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Topic 2: Managing Pollutants from Nutrients

2010 March 16

Excess nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous entering the nations waters create pollution that is hard to track, contain, and control. Nutrient pollution is as damaging to our waters as it is complex, so finding effective ways to address it is critical. EPA and State agencies have used various approaches to tackle the problem but much more is needed to protect water bodies from these pollutants.

•    What critical elements need to be included in an effective nutrient strategy?

•    How should the strategies differ for protecting healthy and functioning watersheds versus those that need to be significantly restored due to previous pollution?

•    What has worked for your organization, state, or tribe in controlling nutrient pollution? What hasn’t?

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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75 Responses
  1. Nancy Stremple, RLA permalink
    April 1, 2010

    If we are to successfully address our water quality and quantity issues, we need to see the big picture. Communities can then have a better understanding of how our natural resources are interconnected; work as a system; and begin to see how the cumulative landuse decisions impact our natural resources. If these natural resources, that support us, are managed sustainably, we can begin to see the critical social, economic, and environmental benefits that they provide and improve our health, safety and welfare.

    I like how the Healthy Watersheds Initiative adopts the holistic green infrastructure approach that is needed to identify and protect our healthy watersheds while creating a benchmark to measure our restoration of our impaired waters. It is proactive instead of reactive and provides the scientific systems approach that is needed to address these interconnected land/water resource concerns. More importantly, it engages the stakeholders residing within and benefitting from a healthy watershed. I can see how the Healthy Watersheds Initiative can compliment and integrate other EPA programs by creating a framework to focus those programs. It also demonstrates the opportunity to integrate other related federal, state, and local programs and efforts.

    EPA is in a unique leadership position to orchestrate these efforts. It may require breaking down “stove-piped” programs to work together as a team with other related federal, state, and local natural resource managers. The healthy watershed or “holistic” green infrastructure approach is a positive step forward to protecting our water and supporting land resources.

  2. March 31, 2010

    Many of my comments have been addressed by others, but as someone who is working directly on the issue at a State level, I felt compelled to chime in. The following are a few things that could be done at the Federal Level to move the process forward.

    Monitoring & Assessment
    - R&D funding into probes to obtain and store high frequency data. These are neccesary to understand loads associated with snow melt, which can contribute significantly to nutrient loads.
    - Evaluation and promulgation of new laboratory methods to improve detection limits and the precision of nutrient data. Without more precise data it will be difficult to identify contributions from individual sources or evaluate BMP effectiveness.
    - Develop methods and models that predict background concentrations by combining reference water chemistry data with watershed lithology.
    - As was done with biological assessment programs, encourage states to develop “functional” indicators of stream conditions. Such programs are being developed in Europe and New Zealand. streams that are becoming degraded by nutrients. Also, these data are relatively inexpensive to collect and may be better indicators than biota in identifying nutrient-related problems.
    - We need to have a policy that clearly provides a mechanism for addressing situations where achieving critieria that are ecologically needed via PS controls is simply not possible, especially under the current paradigm where NPS controls are voluntary.
    - Nutrients are retained in sediments and released through time. As a result, lag times in ecological responses should be anticipated following implementation of nutrient controls. Little is known about how long recovery takes, but the few studies that address this suggest years to decades. This does not mean that we should continue to let things get worse, however we clearly need to set reasonable expectations among our stakeholders!

    With regard to standards development…
    - It would be useful to have clear and direct guidance on the specific information needed for an “approveable” site-specific nutrient criteria. If there were clear and consistent “rules” to this game then it would be easier to address concerns raised by facilities about not adequately considering local conditions. Facilities who disagree with more broadly applicable criteria could be encouraged to work with thie State to collect the requisite data. This would be a MUCH better use of resources than defending lawsuits.
    - EPA should promulgate national, technology-based, effluent limits for nutrients that take into account the economic impact to communities.
    - Ultimately, the failing infastructure issue will need to be addressed. EPA could encourage voluntary incorporation of nutrient controls by identifying funds to address this issue, and then requiring that facilities who want to use these funds implement “reasonable” nutrient controls.
    - A national variance policy would be useful that establishes a reasonable approach for plant upgrades, taking into account the the available technology and funds available for facility modifications. This plan should also consider that in some cases, the expenses for PS nutrient reductions are simply not justified by the relative contribution to the stream (i.e., cost:benefit considerations).

    On the Non-point Source Issue…
    - I agree that detailed research into BMP effectiveness, translated into a model that takes into account local conditions (i.e., ditance to waterbody, underlying lithoilogy, hillslope) would be useful. Such a tool would be even more effective if it was tied to funding sources (not just EPA, but USDA as well). For instance matches could be adjusted depending on the relative threat to water quality by the resource.
    - EPA’s current approach to monitoring NPS (319) projects is a major waste of limited resources. While I agree that we need more accountability, not less. It is simply not reasonable (given sample frequency and sample variability) to expect to see water quality responses at the scale in which they are typcially implemented. Accountability, and NPS “success stories” should be tied to whether projects are implemented properly and maintained.
    - Related to the previous point, we need better methods of identifying problems causes by individual facilities. In my experience most farmers genuinely see themselves a good stewards of the land–and many are– so getting more action will require showing producers that they are causing problems.
    - NPS programs can not be exclusively voluntary if they are too be effective. While voluntary compliance is important, there must be a point where regulatory action is needed. EPA has started moving in this direction with their new AFO rules. Similarly, we could start by requiring permits for opperations that use >XXX lbs of nutrients/year unless they can demonstrate that they have developed and implemented a nutrient management plan.
    - There has been much talk about CAFOs, but this dialogue fails to acknoledge problems associated with range animals, which can often be a major concern in the western USA.

    On other issues…
    - I completely agree with the commentor who suggested the need for information on ecosystem services. The costs of nutrient removal will be high– >1.5 billion in our relatively small state just to upgrade the mechanical POTWs– and we owe it to taxpayers to show them that these dollars are well spent. We need to know the economic benfits of nutrient removal and the costs of the status quo. It would be great if tools (models) could be generated that allow the benefits of nutrient removal to be calibrated in a state-specific way. After all, this is the scale at which decisions are made.

    I fully realize that I have made far too many suggestions than may be praticle to implement over the short term, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. I think that it is completly appropriate for EPA and States to make addressing nutrients a priority. Numerous studies point toward nutrients as one of the greates threats to our waters. Addressing nutrient pollution will remain difficult for a number of reasons: solutions will be costly, perhaps more competing interests than any other pollutant, and the scientific underpinnings are complex. Yet, solutions can be reached if we continue to find innovative solutions to these problems.

