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Discussion Document

Coming Together for Clean Water

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

April 15, 2010, Washington, DC

Background Information on Proposed Discussion Topics

Introduction

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson will host a forum entitled Coming Together for Clean Water on April 15, 2010, in Washington, DC.  The forum will engage approximately 100 executive and local level clean-water thought leaders and seeks to inject additional perspectives and attendant momentum into EPA’s clean water agenda.  The objectives for the forum include:

  • Presenting EPA thinking on critical clean water challenges and needed directions
  • Obtaining perspectives on critical unmet clean water needs and challenges
  • Obtaining perspectives on EPA directions and identifying how EPA can maximize clean water protections under current authorities

The forum agenda reflects EPA’s intent to focus discussions along two thematic lines:  Healthy Watersheds and Sustainable Communities – both critical Administration and EPA priorities.  Within each of these themes, EPA has highlighted opportunities for innovative solutions and has identified related topics for focused discussion at the forum.  Each of the thematic areas, along with the highlighted challenges and suggested discussion topics, is profiled below.  EPA has prepared this material to generate thinking and discussion in advance of the forum.  In particular, this text will act as the source material for an online dialogue conducted in advance of the forum.  The dialogue seeks to engage a wider range of stakeholders and expertise than can attend a one-day, in-person meeting.  EPA will use the perspectives and suggestions shared during the online dialogue to inform and refine forum discussions. The online discussion will also be shared in the final forum report.

Thematic Area 1:  Healthy Watersheds – Restoring Degraded Waters and Preventing Impairment

Protecting and enhancing the health of watersheds is a primary function under the Clean Water Act.  In this context, EPA seeks to increase the number of waterbodies being restored, increase the number of high quality waters being afforded effective protection from degradation, and enhance the overall climate resiliency of watersheds.  Success will depend on integrating watershed and source water protection capabilities and ensuring the best available science is utilized to protect these resources.

Historically, many Clean Water Act programs have focused on traditional municipal and industrial sources of pollution.  While there is still much to be done in this area, we now face the complex challenge of 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) [1] are among the leading sources of water quality impairments in the United States.  Very few of the 43,000-plus impaired waterbodies in the United States will achieve water quality standards without effective controls on these pollution sources.   These pollution sources are also the most significant threat to currently unimpaired waters, as new developments are built throughout the country’s less-developed areas.

Healthy Watersheds

Discussion Topic 1:  Watershed Approach for the 21st Century

The watershed approach provides a coordinated, holistic framework to water resources management that encourages locally led public and private sector efforts to address the highest priority problems within hydrologically defined geographic areas.  To be ultimately successful, the watershed approach must fully embrace clear, unambiguous goals, program integration and adaptive management; waterbody protection, restoration, and enhancement; planning and implementation; and regulatory and non-regulatory approaches.

Waterbody protection, restoration, and enhancement

EPA has long focused on identifying impaired waters and restoring their water quality.  Recently, EPA has begun 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.  The HWI would also build State capacity to undertake assessments that could support better targeting of total maximum daily loads (TMDLs).

Planning and implementation

Planning is critical for knowing where you are, where you are trying to go, and how you will get there.  Plans are required as part of State NPS programs.  Local and regional geographic-based programs (e.g., the National Estuary Programs) all have management plans.  The Clean Water Act calls for a continuing planning process to ensure that the latest science is used and the current environmental goals are met.

For example, following the model recently created under the Chesapeake Bay Executive Order, States would be strongly encouraged and motivated through accountability mechanisms to expand the set of authorities and tools that they rely upon to implement their programs effectively and expeditiously.  These mechanisms would be directed by specific State-wide and/or watershed goals to reduce the number and extent of water quality impairments.

Regulatory and non-regulatory approaches

EPA is assessing how to use its regulatory authorities in innovative ways to tackle non-industrial sources of pollution.  For example, EPA is considering revisions to its CAFO regulations to bring more point sources into the NPDES program.  In developing a post-construction rule, EPA is exploring how best to control stormwater from developed areas.  EPA is also evaluating how to strengthen the Municipal Separate Stormwater Sewers (MS4) programs.  These efforts will not encompass all the discharges which impact watersheds, but they are important tools.

TMDLs can act as a complement to, and they often provide the essential ingredients and accountability framework for, the watershed approach.  A TMDL, or total maximum daily load, developed for CWA Section 303(d) listed impaired waters, is the calculation of the maximum amount of pollutant a waterbody can receive and still meet water quality standards (which are based on the use of the waterbody as designated by the State).  Included in the TMDL is the allocation of that pollutant load among the various sources of that pollutant.  Hence, a TMDL can be used as the basis for an implementation or watershed plan designed to meet water quality standards and restore impaired waters.  Within the TMDL process, we have the ability to use the concept of “reasonable assurance” to motivate states to put enforceable requirements or appropriate financing in place for reductions in nutrient loadings and can create a framework for cost/effective coordination between nonpoint sources or leverage point-source dischargers in the TMDL process to require offsets from nonpoint discharges.

