EPA Issues 'Biggest-Ever' TMDL in Plan To Clean Up Bay With Watershedwide Action

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The Environmental Protection Agency issued what it called a “landmark” mandatory plan for restoring the Chesapeake Bay Dec. 29, limiting releases of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment into the bay and its tributaries.

The Chesapeake Bay total maximum daily load (TMDL) identifies what EPA considers essential reductions in pollution from Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

EPA Region 3 Administrator Shawn M. Garvin said in a conference call with reporters that the TMDL implementation plan is based mainly on the seven jurisdictions' latest plans for putting all needed pollution controls in place by 2025. But Garvin also said EPA will undertake enforcement and regulatory action as needed to ensure that jurisdictions make steady progress over the next 15 years.

Garvin described the TMDL as “the most comprehensive road map for restoration in the nation, or dare I say, the world.” This “biggest-ever” effort aims to improve water quality throughout the 49 million-acre watershed and in the bay itself, he said. The plan comes 28 years after voluntary state and federal cleanup efforts began.

Targeted Pollutants to Be Cut 25 Percent.

At stake is $1 trillion in annual economic activity, Garvin said. Asked what the effort will cost, he said EPA has not done a cost-benefit analysis but noted that bay state governors have called restoration essential. Federal agencies, led by EPA and the Department of Agriculture, are supporting the effort with $491 million in fiscal 2011. Over the five years of the current federal farm bill, USDA has committed spending $700 million to aid farmers in the watershed, Garvin said.

The TMDL calls for the targeted pollutants flowing into the bay and its tidal waters to be reduced by up to 25 percent. Specifically, it calls for a 25 percent reduction in nitrogen, to 185.9 million pounds annually; a 24 percent reduction in phosphorus, to 12.5 million pounds annually; and a 20 percent reduction in sediment, to 6.45 billion pounds a year.

The TMDL compliance plan is based on “phase 1” watershed plans developed by each of the seven jurisdictions in conjunction with EPA, Garvin said. The plans have improved markedly since draft plans were submitted in September, he said, noting that all states except New York had EPA-approved plans by early December (41 ER 2755, 12/10/10).

New York submitted its plan Dec. 17, he said.

'Targeted Backstops.'

The TMDL also includes “targeted backstops” for jurisdictions that did not meet all of their target allocations or did not meet EPA's expectations for providing reasonable assurance that they will achieve the necessary pollution reductions, Garvin said.

To address those shortcomings, he said, EPA told New York and West Virginia that if they fall short in their own plans to cut nutrients flowing to the bay through farmer adoption of agricultural best management practices, the agency will require local wastewater treatment plants to adopt advanced treatment procedures and to measure pollutants at outflow.

EPA also told Pennsylvania that if it fails to reduce agricultural runoff as planned, EPA will tighten permit limits for urban stormwater systems.

Separately, Garvin said EPA will provide “enhanced oversight” of Virginia and West Virginia urban stormwater controls, and Pennsylvania and West Virginia wastewater programs. If the jurisdictions do not make sufficient progress on their own in 2011, EPA may use contingencies in 2012 that include additional controls on permitted sources of pollution, such as wastewater treatment plants, large animal feeding operations, and municipal stormwater systems.

EPA will also regularly monitor each jurisdiction's programs to make sure they implement their pollution control plans, remain on schedule for meeting water quality goals, and achieve their two-year milestones, Garvin said. Oversight will include program review, objections to permits, and targeting compliance and enforcement actions as necessary to meet water quality goals, he said.

The TMDL compliance program includes state-managed nutrient trading programs that are a focus of USDA and EPA assistance, Garvin said. Interstate nutrient trading is not in the TMDL, but EPA is continuing to discuss the possibilities for it with the states, he said.

By Jeff Day

The executive summary of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL is available at http://www.epa.gov/reg3wapd/pdf/pdf_chesbay/FinalBayTMDL/BayTMDLExecutiveSummaryFINAL122910_final.pdf.

Other documents are available at http://www.epa.gov/reg3wapd/tmdl/ChesapeakeBay/tmdlexec.html.