainable ecosystem, has aquatic life increased, has a fishery been restored, are the fish healthy. Interestingly, the agency has tools in development that can assist in a transition to response-based assessment. Notably, the Biological Condition Gradient provides the kind of informative tool that can be used across programs to evaluate both management needs and effectiveness, and is intuitively understandable to a wide audience. Unfortunately, investment in these integrative approaches is lagging and in decline at the agency.

  7. March 31, 2010

    EPA must stop sludging America’s farms with residential and industrial wastes. This practice works against what the CWA and RCRA were created for. How can we destroy our land, rivers, aquifers, food supply, and ultimately our very own lives? Everyone knows this is all about metro areas getting rid of their wastes the easiest and cheapest way and in most cases for the profit of a few. Those rural communities that are on the receiving end of the sludge can’t even stop it once permitted. Energy can be a solution for this waste and ultimately our rivers and all waters could remain clean and valuable for future generations as the intent of the CWA. If this does not happen soon, many people will pay the price.

  8. March 31, 2010

    Thank you for the opportunity to comment. The idea of a watershed approach is vital if we want to truly have healthy U.S. waters. This watershed approach means that we have to recognize that pollutants in one part of a watershed have a direct impact downstream. These waters do not recognize agency jurisdiction or state borders. EPA must be strong in being a leader to make sure that states have water quality standards that not only protect their waters, but also downstream uses. A poster child of where this is not working is the Mississippi River and the resulting Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

    We have been hearing a lot about a “watershed approach,” but I have not seen much real implementation of this approach. By this, I mean we must make sure that our headwaters and wetlands are fully protected by the Clean Water Act, we must make sure that point sources are using current technologies to maximize pollution reduction, and we must make sure that non-point polluters are held accountable for the pollution that they contribute.

  9. Jen permalink
    March 31, 2010

    The system for regulating sources of water pollution is, if not broken, then badly bent. In my home state of Kentucky the list of impaired waterways continues to grow. Sadly, KY is an example of what does not work. Identification without restoration is the most the state’s Division of Water can manage, where even the Endangered Species Act does not command enough importance to enact protection. Political influences (Farm Bureau, agribusiness) are harder at work than the Clean Water Act. Stronger regulations are necessary, but enforcement of existing regulations would go a long way towards cleaning up the waterways. Non-point sources of water pollution are a major contributor to the degradation of the state’s water. Suggestions for improvement include requiring Confined Animal Feeding Operations to install ground water well monitors, testing surface waters before and after waste disposal on farm land, designing impermeable membranes in deep pit waste storage systems, and last but not least, hold violators accountable.

  10. March 31, 2010

    Amen, Dana! I hope Congress, EPA and state agencies read your insightful comments and recommendations carefully. The current policies need to be radically up-dated and overhauled.

  11. March 31, 2010

    As is apparent from the comments on this item, the term “watershed approach” means very different things to different people. Often, the term is invoked to describe a wide range of approaches that may or may not comply with the Clean Water Act (CWA). Therefore, at the outset EPA must clearly define what is meant by the “watershed approach” it intends to endorse.
    EPA must also ensure that any watershed-based approach is implemented as an additional layer added on top of existing CWA requirements, and that it in no way undermines or causes violations of the existing CWA framework.
    (1) The CWA and its implementing regulations require each State to identify water quality-limited segments and prioritize them by severity of pollution and designated uses. See 33 U.S.C. §§ 1313(d)(1)(A) and (C). While watershed-scale analyses and implementation measures might be useful, they cannot supplant mandatory legal requirements and priority rankings that apply to individual waters within a given watershed. For example, even if states and EPA choose to adopt pollution limits or control measures on a watershed scale, they must still adopt and enforce limits for impaired segments. They must also measure compliance with limits in those individual segments, and not just at the larger watershed scale. Cleaning up individual segments is fully compatible with protecting the entire watershed.
    (2) EPA has acknowledged that watershed-scale models and water quality analyses are almost invariably more complex and more time consuming than those for individual stream segments. EPA and the states are past due in adopting many legally required pollution limits (including updated water quality criteria, TMDLs, and NPDES permits), much less in enforcing them. The desire to use watershed approaches cannot justify further delaying already overdue action.
    (3) Although nonpoint sources need to be addressed, there are well known hurdles to regulating nonpoint sources. Until these hurdles are overcome, watershed approaches cannot justify allocating pollution reduction responsibilities to categories of sources for which the states and EPA have no clear regulatory mechanisms for mandating and enforcing such reductions.
    (4) EPA has suggested in other contexts that watershed approaches might facilitate pollution trading. The CWA and implementing rules establish mandatory requirements for how pollution reduction obligations must be established, pollution trading schemes cannot undermine these legal requirements.

  12. March 31, 2010

    Locally administered programs are better able to achieve the goals of the Clean Water Act. The CWA does not give EPA authority over nonpoint source pollution controls. This authority lies with individual states. We oppose any attempts by EPA to dictate specific practices and regulations to control nonpoint source pollution.

    We recommend: (1) Nonpoint source programs should emphasize a voluntary, incentive-based approach; (2) Efforts to address nonpoint runoff and improving water quality should target impaired watersheds using a “worst case first” approach; (3) Federal funding must be adequate to develop site-specific information, technical assistance, cost-sharing for local programs.

    Farm Bureau also endorses Best Management Practices as an alternative to numerical standards to more effectively address the point and nonpoint sources of pollution that greatly vary in a regional watershed.

    However, Iowa and other states need to develop a more comprehensive approach to prioritizing its watersheds. That’s because funding to meet farmer demand for conservation programs to address nonpoint source challenges always seems to fall short. Iowa farmers’ requests for combined federal and state cost-share dollars to match with their own money to protect Iowa’s soil and water may exceeded funds available by anywhere from $25-$100 million in a given year.

    Iowa will need significant additional resources to deal with our remaining soil, water and nutrient issues. That’s why the Water Resources Coordinating Council was created by the Iowa Legislature in 2008 to help establish watershed plans and to prioritize limited financial resources. This is especially important today, given our state budget limitations. And while the WRCC has been focused on flooding issues lately, it’s time for it to get back to the issues that led to its creation, to help all Iowans systematically and thoughtfully address our remaining nutrient, soil loss and water quality issues.