In the mid- to long-term, EPA envisions effective protection and restoration of the nation’s water resources through locally driven, watershed-based planning and implementation activities embedded in comprehensive state and tribal watershed approaches across the United States.  EPA seeks a well coordinated use of the broad array of CWA regulatory and non-regulatory authorities, with states having increased accountability.  For example, following the model recently created under the Chesapeake Bay Executive Order, states would be strongly encouraged and motivated through accountability mechanisms to expand the set of authorities and tools that they rely upon to implement their programs effectively and expeditiously.  These mechanisms would be directed by specific statewide and/or watershed goals to reduce the number and extent of water quality impairments.

Healthy Watersheds

Discussion Questions

Topic 1: The Watershed Approach

Participants are asked to focus on how to best use watershed approaches to protect healthy and functioning watersheds, and restore, in particular, watersheds impaired by more diverse sources of pollution.

  • Within existing statutory constraints, what actions can EPA take to achieve a watershed based, well coordinated use of current CWA regulatory and non-regulatory authorities to both identify and protect healthy watersheds and identify and restore impaired watersheds?
  • Looking more mid- to long-term, what actions are needed to improve our ability to identify and protect healthy watersheds and identify and restore impaired watersheds?
  • What are examples of effective practices and strategies that could be “scaled up” to State and national levels for greater effectiveness and wider implementation?

Healthy Watersheds

Topic 2:  Exploring the elements of an effective nutrient strategy

Excess nutrients have been and are anticipated to remain of major concern and high priority for action as we address the challenges of impaired watersheds.  The amount of nutrients entering the nation’s waters has dramatically escalated over the past 50 years, and nutrients now pose significant water quality and public health concerns across the United States.  In terms of growing drinking water impacts, expanding impairment of inland waters, and compromised coastal estuaries, nitrogen and phosphorus pollution has the potential to become one of the costliest, most difficult environmental problems faced in the 21st century.  Nutrient runoff from agriculture and developed areas is associated with the continued existence of the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico,  as well as the increasing number of oxygen-starved areas around the nation’s coasts.  These zones sustain little or no marine life – with significant loss of marine life and damage to coastal and marine ecosystems.  Even in the absence of escalating nutrients, warmer air and water temperatures resulting from climate change will promote algal blooms and increase bacteria and fungi, reduce dissolved oxygen levels, and increase concentrations of pollutants such as phosphorus.  The sources of nutrient pollution are varied as shown in the charts below.

chart

Taking stock of the effort to date, EPA believes that there has been a substantial amount of work completed and states have, over time, increasingly invested in the steps necessary to reduce nutrient pollution.  More remains to be done, however, to make the progress necessary to reduce current nutrient loadings to waters and prepare for the substantial predicted increases in nutrient loadings associated with both significant population growth over the next 40 years, as well as the multiplying effects that warming waters due to climate change will have on nutrients.

In response to this challenge, EPA, with its state partners, has been engaged on several fronts and is actively pursuing the development of a comprehensive, national nutrient strategy.  For example, since 1998, EPA has strongly advocated for the adoption of numeric nutrient water quality criteria into state standards to better manage excess nutrient enrichment in surface waters.  EPA has invested substantial resources to strengthen state capacity and identify opportunities to help states make progress in the adoption of numeric nutrient water quality standards.  Recently, through the State-Federal Nutrient Innovations Task Group, EPA has coordinated with the Association of State and Interstate Water Pollution Control Administrators (ASIWPCA) and the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators (ASDWA) to address nutrient impacts nationally.  The Task Group’s August 2009 report to EPA Administrator Jackson stresses that current efforts are undermined by the lack of a common framework of responsibility and accountability for all point and nonpoint sources within and across watersheds, and identifies a range of possible existing and new tools and authorities for EPA consideration.

In light of the need for point and nonpoint source nutrient reductions, to date, 15,000 nutrient-related impairment listings in 49 States have been developed, even as federal authority over state development of effective, enforceable, and transparent nonpoint source accountability is challenging.  Through the CWA Sections 303 and 319 grant programs, EPA requires development of watershed plans directed at nonpoint source control and supports a wide variety of other activities including technical assistance, financial assistance, education, training, technology transfer, and demonstration projects.  EPA also chairs and manages the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force, a partnership of 15 state and federal agencies that work together to reduce, mitigate, and control hypoxia in the northern Gulf of Mexico and improve water quality in the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River Basins. The Gulf Hypoxia Task Force relies on voluntary programs from states and landowners to achieve nutrient reductions throughout the Mississippi River Basin.  Further, Section 6217 of CZARA, the Coastal

Nonpoint Pollution Control Program, is jointly implemented by EPA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  Section 6217 requires states to develop coastal nonpoint pollution control programs, approvable by EPA and NOAA, that are “in conformity” with the EPA-published management measures guidelines.  CZARA also requires state coastal nonpoint pollution control programs to include “enforceable policies and mechanisms that are adequate to ensure” the implementation of the management measures.

There are also a variety of both regulatory and non-regulatory approaches to addressing nonpoint source pollution from excess nutrients being explored and practiced across the country and internationally.  For example, US Department of Agriculture recently announced a new initiative to improve water quality and overall health of the Mississippi River Basin with a $320 million investment over four years targeted at high-priority watersheds based on nutrient discharges in a number of states along the Mississippi and Ohio River basins (http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/PROGRAMS/pdf_files/mrbi_factsheet.pdf).