  3. Bill Bispels permalink
    March 31, 2010

    Sewer sludge should not be permitted to be spread on farmland. Toxic waste and chemicals dumped on our foodsource? Insane.

  4. March 31, 2010

    In urban areas the total flow in receiving streams and rivers often includes a significant amount of treated wastewater, and in fact there are a whole category of streams that are referred to as effluent dominated. In such systems, wastewater effluent is an important source of nutrients.

    In less developed areas wastewater discharges comprise only a fraction of the total flow in the receiving water and typically similar small component of the total nutrient load. For example, in Lake Champlain the discharges for wastewater treatment plant (located in Vermont, New York, and Quebec) total roughly 75 million gallons per day, or slightly over 100 cubic hectometers per year. By contrast the total flow out of Lake Champlain annually is approximately 9000 cubic hectometers. In short, treated wastewater accounts for slightly more than 1% of all of the water in Lake Champlain.

    Wastewater treatment facility upgrades often compete for the same funding (federal, state, and local) available for non-point source pollution abatement projects. In a system, such as Lake Champlain, where nutrient loads are dominated by non-point (non-wastewater) sources, how should the appropriate level of treatment for wastewater treatment facilities? Further in the context of a TMDL, how should the wasteload allocation for such facilities be determined?

  5. March 31, 2010

    Nebraska Farmers go to great lengths to ensure proper application and utiliziation of nutrients on their farm fields, regardless of whether such products are commercial fertilizers or organic fertilizer collected as manure from livestock farms. Fertilizer nutrients play a pivitol role in the enuring a viable farming operation and proper application and utilziation are key to farmers in this regard, not only from a financial perspective, but an environmental perspective.

    EPA rules and regulations clearly define the responsibilty of livestock farmers in how nutrients are managed on farm. In addition to regualtory requirements, farmers have adopted numerous practices, including the establishment of grassed waterways and buffers to protect soil quality and to keep nutrients where targeted in farm fields.

    Farm Bureau supports voluntary action to address agricultural nonpoint source nutrient issues. We believe that nutrient program goals and objectives can best be administered at the local level. Any EPA policies regarding nutrient issues must be backed by sound scientific research and give proper consideration to impacts on agriculture production.

    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.

  6. March 31, 2010

    EPA should continue to advocate for the adoption of numeric nutrient water quality criteria into state standards to better manage excess nutrient enrichment in surface waters. Emphasis should be on load-based TMDLs for nutrients.

  7. Craig Head permalink
    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.

  8. March 31, 2010

    I live in the Northwest Arkansas region where there is an ongoing “conversation” about phosphorus in the Illinois River. Municipalities are being required to upgrade their wastewater treatment facilities in order to reduce the phosphorus levels in the watershed. This is a point source method for addressing the problem even though the existing wastewater treatment facility is already one of the most efficient in the country. It would be much more effective to allow the communities to address non-point source pollution through the use of LID practices throughout the watersheds in which they are located. Programs that reduce non-point source pollution (LID ordinances, riparian zone ordinances, stream restorations, watershed education programs, improved inspection and enforcement programs) would be more effective than only targeting the point source polluters. Please consider the watershed scale sources of pollutants prior to mandating upgrades on wastewater treatment facilities. In the long run, this would reduce more pollutants and would not be so expensive for taxpayers. Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

  9. March 31, 2010

    Nutrient pollution is a national priority and even more so a priority to the Gulf of Mexico Region, with the obvious example of the massive Dead Zone that forms at the mouth of the Mississippi River each Summer. In order to fix this problem there are several things that need to happen:

    1. EPA must set a firm deadline for each state to promulgate numeric Nitrogen and Phosphorus criteria. I commend EPA’s efforts in Florida, but if EPA takes states one at a time, we are not willing to wait 100 years for numeric criteria in all of the states.

    2. The Hypoxia Taskforce, if it is to become effective, must have firm deadlines, interim goals, and penalties or dis-incentives if goals are not reached. I have observed the Taskforce for the last 5 years and have become extremely frustrated with the process. We need a real plan that will require the states to seriously address the Dead Zone problem, as well as local nutrient pollution throughout the Mississippi River Basin.

    3. Any new or expanding dischargers that emit N and P should have minimum required limits, based on current innovative technologies, not technologies decades old.

    4. Nutrient TMDLS have to have real reductions in point sources, as well as assurance that reductions to non-point pollution will be achieved. I have seen too many TMDLs that allocate all of the pollution to non-point with no real plan to make the needed non-point reductions. Additionally some states allow new or expanded dischargers in impaired waters. EPA should not allow this.

    5. EPA must enforce antidegradation policies in each state, to ensure that clean waters are not killed by a thousand cuts.

    The time to act on nutrient pollution is now. EPA must be a leader, and not let the states make excuses.

  10. March 31, 2010

    Excess phosphorus and nitrogen come from agricultural runoff, the discharge of untreated sewage, and the use of phosphorus-based fertilizers and detergents at home. Plants, particularly algae, thrive on abundant sources of nitrogen and phosphorus. While algae is an important and necessary component of any aquatic ecosystem when present in the right quantity, nuisance algal blooms can be harm water quality and impair recreational enjoyment of beaches in the Great Lakes. The discharge of these nutrients into the water may also be connected to the dead zone in Lake Erie.

    In 1998, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its national strategy for helping states develop and adopt numeric water quality standards for phosphorous and nutrients. In May 2007, EPA reaffirmed the need for the states to adopt numeric nutrient water quality standards for all state waters and for EPA to assist states with that effort.

    While some states have adopted numeric criteria for phosphorus and nitrogen in the open waters of the Great Lakes, other states in the Great Lakes region have still not adopted numeric standards and phosphorous/nutrients continue to negatively affect water quality. In addition, EPA has not clarified how states should address situations where existing phosphorus and nutrient standards for Great Lakes waters are exceeded in nearshore areas. With the recent increased interest in and funding for the Great Lakes, the development and enforcement of numeric water quality standards for phosphorus and nutrients in the Great Lakes watershed is needed more than ever.