  13. March 31, 2010

    Watershed management requires civic engagement of people in the watershed. Civic engagement requires us to go beyond traditional consultation practices of the past and empower citizens to own and solve water quality problems. This idealistic vision needs to be achieved in a climate of regulation and enforcement, increasing polarization and severely limited resources. There are examples of good civic engagement. Watershed projects experience in stakeholder participation ranges across a spectrum of good to poor, and inconsistent. MN has created a vision of civic engagement, priniciples and tools and has begun to roll them out. We are well aware of the challenge and also aware our own culture must change to make this shift from consultation to engagement.

  14. March 31, 2010

    I am a state agency aquatic biologist.
    EPA should redirect resources toward prevention of BIOLOGICAL DEGRADATION (loss of species and healthy, sustainable aquatic ecosystems), and restoration of BIOLOGICAL INTEGRITY in rivers, streams, lakes and wetlands, through increased support to biological monitoring programs in state CWA regulatory agencies. A large measure of the “value” society places on watersheds, and all associated aquatic resources, resides in the waterbodies’ capacity to support and sustain a diverse, dynamic community of indigenous species, including fish, macroinvertebrates, mussels, etc, and the associated birds and mammals that are dependent on them. All WQ problems are ultimately expressed as either human health problems or as problems expressed in the loss and alteration of AQUATIC LIFE . Since implementation of the CWA much attention has been directed to preventing and controlling water quality problems that affect human health but very little attention has been directed to manage for optimal aquatic life condition. The science of biological assessment and biologically-driven management of water quality has advanced far beyond the antiquated EPA policies that are still driving the allocation of WQ management fiscal resources.

    Consideration of aquatic biological data in the context of state agency water quality management programs allows scientists and managers to strategically address the following questions: What is the current biological condition of this waterbody? What are the critical risks to this resource? What is its highest attainable aquatic life goal condition? What are the actions needed to protect/restore it to maintain/attain its aquatic life goal condition?, Did the actions taken achieve the desired results, in terms of optimal biological outcome? Because biological assessment evaluates the actual health and sustainability of the aquatic life living within managed resources it is uniquely able to help drive resource management institutions towards optimal environmental outcomes by providing information feedback about the overall success of management decisions and activities. Biological assessment focuses on the end result of ALL management actions, thus it is the only way to know if WQ management is doing what it is supposed to do. Watersheds cannot be deemed to be “protected” or “restored” in the absence of sound biological assessment information. Several State monitoring programs that are based upon sound applications of biological assessment and biological criteria (e.g., VT, ME, OH, MN) are producing more effective and innovative water resource management approaches to prevent and to solve biological and general water quality and quantity problems. These innovations include Best Management Practices designed to reduce the detrimental biological effects of urbanization and impervious cover, in order to achieve an improved biological outcome; evolution of progressive state landuse and shoreland protection rules designed to maintain existing high biological quality in streams subjected to land use alteration; and water quality standards that incorporate tiered aquatic life uses that trigger Clean Water Act anti-degradation provisions in very high quality waters, to PREVENT problems, when biological decline is likely. New tools are available that allow highly technical biological assessment and stressor information to be readily grasped by managers and the public (e.g., the US-EPA Biological Condition Gradient ) . Future generations will truly condemn us if we continue to relegate our national treasures of aquatic biological diversity to the backwaters and stagnant side-channels of state and national water policy.

  15. Ginny Garrison permalink
    March 30, 2010

    If every river, stream, lake and pond in the country had a protected riparian buffer of undisturbed vegetation of sufficient width to filter out contaminants, most of the nonpoint source water quality problems in the country would be solved. USEPA needs to focus significant resources on making this situation a reality. Riparian buffer protection is the single most cost-effective measure we can take to improve the nation’s water quality.

    In the past, the USEPA has focused major national educational campaigns on the environmental impacts of acid rain and nonpoint source pollution, turning these once little-known issues into household words. The results of the recent National Lakes Assessment show that it is past time for a similar national educational campaign focused on the environmental impacts of shoreland development. The attributable risk analysis of the NLA data suggests that eliminating the effects of poor lakeshore habitat cover could improve the biological condition in 40% of the nation’s lakes.

    In addition to a national educational campaign focused on protecting and restoring shoreland habitat, states and local organizations need funding to adapt national educational messages to local situations, to provide technical assistance to communities and property owners seeking to protect or restore shoreland habitat, and to implement shoreland restoration projects.

    Funding similar to that previously provided for acid rain research and monitoring, and nonpoint source management, is needed to address this most significant source of lake degradation. Technical guidance to state lake assessment programs on determining how much unbuffered lakeshore development lakes can sustain before becoming impaired would also be helpful.

    The National Lakes Assessment pointed out the relative importance of lake stressors for restoring and maintaining lake integrity. The degradation of lakeshore habitat cover is the most important stressor of lakes nationwide, affecting more than one-third of the nation’s lakes. I urge USEPA to act quickly to develop a national educational campaign and provide targeted funding and technical information to assist states and local organizations before any more of our lakes are degraded due to the loss of lakeshore habitat.

    Broadening the educational campaign to include habitat cover along rivers and streams would significantly increase the water quality improvements that can be achieved by motivating people to protect the land along our waters.

  16. March 30, 2010

    Working at the watershed scale can optimize resource benefits to people while minimizing environmental impacts. TNC’s Freshwater Ecoregional Planning prioritizes lakes and rivers for protection in order to maximize biodiversity and connectivity within a watershed. ELOHA is a regional approach for determining the quantity and timing of water flows needed to maintain acceptable ecological conditions in the remaining water bodies as they provide hydropower, water supplies, and other benefits. The Active River Area delineates stream corridors that, if protected, can help maintain high water quality standards. Although these jump-start approaches to watershed protection are well accepted, funding is needed to implement them across the US.

  17. March 30, 2010

    Protecting our remaining wetlands, headwaters, and intermittently flowing streams is fundamental to ensuring healthy watersheds and clean water supplies. These aquatic ecosystems are our natural green infrastructure and protecting them is our most cost-effective means of maintaining and restoring the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of our waters long-term. We support a systems-approach that uses the best available science to protect watersheds as systems: biota, habitat, and hydrological processes including in-stream flow. We urge EPA leadership to work across federal and state agencies to protect aquatic ecosystems on a watershed basis rather than through a piecemeal approach.

    Science has made clear that intact headwater streams, intermittently flowing streams, and wetlands are crucial to healthy watersheds and water quality, especially in light of climate change. Healthy streams and wetlands:
    o reduce flooding by storing flood waters from rain events and snow melt, which will be increasingly important as major storm and flooding events increase;
    o recharge groundwater and replenish downstream flow, which will be increasingly important as water quantity and stream flow are stressed by increases in droughts and evaporation rates;
    o By storing water, headwater streams and wetlands moderate flow rates and can provide cooler waters to downstream streams and rivers, functions that will become increasingly vital as climate change places stresses on stream flow and causes temperatures in many waters to increase;
    o filter out harmful pollutants such as nutrients and pathogens, which will increase with increased intensity of storm events; and
    o Small streams remove nutrients and other pollutants as water makes much more contact with the bed of the stream in smaller streams.