There are also many local and regional programs that have provided isolated progress.  More widespread deployment of these practices –  in a context where substantial and broader challenges remain – holds the potential to enable further water quality progress.   In California, the Land Stewardship Institute’s Fish Friendly Farming Environmental Certification Program is an incentive-based program for creating and sustaining environmental quality and habitat on private land (http://www.fishfriendlyfarming.org/).  The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency implements a voluntary nutrient trading program used by point and nonpoint sources to generate and trade nutrient reduction credits (http://www.epa.ohio.gov/dsw/WQ_trading/index.aspx).  In Florida, the Impaired Waters Rule (IWR) brings many nonpoint source polluters under a regulatory framework based on the preparation of a watershed Best Management Action Plan.  Additionally EPA has proposed water quality standards in the State of Florida that would set a series of numeric limits on the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen pollution that would be allowed in Florida’s lakes, rivers, streams, springs and canals.  In Pennsylvania, the REAP (Resource Enhancement and Protection Act) program gives qualifying farmers a state tax credit equal to 50 to 75 percent of the cost of eligible conservation practices—up to $150,000 per farm. This tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar tax reduction that can be applied to business and individual state taxes, and differs from a tax deduction, which only reduces taxable income.  Farmers could use the tax credit to reduce their own tax bill (carrying it over for up to 15 years) or sell it to another taxpayer for cash.  The Wisconsin Assembly approved a bill (A.B. 3) on February 24, 2010, that would prohibit the application of fertilizer containing phosphorus to lawns, golf courses and other grassy turf areas that are mowed (http://www.legis.state.wi.us/2009/data/AB3hst.html).  Successful efforts at the regional or local watershed level may be models for future EPA programs.

Healthy Watersheds

Discussion Questions

Topic 2:  Exploring the elements of an effective nutrient strategy

Participants are asked to consider the critical elements of an effective nutrient strategy to protect healthy and functioning watersheds, and restore, in particular, watersheds impaired by nutrients.

  • What new or underutilized practices, strategies, or programs (both regulatory and non-regulatory) hold the most promise for driving nutrient reduction progress?
  • What contributions can other actors (e.g., corporate stewardship, NGOs, States, etc.) make to achieve reductions?
  • Looking more mid- to long-term, what actions are needed to create an effective basis for driving and sustaining nutrient pollution?

Thematic Area 2:  Sustainable Communities – Tackling Wet Weather Management Challenges

Along with other federal agency partners such as the Departments of Transportation (DOT) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD), EPA has made improving the economic, environmental and social sustainability of communities a major priority.  In this context, EPA seeks to enable the emergence of integrated, coordinated, sustainable community investments and actions (e.g., land use practices and patterns) that increase the prospects for and lowers the difficulty of meeting CWA goals.  This would enable communities to deliver clean and safe water reliably, affordably and sustainably, and at the same time be climate resilient.

Currently, many of the nation’s urban waters are impaired by pathogens, excess nutrients, and contaminated sediments that result from sanitary sewer and combined sewer overflows and polluted stormwater runoff from impervious urban landscapes.  During precipitation events (wet weather), increases in stormwater flows from residential, commercial and transportation development have led to water quality and habitat degradation in virtually all urban streams.  With hydrologic changes stemming from climate change, precipitation events are becoming more extreme, creating more risk of stormwater or sewer overflows and overland runoff.  Degraded water quality in these waterbodies puts those who recreate or consume fish in these areas (often despite advisories) at risk, and limits quality of downstream water sources.

Communities living nearby often view these urban waters as polluted beyond hope of restoration.  However, where neighboring communities view their urban waterways as valuable and worth restoring, and when they have found opportunities to personally contribute to — and benefit from –  environmental improvements, they have become active agents for sustained restoration efforts. Community benefits from urban water restoration can include educational opportunities, skills development, job training, and improvements to neighborhood economies and livability.  By reframing restoration efforts, EPA has the opportunity to harness the stewardship efforts of the large populations of residents who are closest to these urban waters.

Sustainable Communities

Discussion Topic:  Development for the 21st Century

The nature and pattern of development (and re-development) holds the key to effectively addressing the quality of urban waterways.  Undertaken with water quality goals in mind and an appropriate mix of incentives, development and re-development can reduce the volume and improve the quality of stormwater and wet weather sewer flows, take pressure off municipal storm and wastewater systems, reduce or eliminate the introduction of legacy contaminants to urban waterbodies, and bring people together with their waterways and waterfronts.

With this in mind, EPA is actively engaged in promoting local development and land use practices and patterns that support achievement of CWA goals.  EPA is working to expand and institutionalize the use of up-front water infrastructure planning that considers a full range of infrastructure alternatives, including “green” and conservation alternatives, to ensure that the right investments are made at the right time – and at the least life-cycle cost.  Recognizing that sustainable water infrastructure is part of a sustainable community, EPA is fostering collaboration between the water sector and other infrastructure-heavy sectors, such as transportation and housing, to ensure investments work together.  EPA is working with States to identify ways their State Revolving Funds can promote a “fix it first” approach that encourages water infrastructure re-investment in existing transportation and housing corridors, and that discourages inefficient sprawl.

