Voluntary Reporting on Nutrient Discharge?

Posted March 28, 2011

By Tracy Mehan

 

This link is to a very rough draft of mine focusing on the possibility of an information-based approach to making progress toward more reductions of Nutrient and Phosphorus loadings from point sources, specifically POTWs.  It could be completely voluntary if the wastewater sector was game for this. I have had the opportunity to discuss these general ideas, but I thought it might be worthwhile to reduce them to writing.

 

This initial thought piece is the result. Essentially, it counsels an effort to begin (voluntarily?) reporting N and P discharges in the monthly DMRs of all POTWs with a view toward establishing a baseline for further pollution prevention efforts.  I guesstimate that in a few years, this could reduce loadings by 15-20 percent which is what happened on the Tar-Pamlico-without major costs, capital investments.  It would also be an opportunity to  increase learning on optimization and other operational approaches which can reduce nutrient loadings.

 

Or at least that is how I understand that case.

 

So I am inviting your comments, criticisms, suggestions, edit, etc. to help me flesh out this idea.  I am not sure if this is a piece I will ever publish.  I am more interested in generating discussion and, hopefully, immediate action.  The ongoing dialogue or debate on numeric criteria, secondary treatment, technology and costs will continue unabated.  This proposal is aimed at getting something environmentally useful, yet cost effective, done sooner than later.

 

This document is not for publication or quotation-just online discussion. Thanks for your consideration.  I look forward to your posted reactions-good, bad or indifferent.

 

 03/28/2011Permanent link

Voluntary Reporting on Nutrient Discharge?  ()
 

Posted March 28, 2011

This link is to a very rough draft of mine focusing on the possibility of an information-based approach to making progress toward more reductions of Nutrient and Phosphorus loadings from point sources, specifically POTWs. It could be completely voluntary if the wastewater sector was game for this. I have had the opportunity to discuss these general ideas, but I thought it might be worthwhile to reduce them to writing.

This initial thought piece is the result. Essentially, it counsels an effort to begin (voluntarily?) reporting N and P discharges in the monthly DMRs of all POTWs with a view toward establishing a baseline for further pollution prevention efforts.  

Comments (13)


Just thinking about this problem from a historical perspective and also in light of the current debate over climate change, this strike me as a classic "tragedy of the commons" problem. One of the reasons why the 1972 Water Pollution Control Act got passed the way it was is because it was recognized the problem of water pollutionin the U.S. had become so bad that something had to be done. The law as it was written was focused on point sources as that was the obvious "low hanging fruit" but most people realized that non-point sources would also need to be addressed to really get back to clean water. It strikes me that we are now at that point where this needs to be done. Part of the reason for a lack of trust is perhaps not complete confidence or understanding of how various proposed strategies for pollution control will actually work once they are implemented. Tracy noted that in Chicago, phosphorous levels were reduced (and money spent to do that) and the result was very little or no change in the receiving water quality. That sort of thing really destroys confidence in the regulatory community. And while I'm a big fan of using water quality models, I think the actual reality of what happens biologically and chemically in watersheds is sufficiently complex that simplistic models may not capture all the necessary interactions to really give good predictive information. And this is even more true when we are talking about reducting nutrients. It is one things to apply a QUAL II model to a discharge to a flowing stream when one can predict with some degree of accuracy what will happen in the receiving stream. It is quite another to model a very complex watershed such as the Chesapeake Bay or San Francisco Bay, or Puget Sound, or the entire Missour-Mississippi watershed. I'm not involved in modeling now but my own career has been somewhat mixed in that my Ph.D. was in the area of computation fluid dynamics and I used to work in the aerospace industry doing 3-D simulations of flow past complete aircraft configurations. But those sorts of computations don't involve biological transformations or interactions with a complex watershed so the 3-D aerospace problems are in some ways much easier to define and solve than are water quality situations in big watersheds. So I think there first needs to be much more confidence that we in the environmental field really have a good grasp of what will happen if certain control strategies are implemented. I don't think we are quite there so more money may need to be allocated for more scientific study. And I think Tracy's proposal for voluntary monitoring could go a long way towards filling the information gap. And from a political perspective, I don't think you can really blame cities or owners of treatment plants for being reluctant to adopt control strategies that will cost their constituents money when a solid groundwork for action has not been developed. Finally, from an ethical perspective, all of us stand to lose in terms of the quality of the water environment in which we, our families, and our communities live if we don't act together to solve this problem. So it is in all of our interests to work together to find some common ground for action. Thanks for considering my thoughts. Again, I not speaking for the Missouri Dept. of Natural Resources but just as an interested person with some background in this field. I greatly appreciate the discussion that Tracy has spurred and everyone's thoughts on this topic.

