EPA plans new Clean Water Act rules on nutrients & watershed protection

By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, March 17 – Focused on new rules for nutrient management, runoff, and CAFOs, the EPA is giving the public two weeks to comment on “how the nation can better manage some of the most significant water pollution problems facing our nation.” This public input will be considered in the EPA’s April 15 “Clean Water” conference which will bring 100 water experts to Washington to start work on new rules for cleaning up the nation’s water.

EPA Office of Water Assistant Administrator Peter Silva says EPA has set up a web discussion forum “for anyone who wants to share their best solutions for restoring healthy waters and creating sustainable communities across the country.” EPA hopes to gather ideas on planning, scientific tools, low impact development, green infrastructure and other approaches for “controlling water pollution and how resources can be better focused to improve these efforts.” Whether you’re a water professional or a working farmer, rancher or forest owner, join EPA’s on-line discussion by going to: http://blog.epa.gov/waterforum/.

Silva explains that the April 15 conference will focus on “two of the most significant pollution problems facing our waters . . . nonpoint-source pollution and wet weather runoff.” EPA plans to expand its new “watershed approach” to replace EPA’s traditional focus on improving the quality of “impaired waters” such as specific rivers or lakes. EPA’s new aim is “to weave a range of voluntary programs, regulations, and strategies into an effective method of protecting whole geographically based drainage areas.” EPA asks the public to provide “examples of effective practices and strategies [that] can be ‘scaled up’ to State and national levels for greater effectiveness and broader use.”

Under the topic “Managing Pollutants from Nutrients,” EPA states that: “Excess nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous entering the nation’s waters create pollution that is hard to track, contain, and control. Nutrient pollution is as damaging to our waters as it is complex, so finding effective ways to address it is critical. EPA and State agencies have used various approaches to tackle the problem but much more is needed to protect water bodies from these pollutants.” EPA asks for public input on questions which relate directly to agricultural operations:

  •  “What critical elements need to be included in an effective nutrient strategy?
  •  “How should the strategies differ for protecting healthy and functioning watersheds versus those that need to be significantly restored due to previous pollution?
  •  “What has worked for your organization, state, or tribe in controlling nutrient pollution? What hasn’t?”

EPA specifically notes that “Agricultural and silvicultural (forestry) runoff” along with stormwater discharges and habitat modifications “are among the leading sources of water quality impairments in the United States.” EPA warns that these sources threaten “currently unimpaired waters” and that “Very few of the 43,000-plus impaired waterbodies in the United States will achieve water quality standards without effective controls on these pollution sources.”

EPA plans to use its regulatory authorities “in innovative ways to tackle non-industrial sources of pollution.” As one example, “EPA is considering revisions to its CAFO [Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations] regulations to bring more point sources into the NPDES [National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System] program.”

EPA is also looking at developing enforceable TMDL (total maximum daily load) standards to achieve “reductions in nutrient loadings.” EPA reports that “ The amount of nutrients entering the nation’s waters has dramatically escalated over the past 50 years, and nutrients now pose significant water quality and public health concerns across the United States.” In response, EPA “is actively pursuing the development of a comprehensive, national nutrient strategy.” The problem, EPA states, is “the lack of a common framework of responsibility and accountability for all point and nonpoint sources within and across watersheds.”

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