EPA is also working closely with state and local agencies to promote low impact development practices and green infrastructure programs that can reduce water quality degradation by replacing or supplementing conventional stormwater management practices with practices that infiltrate, evapo-transpire, or use rainfall on site.  Better managed runoff events will also reduce combined sewer overflows. Cities like Philadelphia, Seattle, Portland, and Chicago are finding that techniques like green roofs, rain gardens, and green street techniques not only manage stormwater and CSOs effectively but also offer opportunities for community action and local benefits such as livability and employment.  The Section 319 nonpoint source program (and recently the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) has provided many millions of dollars for the implementation of such practices, including work in disadvantaged communities. The NPDES permits program has been working with States and cities to upgrade municipal permits to increase the focus on these new techniques, and the Office of Water is developing new rules to significantly reduce stormwater flows from developed and redeveloped sites which will also reduce CSOs.  EPA has also recently published related guidance for federal agencies under Section 438 of the Energy Independence and Security Act (http://www.epa.gov/owow/nps/lid/section438/).   The Office of Water as a whole is also working to integrate climate change considerations throughout water programs, as documented in the National Water Program Strategy: Response to Climate Change.

Building on the above and other efforts in the Brownfields, Superfund, and Environmental Justice programs, EPA is now developing a new Urban Waters initiative focusing on engaging urban communities, particularly disadvantaged communities, in revitalizing their local water resources and the surrounding land.  EPA is leveraging existing programs and forming a federal partnership to restore water quality by engaging individuals who may not necessarily consider themselves environmentalists in the restoration of America’s urban waters.  EPA will partner with governmental and non-governmental organizations to provide modest resources and technical assistance to model clean-up programs, especially those linking environmental restoration to community priorities.

Sustainable Communities

Discussion Questions

Participants in this group are asked to consider how EPA and others can promote practices and approaches to reduce the volume and improve the quality of stormwater flows, take the pressure off municipal storm and waste water systems, reduce or eliminate introduction of legacy contaminants to urban waterbodies, and build resilience to climate change impacts.

  • In light of the principles of smart growth, including green infrastructure, what practices or approaches have you seen in urban settings that have been effective in supporting achievement of the CWA goals?
  • What additional practices or approaches do you believe hold potential to support achievement of CWA goals?
  • What actions can EPA and others take to promote these practices or approaches in support of achievement of CWA goals?

[1] In this context, hydrological modification does not include water transfers.

9 Responses
  1. March 31, 2010

    Topic 1: The Watershed Approach

    -The present state of wastewater treatment plants adds significant amounts of nitrogenous substance to watersheds. The testing process of nitrogenous substances and phosphorus levels has not been perfected much less utilized for environmental protection purposes.

    -Visit the wastewater treatment plant in St. Paul, Minnesota. It is an excellent example of a useful “scale up” model. Incineration of the solid product (sludge, ortherwise known as biosolid) maintains wastewater temperature for the preservation of digestive microbes. These innovations help to create profitable budgets. Such a facility entirely eliminates biosolids which include potentially dangerous multi-antibiotic resistant organisms. However, the wastewater effluent and the reclaimed water are laden with the resistant organisms. The reclaimed water is often used to irrigate both agricultural land from which vegetables are eaten raw and the pasture lands on which commercial animals feed. Although biosolids do not contain significant amounts of nitrogenous material, wastewater effluent and reclaimed water do.

    -Most wastewater treatment plants utilizing mixed sand filters and no reverse osmosis cannot eliminate the potentially dangerous antibiotic resistant organisms and their genetic fragments that heavily populate the effluent and reclaimed water.

    Topic 2: Exploring the elements of an effective nutrient strategy

    What new or underutilized practices, strategies, or programs (both regulatory and non-regulatory) hold the most promise for driving nutrient reduction progress?

    -The land fills containing municipal garbage must be assiduously protected from storm water run off. The compartment in which it is stored must be replaced by an absolutely leak proof and non-erodeable material.

    -It is important to frequently test the following before and after wet weather: wastewater effluent, reclaimed water, storm water, streams and rivers plus ocean beach water for nitrogenous material and phosphorus. Nitrogenous substances play a role in the propogation of antibiotic resistant potentially dangerous organisms. Testing for the organisms is essential and must utilize appropriate tests that recognize multi-resistance (e.g., Mueller-Hinten agar and the Kirby-Bauer Disc Diffusion testing technique).

    -Replacing underground juxtaposition pipes, one carrying “clean”and the other carrying wastewater, both old and deteriorating, leak into each other (infiltration and exfiltration). These pipes must be replaced. The entire sewer and drinking water systems must be re-evaluated and redesigned very “tight”.

    Looking more to mid to long-term, what actions are needed to create an effective basis for driving and sustaining nutrient pollution?