Posted by: James A. Rhodes, P.E., Ph.D. (jim.rhodes@dnr.mo.gov) on 03/28/2011

Jim, re the Chicago case, it is not surprising to me that a aquatic system, saturated with nutrients for 60-70 years would not respond immediately. I do understand that the path for restoring or at least improving these impaired waters requires a multi-sector approach including most especially agriculture. But I cannot imagine any scenario going forward which would not include at least the modest amount of reductions my voluntary approach contemplates, i.e., 15-20 percent, as a down payment on the future. Thanks, again, for your feedback. s/Tracy.

Posted by: Tracy Mehan (tracy.mehan@cadmusgroup.com) on 03/29/2011

Here is the info on the Chicago case mentioned in the two previous posts: MWRD Chicago, has been publishing final treated effluent TN and TP concentrations for 40 years. Based on 2007 data, final effluent monthly average TN varies from 8 to 15 mg/L and TP varies from 1 to 3 mg/L. And removal rates among the six treatment plants for TN vary from 45 to 80 percent and for TP, from 45 to 90 percent. This is without specific treatment for nutrient removal. At the request of IL EPA a few years ago, they removed TP at one plant for three years and could find no improvement in the receiving stream. FYI.

Posted by: Tracy Mehan (tracy.mehan@cadmusgroup.com) on 03/29/2011

I have permission from Peter Tenant of ORSANCO to post his comments from a prior e-mail exchange: Of course the driver for the Region 5 states was the notoriety of the problems in the Great Lakes. In the 1970s, we all “knew” that Lake Erie was dead, and we “knew” that the culprit was phosphorus. I keep wondering why the Great Lakes aren’t held up as an example for large scale nutrient reduction efforts; instead, we keep looking to Chesapeake Bay. The Great Lakes example, to me, is instructive because we saw dramatic success in the 1980s and 90s, but have seen much of the success slipping away in recent years. There are important lessons to be learned from this. I have a concern about “point source only” approaches to nutrients given that over 80% of the nutrient loadings here in the Ohio River valley are from agriculture. In meeting with stakeholder groups, I find a lot of misunderstanding: wastewater utility folks believe that nothing is being done about agriculture, ag folks believe that municipalities still get “free” federal grants and still aren’t addressing sewer overflows. When we’ve been able to get small groups from both camps together, we’ve had some “aha!” moments. I’d like to see a discussion involving ag groups on how Tracy’s proposal could be extended to include agriculture. I had responded to Peter that communicating the need to address agricultural nonpoint sources is, indeed, a strategic communications imperative for the wastewater sector, going for beyond anything I am proposing here.

Posted by: Tracy Mehan (tracy.mehan@cadmusgroup.com) on 03/29/2011

I have permission to post comments from Albert Ettinger, an environmental attorney in Chicago, from a previous e-mail exchange: Ok, I have now read your paper and I think it says a number of things that need to be said about has not been accomplished. I have a few caveats, though, about your proposal. 1. I may be wrong, but I think we already have a pretty good idea what the N and P levels are coming out of sewage treatment plants and probably other types of discharges. I am not sure, then, how valuable it would be to do a lot more monitoring of discharges. 2. I am very interested in seeing incentives created for actual reductions in N and P discharges and for creation of wetlands and other features that would take N (and perhaps some P) out of the water after it gets there. The big problem is that the only incentives I know of are moral persuasion, sticks and carrots. I believe we agree that moral persuasion is of limited utility particularly when talking to people being asked to spend shareholder or taxpayer dollars. The current Congress and state legislatures do not seem to be in a mood to give out carrots. This leaves sticks or maybe carrots in the form of sticks avoided or delayed. I do agree with the gentleman who suggested that good deeds not be punished but I think he did not identify the main way we do that. By allowing most dischargers to get away with doing little or nothing, we cause people who would want to do something voluntarily to look like even bigger saps than they would look in the eyes of fiscal conservatives otherwise. 3. Something else that should be done is to better identify some of the perverse incentives created by some of our farm and energy programs. Some voluntary group efforts to point out what, for example, the ethanol mandate has done to water quality would be very good. Thanks for your willingness to open this discussion with all these people. Albert has other comments which I will post as other responses come in. s/Tracy