    Despite the importance of these wetlands and streams, millions of acres of wetlands and thousands of miles of streams are losing Clean Water (CWA) protections in the wake of Supreme Court decisions in 2001 (SWANCC) and 2006 (Rapanos) and subsequent Corps of Engineers and EPA guidance. EPA must restore CWA protections for waters that were protected prior to 2001 to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.”

    Water resources at risk unless CWA protections are restored include:

    Intermittently flowing streams: According to EPA, 59% of stream miles in the coterminous U.S. are intermittent or ephemeral and many are at risk of losing Clean Water Act protection as a result of the 2006 Rapanos decision and 2007-2008 Rapanos guidance. These smaller streams provide important drinking water, flood control, and aquatic habitat functions.

    Wetlands: An estimated 20 million acres of wetlands – or 20% of all remaining wetlands in the lower 48 states – are already losing Clean Water Act protection after the SWANCC decision. Many more are at risk after Rapanos.

    Drinking Water: EPA estimates that one-third of Americans get their drinking water from public supplies fed in whole or in part by intermittent, ephemeral, and headwater streams vulnerable to pollution under these decisions. Treating polluted drinking water is expensive. New York City estimates that pollution of small streams and wetlands in the city’s drinking water source areas could cost up to $6 billion for treatment plant construction and $300 million/year for operation. Healthy watersheds with greater forest cover substantially reduces drinking water treatment costs. See

    Migratory Bird Habitat: After the 2001 SWANCC decision and guidance, the Corps and EPA abandoned Clean Water Act protections for millions of acres of geographically isolated wetlands, including those of the Prairie Pothole Region. These wetlands provide essential breeding habitat for 50- 75% of North America’s duck population.

    Flood Control: The Midwest has suffered two 500-year floods in a recent 15 year timeframe. Wetlands and intermittently flowing streams naturally absorb flood waters, moderating peak flood stages and reducing flood damage. A 1% loss of a watershed’s wetlands can increase total flood volume by almost 7%. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), floods caused an average $15 billion in damage annually between 2003 and 2008. Recent flooding in Illinois and Iowa underscores the need for wetland protection. These two states have lost over 85% of their wetlands.

    Enforcement of Clean Water Act Pollution Controls: Uncertainty due to the Court decisions and agency guidance is undermining enforcement of the Clean Water Act’s pollution controls. EPA recently estimated that more than 1,500 major pollution investigations have been compromised in the last four years. About 500 enforcement cases – involving oil spills, waste discharges and filled wetlands – were affected during an 18 month period in 2006 and 2007.

    EPA must also restore CWA protections for waters that were protected prior to 2001 to ensure the resiliency of watersheds and communities in the face of climate change. EPA’s National Water Program Climate Strategy has acknowledged that climate change will cause several threats to water quality, including:

    o shorelines moving as a result of sea level rise;
    o changes to ocean chemistry that alter aquatic habitat and fisheries;
    o warming water temperatures that change contaminant concentrations in water and alter aquatic system uses;
    o new patterns of rainfall and snowfall that alter water supply for drinking and other uses and lead to changes in pollution levels in aquatic systems;
    o more intense storms that threaten water infrastructure and increase polluted stormwater runoff. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water, National Water Program Strategy: Response to Climate Change (hereinafter “National Water Program Climate Strategy”), EPA 800-R-08-001 (September 2008) at ii.

    EPA has concluded that “[t]he number of waters recognized as ‘impaired’ is likely to increase, even if pollution levels are stable.” Id. This is largely because warmer temperatures will lead to warmer water, which holds less oxygen, and can foster harmful algal blooms and increase the toxicity of some pollutants. Id. Similarly, EPA has found that more extreme water-related events, such as increased and more intense storms, will have negative water quality impacts by causing more intense flooding and other events that result in high flows, increased sediment and erosion, and a resulting increase in nutrients, pathogens, and toxins entering waterbodies. Id.

    Temperature increases will also change aquatic biology, disrupting aquatic system health and often resulting in the establishment of invasive and non-indigenous species in certain waters at the expense of existing species. Id. at ii-iii. As EPA has determined, this alone may “result in significant deterioration of aquatic ecosystem health in some areas.” Id. at ii-iii.

    Additionally, climate change will displace shore lines, change flow rates in streams and lakes, change the size of streams and wetlands, and result in other disruptions relating to the flow, quantity, and presence of water in many of our waters. Id. at ii.

    EPA’s National Water Program Climate Strategy calls for EPA to “adapt implementation of core water programs to maintain and improve program effectiveness in the context of a changing climate.” Id. at 23. The Clean Water Act permitting programs are core water programs and restoring these protections to wetlands, lakes, and streams is one key strategy for climate adaptation.

    EPA and the Obama administration should provide expeditious leadership supporting legislation to restore the Clean Water Act’s historic jurisdiction in the wake of the SWANCC and Rapanos decisions. Under the previous Administration, the EPA’s and Corps of Engineers’ response to SWANCC and Rapanos was unwarranted legally and not protective of important resources. The 2003 SWANCC Guidance fails to protect so-called “isolated” wetlands and waters. The 2007-2008 Rapanos Guidance removes protection for certain tributaries, and makes it extremely difficult to protect many others, particularly intermittent and ephemeral headwater streams. It also makes it very difficult to protect many of the important wetlands that neighbor such streams and tributaries.

    The Rapanos Guidance sets up an unpredictable, inconsistent and cumbersome process for determining the jurisdictional status of many waters on a case-by-case basis that provides little clarity over what waters are or are not covered within major watersheds, leaving many watersheds at risk of pollution and degradation.

  18. Dana permalink
    March 30, 2010

    I think that cumulative hyrdrologic impact needs to be taken into more account when looking at any kind of new permit. Because of environmental justice issues, it is often the case that one watershed receives enormous burden while other watersheds are relatively safe.

    For example, in West Virginia, my watershed is dealing with gas and oil drilling, mountaintop removal, all forms of coal mining and processing chemical plants and coal ash from multiple coal fired power plants, as well as other heavy industrial processes. This is not sustainable and there isn’t – as far as I know – anyone really looking at what impact this is having on drinking water, etc.