    The Alliance for the Great Lakes has urged Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio to more seriously address their algae problems by setting more stringent nutrient budgets and phosphorus limits to control algae growth, including algae-ridden waters on their lists of impaired waters so they can receive appropriate attention, evaluating the recreational damages resulting from algae-infested waters and beaches, and making their lists of impaired waters more readily available to the public. (Alliance letters to Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio are available online at: http://www.greatlakes.org/algae) Unfortunately, the absence of numeric phosphorus and nutrient water quality standards for tributaries that feed into the Great Lakes limits the ability of these states to act.

    EPA urgently needs to ensure that Great Lakes states set numeric standards for phosphorus and nutrients in all states that have not done so and provide recommendations for enforcing the numeric standards in each state, including reviewing existing data on sources of nutrient pollution and measures to reduce this pollution from both sewage plants and nonpoint sources such as agriculture.

  11. March 31, 2010

    We look forward to participating in this dialogue. In the meantime, below are some detailed thoughts about nutrients in particular.

    Today, nutrient pollution is pervasive and pernicious. According to EPA, of assessed waters, nutrients are connected directly or indirectly to 51% of impaired river and stream miles, 52% of impaired lake acres, and 58% of impaired square miles of bays and estuaries. U.S. EPA, An Urgent Call to Action: Report of the State-EPA Nutrient Innovations Task Group, at 5-6 (Aug. 2009), available at http://www.epa.gov/waterscience/criteria/nutrient/nitgreport.pdf (hereinafter “Urgent Call”). Nutrients contribute to a host of water quality problems, including causing an overabundance of algal growth and resulting low oxygen levels (such as the mammoth hypoxic, or “dead,” zone in the Gulf of Mexico), nitrate toxicity to infants, diminishment of aquatic community structure and function, and harmful – even toxic – algal blooms.

    These problems call for a suite of strategies aimed at addressing the various sources of nutrient pollution. Many of those strategies do not require new legal authority, and should be implemented right away.

    1. EPA must ensure that States adopt comprehensive numeric nutrient criteria.

    As the agency knows well, water quality standards that adequately protect waters’ designated uses are critical to the proper functioning of the Clean Water Act’s regulatory structure. However, numeric nutrient water quality standards are largely absent in critical waterways across the country. EPA’s own internal watchdog, the Office of Inspector General (OIG), recently found that states and EPA had failed to make needed progress in establishing numeric nutrient standards; as of last year, half the states had no numeric criteria whatsoever, and many other states lacked such standards for whole categories of water bodies. In the Mississippi basin, the news is worse. Of the ten States that contributed the most nitrogen to the Gulf of Mexico, only one — Tennessee — had any kind of numeric standard, and seven of the ten States responsible for the most phosphorus delivery to the Gulf had no numeric standards. U.S. EPA, Office of Inspector General, EPA Needs to Accelerate Adoption of Numeric Nutrient Water Quality Standards, Report No. 09-P-0223 (Aug. 26, 2009) (introductory section titled “At A Glance”).

    The absence of numeric criteria is not an academic problem. Numeric standards are the foundation for clean-up plans when the standards are not met, and they help State water officials determine how much pollution a given industrial or municipal discharger must remove from its waste stream. Given these functions, one can easily see the benefit of a numeric standard, as opposed to the alternative — a narrative standard. While water quality officials can take a numeric standard (X milligrams per liter, for instance) and establish regulatory requirements aimed at achieving that number, it is far harder to write a cleanup plan or a discharge limit to address narrative prohibitions. For example, some States prohibit unnatural levels of algae, but figuring out how much is natural and how much is unnatural is very subjective, and that kind of ambiguity often leads State regulators to throw up their hands and do nothing.

    As former Assistant Administrator for Water Benjamin Grumbles wrote in 2007, there are several benefits from numeric standards:
    • easier and faster development of TMDLs;
    • quantitative targets to support trading programs ;
    • easier to write protective NPDES permits ;
    • increased effectiveness in evaluating success of nutrient runoff minimization programs ; and
    • measurable, objective water quality baselines against which to measure environmental progress .

    Memorandum from Benjamin H. Grumbles, EPA Assistant Administrator for Water, to Directors, State Water Programs, et al., at 2 (May 25, 2007). EPA is required to promulgate water quality standards where states fail to issue necessary standards. 33 U.S.C. 1313(c)(4). Given the myriad benefits of numeric nutrient standards, the failure of narrative standards to protect the nation’s waters from various nutrient-related harms, and the repeated calls that EPA has made to states to get numeric standards in place, EPA cannot credibly argue that these requirements are not necessary to achieve the mandates of the Clean Water Act, and thus must either ensure that states adopt numeric standards immediately, or promulgate federal standards.

    2. For interstate waters or waters affected by interstate nutrient pollution, such as the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico, EPA must establish the necessary water quality standards and the total maximum daily loads to assure the attainment of those standards.

    It is bad enough that EPA has failed to make sure that states safeguard their own waters from the effects of nutrient pollution, but the agency has failed even more egregiously when it comes to interstate nutrient pollution. The OIG report on numeric standards indicates that one reason for state failures to set standards for their waters is that cleaning up nutrient pollution might lead to tougher restrictions on certain businesses, which could be politically unpopular. In the same vein, the report found that States essentially disregarded downstream impacts (like the Dead Zone) in the standard-setting process, even though federal regulations require states to consider such effects. See 40 C.F.R. § 131.10(b) (“In designating uses of a water body and the appropriate criteria for those uses, the State shall take into consideration the water quality standards of downstream waters and shall ensure that its water quality standards provide for the attainment and maintenance of the water quality standards of downstream waters.”). One can imagine that it is hard to convince decisionmakers in Iowa, Indiana, or Illinois that they need to strictly control in-state sources of pollution that cause harm off the Louisiana coast.

    The IG’s solution is basic — EPA must lead where the States have fallen behind. The agency has the authority to establish necessary standards when States do not, and EPA can better withstand parochial political pressures. The IG recommends that EPA identify “significant waters of national value” that need numeric standards, and establish the standards, taking into account the needs of downstream waters. We agree; the agency should promptly develop numeric criteria for the Mississippi, its tributaries, and the Gulf of Mexico. In July of 2008, several organizations petitioned EPA to promulgate necessary numeric standards and total maximum daily load (TMDL) clean up plans – and showed with particularity the need for such leadership in the Mississippi basin. EPA has not taken action on that petition. See Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy et al., Petition for Rulemaking Under the Clean Water Act: Numeric Water Quality Standards for Nitrogen and Phosphorus and TMDLs for the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico at 55-69 (July 30, 2008), available at http://www.elpc.org/documents/NutrientPetitionFINAL.pdf.

