Bringing Pennsylvania up to date on the standards for the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency will not be simple - but it is essential, according to EPA and state Department of Environmental Protection officials.
That was the message conveyed at a public meeting held Wednesday at Lycoming College to discuss the next steps in meeting TMDL requirements. The meeting was attended by about 80 community members and broadcast online as a webinar to about 90 additional individuals.
The TMDL represents the maximum amount of a pollutant - in this case, nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment - that a body of water may receive while still meeting water quality standards.
Rich Batiuk, associate director for science at the Chesapeake Bay Program Office, left, answers a question as Bob Koroncai, EPA Chesepeake Bay TMDL manager, looks on during an editorial board meeting at the Sun-Gazette recently.
Richard Batiuk, EPA associate director for science in the Chesapeake Bay Program Office, said the implementation of a TMDL for all jurisdictions in the bay watershed was triggered by a lack of progress in meeting Clean Water Act standards.
Batiuk also pointed out that TMDL standards ultimately will benefit everyone, as it affects drinking water, swimming, fishing and other water recreation.
"It is important for all of us to value clean water," he said. "This is an opportunity for the bay and it's an opportunity for local water quality."
While the EPA is in charge of setting the federal TMDL, each individual area of jurisdiction - including New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Delaware, Maryland and District of Columbia - was asked to prepare its own watershed implementation plans.
The federal TMDL requires each area to set two-year milestones. In addition, water must be 60 percent pollution-free by 2017 and 100 percent pollution-free by 2025. EPA asked that each are to create a plan that would achieve pollution targets and provide "reasonable assurance" that the targets could be met.
"We were looking for the state to really hold the pen on the important part of the TMDL," said Robert Koroncai, EPA environmental manager.
Unfortunately, he said, the Pennsylvania plan "fell short of our needs."
Pennsylvania's plan met the target load for nitrogen but fell short on requirements for phosphorus and for sediment. Koroncai also said Pennsylvania's plan did not contain adequate detail on its strategies and key actions.
In fact, only one area - Maryland - met the target loads for all three areas of pollution.
Because so many areas did not meet the needs of the TMDL with their implementation plans, EPA applied backstops to the plan. In Pennsylvania, backstops are set on its point sources, or areas that can be measured: wastewater treatment plants, stormwater systems and confined animal feeding operations. That means that if Pennsylvania fails to meet target loads with its plans, EPA will force the pollution reduction in these areas.
Koroncai said it's crucial for Pennsylvania to address the deficiencies in its plans when it presents the final version, so that the backstops will not need to be used. Final goals are due by Nov. 29, and the EPA's final TDML will be established on Dec. 31.
"EPA applied these backstops, but it is not EPA's desire to have a final TMDL that has these backstops," he said.
The DEP, however, is hopeful that the backstops will not come into play.
Andrew Zemba, DEP environmental program manager in the Office of Water Management, noted that Pennsylvania's plan is not far from meeting the target loads for phosphorus and sediment: the phosphorus percentage is off by 11 percent, while the sediment percentage only is off by 1 percent.
"On paper, we're very close," he said.
Zemba said that EPA's backstops will cost the state too much money, and DEP is not willing to use this approach.
"We're going to use our plan to get to the goals required here," he said.
DEP plans to use three steps in bringing its plan up to standard: It will establish clear two-year milestones and improve its ability to track Best Management Practices; continue to advance its technology and the use of the nutrient credit trading program; and enhance compliance efforts, specifically with non-point sources such as farms.
Both EPA and DEP officials noted that Lycoming County has led the way in these initiatives, particularly in the nutrient credit trading program.
"I'm very hopeful that we're going to be able to get this backstop TMDL lifted," Zemba said.
The public meeting was followed by a time for questions and comments from the audience.
Paul Lyskava, executive director of the Pennsylvania Forest Products Association, noted that while the forest sector contributes 22 percent of Pennsylvania's pollution, only 2 percent of this is from forestry. The remaining 20 percent is caused by air deposition, a natural process that is difficult to control, and Lyskava expressed concern that the state would not be able to make any headway in reducing forest pollution.
"Pennsylvania has a very limited ability to affect that air deposition," he said.
Britt Bassett, president of Bassett Engineering, said that he does not believe the state should be participating in the TMDL. Bassett said that he has watched Maryland go through a similar process and it has negatively affected the state's economy.
"Every expense was greater than was estimated for nutrient removal in Maryland," he said, adding, "Nutrient removal is much more difficult to do in Pennsylvania."
Bassett also said that he believes the brunt of the problem is caused by other states.
"We're being asked to solve a problem that is not our problem," he said.
Lamonte Garber, of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said he believes the greatest concern for most Pennsylvanians is the effect the TMDL may have on the economy. He said many people are asking, "How can we take on this very significant challenge at a time like this?"
But Garber said Pennsylvania has a responsibility to meet the TMDL after failing to meet guidelines for the past several years.
"The reality is that we've already been given an additional 10 years to work on this under the current partnership that we're under," he said, adding that "this is really our last chance" for the state to form its own plan before the EPA has to take over. Garber said he hopes to see Pennsylvania legislators place a greater priority on protecting water quality.
Many of the questions submitted by the audience pertained to regulations that the implementation plans or TMDL would put in place. One question submitted asked how the organizations would track best practices for private farms.
Zemba said that DEP typically just collects information on them at cost-shared (government-funded) farms, but he hopes to see this change.
"Part of our WIP (implementation plan) is to try to go beyond that," he said.
Batiuk added that EPA will work with conservation district to help private farm owners account for their BMPs.
Another question addressed pollution reduction requirements, asking whether the state would have specific sector-based and local reduction requirements in addition to the broad state reduction requirements.
Koroncai said that while the main goal is to meet state numbers, EPA expects states to develop many individual plans and to cover plenty of detail.
EPA and DEP officials will accept comments from the public until Nov. 8. Comments may be submitted at www. epa.gov/chesapeakebaytmdl, where a draft of the TMDL is available for review.