    It also seems that human health and watersheds – particularly in areas with high reliance on well water for drinking – deserves a great deal more attention.

    I agree with several who mentioned above that watersheds don’t know political boundaries – negotiating – and tracking impacts – across these lines is an important role for federal groups like the EPA.

    Lastly, to reiterate – not only is mountaintop removal devastating watersheds in central Appalachia – but the cumulative impact of numerous industry abuses to the local watersheds of central Appalachia as well as nationally should be observed and examined as an environmental justice issue.

  19. Janet Andersen permalink
    March 30, 2010

    Thanks for giving us the chance to give input.

    Protecting Watersheds: what has worked, what has not
    I applaud the EPA’s effort to look beyond the “waters” to the watershed. This means you are more apt to treat the causes of impairments and not the symptoms. In our community, there are some things that have worked – but more that has not.

    First, dealing with homeowners and property owners is more contentious than dealing with people who use the regulated waters. People live in the watershed, and anything from voluntary to regulatory enforcement means bigger lifestyle changes than changing use of waters. A typical watershed has many existing degradations and enforcing current zoning or other requirements is difficult. Homeowners will assert their “rights” to develop and use their property without comparable consideration of their responsibilities to the community and the environment. In addition, the watershed probably extends to people that may not have access or use of the waters under protection, which requires a different motivational message.

    We have attempted education and persuasion. These actions haven’t been adequate to prevent the “tragedy of the commons”. It may be that regulation is required to manage watersheds.

    The second category of issue comes about because the boundaries of the geographic watershed may be very different from political boundaries. Watersheds may cross town, county, and state boundaries, and home rule regulations may be very different from one to another. This has meant that even good local regulations can be ineffective in practice. For example, if regulations limit the sale of goods within the area, for example limiting sales of fertilizer with phosphorus, the population can go to the next town to purchase those goods. Or if there are construction requirements, contractors from neighboring towns may not be aware of the regulations and may not comply with the laws. However, getting a larger area to agree on the rules, and fitting them into their existing framework, may be very difficult. For that reason, regulations may be necessary at the federal level to appropriately protect watersheds.

    A third type of issue involves the time scale of change by attempting to improve watersheds. People who act directly on waters – say with herbicides or algacides – can see nearly immediate change. Acting by protecting the watershed may take much longer.

    How can we protect and improve watersheds?

    We must improve our definition of waters. The EPA cannot deal only with watersheds of “navigable” waters. We must extend our protection to waters and wetlands regardless of size. Recognizing not all have the same value, we must aim to preserve and improve the function of the wetlands, whether that is free stormwater management, general biodiversity support, or populations of specific endangered species.

    We must regulate impervious surfaces in watersheds. Today, too often we measure impervious surface on a lot, or a development, but not the watershed.

    We must regulate watersheds as a system, and consider land use, steep slopes, watercourses, what’s upstream, and what’s downstream. To help the watershed continue to function as a system, we must control invasive species and encourage the use of native species. A resilient system, with redundancies at many levels, is more capable of coping with pollution.

    Effective practices and strategies for scaling up:

    As previously stated, many rules and regulations are more effective when consistent across a larger scale.

    In addition, I am a great believer in the value of citizen science and monitoring. Perhaps all versions of citizen science work could be supported. One example of simple but effective citizen science is CoCoRaHS, and there are a variety of state and local stream monitoring, lake monitoring activities. Suggestions for scaling and support: improved marketing and communications, some common tools such as database support, GIS or other mapping layers, some help with standard components across state or local programs.

  20. Miller Williams permalink
    March 30, 2010

    Pure water is one of the most vital things in our lives!

  21. March 30, 2010

    My concern is mercury. I operate a small wastewater treatment plant in Michigan. As was required by the EPA my State instituted a mercury policy. The goal level set for wastewater discharge was 1.3 ng/L with the best achievable at 10 ng/L. Currently, according to the Illinois State University the mercury content in rain water has been measured at up to 44 ng/L. Why are wastewater plants that are lagoon systems and those plants with combined sewers going to deal with that? Additionally, the major source of mercury pollution is the rainfall. We need to regulate the atmospheric emitters of mercury too. Also, the maximum contaminant level for mercury in drinking water is 2 ug/L or 200 times the level for a wastewater. Why is that? Thank you for receiving comments.

  22. evan permalink
    March 29, 2010

    I want to know why if Shelby County, Alabama is in non compliance with it’s SWMA as evidenced from a 2009 EPA federal audit that the county and city of Vincent can even think of putting in a 886 acre quarry less than a mile from the river.

    This quarry will eventually be 450 feet deep, much deeper than the nearby river.

    Shelby County is sorely lacking in enforcement, proper permits and inspection capability.

    How can they do this when they cannot even take care of what they already have??????

  23. March 29, 2010

    Very simply: what does NOT work for preserving healthy watershed systems in our region: Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining, with it’s accompanying Valley Fills (essentially = death to a living stream). We have had far too many mountains blown to bits, and the rubble/refuse from these mining operations dumped into the streams that run in the valleys between our mountains. There is NO WAY to effectively regulate more Valley Fills and Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining; it MUST be stopped! I hope Ms. Jackson and other high level EPA officials will visit what’s left of the Mountains of Central Appalachia very soon to see the devastation for themselves.

  24. March 29, 2010

    What has not worked well is that EPA and the state water agencies have created a perverse incentive for restoration efforts: only waterways and watersheds listed as “impaired” under CWA 303(d) can achieve priority status for funding. In California, this perverse incentive has prevented some clean streams from getting delisted (that were erroneously listed) because local watershed groups are afraid of losing their funding if delisted. Once dependent on clean water grants, it’s hard to let go. So we have a watershed that is 98% designated Wilderness Area that local groups and tribes oppose for delisting. What incentive is there to delist? Agencies also are “rewarded” with budgets for listed streams, not for clean streams. Please rethink this strategy!

  25. March 29, 2010

    EPA: Although I work with two watershed groups, these coments are my personal ones.

    For almost 20 years I have been working with watershed efforts and in every case, they have made significant improvements resolving many complex natural resources problems because of the many great team members. During this timeframe, the amount of watershed efforts went from just a few to VERY many nationwide.

    Unfortunately, the resources to assist these groups has kept pace with the need. State and federal agencies have been very good at helping start up local watershed efforts but then do not have the abaility to help sustain them. So in many cases these groups fall apart or just fold up shop.