    The OIG report and the groups’ petition are consistent with a prior report of the National Research Council, which faulted EPA’s lack of leadership when it came to implementing the Clean Water Act along the Mississippi River. The report labeled the river an “orphan” from the standpoint of pollution monitoring and assessment, and identified several ways in which EPA could help bring about positive change, including by developing needed standards and TMDLs. See generally McKnight Foundation Environment Program, User’s Guide: Mississippi River Water Quality and the Clean Water Act, available at http://www.mcknight.org/files/pdfs/MSWQCWA_user_guide.pdf.
    The agency should promptly grant this petition and get about the business of getting standards and pollution reduction plans in place that will protect and clean up these critical national resources.

    3. EPA must update its published information about the capabilities of “secondary treatment” and specifically consider the inclusion of nutrient controls in the generally-applicable requirements for publicly owned treatment works.

    Municipal sewage contains significant nutrient pollution. In some watersheds, publicly owned treatment works (POTWs) are important contributors to the nutrient load. For example, according to EPA’s discussion document for this forum, municipal wastewater sources discharge 21% and 25% of the phosphorus and nitrogen, respectively, to the Chesapeake Bay. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Discussion Document: Coming Together for Clean Water, available at http://blog.epa.gov/waterforum/discussion-document/. In large part, however, these facilities have not been called upon to reduce their nutrient pollution; according to a recent in-depth analysis of the nutrient problem and potential solutions, “[o]f more than 16,500 municipal POTWs nationwide, approximately 4 percent have numeric limits for nitrogen and 9.9 percent for phosphorus.” Urgent Call at 14 (citations omitted).
    EPA has authority under the Clean Water Act to require POTWs to treat their effluent to remove nutrients. In particular, such facilities must achieve pollution control achievable by “secondary treatment,” as defined by EPA, and the agency is required to update the information available about the pollution control capabilities of “secondary treatment” periodically. See 33 U.S.C. §§ 1311(b)(1)(B) & 1314(d)(1). EPA is long overdue in its obligation to update this information, and should do so promptly and include nutrient control in its assessment of the capability of plants. Indeed, when a task force of key state and EPA water pollution control officials recently issued a report on tools to combat nutrient pollution, they identified five tools having “the most promise to reduce nutrient loadings and therefore judged to have the highest overall effectiveness,” and the list included establishing “technology treatment requirements for nutrients and thereby establish[ing] technology based limits for NPDES point sources that discharge nutrients to water — update secondary treatment requirements.” See Urgent Call at C-6 (emphasis added).

    EPA has a pending petition from NRDC, the Environmental Law and Policy Center of the Midwest, the Sierra Club, the Waterkeeper Alliance, the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, Midwest Environmental Advocates, the Prairie Rivers Network, the Iowa Environmental Council, the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, American Rivers, and the Gulf Restoration Network, on this very topic. The petition demands that EPA update its published information about the capabilities of “secondary treatment” and specifically urges the agency to consider the inclusion of nutrient controls in the generally-applicable requirements for publicly owned treatment works. NRDC et al., Petition for Rulemaking Under the Clean Water Act: Secondary Treatment Standards for Nutrient Removal (Nov. 27, 2007). That petition, filed in November 2007, should be promptly granted and the standards should be revised in short order.

    4. EPA must better control pollution from concentrated animal feeding operations.

    As it has done with POTWs, EPA has also failed to adequately address nutrient pollution from another category of point source nutrient polluters: concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Also like POTWs, the sector can be far better controlled via regulatory changes, and we respectfully request that EPA take steps to revisit the rule concerning the Clean Water Act permitting requirements and effluent limitation guidelines for these animal factories, which the Bush administration adopted in its waning months. 73 Fed. Reg. 70,418 (Nov. 20, 2008). Please note that this rule is presently in litigation, and NRDC is one of the parties that petitioned for review of the rule. National Pork Producers Council v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, No. 08-61093 & consolidated cases (5th Cir.). However, these changes need not await the resolution of that case.

    The Bush administration rule primarily relies on CAFO operators making their own judgments about whether facilities will discharge. If a CAFO operator concludes that the facility will not discharge, then s/he can elect not to seek a pollution control permit under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program, subject to little or no oversight by permitting authorities. This approach is a dramatic reversal of the policy embodied in the 2003 CAFO rule, in which the agency required all large CAFOs with the “potential to discharge” to apply for a NPDES permit. EPA believed such a strategy was necessary because of inadequate Clean Water Act compliance by the industry and because of the intermittent nature of CAFO discharges.

    Although a court invalidated the “potential to discharge” approach, it made clear that EPA’s conclusion that large CAFOs should be subject to enhanced oversight was well-founded. In particular, the court said, “EPA has marshaled evidence suggesting that such a prophylactic measure may be necessary to effectively regulate water pollution from Large CAFOs, given that Large CAFOs are important contributors to water pollution and that they have, historically at least, improperly tried to circumvent the permitting process.” Waterkeeper Alliance, Inc. v. U.S. EPA, 399 F.3d 486, 506 n. 22 (2d Cir. 2005). Crucially, the court’s decision left EPA with many legal tools to require CAFOs to obtain pollution control permits or demonstrate that they will not discharge. We strongly urge you to exercise that authority in an improved rule, as the history of this issue makes it unreasonable to rely on CAFO operators to properly determine whether facilities require permits, and we seriously question whether agency enforcement resources are adequate to ensure full compliance with the permitting requirement.

    A second reason to revisit this rule is that it perpetuates a mistake made in the 2003 rule, namely an overbroad interpretation of an exemption in the Clean Water Act for “agricultural stormwater.” This decision denies permitting authorities the ability to meaningfully control significant pollution from a CAFO’s land application area under the Act, and is more pernicious today in light of the permitting approach reflected in the final rule. The land application area is an integral part of a CAFO, which is a statutorily-defined point source; accordingly, any discharges from this area should be considered regulated point source releases. Moreover, exempting a significant part of a facility’s discharge from the Clean Water Act makes it easier for an operator to evade the permitting requirement which, as discussed above, EPA previously tried to make it harder to do.

