EPA Calls for Public Input on Draft Chesapeake Bay Pollution Budget

WASHINGTON, DC, September 27, 2010 (ENS) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Friday released a draft Total Maximum Daily Load for the Chesapeake Bay – a mandatory pollution budget designed to restore the nation’s largest estuary and its network of streams, creeks and rivers over the next 15 years.

The draft Total Maximum Daily Load, TMDL, calls for 25 percent reductions in nitrogen and phosphorus and at least a 16 percent reduction in sediment. These reductions, which scientists indicate are necessary to achieve a healthy watershed, would be achieved by a combination of federal and state actions.

The draft TMDL, the largest ever developed by the EPA, is designed to ensure that all pollution control measures to fully restore the bay and its tidal rivers are in place by 2025, with 60 percent of the actions completed by 2017. After 18 public hearings in six states and the District of Columbia, the EPA will establish the final TMDL on December 31.

Most of the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal waters are listed as impaired under the Clean Water Act because of excess nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment.

These pollutants cause algae blooms that consume oxygen and create dead zones where fish and shellfish cannot survive, block sunlight needed for underwater grasses, and smother aquatic life on the bottom.

An algae bloom called a mahogany tide in Spa Creek, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. (Photo by Chesapeake Bay Program)

High levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment enter the water from agricultural operations, urban and suburban runoff, wastewater facilities, air pollution and other sources, including septic systems.

The Chesapeake Bay TMDL is being developed in response to President Barack Obama’s Executive Order of May 2009, which directed the federal government to lead a renewed effort to restore and protect the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed.

The EPA developed the draft TMDL after reviewing pollution reduction measures proposed by the Chesapeake Bay states and the District of Columbia in their Watershed Implementation Plans submitted earlier this month.

The draft TMDL allocations reflect a combination of state commitments and supplemental EPA measures which tighten controls on permitted point sources of pollution, such as wastewater treatment plants, large animal agriculture operations and municipal stormwater systems.

“While EPA felt that the plans submitted by Maryland and the District of Columbia represented a strong start, others still contained gaps that reduced EPA’s confidence that the state could achieve all the pollutant reductions necessary to meet its contribution to bay restoration,” said EPA Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin.

“We are hopeful that the jurisdictions will provide a greater level of assurance in their final plans, so that EPA can reduce the federal measures in the final TMDL,” said Garvin.

“EPA strongly prefers to achieve the necessary pollution reductions through the state plans rather than federal actions because the states have more flexibility and can achieve reductions from a wider range of sources than EPA,” he said.

EPA will now work with federal partners like the Department of Agriculture, to assist bay watershed states and the District of Columbia as they revise and strengthen the implementation plans before final versions are due on November 29.

Will Baker, president of the nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said, “Today, 30 years of failed, voluntary programs to save the bay may be coming to an end. The Environmental Protection Agency appears ready to enforce the Clean Water Act, consistent with its settlement of our lawsuit.”

“EPA’s draft TMDL is a pollution budget,” said Baker. “If fully implemented, it will hold the states accountable to reduce pollution to scientifically defensible levels.

Matt Ehrhart, Chesapeake Bay Foundation executive director for Pennsylvania, says his state must do more. “Pennsylvania has failed to come up with enough effective ideas for reducing pollution to local creeks, streams and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay, and it has failed also to spell out how it might implement those ideas.”

“It is imperative that the state use the time between now and the end of November when final plans are due to strengthen our commitment and specify how Pennsylvania will meet our obligations to citizens who have a right to clean water,” said Ehrhart.

The draft Total Maximum Daily Load, which EPA is legally required to produce, sets limits on the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution discharged into the bay and each of its tributaries by different types of pollution sources.

It is designed to meet water quality standards that reflect a scientific assessment of the pollution reductions necessary to restore the health of the bay ecosystem.

The TMDL is supported by accountability measures to ensure cleanup commitments are met, including short-and long-term benchmarks, a tracking and accounting system, and additional federal backstop measures, if necessary, to spur progress.

Click here for the draft TMDL which contains evaluations of the plans and EPA adjustments for all seven jurisdictions.

The release of the draft TMDL begins a 45-day public comment period that will include 18 public meetings in all six watershed states – Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York and West Virginia – and the District of Columbia.

A full public meeting schedule, including registration links for online broadcast is available on the Chesapeake Bay TMDL website: http://www.epa.gov/chesapeakebaytmdl. The website also provides instructions for accessing the draft TMDL and providing formal comments.

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