Posted by: Tracy Mehan (tracy.mehan@cadmusgroup.com) on 03/29/2011

Todd Ambs, former water bureau chief at the WI DNR, offered these comments previously: I believe that Tracy’s proposal has a lot of merit as a starting point for discussion. Certainly, if we can build in voluntary incentives to reduce P and N that is a good thing. As a former regulator, I have long been struck by how we enforce the Clean Water Act – as if it was federal guidance and the ten EPA Regions and 46 delegated states are free to then do whatever they want (as long as it is functionally equivalent, whatever that means). As an example, in the Great Lakes Region we have had a 1 mg/l P limit on effluent since the mid-90’s for all eight states and in several states since the early 90’s. Now most plants are operating at around .3-.4 mg/l. Yet, in other parts of the country they aren’t even monitoring for P, let alone treat for it. The technology is now advanced enough that a relatively modest investment (CO has estimated less than $100 million for every discharger in the state combined!) they could have a dramatic decrease in P loadings across the state. We must take some actions to get us closer to the point where we are treating the water resources of this country as if they were all water resources of this country, regulated by a FEDERAL law called the Clean Water Act. Todd L. Ambs President River Network 608 692-9974 503 241-3506 (National Office) www.rivernetwork.org

Posted by: Tracy Mehan (tracy.mehan@cadmusgroup.com) on 03/29/2011

The following comments came in from Chris Hornback, National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA): Thanks for sharing this proposal and your ongoing leadership on these issues. NACWA is very interested in maintaining a dialogue on new and innovative ways to make additional progress on this growing challenge. Our recent issue paper (attached), outlining the outcomes from a summit we held last fall with our members, underscores the importance of exploring a suite of options, not a one-size-fits-all approach, and in that context our members have discussed many of the elements in your proposal. We agree that once point source controls are more widespread it will be easier to put pressure on nonpoint source contributions, but we continue to approach discussions regarding early action by POTWs with some hesitation given our past experiences. I shared your proposal with the leaders of NACWA’s Water Quality Committee, Barbara Biggs, Metro Wastewater Reclamation District in Denver, Colorado and Jim Pletl, Hampton Roads Sanitation District in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and we offer the thoughts below and look forward to ongoing dialogue. First, our members continue to recognize the importance of ‘knowing your watershed’ and collecting ample, high quality data. But there remains a reluctance among the clean water community to provide effluent data voluntarily. Some of this reluctance stems from the uncertainty around how that information will be used. This is true of any pollutant, but is particularly true of nutrients given the ongoing debate over whether we can really develop meaningful numeric criteria for nitrogen and phosphorus for some waters. As our issue paper outlines, NACWA believes that EPA’s insistence that states develop numeric criteria for nitrogen and phosphorus in all cases, and that these values be independently applied regardless of biological response, is flawed. Some are weary of how any information they may collect may lead to permit limits that are not sufficiently linked to water quality impacts. Where utilities are collecting this information voluntarily, it is often that voluntary data that has led directly to permit limits. This is an area where more dialogue and understanding will help and we welcome ideas and suggestions on how to overcome some of these concerns. Second, many in the wastewater community understand that efforts may need to be taken before we can address all of the uncertainty behind the numbers and the linkages between nutrients and water quality impacts. Smart targeting of these early-action approaches would help to make real progress addressing the point source load. Simply collecting data on effluent concentrations, however, will not automatically translate into real reductions. Such reductions come with real impacts on our operations and utilities must be able to demonstrate that they are making the right investments for their community. Water quality is of paramount concern, but the health and vibrancy of the communities these utilities serve is also important. There are ways to minimally adjust treatment processes to improve removals, but experience has shown that other considerations weigh heavily when evaluating whether the utility should ‘do the right thing.’ When the TMDL on the Chesapeake Bay was heating up, academicians were weighing in that significant nutrient removal could be accomplished with simple tweaks to treatment systems without capital expenditures. But as utilities dug deeper, those reductions would be made at the cost of losing growth capacity – a major concern that extends beyond water quality considerations. Certainly, if a utility is already doing nitrification/denitrification for ammonia and nitrate, they can probably find ways to improve processes and get higher effluent quality. Using excess capacity would enable a utility to do so without significant capital cost, but it would increase power and chemical costs and impact the ability of that community to grow. Nitrate concentrations can be ‘dialed in’, for example, but only by adding more acetic acid, or other supplemental carbon source, and using more electricity to keep more blowers running. There's some evidence that we can achieve lower effluent TP by utilizing enhanced primary clarification, but again, chemicals, ferric chloride and polymers, would be required. Both options are cheaper than building new secondary processes, and may be good first steps where the utility is facing nutrient control requirements, but they're not feasible as utilities approach the limit of their capacity and they have broader consequences for the community, making voluntary adoption more complicated. Third, our members have had experiences in the past where, as Glen Daigger noted in his earlier response, utilities are generally punished for early action by “having their good behavior incorporated into legally enforceable permits during the next permit renewal cycle” or reflected in future load allocations, serving as a disadvantage to early implementers. These are issues that we would need to address in some fashion should more widespread, voluntary action be sought. Fourth, we wonder if EPA would be satisfied with this incremental approach. In Colorado, for example, stakeholders there were working towards a statewide nutrient control strategy that would have required most POTWs to implement BNR, without tertiary filtration, over the next 10 years, and EPA Region 8 has said in no uncertain terms: that's not enough, you must develop the criteria now so these efforts will meet water quality standards. EPA’s new framework memo seems to suggest that they may be more willing to embrace these types of interim approaches, but as we have seen in the past Regional implementation and Headquarters-developed plans don’t always match up. Finally, the proposal, admittedly by design, only seeks to accelerate work to address a small part of the larger problem in the name of making progress. Clearly more can be done from a point source perspective, progress is needed and we should be looking to make that progress where it makes sense, but the programs are in place to address point source contributions long-term. The current CWA programs are taking time to get going, but we know that they will work to control the point source load once in place. What we don’t know yet is how we are going to address the ever growing nonpoint source contribution. We need to start thinking more creatively about new proposals for addressing nonpoint sources. If we don’t, our efforts on the point source side will only be evident on paper, not in real water quality improvements. Thanks again for sharing the proposal and we look forward to discussing further. Chris Chris Hornback Senior Director, Regulatory Affairs National Association of Clean Water Agencies 1816 Jefferson Place, NW Washington, DC 20036 www.nacwa.org T: 202.833.9106 F: 202.833.4657

Posted by: Tracy Mehan (tracy.mehan@cadmusgroup.com) on 03/29/2011

Glen Daigger of CH2M Hill,and IWA president, offered these comments: Thanks Tracy It is certainly true that most plants could reduce nutrient discharges through modification of their operation and/or with very modest capital improvements. The magnitude will vary from plant to plant, but to see an average 15 to 20 % reduction is reasonably achievable. As you know, I work with treatment plants all the time in the area of nutrient control, so I have an experience basis for these immediately prior statements. I would also suggest that consolidating and sharing information can have benefits. The issue with doing so only for treatment plants is that this approach would allow the non-point sources to continue to “hide” from the public view. Moreover, the spotlight would be shown on the point sources while allowing the non-point sources to get a free pass. On the other hand, a system which would post the best information available on total nutrient discharges would be highly useful. It would highlight those watersheds where point sources are significant (and there are those) and distinguish them from those where point sources are insignificant. The other issue is the incentive for point sources to reduce their discharges. A key element of the Tar-Pamlico case study that you refer to is that the point sources were faced with imminent nutrient reductions, and the potential to off-set some of their costs by trading. One can ask why point sources are not already doing more than they are. The answer is that they generally are “punished” for doing so by having their good behavior incorporated into legally enforceable permits during the next permit renewal cycle. I would suggest that more plants would improve performance if it was clear that their improved performance was not going to be incorporated into future permits, for no good reason. Moreover, in many cases with nutrients past performance is reflected in “loading allocations” which make it a significant disadvantage to early implementers. The best situation, though, would be one where there was some benefit to the point sources for improved performance. How about an “early movers” approach where those who voluntarily reduce dischargers are the last to have nutrient limits incorporated into their permits. A few thoughts to get the discussion going. Glen T. Daigger, Ph.D., P.E., BCEE, NAE President International Water Association (IWA) Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer CH2M HILL 9191 South Jamaica Street Englewood, CO 80112 USA Phone: (+1) 720.286.2542 FAX: (+1) 720.286.9271 Mobile: (+1) 303.478.0777 gdaigger@ch2m.com