    -Manuals must be created for all commercial enterprises (including any type of factory as well as any medical related facility, slaughter house, mortuary, morgues, etc.) and separately for private residences, plus construction of any type including highway work, etc. in order to guide people how to prevent environmental contamination with nitrogenous substances, phosphorus and antibiotic resistant organisms.

    -Pre-treatment of wastewater from any source prior to it arriving at the wastewater treatment plant will be essential.

    Sustainable Communities-Discussion Questions

    What actions can EPA and others take to promote these practices or approaches in support of achievement of CWA goals?

    -EPA should up grade compulsory Regulations for Federal, State and local areas reinforced by significant fines and other significant repercussions for violations.

    I seriously doubt that the following relatively recent phenomena have been coincidental: SARS, H1N1, MRSA arising in communities and not just in the hospitals, and multiple recalls of hamburger meat and leafy greens (e.g., spinach).

    If you would like references, please feel free to contact me.

    Respectively,

    John M. Ackerman, M.D.

  2. March 31, 2010

    Thank you for the opportunity to comment on “Coming Together for Clean Water.” I think that the Healthy Watershed Initiative is a huge opportunity for the US EPA to meet critical unmet clean water needs and challenges.

    We might consider initiating a process to develop regional Healthy Watershed Initiatives through communication and collaboration with internal (within the EPA and other federal agencies ) and external stakeholders. It is important to begin to move in the direction of a shared, broad vision, over-arching and unified policy among stakeholders. If we moved in this direction, more efficient and effective, less expensive “preventative” efforts would be developed and coordinated to achieve our complimentary, shared goals.

    For example, a healthy watershed program might have reduced or eliminated the $220 million dollars that was spent to repair damages due to flooding in Atlanta in the Fall 2009. As land was developed in and around Atlanta during the 5 plus year SE drought, wetlands and riparian buffers were lost and much impervious surface was added to the floodplain. A program to purchase wetlands and floodplains to serve as flood retention facilities might have cost less than the expenditures to repair the damages especially since flooding reoccurs and damages are likely again in the future. This is an area where the Sustainable Communities effort could tie into the Healthy Watersheds Initiative. Sustainable Communities could implement protective programs such as efforts to increase their tree canopies (reducing the heat island effect and encouraging infiltration and transpiration) or “redevelop” abandoned property next to waterways into natural areas where they could serve as stormwater retention facilities during the next flood, or identify remaining wetlands and floodplains to protect them and designate them as flood storage facilities to prevent increased flooding, etc. These types of programs also benefit people by providing aesthetically pleasing environments.

    How effective are the protective aspects of existing programs at the federal, state and local level? Are there existing, strong regional efforts? This could be determined through analysis of the protective aspects of the huge number of federal programs that impact water. Encouraging federal staff to work with stakeholders to collaborate, to participate in discussion, and to contribute to leadership in the analysis, development and strengthening of protective approaches provides an opportunity for greater general understanding and agreement on how protective efforts fit together to make a Healthy Watershed Initiative strategy.

    Discussion on the question of what is required to maintain a network of high quality aquatic resources throughout the nation involves questions of landscape scale conservation, landscape condition, habitat, biological integrity, wate quality, hydroecology and geomorphology. This includes attention to instream flows, interbasin transfers, use of water by power plants, droughts, climate change, etc. Diverse stakeholders are involved in decision making on these topics and developing agreement of how to assess and then protect our high quality aquatic resources will help create a framework and road map for our joint efforts. Without such a map or framework how will it be possible to maintain our high quality watersheds?

    For example, would it be possible for federal agencies and States in the Southeast to come together to complete an SE Integrated Assessment of Healthy Watersheds and to create a regional map of healthy watersheds to protect and preserve? Could this process “encourage and motivate new accountability mechanisms” to be developed, shared and implemented? If data from the integrated assessments were provided to the States, would this facilitate State development of complimentary programs? Through consultation on this network of “blue, blue” waters, would it be possible to create a shared regional land and water stewardship ethic? If yes, then very effective, shared outreach and communication programs might be developed. Would it be easier for the Army Corps regulators to enforce and implement an avoidance principle in the 404 process if there was a regional Healthy Watershed program that they helped develop being implemented?

    The watershed approach has been a key to developing watershed restoration programs and providing a sound, scientific basis for management; however, other environmentally based scales might also be appropriate, especially for protection. For example, stormwater “green infrastructure” approaches might be best developed and implemented on an ecoregional basis. In addition, states are already implementing excellent “protective” efforts statewide, would any of these programs be more effective if agreement could be achieved to implement them regionwide? Often, programs are reinvented over and over again – could paradigm shifting programs be developed that then could be customized to individual states? Program activities that produce multiple, measureable benefits could be sought. Through discussion and collaboration, we might be able to expand the set of authorities and tools that government, non-profits, business and industry and the public rely upon to protect aquatic resources.

    Would it be possible to develop a Healthy Watershed Initiative where resources and technical assistance could be provided to facilitate coordinated action and that addresses staff and resource constraints? Much of this work takes place at the State and local level – the key proponents of land use and development. State staffs are often reduced during economic recessions. As municipalities and counties participate in watershed protection, they often do so with few financial resources, without large staffs or scientists. Federal funding is also limited. Would it be possible to develop a methodology where multiple program benefits are assessed across agencies and least cost or cost effectiveness is considered in our decision making in order to make the wisest use of limited financial and staff resources?

