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League Efforts Intensify for Water Body Clean-up Plans

May 20, 2011

In the past week, the League has continued its more active involvement in policy decisions for water body clean-up plans, called Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs).  The League's actions took place at both the state and federal levels.
First, at last week's meeting of the N.C. Environmental Management Commission (EMC), the League supported the comments of Commissioner Jeff Morse, City Manager of Valdese, regarding efforts by the N.C. Division of Water Quality (DWQ) to write a TMDL and nutrient management strategy for High Rock Lake.  High Rock Lake is near Salisbury in the Yadkin-Pee Dee River Basin and has dozens of upstream affected local governments.
The League also submitted comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding the agency's guidance document for stormwater TMDLs.  This guidance is of particular interest to League members because only stormwater permit-holders implement control measures in response to a stormwater TMDL, and DWQ has begun issuing stormwater TMDLs in North Carolina.

A TMDL is a "water pollution diet" for an impaired water body.  The aim of a TMDL plan is to limit water pollution sources and eventually result in more robust aquatic health in the water.  Dictated by the federal Clean Water Act, TMDLs suffer from a significant legal flaw because the only contributors to water quality that may be held responsible for controlling pollution sources are those holding a discharge permit.  In other words, local governments and some industrial dischargers bear the brunt of TMDL compliance costs.  Adding to that public burden, in some cases, unregulated sources of pollution such as agricultural operations, failing septic systems, and fertilizer applications on private property, may contribute much more to water quality impairment than local government-controlled sources.
In North Carolina, DWQ writes many TMDL plans every year.  Last week, the EMC discussed the TMDL currently in development for High Rock Lake (information item #1).  The conversation highlighted the large numbers of affected local governments and significant amounts of money that would be spent by those stakeholders to comply with the strict permit limits from the TMDL.  The League has initiated an ongoing discussion with EMC members asking them to increase their involvement and oversight of these types of regulatory actions.
Also, earlier this week, the League submitted comments to EPA regarding its stormwater TMDL guidance memorandum to state agencies like DWQ.  The guidance represents a significant departure from past practices, and the League and other interested groups have argued that such a switch in policy approach may only be done through the public process of rulemaking.
The League anticipates that TMDLs will affect a greater number of cities and towns in the coming years.  Already this year, DWQ issued a stormwater TMDL for Little Alamance Creek that would set a troubling precedent for other communities across the state.  This is the exact type of TMDL at issue with the EPA guidance, and the League offered comments on the N.C. action as well.

Posted on May 20, 2011 by Erin Wynia