    Finally, EPA has the discretion under the Act to identify which facilities constitute “CAFOs,” and therefore are “point sources” under the law. See 33 U.S.C. § 1362(14). The agency can bring more facilities into the permitting system by adopting lower animal number thresholds to trigger treatment as a CAFO and it also can tighten the requirements for on-site nutrient management. We strongly urge EPA to do so. The agency is considering doing this very thing in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. See U.S. EPA, Rulemaking Gateway, Revised Regulations for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed (action not yet proposed), available at http://yosemite.epa.gov/opei/rulegate.nsf/byRIN/2040-AF20. Moreover, EPA has already threatened to employ a variant of this strategy in the Chesapeake region, as one of the potential consequences for states’ failure to develop required plans or make satisfactory progress toward needed reductions of nutrients and sediment. See Letter from Shawn M. Garvin, Regional Administrator, EPA Region III, to L. Preston Bryant, Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources, at p. 8, encl. B (Dec. 29, 2009) (“The NPDES permitting regulations . . . authorize the Regional Administrator to designate any Animal Feeding Operation (AFO) as a CAFO upon determining that it is a significant contributor of pollutants to waters of the United States.”), available from http://www.epa.gov/chesapeakebaytmdl/.

    5. EPA must work to ensure that known nutrient sinks, like headwater streams and wetlands, are fully covered by the pollution control programs of the CWA.

    Scientists have found that wetlands and small streams are capable of removing nutrient pollution before it pollutes major waterways. As even the Bush White House explained, wetlands in the Mississippi River Basin “retain nitrates and phosphates that would otherwise drain from adjacent farmlands.” See White House, Fact Sheet: Protecting, Improving, and Restoring Our Wetlands (Oct. 29, 2008), available at http://knowledge.fhwa.dot.gov/ReNEPA/ReNepa.nsf/9ba8442069238e44852568fe00708985/10f543637c64ad1f852574f1006ea0a3?OpenDocument. The administration also noted that ensuring that nutrients pass through such features “will help reduce the size of the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico and provide habitat, flood protection, and clean drinking water.” The obvious upshot of that conclusion is that these resources ought to be protected from harm as much as possible.

    For many years, the federal Clean Water Act had protected small streams and wetlands from unregulated pollution or destruction. However, this has changed significantly since the Supreme Court handed down a pair of decisions about what kinds of aquatic features are considered “waters of the United States,” protected by the law. Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. U.S. Army Corps of Eng’rs (“SWANCC”), 531 U.S. 159 (2001); Rapanos v. U.S., 547 U.S. 715 (2006). Since then, the federal agencies charged with implementing the Act have given unclear guidance about what kinds of water bodies remain protected, and have effectively written off roughly 20 percent of the wetlands in the continental U.S. Courts also have struggled to figure out what kinds of resources are still covered.

    As a result, many of our country’s smaller streams and wetlands are at risk of being polluted or even buried by mining companies, developers, industrial wastewater sources and others without so much as a Clean Water Act permit to limit the effect that the activity will have on aquatic resources. And that could lead to additional nutrient pollution that contributes to the Dead Zone, either as a direct result of now-unregulated discharges or because of the destruction of aquatic features that would trap nutrients before they moved downstream. NRDC issued a report in October 2008, which brings together recent information about nutrient pollution in the Mississippi River Basin and Gulf of Mexico, how it relates to the Supreme Court decisions that have made it more difficult to protect resources in the basin that help reduce this pollution, and provides a roadmap for safeguarding these resources under the law. NRDC, Missing Protection: Polluting the Mississippi River Basin’s Small Streams and Wetlands (Oct. 2008) http://www.nrdc.org/water/pollution/msriver/contents.asp.

    EPA knows this problem well. Administrator Jackson has personally spoken about the loss of Clean Water Act protections as a key problem to the implementation of the law today, and the heads of several agencies, including EPA, wrote a letter last May that stressed the importance of fixing this problem legislatively, and the critical need to restore broad protections to features throughout the watershed. As the agencies stated, “[a]ll of the environmental and economic benefits that these aquatic ecosystems provide are at risk if some elements are protected and others are not.” Letter from Nancy Sutley, Chair, Council on Environmental Quality, et al., to Senator Barbara Boxer, Chairman, Environment and Public Works Committee, at 2 (May 20, 2009).

    As the agency recognizes, only Congress can fully and certainly restore the law’s safeguards to our water bodies; unless legislation, like the pending Clean Water Restoration Act, is adopted, the critical resources that help reduce nutrient pollution will be further jeopardized. EPA must work with leaders in Congress to ensure that proposed legislation fully accomplishes the goal of restoring protections to previously-protected waters, and must make a concerted effort to make information public about the kinds of resources at risk because of the decisions.

    6. EPA should work with USDA, and with states implementing the section 319 program, to track the implementation of agricultural management practices and systematically monitor their success or failure, so as to create a knowledge base that can be used in future regulatory and funding programs.

    Of course, a significant amount of the nutrient pollution in many watersheds is attributable to agricultural runoff, which is poorly controlled under the Clean Water Act, as it currently exists. Leaders in Congress are beginning to look at strengthening the Act’s requirements to ensure that states in the Chesapeake Bay region fully address all sources of nutrients, see, e.g., H.R. 3852 & S. 1816, and we believe this kind of approach is justified for the Bay as well as other watersheds, such as the Mississippi Basin. Certainly, in those watersheds (like the Mississippi) where agricultural runoff constitutes the vast majority of the nutrient pollution, we believe that actually achieving water quality goals will require an enhanced regulatory approach. In the meantime, however, EPA should step up its efforts to catalog and measure the effectiveness of management practices that can reduce the nutrient pollution from lands in agricultural production.

    Under section 319 of the Clean Water Act and under various Farm Bill conservation programs (especially as some of those programs support the recently-launched Mississippi River Basin Initiative), federal funds are available for the implementation of projects that are designed to reduce agricultural water pollution. To ensure that these projects provide the most benefit, and to identify those kinds of projects that can be replicated to good effect in other places, we believe that critical information about individual projects should be tracked, and the water quality impacts of them should be monitored. EPA can implement this approach directly under the section 319 program, and it should work closely with USDA to make it an essential piece of conservation program projects aimed at reducing nutrient pollution. Such a recommendation would help address a concern identified by the National Research Council, which found: “A stronger commitment to performance-based, farm-level conservation actions and water quality monitoring will be necessary to reduce the extent of northern Gulf of Mexico hypoxia. Most current nutrient control efforts, which are made possible by USDA land and water conservation programs that promote use of best management practices . . ., are not closely monitored, if at all.” National Research Council, Nutrient Control Actions for Improving Water Quality in the Mississippi River Basin and Northern Gulf of Mexico, at 23 (Dec. 11, 2008) (prepublication copy).