    I think that the Healthy Watershed Initiative and the Sustainable Communities Initiative will be most effective if there is recognition that partnering with other organizations to achieve complimentary goals is needed. Coordinated action by partners can be achieved through stakeholder communications and collaboration to determine how best to protect our healthy watersheds, to maintain healthy components of our watersheds and to restore impaired watersheds. While recognizing that it will not be an easy task, it is possible to develop a shared, broad vision, with over-arching and unified policy, and coordinated stakeholder action to maintain a national network of blue, blue waters that provide critical, regenerative ecological services.

  3. March 31, 2010

    COMMENTS ON THE WATERSHED APPROACH

    The watershed management approach is the best protocol for implementing and enforcing the protection of our water resources, as required under the federal Clean Water Act. Fortunately, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been promoting the watershed approach for evaluating and protecting our water resources because it provides data and methodologies for appropriate management strategies.

    The EPA has recently determined that even 10% relatively impervious cover in a watershed will result in degradation of our water resources. It is, therefore, critical that personnel at the state level be properly trained to understand the watershed approach as related to issuing NPDES permits. Evaluation of NPDES applications must incorporate groundwater quantities as well as quality, in addition to surface water quantities as well as quality. Surface water and groundwater are one integral unit. Forests, especially on mountain ridges where precipitation is the greatest, intercept rainfall to allow recharge of our groundwater and to slow the rate and quantity of runoff into our headwater areas. Conversely, deforestation facilitates surface runoff in greater quantities at greater rates, inhibiting groundwater recharge. Groundwater recharge is critical for our water supplies and also critical for providing water to streams during times of drought (due to the weather and/or due to misuse or overpumping of our groundwater supply).

    Because deforestation on our mountain ridges facilitates greater surface runoff at greater rates of discharge to our headwater areas, the aquatic habitats in the headwater areas are destroyed. This, in turn, impairs the headwater aquatic organisms which break down organic compounds for use by downstream aquatic organisms. The greater discharge to the headwater areas also causes stream bank erosion, which directs sediment into the streams, again degrading the aquatic habitats in the streams.

    It is, therefore, critical to protect the headwater areas in the mountain ridges in order to protect our groundwater, our surface water, and aquatic habitats in our streams. Currently, the stormwater drainage permits (NPDES) being approved by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) are evaluating only small portions of construction projects which direct drainage into culverts from mountain ridges. The watersheds into which the culverts are discharging are not being evaluated (please reference NPDES permit registration number WVR104137 and the West Virginia Environmental Quality Board case number 09-15-EQB). Also in reference to WVR104137 and EQB 09-15-EQB, engineers are being allowed to use misrepresentative runoff coefficients in the stormwater discharge calculations, indicating greater stormwater runoff in forested areas and less runoff in construction areas. This results in the appearance that stormwater discharge will be less than it will actually be. The result of this misrepresentation of runoff coefficients thus allows negative impacts to watersheds. Construction projects which have received NPDES permits are proceeding without any watershed evaluation in Virginia (Highland New Wind project in Highland County, VA) and in Pennsylvania (for example, the Dunning Mountain wind project in Bedford County, PA). It is critically important that personnel issuing NPDES permits be trained to evaluate the impacts to our water resources using a watershed-based approach. The watershed approach allows evaluation of cumulative impacts, instead evaluation of small, discrete areas. It is well documented on websites of the U.S. Geological Survey that cumulative impacts on our watersheds have already started to severely impact our water resources, including quantity of water in addition to water quality, throughout the U.S.

    Pamela C. Dodds, Ph.D.
    Registered Professional Geologist

  4. March 30, 2010

    Healthy Watersheds

    Discussion Topic 1: Watershed Approach for the 21st Century

    Regulatory and non-regulatory approaches
    I have been working on wetland and water issues in San Francisco Bay for the last thirty years. My comments, therefore, will focus on regulatory issues and particularly §404 of the CWA.

    While it is hard to argue against the concept of a watershed approach to Clean Water, the fact remains that very few watershed plans currently exist and most of them are not inclusive of all water issues but usually focus on specific issues such as flood control.

    Developing such plans can be very time consuming and expensive. For example, it took over 100 scientists several years to develop under the EPA, the San Francisco Baylands Ecosystem Habitat Goals. This incredible document has helped guide San Francisco Estuary tidal marsh protection and restoration efforts for the last decade.

    But this document addresses only habitat issues, not nutrient loading or sedimentation or the many other clean water issues. And it only addressed tidal marshes, leaving the Bay Area’s seasonal wetlands (e.g., vernal pools) and riparian habitats without a similar roadmap for preservation and restoration.

    The point of this is that until watershed plans are created for the nation, §404 regulatory decisions will necessarily be made through the existing case by case, individual permit process.

