EPA and Federal courts get serious about water clean-up. If you’re assuming “business as usual” is good enough… be afraid, be very afraid

In November 2008, a Federal judge ruled that Florida had failed to meet requirements of the Clean Water Act.  In January 2009, the Bush Administration agreed to comply with the court order to set numeric (i.e., measurable) water quality standards for phosphorous and nitrogen in Florida’s surface waters.

Now, over opposition by state officials, “The federal government will attempt to set Florida’s water pollution standards — the first time it’ll try that for any state…”

There’s a similar legal mandate, based on a separate consent decree, for EPA to establish limits on the pollution allowed in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  We’re next – 100% of Prince William County is in that watershed.

Since 1983, Virginia and other states have been claiming that one day, one day soon, just give us more time… we’ll change our ways, reduce pollution despite population growth, and Save the Bay.  Just as in Florida, that game is over.  In 2008, the bay met only 21 percent of the water quality goals established in the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement.

The hammer falls in a year, starting with a draft “TMDL” allocation in August, 2010.

EPA will complete its Total Daily Maximum Load (TMDL) study for the Chesapeake Bay with a final report in December, 2010.  The court order requires completion by May 2011, but there’s new energy at EPA.  The longer we delay going on a diet, the harder it will be to lose the weight.

The TMDL (actually, 92 smaller TMDLs for individual Chesapeake Bay tidal segments) will establish the limits of key pollutants – particularly nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment – that each state can put into bay tributaries such as Neabsco Creek and the Occoquan River.

To implement the TMDL, the state of Virginia will prepare Watershed Implementation Plans indicating how Virginia will accomplish its reductions.  Those detailed Phase 2 plans will be finalized in November, 2011.  At the county/city level, we’ll all get “shares of the pollution diet.”  (The EPA Fact Sheet notes that the state, not EPA, will identify in those Watershed Implementation Plans the “specific pollution reduction targets by geographic location and source sector.”)

To make the plans enforceable, they will include a description and schedule of actions to be taken to achieve the reductions.  As many government workers in this area know so well, “what we measure is what we manage.”  EPA and a Federal court will be overseeing the measurement of progress.  We will no longer be able to get away with talking about how hard we’re trying; we’ll need to produce results.

Prince William will be required to reduced pollution levels to specified levels.  Milestones will define success/failure every two years, starting in 2011.  By 2017, we must have measures in place to reduce 60% of our excessive pollution.  By 2025, we must have measures in place to meet the TMDL standard.

If the Board of County Supervisors keeps approving new subdivisions that increase stormwater runoff, then the state, EPA, and ultimately a Federal court will require the county to reduce pollution elsewhere.   Such reductions will be verrrry expensive – so any supervisor claiming to be a fiscal conservative needs to stop digging Prince William deeper into the hole.  The longer we delay going on a diet, the harder it will be to lose the weight.


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