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January 05, 2011

Localities have leeway in bay cleanup plan

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 By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has accepted a plan that describes how Virginia will reduce the total maximum daily load (TMDL) of pollutants that enter the Chesapeake Bay.

“The EPA thinks Virginia has enough specifics in its watershed implementation plan to have a solid basis for moving forward to meet the goals of the TMDL,” said Stephen Williams, executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.

The EPA  published the TMDL in the final week of 2010

The acceptance also means that Albemarle County, Charlottesville and other localities in the state will be able to determine for themselves what steps they will take to ensure that significantly lower levels of nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment enter the bay’s watershed from within their borders.

The TMDL is being implemented in part because the Chesapeake Bay Foundation won a lawsuit that claimed the EPA had failed to take enough action to meet the goals of the Clean Water Act. That resulted in a consent decree granting the EPA the authority to enforce the act.

In September, the EPA deemed a draft version of Virginia’s plan to be insufficient. Federal officials had warned that if the final plan was not sufficient, they would mandate pollution reductions by requiring tougher standards on wastewater treatments plants, stormwater facilities and other sources of pollution for which an EPA discharge permit is required.

In response, the Department of Environmental Quality submitted a plan that relied on further reductions at wastewater treatment plants to meet the goal. The changes satisfied EPA regulators

By contrast, the final plans submitted by Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia were not deemed sufficient, and so the EPA will mandate “backstop” measures to ensure those states meet their goals.

“This probably provides local governments and the state of Virginia with more flexibility about how they’re going to meet the requirements of the TMDL,” Williams said. “But it also says that the EPA is going to be watching to make sure we do meet the requirements.”

Now that the EPA has accepted Virginia’s plan, localities, soil and water conservation districts and other groups have until Nov. 1 to develop a more detailed set of implementation plans that will demonstrate to the EPA what will happen at the local level. In this region, that work is being coordinated by the TJPDC and the Rivanna River Basin Commission.

The threat of a backstop measure still looms if the EPA is not confident that this second phase will reduce stormwater runoff outside of major cities, a step the EPA has taken into consideration in the development of the final TMDL.

Williams said consensus is needed between the many sectors that contribute to pollution in the bay.

“Eventually the [Virginia] Department of Conservation and Recreation is going to set targets for pollutant discharges for smaller areas below the watershed level,” Williams said. “At that point, local governments and other dischargers such as farmers and builders are all going to have to get together and figure out how to make this work out in the region.”

Thomas L. Frederick Jr., executive director of the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority, initially had been alarmed that wastewater treatment plants would bear too much of the burden of attaining the TMDL targets. A $40.5 million upgrade is currently under way at the Moores Creek plant to reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous released into the Rivanna River. However, this week Frederick said that he was less concerned.

“Under the final version of EPA’s TMDL, the initial allocation to the Moores Creek plant will be achievable through the plant upgrade currently under construction,” Frederick wrote in an e-mail to Charlottesville Tomorrow. However, he warned further upgrades could be necessary if the EPA is not convinced Virginia will meet its goals.

Gov. Bob McDonnell wrote in a statement he continues to have concerns on the computer model that the EPA used to calculate the TMDL, but that his administration remains committed to cleaning up the bay.

“While we maintain our concern about aspects of the EPA watershed model and enforcement authority, as well as the significant additional public and private sector costs associated with plan implementation, we believe Virginia’s plan will make a significant contribution to improving water quality in the bay,” the governor wrote.


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