    Sadly, the Army Corps §404 permit process has proved to be an abysmal failure in regards to protecting wetlands. The numbers are familiar; 99% of permit applications are approved. Recent studies (Ohio and California in particular) show that while there has been an improvement in mitigation requirements so that the yearly total loss of wetland acres in the nation has slowed, most mitigation efforts fail to adequately replicate the functions of those destroyed wetlands. Thus there is a significant yearly functional loss of wetlands in the country.

    The primary problem is the failure of the Army Corps to adequately enforce the EPA’s §404(b)(1) guidelines. In particular, the Corps rarely, if ever, enforces the “avoidance” principle of the guidelines. This was made clear in the recent “Mitigation” rule in which the Corps and EPA identified “avoidance” as one step in the mitigation sequence rather than a separate step that must first be passed before minimization or compensatory mitigation are considered.

    The 404(b)(1) guidelines are quite clear. If a project is not water dependent there is a presumption that there is an alternate upland site available that will result in a less environmentally damaging project. Unless the applicant can demonstrate that there is no alternate upland site available, the project should be denied. Only after this yes or no alternatives analysis is performed, and the answer is no – there is no upland alternative site- does a regulator then proceed to minimization and/or compensatory mitigation.

    Unfortunately, in the current Corps process there are evidently never alternative upland sites and regulators seem to jump immediately to minimization and compensatory mitigation. I know of no recent project that has been denied a permit by the Corps due to an alternatives analysis.

    This situation essentially neuters the “avoidance” test and makes a mockery of the intent of the 404(b)(1) guidelines that was to preserve wetlands not to foster a mitigation industry.

    The question then is how can the EPA convince the Army Corps regulators that the “avoidance” principle is basic to the Guidelines and should actually be enforced and implemented. We suggest that the EPA should undertake a rulemaking that would provide strict criteria for terms such as “practicable” and “water-dependent” and would clarify when permits should be denied due to the availability of alternative upland sites. Since “avoidance” is an action under the 404(b)(1) guidelines it was obviously meant to be utilized. This rulemaking would help Corps regulators understand how to use this tool. If, after such a rulemaking, “avoidance” was still ignored as a regulatory tool, it would be easier to detect what problems the regulators are having in implementing this tool since one could ask the regulators to explain how they reached their decisions in light of the “avoidance” rule.

    And perhaps most important, such a rule would remind Army Corps regulators that their job is to regulate not simply to permit. Anyone who has worked in this field knows that many Army Corps regulators consider their job as one of providing permits for wetland fill rather than regulating (and sometimes denying) the filling of wetlands.

    Waterbody protection, restoration, and enhancement

    As a board member of the San Francisco Bay Joint Venture and the Chair of the Association of Joint Venture Management Boards I have been involved in a lot of wetland restoration efforts. In San Francisco Bay we have a goal of restoring over 200,000 acres of wetlands.

    Wetland restoration is exciting and rewarding, and expensive. It is much cheaper to protect a wetland resource than it is to restore one and although the science is improving yearly, it is still true that natural wetlands are usually much more functional than restored wetlands.

    Thus, it makes sense that the EPA should spend at least as great an effort in protecting wetlands, riparian habitats and other waters from destruction as it does in restoring the waters of the United States.

  5. March 26, 2010

    My initial thoughts on critical clean water challenges and needed directions:

    1. EPA must move aggressively on the political and legislative fronts to reaffirm the traditional scope of the Clean Water Act. EPA must push back against recent Supreme Court decisions that have created so much uncertainty and weakened Clean Water Act implementation and enforcement across the country. Here in the arid Southwest, there are those who seek to exploit this uncertainty and avoid the requirements of the Clean Water Act entirely. The Obama administration and EPA need to push for passage of the Clean Water Restoration Act with the broadest possible definition of “waters of the United States” that includes small headwater streams, intermittent and ephemeral waters….and do it soon. Congress needs to put the endless jurisdictional arguments over the Clean Water Act to rest. It is harder to get anything done when we’re arguing over whether the Act applies or not…or EPA and the state environmental protection agencies are too uncertain to take action because they are concerned about the grey areas.

    2. Nonpoint sources of pollution get a “free pass” under the Clean Water Act and the non-regulatory approach needs to be re-assessed. EPA shouldn’t abandon the non-regulatory approach and the use of voluntary incentives (i.e: development of state NPS management plans, public education & outreach, financial and technical assistance and demonstration projects), but this country will never control nonpoint source pollution without the backstop of some type of regulatory program to address NPS pollution when carrots don’t work. We need some enforcement authority (hammers) to get at the NPS problem.

    3. There needs to more federal funding for state water pollution control programs and for enforcement. Unfortunately, many of us live in states where our state legislatures don’t provide adequate funding for state environmental protection programs…a situation that has been exacerbated in recent years by the ongoing recession and budget crises in the states. State water pollution control programs are way down the list of funding priorities when state budgets are set. In Arizona, our state legislators would probably cut funding for the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality even if the state were flush with cash. That being said, the federal government is probably the only way that Clean Water Act programs will ever get adequate funding here…and I suspect the same may be true in other parts of the country. There’s not enough money for staff and programs to monitor water quality, perform water quality assessments, do the TMDLS, issue permits, perform inspections or maintain a credible enforcement presence. Section 106 grant funding for state water pollution control programs needs to be dramatically increased (and protected so unsympathetic state legislatures can’t get their hands on the money and redirect the funds from environmental protection). I’d like to see a new federal stimulus program for clean water infrastructure. How about a reauthorization of the old construction grants program to retrofit and build new wastewater treatment plants across the country? Can we find more money in the federal budget for some nation-building in this country to meet Clean Water Act goals?