Posted by: Tracy Mehan (tracy.mehan@cadmusgroup.com) on 04/06/2011

In response to Glen Daigger and others who raise the "gotcha" issue, i.e., agencies jam a POTW's permit with mandated requirements based on previously voluntary reductions, I would offer the following: I sent an e-mail to several dozen POTWs reps, federal and state regulators, NGOs and environmental lawyers over a week and a half ago. To date, I have not received a single example or case of this happening. I am not saying it doesn't happen. I simply have not found a case where it did. In addition, I also received comments from a former state regulator in a Great Lake state which does have mandate limits for P in POTW permits and has done so for many years. In that case, the general practice was to ease up on the requirements or the timelines for implementation over time to allow the POTWs to make reasonable accomodation on financing, timing, etc.

Posted by: Tracy Mehan (tracy.mehan) on 04/06/2011

More comments from my friend, Glen Daigger: What often happens to early movers is: (1) they get no credit for previous reductions and (2) because they appear to be the most cooperative they are required to comply with enforceable permit limits first. The issue is not to let the early movers off the hook. But, it could simply be to: (1) give them credit for their prior, voluntary reductions and (2) make them the last to get their enforceable permit limits, not the first ones. Glen T. Daigger, Ph.D., P.E., BCEE, NAE President International Water Association (IWA) Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer CH2M HILL 9191 South Jamaica Street Englewood, CO 80112 USA Phone: (+1) 720.286.2542 FAX: (+1) 720.286.9271 Mobile: (+1) 303.478.0777 gdaigger@ch2m.com

Posted by: Tracy Mehan (tracy.mehan@cadmusgroup.com) on 04/06/2011

Tracy, I agree your proposal has merit and hopefully will gain traction within the POTW world. I also think that bold steps need to continue to take place within the nonpoint source world. The Chesapeake Bay TMDL, although not perfect, represents a solid effort by EPA and the Bay States. And it requires incremental commitments and efforts by the Bay states to require all sources, point and nonpoint, to reduce nutrient loadings. Cooperative federalism requires that the federal and state partners respect each other's roles and responsibilities to achieve the goals of the CWA. The federal "backstops" are an appropriate response to states that, for whatever reason, fail to make appropriate progress. States should be told what is their fair share and expected to meet those reductions. I fear, however, by dictating to the States how and where they must achieve those reductions vis-a-vis the relative reductions from point and nonpoint sources, EPA is taking away the flexibility necessary for the States and local communities to determine how to most cost-effectively achieve those reductions. EPA has every right to expect progress, and there should be consequences to the States for failing. However, the States must be given greater latitude to decide, as between point and nonpoint sources, how to get to the finish line. Market based approaches, including trading programs, are an integral part of the solution. Thanks for continuing to make these nutrient rich waters, rich with ideas. Brent Fewell United Water

Posted by: Brent Fewell (brent.fewell@unitedwater.com) on 04/06/2011

Brent, Thanks for these comments. As I mentioned in my short piece, the Great Lakes and the Chesapeake Bay are unique cases in being way ahead of the curve on nutrient control for point sources. Nonpoint sources are a big part of the challenge there and everywhere.

Posted by: Tracy Mehan (tracy.mehan@cadmusgroup.com) on 04/06/2011

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Voluntary Reporting on Nutrient Discharge?

 Permanent link

Voluntary Reporting on Nutrient Discharge?

