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October 06, 2010

Chesapeake Bay clean-up expected to impact local budgets and planning

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By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, October  6, 2010

Chesapeake_Bay_Watershed
All states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, including the District of Columbia, have been directed to submit plans demonstrating how they will meet EPA guidelines

On Wednesday, the executive director of the Rivanna River Basin Commission will brief the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors on local efforts to comply with a federal mandate to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

Leslie Middleton’s appearance comes at a time when federal and state officials are arguing over a plan to gradually reduce the amount of pollution allowed in the bay’s watershed.

“The time to seriously address these issues at the local level is now,” said Middleton in an interview.

The RRBC is a quasi-governmental organization created to enhance water quality in the Rivanna Riverwatershed, which is itself part of the 64,000 square mile watershed for the Chesapeake Bay.

The EPA has asked all Bay states and the District of Columbia to develop a plan to determine how they will attain the “total maximum daily load” (TMDL) of pollution allowed by agricultural, development and wastewater industries.  The main mechanism to clean up the Bay is the creation and implementation of a “pollution diet” that restricts the amount of nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment that enters the watershed.

Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality submitted a draft implementation plan in early September  that warned the state may have a hard time meeting the the EPA’s goal of attaining 100% of the TMDL by 2025.

Download Download Virginia's draft watershed implementation plan

“Full implementation of this plan over the next 15 years will likely cost billions of dollars,” wrote Doug Domenech , Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources. “In these austere times, we cannot guarantee additional funding will be provided by our General Assembly.”

For instance, Domenech estimated it would cost Virginia farmers up to $800 million to meet the plan’s goals for reducing agricultural waste from the state’s farms.

In its response , EPA officials said the Virginia draft plan had “serious deficiencies” and suggested the state may need to require wastewater treatment plants to further invest in equipment to reduce the amount of nutrients released into rivers and streams.

Download Download EPA's response to Virginia draft watershed implementation plan

That concerns Tom Frederick, the executive director of the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority.

 “The EPA is making a statement that because Virginia is not doing enough to require farmers to meet nutrient targets that wastewater facilities should be penalized by lower allocations,” Frederick said at an RWSA Board meeting in September. “If EPA’s way of doing this holds true, we will have to do back and design more wastewater facilities even though the ones we are constructed now meet Virginia’s requirements.”

Middleton said the plan submitted by Virginia did not meet her expectations.

“This draft [plan] did not clearly identify how the plan goals would be achieved, nor did it identify the necessary resources in dollars, resources and legislation action that would be required to achieve the stated goals,” Middleton said.

EPA-Action-Plan-Federal-Funding-Table  
This chart outlines how the money in the action plan is to be spent. This depends on Congressional action on President Barack Obama's budget

However, Middleton praised an announcement in late September  that a coalition of federal agencies will spend as much as $490 million on various programs to reduce pollution. Included in that amount is $72 million to help farmers implement voluntary practices in high-priority watersheds. However, the money won’t be disbursed until Congress approves the budget.

 

 

Download Download text of EPA's action plan to fund clean-up efforts

Neil Williamson of the Free Enterprise Forum said the EPA’s directive may mean well, but fails to recognize the full impact the clean-up will have on local communities.

“While I understand the need to work toward Bay restoration, I remain concerned the impact of these regulations may put many farms out of business and will likely reduce the amount of developable land in many “development” areas in the Chesapeake Bay footprint,” Williamson said in an e-mail.

Middleton said people should keep in mind that attaining the goals set in the TMDL is about building a healthy ecosystem.

“It is not just about removing nutrients and sediment from our waterways, but also about true ecosystem health achieved through sustainable populations of wildlife and acres of marshes and wetlands,” Middleton said.

Lonnie Murray is chair of Albemarle County’s Natural Heritage Committee, a group appointed by the Board of Supervisors to catalog the county’s natural resources with an eye towards recommending protective measures.  He suggests a creative approach that gives reasons for farmers to adopt new practices and developers to embrace new runoff regulations.

 “With better policies we can improve stream quality and direct growth away from sensitive areas while rewarding developers that “do the right thing,” Murray said.

Virginia’s final plan is due to the EPA by November  29. More detailed plans that specify what actions localities will take are not due until November 2011. Middleton said the RRBC is working with other governmental bodies to develop a pilot project for how more localized plans might look.

“Our goal has been to identify practical ways that local governments and stakeholders might take advantage of the new regulatory climate to achieve results that will be good for the community,” Middleton said.  Locally, healthy streams that are good for people, tourism, and the economy.”




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