  6. March 23, 2010

    Living in the KY Applachian Mountain area we have the same water quality as most mountain areas. While EPA is so concrentrated on the mining industry they seem to have forgotten about the water quality that the dense population of most mountain areas present.
    Straight pipes and failing sewer systems represent the largest pollution source for the water quality. The typical way of solving this problem will simply not work. The cost of conventional (gravity, force mains) and inavailability of funds will prohibit this problem from every being solved. We have to start looking at entire watersheds and concentrate on one watershed at a time in a given area. We have the technology for sewer systems to replace typical septic tanks and eliminating straight pipes in these areas that never will get your typical public sewer service. If the state enviromental agencies and EPA would allow some new ideas from people who know the particular problems and not to object because it is does not comply with their policies. For instance in Knott County, KY an enviromental authority was created with the intention of providing sewer service to an entire watershed. The watershed is on the EPA,s 303D list. The funding sources were explored and the first sewer treatment plant is currently under way. The authority was seeking some funds from the Kentucky Fish & Wildlife Resouces Fees In Lieu of Program. They have funds that have been sitting in place for several years waiting on projects. After policy changes from the Army Corp of Engineers the funds can be used for to impove water quality. So here we have a stream that is listed on EPAs 303D list and govenment entity has been created to tackle a problem with good sound solutions and no response from the Army Corp, EPA or the state. The problem is a lot talk about the problems and no solutions or actions toward a solution.

  7. March 18, 2010

    I work in the Environmental Protection Department at Big Valley Rancheria, which is located on the shores of Clear Lake, in Lake County, Northern California.
    Lake County is a rural, predominately agricultural community. Within the Clear Lake watershed we have pesticide use on crops, and highway pesticide spraying which ultimately ends up in the Lake with the winter rain fall.
    We have a Mercury Superfund Site on the shores of the Lake, currently being abated by USEPA. We also have a landfill located in a dry creekbed, which produces leachate during winter rains. When the storm events occur, the leachate is pumped into the Southeast Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant, which overflows into the Lake during a storm. This watershed contamination from point and non point sources of pollution has been continuing for decades.
    Lake County government, which oversees the management of Clear Lake, needs an economic and enforcement incentive to clean up their point and non- point sources of pollution. In short, our County needs the money to educate Clear Lake Watershed residents that they create most of the non point source pollution. With proper education, I believe these non point sources can be significantly reduced.
    However, the point sources which are under the jurisdiction of local government) have been violating the Clean Water Act for 10 years with the wastewater treatment / leachate spills into the Lake. The illegal actions of our local government will require stiff state and regional enforcement activities / fines to get them to compy with the Clean Water Act.
    My suggestion to “Coming together for Clean Water” is to, provide funding to the local level of government and Tribal nations for:
    public education to reduce non-point source pollution;
    more stringent enforcement of agricultural non-point source pollution;
    full enforcement of the Clean Water Act regarding point source pollution;
    full enforcement of the Mercury and Nutrient TMDL’s which currently exist;
    funding to upgrade water and wastewater facilities in the Clear Lake Watershed Basin.
    In short, Lake County needs money for public education and facility upgrades; and no-nonsense enforcement of the Clean Water Act.
    Many thanks for taking the time to read and consider these very important aspects of Coming Together for Clean Water.
    Anna Rose Ravenwoode

  8. March 18, 2010

    The second and third bullets (objectives) in your opening statement are uppermost in my mind when I think of the “exclusions” that exist from the Clean Water Act that present major pollution risks to our waterways. Specifically, the oil and gas industries were excluded from this Act in 2005 and represent major pollution risks either directly to waterways or through groundwater contamination to waterways. The hydraulic fracturing technology that is used for releasing natural gas from shale deposits in the states of Wyoming, Colorado, Texas, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and potentially New York presents major risks to clean water. In fact, there is anecdotal information of many contamination incidents where this technology has been used. Because the energy companies have a major push underway to exploit this source of natural gas (shale deposits), this should be a major theme in your “coming together for clean water” discussion.

  9. March 17, 2010

    Living in the Mississippi River Flood plain, one of the largest problems that faces water quality in Louisiana and eventually in the Gulf of Mexico, is the lack of vegetated ditches, cannals, bayous, sloughs, etc, which would slow and reduced erosion and pesticides from entering water ways. Currently Forrestry practices are exempt from leaving buffers around sloughs, canals, and bayous which contribute to the deterriorating water quality, best management practices should be followed when logging, but are not required currently. Additionally, in farming practices, drainage ditches are found throughout the feilds to keep the feilds dry, however pesticides and insecticides runoff into these drainage ditches, into canals, then into bayous and eventually into the Mississippi River or the Gulf of Mexico. Leaving a wide enough vegitated buffer would help to reduce these runoff impacts.

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