    I feel that the EPA should take a lead in finding more funds to help sustain these local efforts that are truely making a difference in cleaning up the waters of this nation. Without this help, there will be even fewer watershed efforts working to work on cleaning up our waters. This will then leave many people unwilling to participate again in local watershed efforts when more funds do become available.

    Bottom line, need more agency people and funds on-the-ground if you want local watershed efforts to continue to be successful.

  26. March 29, 2010

    The USEPA and the States have an extremely difficult task in protecting and rehabilitating the Nation’s waters. Fortunately, those waters are not in as serious a condition chemically as when the Clean Water Act was passed. The watershed approach may offer an appropriate means of approaching the diverse sources of stressors, or at least of thinking about them in the manner that Section 208 of the original Act appeared to intend. However, the USEPA and the Nation are ignoring the root causes of water quality deterioration, reduced water supplies, and reduced biological diversity. Those root causes are continued economic and population growth. We will continue to threaten our waters until we develop a steady-state economy at a much lower GDP than at present combined with a zero growth human population, again at a lower level than currently exists. Regardless of the clean up efforts initiated by the States and USEPA, they will be eventually be overwhelmed by a human population that doubles every 35 years and by an economy that doubles its resource extraction and waste disposal every 14-23 years.

  27. March 29, 2010

    Require land use planning strategies as a stormwater best management practice and a part of watershed protection efforts.
    Abundant research over the past three decades has shown that site-level practices, in the absence of land-use strategies, cannot protect aquatic ecosystems from decline. Much of the literature suggests that the most effective means to protect water quality while accommodating growth and development is to limit new development to urbanized subwatersheds that have already been compromised. The Southeast is one of the fastest-growing regions in the country, and also one of the most sprawling in terms of land use. While it is important to manage stormwater of new development at the site scale using low-impact development and green infrastructure, a number of planning principles to manage the creation of impervious surfaces at the watershed level would be more effective in preventing water quality degradation. We recommend requiring the following:

    1. Encouraging higher density development to accommodate growing populations on smaller impervious footprints.
    2. Promoting infill and redevelopment to reduce the amount of land consumed both within and outside of the development.
    3. Incorporating transportation planning to reduce the amount of pollutants associated with vehicle-miles traveled, and the amount of runoff generated by infrastructure such as roads and parking lots.

    As stated in EPA’s report entitled Protecting Water Resources with Higher-Density Development; low-density development, as compared to higher-density, can have a significant negative impact to water quality at the regional and neighborhood scales. This is the caveat to requiring low-impact development in our region. In the Upstate region of South Carolina, it is currently much more difficult to meet stormwater requirements on compact, urban sites than it is in areas where land is cheaper and more readily available. In particular, local municipalities feel very uncomfortable permitting the use of low-impact techniques on high-density development sites. Thus, applying stringent requirements for low impact development equally across all different types of sites could have the unintended consequence of encouraging sprawl.

    In recognition of the impact of planning for growth, the recently approved West Virginia MS4 permit provides incentives for brownfields redevelopment, redevelopment, mixed-use development, and high-density development. This approach to water quality protection should be used as a model for accommodating growth while protecting water quality when making changes to the stormwater rules.

  28. March 29, 2010

    1. By the river continuum model, headwaters are linked to estuaries are linked to the ocean. It is inefficient to separate fresh water and salt water management concerns in different agencies. Changes in streamflow can influence salinities lower down, affecting the food web farther down. Toxics in fresh water become toxics in brackish water become toxics in salt water. There is every reason for keeping in mind cumulative impacts along the flowing continuum.

    2. Regarding shoreland zoning violations, there should be a time limit on how long grandfathered nonconforming structures should be allowed to exist. I know of several that have survived a statute of limitations, becoming sacred and untouchable. All grandfathered nonconformities should sunset in a fixed number of years, say 15 or 20.

    3. Every estuary is now going through a transition period due to climate change and sea-level rise. Shoreline erosion is increasingly evident, and accelerating. Which places estuarine ecosystems at risk because their ability to adapt to changing conditions is unknown. Fresh water inputs are doubly important under these circumstances regarding their loads of pollutants, nutrients, sediments, etc. Standards should be heightened, not lowered.

    4. The concept of clean water must include salt water in the receiving waters toward which streams and rivers drain.

  29. March 28, 2010

    What EPA should focus on are Appalachian streams that are being BURIED by mountaintop removal of coal. There’s some watershed issues to be concerned about — entire streams being buried, and these are beautiful, mossy, rock-filled, babbling streams. It’s a travesty & a sin what’s happening. WHY ISN’T THE EPA STEPPING IN TO ENFORCE THE CLEAN WATER ACT AND STOP THIS HORROR?

    Mountaintop removal of coal has to end NOW, before we lose more of our mountains & our mountain streams.

  30. March 28, 2010

    What has worked? Well, one point was that during WQ assessment project planning we proposed to the EPA that we do
    sampling and analysis for lead and cadmium in streams, at points of high suspected risks. We needed to narrow our prospective site list to get ‘the biggest bang for the buck’. We needed to pick only sites where several risk factors overlapped. In order to do this effectively we proposed a site selection phase of the project in which we would do sampling and analysis at a somewhat lower QA/QC than the main body of the project, which would be done at full UC protocols for quality assurance. We were told that EPA does not pay for any data gathering that is less than the best. So, we were faced with having to redesign and do it at a much higher cost to accomplish essentially the same work, or we could fund the site selection work at our own expense even though it clearly seemed that the cost/benefit for the whole project would have benefitted from our carefully considered approach to a higher quality design that had included a lot of cost saving innovative planning. It was not clarified by the EPA why there could not be a line item set up for ‘site selection only’ data. The effectiveness of the project, and the QA/QC would not seemingly be affected negatively as long as the selection data was either allowed to be designated as such within the report, or not even recorded as data at all, but just an aid to effectively planning where to sample at the higher protocols.
    Why can’t there be a way of reducing this extra cost of doing such a project, and still maintain high level of QA/QC?

  31. Jeff permalink
    March 26, 2010

    I am very pleased to see the EPA taking public input into this very important issue. When considering issues in the upcoming Coming Together for Clean Water conference, the EPA must realize that not only are the waters of the United States habitat to fish and wildlife, they are also the source for most people’s drinking water. There is a clear disconnect between the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) which regulates drinking water systems and the Clean Water Act (CWA) which regulates sewage systems. For years the EPA has enacted rules and regulations putting the burden on drinking water systems to remove contaminants, many of which are anthropogenic and can be traced directly to wastewater discharges. This had been extremely costly to drinking water systems and much of this cost would be unnecessary if the control were instead placed on the wastewater systems where many contaminants could be more effectively controlled.

