EPA's Draft Guidelines Urge States To Work With USDA on Nonpoint Sources

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Under draft guidance for distributing grants for state nonpoint source programs, the Environmental Protection Agency would no longer require states to set aside $100 million to develop watershed-based plans for impaired lakes and streams.

Under Section 319 of the Clean Water Act, states, territories, and tribes receive grants for technical assistance, financial assistance, education, training, technology transfer, demonstration projects, and monitoring to assess the success of specific nonpoint source implementation projects.

The draft guidance encourages states to look for alternative sources of funding, acknowledging the limited funds that Congress appropriates for Section 319 programs. In FY 2012, Congress appropriated $165 million for Section 319 grants. EPA requested the same amount in FY 2013, but now the agency is operating under FY 2012 levels, owing to the continuing resolution that is in effect.

Nonpoint source pollution arises from nutrient and sediment runoff from farms to stormwater and other pollutants in urban environments. EPA said it remains the largest source of water quality impairments in the nation.

The removal of the set aside funds is contained in the draft Nonpoint Source Program and Grants Guidelines for States and Territories. These guidelines spell out the conditions and circumstances in which these grants can be used and leveraged with other federal, state, and local programs to address nonpoint source water quality impairments. EPA has not revised the guidelines for distributing grants for state nonpoint source programs since 2003 (205 DEN A-3, 10/23/03).

EPA-State Workgroup Suggested Revisions

The revisions are a result of an EPA-state workgroup and are to be implemented in all states and most territories.

EPA said the draft guidelines, upon being finalized, are “binding requirements” that apply to grants made with funds appropriated by Congress under Section 319. States and EPA regions will begin to implement these guidelines in fiscal year 2013 and will fully implement them in FY 2014 and in subsequent years, the agency said in the draft guidance.

EPA said it is no longer requiring states to set aside $100 million to develop watershed-based plans to address runoff in impaired lakes and streams. Instead, EPA in the guidance said it would require a revised “set aside” of at least 50 percent of a state's allocation for watershed projects.

It also was removing the 20 percent caps it had required in the 2003 guidance for statewide nonpoint source monitoring assessment.

Collaboration Encouraged With USDA

The draft document specifically encouraged states to consider the farm bill programs at the Agriculture Department--the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, the Conservation Reserve Program, and the Conservation Stewardship Program--that provide funds for improving water quality.

It said states should work closely with state conservationists who are authorized to disburse USDA funds to identify and address watersheds impaired by nutrients, sediment, and other nonpoint source pollutants.

USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service made $33 million available in May for 157 watersheds that are impaired by nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment runoff from farmlands, ranches, and forests. In July, EPA officials said USDA funds and Section 319 funds could not be used for the same project (132 DEN A-4, 7/11/12).

But the draft guidelines clarify that Section 319 funds can be used for monitoring the watershed, if not for the specific project, and developing waters

The goal of the guidelines remains to encourage states to address waters impaired by nonpoint pollution sources through watershed based plans and through total maximum daily load plans. A TMDL plan calculates the maximum amount of each pollutant, be it from a point or nonpoint source, that can be discharged into a given water body without adversely affecting water quality standards for those pollutants.

'Creative' Use of Revolving Funds

Also, the draft guidelines encourage states to “creatively” use the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund to address source waters impaired by nonpoint sources.

EPA said it would continue to allow states to use their funds for “the full range of activities” addressed in their EPA-approved nonpoint source management program. This means the money can be used for protection of waters not currently identified as having an impairment and for restoration of impaired waters.

EPA said it will receive comments on the draft guidelines until Dec. 9 at 319grants@epa.gov.

By Amena H. Saiyid  

EPA's draft Nonpoint Source Program and Grants Guidelines for States and Territories is available at http://water.epa.gov/polwaste/nps/upload/final-draft-public-comment-319-guidelines2.pdf.

For more information on the draft guidance, contact Nancy Yoshkawa in the Nonpoint Source Control Branch Assessment and Watershed Protection Division in the Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds at (202) 566-3012 or yoshikawa.nancy@epa.gov.

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