Posted March 28, 2011

By Tracy Mehan

 

This link is to a very rough draft of mine focusing on the possibility of an information-based approach to making progress toward more reductions of Nutrient and Phosphorus loadings from point sources, specifically POTWs.  It could be completely voluntary if the wastewater sector was game for this. I have had the opportunity to discuss these general ideas, but I thought it might be worthwhile to reduce them to writing.

 

This initial thought piece is the result. Essentially, it counsels an effort to begin (voluntarily?) reporting N and P discharges in the monthly DMRs of all POTWs with a view toward establishing a baseline for further pollution prevention efforts.  I guesstimate that in a few years, this could reduce loadings by 15-20 percent which is what happened on the Tar-Pamlico-without major costs, capital investments.  It would also be an opportunity to  increase learning on optimization and other operational approaches which can reduce nutrient loadings.

 

Or at least that is how I understand that case.

 

So I am inviting your comments, criticisms, suggestions, edit, etc. to help me flesh out this idea.  I am not sure if this is a piece I will ever publish.  I am more interested in generating discussion and, hopefully, immediate action.  The ongoing dialogue or debate on numeric criteria, secondary treatment, technology and costs will continue unabated.  This proposal is aimed at getting something environmentally useful, yet cost effective, done sooner than later.

 

This document is not for publication or quotation-just online discussion. Thanks for your consideration.  I look forward to your posted reactions-good, bad or indifferent.

 

Posted by Stephanie Barringer at 03/28/2011 12:25:44 PM | 


Comments
Just thinking about this problem from a historical perspective and also in light of the current debate over climate change, this strike me as a classic "tragedy of the commons" problem. One of the reasons why the 1972 Water Pollution Control Act got passed the way it was is because it was recognized the problem of water pollutionin the U.S. had become so bad that something had to be done. The law as it was written was focused on point sources as that was the obvious "low hanging fruit" but most people realized that non-point sources would also need to be addressed to really get back to clean water. It strikes me that we are now at that point where this needs to be done.

Part of the reason for a lack of trust is perhaps not complete confidence or understanding of how various proposed strategies for pollution control will actually work once they are implemented. Tracy noted that in Chicago, phosphorous levels were reduced (and money spent to do that) and the result was very little or no change in the receiving water quality. That sort of thing really destroys confidence in the regulatory community. And while I'm a big fan of using water quality models, I think the actual reality of what happens biologically and chemically in watersheds is sufficiently complex that simplistic models may not capture all the necessary interactions to really give good predictive information. And this is even more true when we are talking about reducting nutrients. It is one things to apply a QUAL II model to a discharge to a flowing stream when one can predict with some degree of accuracy what will happen in the receiving stream. It is quite another to model a very complex watershed such as the Chesapeake Bay or San Francisco Bay, or Puget Sound, or the entire Missour-Mississippi watershed. I'm not involved in modeling now but my own career has been somewhat mixed in that my Ph.D. was in the area of computation fluid dynamics and I used to work in the aerospace industry doing 3-D simulations of flow past complete aircraft configurations. But those sorts of computations don't involve biological transformations or interactions with a complex watershed so the 3-D aerospace problems are in some ways much easier to define and solve than are water quality situations in big watersheds. So I think there first needs to be much more confidence that we in the environmental field really have a good grasp of what will happen if certain control strategies are implemented. I don't think we are quite there so more money may need to be allocated for more scientific study. And I think Tracy's proposal for voluntary monitoring could go a long way towards filling the information gap.

And from a political perspective, I don't think you can really blame cities or owners of treatment plants for being reluctant to adopt control strategies that will cost their constituents money when a solid groundwork for action has not been developed.

Finally, from an ethical perspective, all of us stand to lose in terms of the quality of the water environment in which we, our families, and our communities live if we don't act together to solve this problem. So it is in all of our interests to work together to find some common ground for action.