  12. March 31, 2010

    Nutrients and sediment are the nations primary water quality problem and agriculture is the primary source now that most of the other significant sources are regulated. If we want to protect and restore our WQ then we need to get real about and regulate it accordingly. This isn’t about science – we know what’s happening to our water. This is all about political will. The misconception by Agriculture is that mandatory BMPs and regulation will put them out of business. There are ways to do this that can maintain or increase profits for those doing the right thing for the environment and that punishes the polluter. A polluter is a polluter whether he is sitting behind a desk running a dirty factory or if he is a farmer discharging tons of nutrients and sediment into our waterways. I feel that most farmers and farm corporations will want to do the right thing as long as their bottom line is protected. We simply have to have the will to put together and pass a package that will do the job. I think it is time to intoduce the 2010 version of the Clean Water Act. FYI – I am not against agriculture, I farm. I just want to see our nations waters restored.

  13. March 31, 2010

    During his campaign, President Obama promised stricter, effective Clean Water Act regulations to control Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) pollution. The current CAFO regulation, issued by EPA in 2008, has major loopholes that render it ineffective to deal with nutrient pollution from CAFOs. Here are major revisions that should be made to CAFO regulations to control nutrient pollution:

    1. The 2008 regulation allows CAFOs to “self-certify” that they will not discharge pollution, with no notice to the public of this self-certification. The regulation should be revised so that Large-Scale CAFOs and those Mid-sized CAFOs that land apply CAFO manure and waste should not be allowed to “self-certify” that they do not discharge pollutants. EPA should establish a regulatory presumption that these CAFOs do discharge. CAFO owner/operators should be required to show to regulators and the public the CAFO design and management measures that they claim will result in no discharges of pollutants. Also, any CAFO that has had discharge must be required to obtain a Clean Water Act permit.

    2. The current EPA regulation focuses on nutrients from land-applied CAFO manure and waste but does not adequately deal with heavy metals, antibiotic residues in the waste and pathogens, including antibiotic resistant pathogens that can develop when livestock and poultry are given antibiotics to promote growth. The regulation should be revised to protect water quality and the public health from these pollutants.

    3. Under the current EPA regulation, if a CAFO transfers manure and other CAFO waste to another entity for land application, the CAFO has no further liability for water pollution from the CAFO waste. The CAFO regulations should ensure that both the CAFO and the entity receiving the CAFO manure and waste are required to apply the manure and waste in accordance with an effective CAFO waste management plan that addresses nutrients and other pollutants in CAFO manure and waste.

    4. Many CAFOs are operated by farmers under contract to large livestock and poultry processing companies in a system that is vertically integrated. These companies may determine how the CAFOs are designed and operated and many retain the right under the contract to take over the operation of the CAFO. These companies – the “vertical integrators” – should be made co-permittees on the CAFO Clean Water Act permits.

    5. In many regions, CAFOs which together confine thousands of cows or hogs or millions of chickens are packed together in a single watershed, often watersheds that are already degraded by nutrient pollution. The EPA Clean Water Act permit process should include a watershed level assessment to determine the amount of CAFO manure and waste that can be land-applied in a watershed and set limits and restrictions on the number of CAFOs in watersheds that are impaired by nutrient pollutants.

    6. CAFOs emit numerous pollutants into the air, especially ammonia, that are subsequently deposited into water bodies. EPA should control this deposition of nutrient air pollution into water.

    7. In addition to surface water pollution, CAFO manure and waste can pollute groundwater that serves as a source of drinking water in many rural communities. Nitrate levels from this contamination can exceed the safe levels for drinking water and is especially harmful to children and pregnant women. In addition, families dependent on groundwater have been sickened by contamination of their drinking water by CAFO pathogens. EPA and state regulators should address groundwater, as well as surface water contamination by nutrients.

    8. The U.S. Geological Survey’s National Water Quality Assessment Program is the most important long-term national survey of trends in the nation’s water quality. Along with the Toxic Substances Hydrology Program, it provides one of the best assessments of the health of our nation’s waters. We need this critical information to assess the effectiveness of the Clean Water Act in protecting our waters and public health from nutrient pollution and other pollutants.

    But the National Water Quality Assessment Program has been reduced from 500 sites in 1991 to 113 in 2010 of which only 12 are monitored every year and 86 are monitored only every 4 years. In 2002, a National Research Council review of the program found that some substantive national coverage had been lost to previous funding reduction and that, “NAWQA cannot continue to be downsized and still be considered the national water quality assessment that the nation needs.”

    The Obama Administration work for increased funding for the program with a goal of restoring the National Water Quality Assessment Program to its scope in 1991.

  14. March 31, 2010

    Farm Bureau supports state development of voluntary action plans to address agricultural nonpoint source nutrient issues. We believe that nutrient program goals and objectives can best be administered at the local level through soil and water conservation organizations, farm groups and their partners. Any EPA policies regarding nutrient issues must be backed by sound scientific research and give proper consideration to impacts on agriculture production.

    Numerous nutrient reduction activities have been undertaken to address hypoxia and other nutrient concern, but federal and state resources have been insufficient to quickly address such dynamic issues. Any new federal monitoring, underlying scientific research, and resources to implement state nutrient reduction plans should be targeted toward the most effective nutrient reduction actions. Let the states determine the best actions for themselves.

    Variability in weather dominates nutrient reduction strategies. Science suggests that current nutrient issues are not due to mismanagement of fertilizers and manures, but more to historic changes in land use and hydrology. The popular notion that nutrients in water are the result of the loss of “excess nutrients” from the soil implies that if there were no excess nutrients, losses would not occur.

    The Corn Belt and Iowa have fertile soils and generally ample precipitation. It is also important to understand that for optimal crop production, university nutrient application recommendations are followed. As a result of weather variability, land use and hydrology changes, and crop nutrient demand, nutrient loss can still occur. Successful nutrient reduction programs are highly dependent on these complicated, inter-related factors.

    Successful state and federal nutrient reduction strategies should recognize that:

    •Cost-effective measures are different across different watersheds, and watershed residents should gain a good knowledge of their watersheds before adopting any control policies that have been promising elsewhere;
    •Targeting different pollutants will mean different land use options, so it is important watersheds identify their needs before any policy discussions;
    •Programs need to target nitrogen and phosphorus reductions;
    •A recognition that aquatic life standards need to be accompanied by significant resources and given adequate time for implementation; and,
    •A significant investment in monitoring and evaluation would enable us to be more strategic with our program implementation.

