Elected officials to be briefed on TMDL progress
Charlottesville and Albemarle elected officials will be briefed this week on specific policies they may be required to enact as part of a federal mandate to reduce pollution that enters the Chesapeake Bay.
“Where the rubber hits the road is going to be with the local governments,” said Leslie Middleton, executive director of the Rivanna River Basin Commission, at a meeting last week. Her organization is one of many that will advise elected officials on how to achieve a pollution diet being imposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency called the total maximum daily load (TMDL).
“This TMDL is a document that has been issued in draft form by the EPA that describes how the Chesapeake Bay will get cleaned up by 2025,” Middleton said. “It is very specific about the pollutants of concern — nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment — per tributary, per jurisdiction.”
Localities across Virginia will have a menu of options available to help reduce pollution. Charlottesville currently has many projects under way to clean up impaired streams, including a $3.9 million project to restore 9,000 linear feet of Meadow Creek’s stream bank. That will reduce the amount of sediment that enters the watershed.
“[The TMDL] may shift some of those actions from voluntary to mandatory,” said Kristel Riddervold, the city’s environmental administrator, during a briefing for city planning commissioners. “I think that there are a lot of ways in which [the TMDL] can and should incorporate a number of the strategies that we’re recognizing as appropriate.”
If states don’t meet their targets, the EPA has already specified what steps will need to be taken to do so. One of these “backstop” measures could involve requiring Charlottesville and other localities to institute fees to pay to improve storm water infrastructure. The fee would be based on the amount of impervious surfaces on a property, and landowners would get credit for attempts to mitigate them. However, the City Council voted against instituting a fee in the fall of 2008.
“Frankly, the discussions we’ve had about the impact that our storm water utility fee was going to have on property owners pales in comparison to the cost estimates that have been put out there to deal with urban retrofits,” Riddervold said. “Somewhere we’re going to have to come up with a strategy to achieve these goals.”
Another backstop will be expensive upgrades of wastewater treatment plants to increase the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous removed from effluent.
“For city people, if they go after our treatment plant, then that means dollar costs for households,” said Rich Collins, an elected member of the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District. “What they have said is that if we don’t work something out to their satisfaction, they’re going to come after point sources, and the point sources are those people that can be permitted by them.”
Another sector that will be affected by the TMDL is the agricultural community. The Virginia Farm Bureau is opposed to mandatory rules being imposed by the federal government.
“There’s long been a feeling in the rural community, at least in the one that I represent, that ‘they’re’ always telling us what to do,” said Carl Schmitt, a member of the Greene County Board of Supervisors who sits on the Rivanna River Basin Commission. “I think we have to walk carefully here.”
A draft report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture suggests farmers may not be doing their job.
“About 81 percent of the cultivated cropland acres require additional nutrient management to reduce the loss of nitrogen or phosphorus from fields,” reads the report.
One of the avenues by which local policy will be shaped is the Rivanna River Basin Commission. Last week, the group discussed how aggressive it should be in making recommendations to local governments.
“We have a specific mandate to look at policies that affect the health of the rivers and the river basin and, ultimately, the Chesapeake Bay,” said City Councilor David Brown, who is chairman of the Rivanna River Basin Commission. “But secondly, we are composed of elected officials from both rural and urban communities … It’s powerful if we have a consensus.”
“Because a TMDL of this scope has never been developed in this kind of a timeline with real teeth in it, I think the professionals at every level of government are struggling with trying to make this happen in an efficient fashion,” Middleton said.
The City Council will be briefed tonight by city staff, and the Board of Supervisors will hold a work session on Wednesday.
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