    A good example of this is a recently enacted rule called the Long Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule. This rule was largely in response to a waterborne disease outbreak in Milwaukee, WI in which over 400,000 people were made ill from an organism called Cryptosporidium as a direct result of sewage contamination of the source of drinking water. With this new rule, the EPA requires drinking water systems to monitor for Cryptosporidium in its source water, and then take certain actions if the Cryptosporidium levels are above threshold levels. In essence the EPA is regulating drinking water systems not on the quality of its finished drinking water, but on the quality of the water in its source. The CWA, however, does not require any monitoring or any control of this disease causing micro-organism. In essence, the cost and control of this organism is borne by the drinking water systems.

    There are many other examples of regulated substances that are not controlled by the CWA and as we are starting to see, there are many other unregulated (or not yet regulated) compounds or microorganisms of concern that are not addressed at all in the CWA, but have their origin in wastewater effluents. Pharmaceuticals, personal care products, certain viruses are all examples of this.

    Even some of the discharge parameters that are regulated are still of concern to drinking water treatment systems at levels allowed through the CWA. Ammonia is a good example of this. Ammonia is currently controlled as a nutrient by the CWA. However, drinking water systems typically have difficulty removing ammonia. It could easily happen that ammonia is legally discharged into a body of water and if even at low levels is brought from the stream into the drinking water treatment plant, it can react with chlorine which is used as a disinfectant. This can result in the drinking water plant not being able to disinfect the drinking water.

    Another area of disconnect is in communication. There are currently no requirements for wastewater systems to notify downstream drinking water systems or other water users if there are raw sewage bypasses, overflows, or breakdown in the treatment processes resulting in untreated or undertreated sewage being released into the receiving stream. If downstream drinking water systems or other water users were notified, they may be able to take precautions to protect public health. However, if users are unaware, they cannot react.

    Former USEPA Administrator G. Tracy Mehan III wrote two memoranda to the USEPA regions February 8, 2003 and October 1, 2003 (copies of the memos are available, if needed) which clearly state:
    “Protecting public health under the Clean Water Act is a critical element of our (USEPA) mission. To protect a public water supply use, we must protect the ambient water quality upstream of each drinking water intake.”
    “The operating principle of these policy efforts is that, while public water systems are legally accountable for the delivery of safe drinking water to their consumers, no water system should have to provide more treatment than that which is necessary to address naturally occurring pollutant concentrations, e.g., minerals leaching from rock formations, wildlife contamination unrelated to anthropogenic activities.”

    I sincerely hope that the EPA will take these concepts into consideration and protect these precious resources not only as habitats and recreational enjoyment, but with the realization that these are the sources of our own drinking water.

  32. March 26, 2010

    As we all know, managing stormwater is not an easy task but it is certainly worth the effort. The speed in which we are developing new technologies and chemicals from all industries is far exceeding our understanding of their long term environmental affects on plants and people and our abilities to properly dispose of the residuals and by products of manufacturing processes.

    I believe we need to focus more of our educational efforts toward industries that have been prime polluters in the past, commercial entities and residential homeowners. Our educational efforts should be on the public television stations and developed in a dramatic way to strongly encourage water conservation consciousness. The educational efforts should dramatize the dire consequences of how pollution moves through the human body and attacks the individual cells of the body over time and how it originates from surface water or ground water that we depend on and drink daily.

    There is too long of a lag time between when we discover the source of non point solution and when we eliminate the cause or source by all stakeholders. We need to modify our behaviors more rapidly for the sake of generations to come.

    If we do not begin to move more rapidly to stop water pollution, we will see more doctors entering the field of genetic engineering to design humans by altering DNA that will make us more resistant to disease, cancer and other chronic illnessess caused by a polluted water environment. People will praise the doctors for creating a hybrid baby or man or woman. But our creator God will frown mightily because humans would then be made in the image of man instead of the image of God. Ultimately, if we neglect God in this effort to preserve ourselves, we will end up destroying ourselves through pridefulness and lack of holiness.

    Keep the fight of faith.

  33. March 26, 2010


    Although we will not be directly affected by natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale area in southern New York State, I believe that the possibility of the local aquifer becoming contaminated should cause the project to be reconsidered. In the future, clean water will be of more value than cheap natural gas. We need to protect our water resources. It is short sighted and irresponsible to allow gas extraction techniques that could jeopardize the quality of water for the residents of the area.
    Thank you, Sue Rau

  34. March 25, 2010

    I am proposing a code proposal to the I.A.P.M.O. that when high water pressure exists, and pressure regulators are required by existing code, that the regulator be placed at the meter. This will include the outdoor watering to be lower pressure saving runnoff due to blown off heads and over spray and as well as save water. Cost of this change is extremely low. Savings are very high, look at the EPA #’s on national water use and BMP.
    I am a member of IA, IAPMO, ASPE….and a 35 yr. veteran in water biz.
    Greg Chick,

  35. March 25, 2010

    Restoring our impaired watersheds and protecting our high quality watersheds is a task that will continue to require all agencies, non-profit organizations and the local people. Many people still do not understand how their activities in building new sub-divisions, maintaining local drainage and growing agricultural crops and forests affect their water quality. So, eduacation will continue to be an important aspect fo our watershed programs in Louisiana.

    We have had successes in the agricultural community through our collaborative efforts with Farm Bill Programs and Local Soil and Water Conservation Districts, but we still need to work with our urban communities to get them more involved in watershed protection. Cities have so many other issues to deal with that they do not seem to have enough funding to do what they need to protect their urban streams.

    States face uphill climbs on getting all of their databases and data incorporated into their GIS frameworks so that they can manage both the point source and nonpoint source pollutants and protect their wetlands too. Many of these programs are still very seperate so techology may be one avenue to bring all of the information together into a cohesive picture that managers can see and understand.

    The Healthy Watershed Initiative will allow the states more flexibility to chose what they need to focus on within their watersheds. They can see their best systems and work to protect them and also continue their restoration efforts through the TMDL and watershed implementation plan process. NGOs and the fish and wildlife agencies should be able to assist the water quality agencies with these watershed protection initiatives.

    One of the major challenges over the next 3-5 years will simply be sufficient funding and staff to maintain existing efforts plus initiating these new efforts. Budget cuts are a reality so states will need to maintain open communication with EPA and other funding agencies if progress is to be made. Data sharing and honest communication on what is possible each year will help to make these challenges possible to meet.

