EPA recently announced the availability of $15 million in grants for restoring watersheds. Make sure you take advantage of opportunities to become involved in the development of any plans for the watershed your facility affects.
Why Become Involved
Don't think of these grants as just for treehuggers and environmental groups to develop total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) and other plans that will eventually lead to stricter limits for your discharge permit. It could happen that way, but it doesn't have to.
Look at this as an opportunity for you to get your facility involved in water quality issues in your watershed. Become involved in associations and citizen groups that are active in watershed issues. Your involvement will help to ensure the accuracy of any monitoring data. Being involved and helping to shape water quality issues and events will give you the opportunity to either reduce the effect of decisions arising from the data collection or present you with up-front opportunities to mitigate your costs. In addition, your involvement will show your community that you have a prime interest in the health of the watershed.
TMDLs and other watershed plans can affect your facility operations in many ways, including:
Restrictions on new or expanded operations that have the potential to increase the discharge of targeted pollutants.
Requirements for new pollutant control measures that can mean new equipment, personnel, maintenance, and repair costs.
Maintenance of control over targeted pollutants much longer than necessary if neighboring facilities violate TMDL levels or other watershed plans.
Stricter regulation for permitted point sources than for nonpoint sources even where the nonpoint source is causing more harm to the water.
Opportunities that involvement in watershed planning present for your facility include:
- Planning and certainty. Expanded capacity that allows for room to grow can be built into a TMDL. Facilities with a role in drafting watershed plans can ensure they won't be forced to freeze their operations at existing levels.
- Trading. Reduction of targeted pollutants can become a commodity. TMDLs are based on pollutant load reductions, so opportunities for a differential in costs incurred in reducing loads can be brokered among various sources.
- Funding. A completed TMDL can be used to leverage money from trade associations or foundations for use in developing control measures and management practices to solve water quality problems.
The new grants are available for 14 different watersheds through EPA's Targeted Watersheds Grant Program that is intended to encourage successful community-based approaches to protect and restore the nation's watersheds. This competitive grant program provides needed resources to those watershed organizations whose restoration plans set clear goals and objectives, with special consideration given to water quality monitoring, innovation, a public education component, and strong community support.
Watersheds along the Mississippi River Basin, where market-based water quality trading pilot projects are being implemented to address excessive nutrient run-off along the River, were given special consideration.
The 14 watersheds eligible to apply for the grant money recently made available are:
- Nashua River, Massachusetts and New Hampshire
- Ipswich River, Massachusetts
- Passaic River, New Jersey
- Schuylkill River, Pennsylvania
- Cape Fear, North Carolina
- Sangamon River, Illinois
- Kalamazoo River, Michigan
- Fourche Creek, Arkansas
- Upper Mississippi River, Iowa
- Bear River, Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming
- Lake Tahoe, California and Nevada
- Siuslaw River, Oregon
- Dungeness River, Washington
- Kenai River, Alaska
Get Involved and Stay Involved
Watershed plans and programs are in many cases developed and submitted to state agencies by interest groups and watershed associations. But all citizens of a watershed that might be affected by a plan have a voice and that includes commercial and industrial facilities within the watershed. Being involved and helping to shape the process can be beneficial especially if your facility is an affected point source.
Participating in your local watershed association is also a strong community relations opportunity. Potential partners and perspectives that might not have been evident can be explored, to the benefit of everyone.
Ideas and observations that public officials should consider in the development of plans for watersheds show where and when you can get involved and stay involved in the process. Your public planners should:
- Develop a set of core principles to use when dealing with watershed or advisory groups to ensure that personalities and personal feelings do not damage the group's potential. Be considerate and avoid being judgmental. Be very aware of potentially strong emotions often associated with a particular "place" or the fear associated with change. It is extremely important to develop an atmosphere of trust and acceptance of diverse or divergent views. Not everyone may win, but everyone can choose to cooperate.
- Develop water quality management options based on an early and inclusive mix of interests rather than just a few. When only few interests are represented, the perception is that something is being done that is not quite right. The sooner everyone is involved or informed, the better.
- Develop a method to coordinate and locate data for decision-making (meta-data or a data library). This includes a quality assurance and quality control (QA/QC) plan so that credible data can be used. Be able to identify where the data come from, why they were taken, who took them, how they were collected, where they are stored, what form they are in, and when they were taken. Different levels of decisions may be made with different levels (QA/QC) of data.
- Think on a geographic scale (watershed wide) to design solutions or approaches for implementing TMDLs and other watershed plans. Land use and water quality are very closely tied, and future growth and development in a particular location may be either enhanced or eroded by narrow thinking and planning. It is possible to build capacity for future growth into the development of a TMDL. Use tools (computer hardware and software) that allow for the examination of geographic-scale data.
- Be realistic in developing short-term milestones and long-term goals. Often, the problems associated with impaired waters took many years to reach the current state. It is unrealistic to believe that they will be solved in a very short time. However, it is possible to use interim milestones and indicators to show progress toward the final goal. Develop plans and resource projections to match this long-term commitment to water quality improvement and protection.
- Begin to track costs associated with the development and implementation of plans as soon as possible. This will not only help plan for current and future resource needs but will also help reduce fear associated with the uncertainty of implementation, especially on private lands. The problems are usually larger than one agency or interest group can address. The sharing of group resources will be facilitated by cost information. Study the difference between the costs of TMDLs and the economics of the TMDLs. Economics and jobs are almost interchangeable in most people's views, and the fear of loss of employment or a way of living should be treated with respect.
Outlook: The watershed planning process presents a great opportunity for you to get involved. The earlier your involvement starts, the more influence you can have on your permit allocation, the costs in developing controls, and whether you will be able to expand your operations in your watershed.
Editors' Note: Portions of this article were taken from a special report, The TMDL Opportunity: Upfront Involvement vs. End-of-Pipe Headache, prepared for BLR by Walter C. Poole of America's Clean Water Foundation.