  15. March 31, 2010

    Nutrient managment in the non-point source areana should be approached as all on-farm conservation programs have been:through voluntary cost-share programs. Huge improvements to water and soil quality have been made with the implementation of conservation practices across the country. No-till and minimum-till farming continue to grow and in concert with other runoff management practices. Futher implementation of these practices will continue to improve local and national water quality.

    The limiting factor for implementation of water quality best management practices is budgetary. In Kansas, the use of state and federal cost-share dollars is prevalent amongst most farmers. However, the available dollars in these programs is not adequate to fund all of the projects proposed by producers. Demand far exceeds the available monies. Without the cost-share program funding it simply is not economically feasible to implement all the needed conservation practices by producers.

    A command and control approach to nutrient management on agriculture production areas will produce increased food, fuel and fiber costs to the American consumer and will put the agriculture industry in economic jeopardy. Food production could be moved to other countries if nutrient management is implemented through a mandated regulatory mechanism.

    Please consider working with local, state, and federal agenciens to increase the cost-share dollars available for nutrient management and increase awareness in the agriculture communinty. Lead with the carrot not with the stick.

  16. March 31, 2010

    It’s interesting to note that the water quality in lakes and streams located in wilderness areas, national parks and remote areas is generally higher quality than lakes and streams in areas inhabited with people. Restrictions on access and activities in preserved areas seem to help prevent nutrient pollution. Also, people seem to accept the restrictions on access and activities in preserved areas. It’s hard to understand why we would allow unregulated access and activities near unpreserved water bodies when we know how to prevent nutrient pollution. This has put us as a society in a position of having impaired waters which cost more to restore than they would have cost to protect. The only approach we can take now is to invest in the costly restoration of impaired waters while preventing our high quality waters from becoming impaired. This may require preservation of more land and water with restrictions on human access and activities as population grows and pressure on water resources increase. We have demonstrated how to do this with parks, wilderness areas, and wellhead and drinking water source protection. These can be difficult and controversial decisions.

  17. Ginny Garrison permalink
    March 30, 2010

    Trying to protect and improve water quality by trying to reduce or eliminate nonpoint sources of nutrients, without establishing protected riparian habitat along our rivers and lakes, is like trying to stay healthy by reducing or eliminating the bacteria around us without an immune system to protect us.

    Establishing healthy, undisturbed riparian buffers along all of our rivers, streams, lakes and ponds is the single most important thing we can do to prevent excess nutrients from reaching our waters.

    Please make the establishment and protection of riparian buffers throughout the nation a major focus and high priority of the USEPA!

  18. Janet Andersen permalink
    March 30, 2010

    For an effective nutrient strategy, we need to know what current levels of phosphorus and nitrogen are in the waters. That means that we need to have an effective and consistent baseline and monitoring approach in the waters.

    We also need to be able to monitor inputs. Phosphorus at levels that can be in lake and stream waters is very difficult to test on site. It would help greatly to be able to have an effective, automated, affordable phosphorus test, if possible on site. Currently we need to mail frozen samples to only certain labs, for manual and therefore constrained and expensive analysis.

    We also need numeric criteria. Too often we see regulations that say there shouldn’t be degradation, but that is very dependent upon the knowledge and determination of reviewers and the persuasiveness of the applicant or the agent.

    Since septic systems are a widespread source of phosphorus and nitrogen, we need effective septic inspection or pumping regulations. It would be great if there were research and development of septic systems that could remove P and N from the effluent. Once developed, regulations should allow installation of these innovative septic technologies, especially in repair situations. Voluntary pumping and inspection hasn’t been effective locally. In addition, we need to better educate people about septic system function and maintenance. Just like any homeowner knows that a roof will eventually need to be replaced, we need to set expectations that eventually a septic system will need repair.

    Furthermore, we need systemic thinking. In our lakeside community, we have a small community drinking water supply system. Because of when the homes were built and because of our water chemistry, there is some lead and copper that leaches out of the fixtures in a few homes. As a result, the Dept of Health mandated the addition of orthophosphate to the water supply for corrosion control. We have tried to find alternative treatments or approaches, but this is apparently one of the few chemicals approved by the EPA for this purpose. The irony is not lost to the community that we are adding approximately 100 pounds of P each year to the watershed. Unfortunately, we think this more than offsets all the voluntary curtailment of phosphorus use in fertilizer and dishwashing detergent. I feel it’s a grave mistake for the drinking water and the water protection units to be working at cross purposes. Further, it puts incredible stress on the people on the ground trying to do the right thing for both drinking water and lakes and streams.

    In our community, we have a lot of dirt roads, dirt driveways, and dirt ditches. We also have a lot of culverts that fill up with dirt road runoff. After a rain, there’s often a lot of sediment transport into waters and wetlands. We need to do a better job of educating our highway department about dirt road management and the importance of seeding ditches. We need to educate our homeowners and local contractors about how to maintain driveways, for example to build water bars and water “kick-offs”, how to crown driveways and not worsen the dirt road conditions.

    Again, we have to improve teamwork. In our area, the Department of Health installs larvacide in storm drains as an action against west nile. However, once the larvacides are installed, the highway department can’t clean out the catch basins. This means that catch basin maintenance is limited to a few weeks each spring. This isn’t sustainable.

    Thanks to the EPA for asking for input via this forum!

  19. Leslie Berndt permalink
    March 29, 2010

    As a middle aged farmer in Kansas I have seen agriculture make many strides in the way crop nutrients are used. While the impetus has been mostly economic rather than altruistic the result is largely the same. Fertilizers have become the largest single expense incured by most in agriculture and applications in a way that lets them wash away is a very large waste of money. Most of us wish there was someway to grow crops without them but to remain sustainable nutrients must be replaced as the crops we harvest remove them. The agriculture boards on the internet carry many discussions about how the best ways to get as few nutrients down to where they are needed, when they are needed, as possible. While there is always room for improvment I worry about nutrient controls placed blindly across all types of situations without any regard to things like rainfall, soil type, and crop nutrient needs among others.