  36. March 25, 2010

    A key to water quality protection is to focus on land use activities and their impact on water quality. Adherence to the 2000 Unified Federal Policy For Ensuring A Watershed Approach To Federal Land and Resource Management is still valid and appropriate. To be effective, federal agencies should be collaborative and coordinate with state, regional and local land managers as well as with each other.

    Monitoring and 319 funding are critical to protect water quality to spot trends and address them before costly restoration projects are necessary. Its much cheaper to protect high water quality than it is to restore it. During the past 10 years, there has been a proliferation of watershed groups blossoming all over the country. (There are over 70 such groups in Colorado alone.) These groups need continued financial support from EPA for planning, coordination, monitoring and installation of BMPs to address non-point sources of pollution. Assisting these groups might also be an effective way to implement TMDLs.

    States need additional financial support to ensure compliance, inspections and enforcement for permitting programs to be effective. Many states are woefully understaffed to properly implement their delegated authority.

    Groundwater protection is an area that states could use additional assistance with. This can happen through the Continuing Planning Program agreements.

    The EPA should immediately embark on rewriting the guidance rules for protection of wetlands. There is too much confusion and uncertainty related to jurisdictional wetlands no thanks to misguided political interference by the courts. Until Congress adds more clarity with the passage of the Clean Water Restoration Act, EPA can slow down the loss of wetlands by creating new rules for US Army Corps that are truly protective.

  37. March 25, 2010

    EPA must change its program approach to sludge dumping before there is any possible way to protect the watersheds, drinking water, food, and public health. Using the agricultural stormwater runoff exclusion to protect solid waste open dumping on farmland does nothing to protect the environment

    Most people at EPA don’t know that on October 17, 1994, Robert E. Lee, John Walker and Robert Bastian set up a program to use 104(b) 3 grant money (intended to prevent pollution) to contaminate watersheds with sewage sludge. Specifically, the money was directed at covering up “horror stories” and possible wetlands work in watersheds. On 12/29/1994 John Walker and Robert Bastian set out an adgenda for the WEF to hire a writer recommended by them and a list of Candidates for the Rest of the Story to be debunked. They included sick and dead animals, tree kills, loss of crops, bioaerosols, bankers liability, pathogen regrowth, and the BLM policy oposing biosolids use equating it with hazardous waste dumping and landfilling raising Superfund liability concerns.

    The second major change required is to change the reporting requirements. In 1989, FR Vol. 54, No. 23, P 5829, EPA listed 25 families of pathogens, yet, it claims there are none in sludge biosolids. In fact, the use of the 1904 Ejikman Test to prove sludge is safe is a disservice to the nation and makes EPA look like it is deliberately putting farmers and the publics health at risk. Why would EPA claim looking for only 5% of the culturalable thermo-tolerant E. coli in sludge indicates there may be pathogens in sludge. Why would EPA claim fecal coliform is something other than E. coli or that E. coli is not pathogenic outside the gut?

    Not only that, but FR, Vol. 54, No. 23, P. 5777 lists 21 cancer causing agents that may be in sludge, five of which caused disease by inhalation. Yet, in the 1995, A Guide to the 503 Risk Assessment, EPA and USDA stated they did not do a risk assessment for any chemical, pathogens and didn’t consider any metal chemicals to be cancer causing agents.

    Until there is an honest appraisal of the sludge disposal program there is no possible way to protect watersheds.

  38. March 25, 2010

    From the perspective of one working for many years for water quality and natural resource sustainability in western Oregon salmon habitat, it appears that the CWA pressures the states to list polluted waters in the 303d listing process. The intent of the CWA becomes subverted due to the biases created. The state legislators know that they must find funding to fix any problems on the 303d lists, and try to avoid having to do this. They are hardpressed to come up with enough funding to deal with all of their problems. They do not want to have any more problems discovered that would therefore increase these pressures for water quality. Yes, this is shortsighted, but is the reality. The state resists doing water quality assessment that is pointedly investigative of suspected toxics parameter problems. They will only fund work on already known problems, however, the 303d list only covers the problems that were known in the past, via ‘existing data’. The states will not assess their waters effectively within this current paradigm. The 303d lists DO NOT reflect the actual water quality reality, and won’t as long as this bias remains a driving force in the dynamic. As conservationists working in the field, we desperately need to do pointedly investigative assessment of water quality contaminant problems that we see as likely toxic threats and limiting factors to salmon population and aquatic health recovery, yet the funding only goes to ‘safer’ baseline gathering, or to work on reducing the 303d listings. The longer we put off discovering all of the WQ toxics parameter problems we face, the longer we will keep making our societal behavioral mistakes that produce these hidden limiting factors to aquatic health improvement. We desperately need to discover and begin dealing with our mistakes before time runs out. The funding biases must be corrected to allow pointedly investigative work for priority pollutants.

  39. March 25, 2010

    I just returned from my 3rd visit to Europe and am once again amazed at how countries, that have existed for many centuries before ours, remain immune to urban sprawl and unsustainable growth.

    I would like zoning laws enacted that would force developers to “revive” urban areas and prohibit further destruction of farmland and watershed areas (the kidneys of our water supply)

    Of course, everyone would cry “government takeover!” but subsequent generations would thank us.

    Fighting greedy developers tooth and nail until I die,
    Louise Maurer

  40. March 25, 2010

    The watershed approach has been successful. I agree with an earlier comment that the 319 grant program for subwatersheds has used a scatter-shot approach. Now that we have a tested and successful model at the scale of subwatersheds, we need to change strategies a bit. My impression is it needs to be scaled upward to larger watersheds now. However, the funding that is necessary to make changes in larger watersheds is not available currently.

  41. Small Farmer permalink
    March 24, 2010

    Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution does not authorize Congress to legislate in the area of the environment
    , therefore, it is unconstitutional. All 50 states of the Union have their own version of the EPA as authorized under the 10th Amendment. There is no need for a federal agency. The states of the Union can handle their own environmental needs as authorized by their legislatures.

  42. March 24, 2010

    • If you have experience with protecting watersheds, what has worked and what hasn’t?

    Oregon’s watershed councils work. The board members live within the geographic watershed area and hire a watershed coordinator who is paid by the state. The coordinator helps polluters/restorationists with grant applications and other paperwork. They have quarterly/monthly meetings and is an open creative forum for finding solutions. It would be great if EPA would provide 50/50 matching funds to states for these coordinator positions. The reason it works is because it is run by locals and is funded by the state/national/private grants. Check out this example:

    • How can we protect and improve watersheds given the challenges of various sources of pollution?

