Protecting America's waters is top EPA priority for 2010 and beyond

>EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson issued a memorandum to agency employees last month outlining seven key themes that EPA will consider priorities going forward.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson issued a memorandum to agency employees last month outlining seven key themes that EPA will consider priorities going forward. Protecting the waters of the United States is one of them.

Jackson noted in her statement that “America’s waterbodies are imperiled as never before.” In fact, it’s been estimated that nearly half of the lakes and streams in the United States are impaired, resulting in large part from polluted stormwater runoff. Along those lines, Jackson said EPA will initiate measures to address post-construction runoff and will work with states to develop nutrient limits.

One such initiative already underway is the Chesapeake Bay TMDL. EPA is leading this huge effort to restore the waters of the Chesapeake Bay by putting a number of states — Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York, West Virginia and the District of Columbia — on a “pollution diet.” The agency is working with these partners to develop nutrient and sediment limits intended to bring the 64,000-square-mile watershed back to health.

In addition to establishing a TMDL, the EPA will also implement a series of accountability measures to ensure stakeholders are progressing according to plan. Some of these measures include developing Phase I, II, and III Watershed Implementation Plans, and developing two-year milestones. If accountability criteria are not met, EPA has outlined a series of possible consequences, including the “promulgation of federal standards where the State or the District water quality standards do not contain criteria that protect designated uses locally or downstream.”

Recently in Florida EPA did just that. In 2008, EPA reached a settlement with five environmental groups that claimed the agency was not enforcing the Clean Water Act in Florida. As a result, EPA has come up with proposed numeric limits for nitrogen and phosphorus that it says are necessary to clean up Florida’s badly polluted waterways.

Reportedly Florida DEP was in the process last summer of finalizing an eight-year effort to devise new water quality standards for the state, but abandoned the project when EPA stepped in. Opponents of EPA’s proposal say the regulations could cost polluters over $1 billion to comply. On the other hand, supporters have said that the price tag on the state’s plan would have been comparable.

The situation in Florida was indeed the first of its kind; but it’s not likely to be the last. A very similar scenario is evolving in Wisconsin.

It seems clear that we, as a nation, agree that we’ve got some big problems on our hands when it comes to clean water. Agreeing on how to solve those problems, however, is another matter. Should EPA step in and take the reins if a state is not following through with ensuring its waterways are being protected? If not, then how can states be held accountable?

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Angela Godwin
Editor, Urban Water Management

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