  20. March 29, 2010

    EPA:

    To help control nutrients, we need to get more help on-the-ground. I am aware of many people that just do not realize they are part of the problem. In today’s enviroment of informatiojn overload, that is hard to imagine but I am seeing it first hand. We need to help fund local watershed efforts that are making a true differnce if we are going to get a handle on cleaning up the nation’s waters

  21. March 29, 2010

    Caroline Snyder makes a good point about emerging COCs (insoluble) accumulating in the sludge component during wastewater treatment and why these should not be applied on land/used for other value added products. On Cape Cod our municipal solid wastes (msw) are currently being sent off-Cape to a waste-to-energy (wte) incinerator in Rochester, Ma. This contract runs through 2015, after which a new msw contract will be sought by 14 of the 15 towns on Cape Cod. The Cape Cod Commission’s (CCC) Solid Waste Advisory Committee is considering the Bourne Landfill has a possible replacement option for the existing wte approach for addressing msw. The CCC is promoting increased recycling and source reduction as part of their msw strategy, along with composting of non-toxic organic wastes. These zero waste approaches are supported by local environmentalists.

    Ms. Snyder’s comments provide support to the need for an integrated approach to wastewater infrastructure upgrades to address other issues beyond simply reducing nutrient loading. Unfortunately EPA and the Massa. Department of Environmental Protection which oversees our town Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plans (CWMP) are organized along lines that parallel their legislative mandates. Thus toxic COCs in wastewater effluent (water soluble) or sludge from centralized treatment plants are not addressed in the CWMPs. Their are no underlying state regulations for these chemicals in drinking water or sewage effluent.

    Thus we are looking to EPA for leadership in this area. Under the Toxics Substances Control Act (TSCA), EPA has only examined 200 out of 82,000 chemicals in commerce for their toxicity, with bans only being implemented for a few contaminants: PCBs, DDT, etc. I would think that the Safe Drinking Water Act would be a more likely venue for regulating these emerging COCs. This approach was used by Ma. DEP for the Superfund cleanup at the Massa. Military Reservation where perchlorate (an endocrine disruptor) standards were developed for the cleanup. This is obviously a complex topic which would benefit from discussion by the experts at EPA’s Coming Together for Clean Water meeting.

  22. March 29, 2010

    It is time to stop treating CAFO’s as “agricultural” and start looking at them as industries. These large operations create more waste than small cities, and yet they are allowed to spread the waste without treatment. These operations are often the cause of fish kills. The operators often don’t follow the rules as to the amount that can be applied, or to the method of application onto the fields, and the result is that a large amounts of manure can enter streams and rivers. Treating CAFO’s as industries would require that they build small treatment plants to treat the waste, but the result would be a much cleaner environment around the CAFO’s and cleaner water.

  23. March 29, 2010

    TOPIC 2: MANAGINGING POLLUTANTS FROM NUTRIENTS

    What critical elements need to be included in an effective nutrient strategy?

    The most critical element is public education. My experience has shown that most people do not realize that nutrients are a problem, much less a pollutant. Most do not understand what nutrients are, where they come from. Shore front property owners don’t understand that the leaves they are raking off their shore front property into the lake are putting nutrients into th e lake. They don’t understand that over fertilizing their shore front lawns puts unused nutrients into the lake. They get up set with me when I require that the design to replace their failed septic system between their residence and the lake, to be located on the other side of their residence, which may require them to pump to that location, when they didn’t have to pump before. When it comes to nutrients, most point up the watershed to the farmers.

    Farmers /Agriculture. The Ontario County Sioli & Water Conservation District implements the Agricultural Environmental Management (AEM) program. Again, this is an identified action of our Watershed Management Plan that I descibed under Topic 1. AEM is a farmer-led effort to promote and maintain farming as a profitalbe and environmentally sound enterprise within the Canandaigua Lake Watershed. The goal of AEM is to assist farmers to identify, implement and maintain “Best Management Practices” (BMP) suited to their individual farm, enhancing farm profiability and environmental quality. Cost shares are available through state funded grants. An Agricultural Advisory Committee made up of farmers prioritize funding of BMPs and recommended agency staff work.

    Benefits of participating in AEM?

    * Cost shares for planning and implementation
    * Documentation of current conservation practices
    * Complete control over any mamagement options chosen
    * Expert assistance from trained Distrct staff
    * Lake Friendly Farmer sign for qulified participants

    Examples of BMPs implemented in the Canandaigua Lake Watershed:

    * Stormwater diversion from barnyards
    * Livestock water source developments
    * Fuel storage and spill containments
    * Pesticide storage and mixing areas
    * Silage leachate management
    * Milkhouse waste management
    * Buffer strips and vegetative filter strips
    * Manure management systems
    * Rotational grazing enclosures

    How should strategies differ for protecting healthy and functioning watersheds versous those that need to be significanlty restored due to precious pollution ?

    In my opinion, there should be no difference. If a comprehensive Watershed Management Plan is implemented to clean up a polluted watershed, you don’t stop implementing because it is now clean. Given the varying and continual changing land use activities that can threaten a watershed, implementation of a Watershed Management Plan needs to be perpetual. The only thing that might change / differ would be what may be prioritized.

    What has worked for your organization, state or tribe in controlliong nutrient pollution?

    All I have described above.

    What hasn’t?

    Educating the elite. Many do not consider their one property is contrbuting any significant nutrients, even though they insist on maintaining a “golf course quality lawn” right up to the break wall or shoreline of their property. Many of them still put all the blame on the farmers even though the farmers are participating in AEM and implementing BMPs.

  24. March 28, 2010

    There are a lot of legacy pollutant problems on farmland where ‘bio solids’ and fertilizers contained amendments that included toxic metals. Levels of lead can become bioavailable to root crops under many circumstances, and can move up into fruit and leaf crops if a chealator chemical transports it. If fertilizers, biosolids, and legacy lead pesticide on old orchard sites also get applications of herbicides and pesticides, some chealators in the formulations may end up transporting the lead as an unintended consequence. Since lead is an accumulative toxic metal, and there is very little recent scientific literature that suggests a strong functional threshold of effects, should we not be more concrned and carefully test many potential exposure scenarios for agricultural crop contamination via these routes? Would it not be sensible to build up databases of ag cropland subject to these contaminations, and work to mitigate the problem sites for safety of the food chain?
    Maybe Pogo was right… ‘we met the enemy…’

  25. March 27, 2010

    We have been asking EPA and Iowa DNR for legislation requiring Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) to obtain NPEDES permits. Inevitably, there will be spills or leaks from these operations, resulting in fish kills and dangerous pollution in streams.

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