    Watershed councils are site specific so they have maximum flexibility in addressing various sources of pollution. They also have quite a bit of creativity in problem solving.

    • What examples of effective practices and strategies can be “scaled up” to State and national levels for greater effectiveness and broader use?

    The watershed council approach from Oregon could be scaled up by offering other states a 50/50 match for funding the watershed coordinator position (elected by watershed board members). I think the watershed councils are 501c organizations.

  43. March 24, 2010

    During the early 1990s there was an attempt at a major reauthorization of the Clean Water Act (this is often called the “Baucus” bill – for Max Baucus of MT) that would have expanded the goals and policies of the Act to include the protection of habitat (this to expand and augment the nonpoint source goals that were a major addition under the 1987 reauthorization). Somehow taking the needed steps to add this concept to the CWA would be very valuable for watershed management approaches to move attention into vital riparian corridors and related aquatic habitat areas.

  44. March 23, 2010

    A comprehensive watershed approach can not be implemented without ‘landscape intelligence’. We must realize that implementation of resource management occurs everyday, by many people within and without government assistance. We need to capture this information value with an economic system. EcoCommerce is an excellent start.

  45. March 23, 2010

    I think watershed-based approaches are extremely valuable but there needs to be more push for higher standards from state and federal levels if we are to attain clean water goals. Meanwhile habitat destruction and loss of biodiversity threaten to pull the legs out from under the stool. This is where federal EPA leadership, vision and funding to support the highly-leveraged watershed efforts, is needed.

    I have no doubt that watershed-based efforts are highly cost effective due to the large numbers of people and land areas involved per dollar invested in any overhead administration.
    My group has trouble pursuing project grants because we can’t afford to pay a staffer. Grants all want to fund projects, not staff to make them run. Although we have many hundreds of volunteers working on projects each of the past several years in my small urban watershed (85 sq mi.). With a 319 grant, my group did successfully remove 2 lowhead dams cost-effectively and restored 2 miles of river to meet CWA goals for the first time in 3 generations.

    Education of all watershed residents is the final frontier, and we need more help (not less) on this to solve the difficult remaining nonpoint source pollution challenges.

    Emerging Threats to our waters:
    I am concerned about plastic pollution in NPS stormwater, PCPPs and also about nanomaterials which each aren’t being effectively treated or prevented right now, and which will adversely impact marine life and the food chain integrity for a potentially long time. All public agencies are at a disadvantage addressing these due to the silo effect of departments and programs.

    Thus far I don’t believe the EPA has sufficiently gotten ahead of these issues to manage them in other than a reactive fashion. We may not get a second chance to recover some marine ecosystems if they are hit from too many things (overfishing, ocean acidification due to GHG pollution, as well as the above causes) at once.

    When a consumer liquid hand soap is sold with pesticide-like antimicrobial ingredients as well as tiny plastic beads in it, something is wrong with our system of oversight at the national level, because I don’t think POTWs are geared for these things. Not to mention the PCPPs which have received some press lately… What other nanomaterial (nonbiodegradable) products and risks are in the offing?

    The watershed approach works for some things, but more proactive national leadership and action is still needed to address the big issues just mentioned above.

  46. March 23, 2010

    I am a volunteer with a State EPD Adopt A Stream (AAS) program. The state as two staff peoples that Train and Certify volunteers to monitor state streams. The chemical data (five criteria) is collected monthly and biological data collected quarterly is posted by certified volunteers to the state EPD data base over home computers. The state has 5,000 certified volunteers and 50 volunteer trainers supporting the program all across the state. This part all works fine. It requires a lot from volunteers and EPD few AAS staff.

    • protecting watersheds, what has worked and what hasn’t?
    The AAS program works up to a point. That point is when state elected officials lean on EPD as a result of Home Builders and Developers political pressure or money influence from Developers paid lobbyists. It is at that point that all the stream monitoring or buffer protection and Best Management Practices mean nothing.

    • How can we protect and improve watersheds? Sound rules and honest enforcement is critical. There is a third and that is not having Laws passed that negate the court system. EPA needs to insure it has sound rules and honest enforcement. My present concern is a contaminated Supreme Court.

    • What examples of effective practices and strategies can be “scaled up” to State and national levels. 1. Allowing citizen monitoring that actually takes their data and when a deviation from the norm is found, EPA actually checks to verify. 2. In Real estate it is location, location, location. For EPA it must be enforcement, enforcement, enforcement. Everyone knows the rule. The problem is developers live by: Do what they want, do not get caught and if you do it is it is all about whom you know and money.
    EPA has got to have a President that supports it and be allowed to stay above all congressional influence and corporate money.

  47. March 23, 2010

    As a federal agency I think the EPA needs to look at the BIG picture. I agree that we need some changes in regulations, BMPs etc. But the only way we are going to make long term chnages is to educate and inform the citizens, especially the young. If they have the knowledge they will change the way we do things. Local schools just do not have the resources to get this done. Our local non profit has many success stories from participants in our service learning projects, attendees at our 4th grade water festivals, restoration volunteers, boy scout eagle projects etc. Years later they tell us how what they learned from us has made a difference in how they lead their lives. We need to find more funding for local non profits that are on the front line and are doing good work so that they can change the way we think and act. That is what is going to change our practices 20 years from now and keep it sustainable.

  48. March 23, 2010

    Taking a watershed approach is conceptually the right thing to do but is challenging in actual practise. For example, when a watershed is the size of the Mississippi River a “one-size-fits-the whole watershed” strategy will not achieve the desired goal. Strategies that engage local stakeholders in a collaborative process will achieve greater progress and acceptance than top-down, heavy handed mandates. The EPA should review and utilize individual State Best Management Practices for agriculture and silviculture for practical, proven tools to manage non-point source pollution. Florida is an example of a state that has engaged diverse stakeholders in the development of BMP’s with a sound scientific basis and proven benefits to aquatic systems.

  49. March 23, 2010

    FINALLY, the EPA will repoen the investigation of natural gas hydrofraccing of high volume horizontal wells. Those of us whose neighborhoods are threatened have seen new horror stories every week- well beyond the example in Pavillion, WY, studied by the agency. Open pits filled with chemicals that are not disclosed to the public- yet are subject to flooding and frequent spills is not an acceptable price to pay for cheaper energy. And given the millions of gallons for each of the thousands of wells, these spills have been inevitable. Many neighbors of these wells cannot shower or wash with the contaminated water, let alone drink it. And the notion of repairing the aquifer is absurd- our property values plummet, as no one would willingly buy a home in such a place.

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