Thanks for considering my thoughts. Again, I not speaking for the Missouri Dept. of Natural Resources but just as an interested person with some background in this field. I greatly appreciate the discussion that Tracy has spurred and everyone's thoughts on this topic.
Posted by: James A. Rhodes, P.E., Ph.D. ( Email ) at 3/28/2011 4:16 PM


Jim, re the Chicago case, it is not surprising to me that a aquatic system, saturated with nutrients for 60-70 years would not respond immediately. I do understand that the path for restoring or at least improving these impaired waters requires a multi-sector approach including most especially agriculture. But I cannot imagine any scenario going forward which would not include at least the modest amount of reductions my voluntary approach contemplates, i.e., 15-20 percent, as a down payment on the future. Thanks, again, for your feedback. s/Tracy.
Posted by: Tracy Mehan ( Email ) at 3/29/2011 9:07 AM


Here is the info on the Chicago case mentioned in the two previous posts:

MWRD Chicago, has been publishing final treated effluent TN and TP concentrations for 40 years. Based on 2007 data, final effluent monthly average TN varies from 8 to 15 mg/L and TP varies from 1 to 3 mg/L. And removal rates among the six treatment plants for TN vary from 45 to 80 percent and for TP, from 45 to 90 percent. This is without specific treatment for nutrient removal. At the request of IL EPA a few years ago, they removed TP at one plant for three years and could find no improvement in the receiving stream.

FYI.
Posted by: Tracy Mehan ( Email ) at 3/29/2011 9:44 AM


I have permission from Peter Tenant of ORSANCO to post his comments from a prior e-mail exchange:

Of course the driver for the Region 5 states was the notoriety of the problems in the Great Lakes. In the 1970s, we all “knew” that Lake Erie was dead, and we “knew” that the culprit was phosphorus. I keep wondering why the Great Lakes aren’t held up as an example for large scale nutrient reduction efforts; instead, we keep looking to Chesapeake Bay. The Great Lakes example, to me, is instructive because we saw dramatic success in the 1980s and 90s, but have seen much of the success slipping away in recent years. There are important lessons to be learned from this.

I have a concern about “point source only” approaches to nutrients given that over 80% of the nutrient loadings here in the Ohio River valley are from agriculture. In meeting with stakeholder groups, I find a lot of misunderstanding: wastewater utility folks believe that nothing is being done about agriculture, ag folks believe that municipalities still get “free” federal grants and still aren’t addressing sewer overflows. When we’ve been able to get small groups from both camps together, we’ve had some “aha!” moments. I’d like to see a discussion involving ag groups on how Tracy’s proposal could be extended to include agriculture.

I had responded to Peter that communicating the need to address agricultural nonpoint sources is, indeed, a strategic communications imperative for the wastewater sector, going for beyond anything I am proposing here.
Posted by: Tracy Mehan ( Email ) at 3/29/2011 10:02 AM


I have permission to post comments from Albert Ettinger, an environmental attorney in Chicago, from a previous e-mail exchange:

Ok, I have now read your paper and I think it says a number of things that need to be said about has not been accomplished. I have a few caveats, though, about your proposal.

1. I may be wrong, but I think we already have a pretty good idea what the N and P levels are coming out of sewage treatment plants and probably other types of discharges. I am not sure, then, how valuable it would be to do a lot more monitoring of discharges.

2. I am very interested in seeing incentives created for actual reductions in N and P discharges and for creation of wetlands and other features that would take N (and perhaps some P) out of the water after it gets there.

The big problem is that the only incentives I know of are moral persuasion, sticks and carrots. I believe we agree that moral persuasion is of limited utility particularly when talking to people being asked to spend shareholder or taxpayer dollars. The current Congress and state legislatures do not seem to be in a mood to give out carrots. This leaves sticks or maybe carrots in the form of sticks avoided or delayed.

I do agree with the gentleman who suggested that good deeds not be punished but I think he did not identify the main way we do that. By allowing most dischargers to get away with doing little or nothing, we cause people who would want to do something voluntarily to look like even bigger saps than they would look in the eyes of fiscal conservatives otherwise.

3. Something else that should be done is to better identify some of the perverse incentives created by some of our farm and energy programs. Some voluntary group efforts to point out what, for example, the ethanol mandate has done to water quality would be very good.

Thanks for your willingness to open this discussion with all these people.

Albert has other comments which I will post as other responses come in. s/Tracy
Posted by: Tracy Mehan ( Email ) at 3/29/2011 10:10 AM


Todd Ambs, former water bureau chief at the WI DNR, offered these comments previously:

I believe that Tracy’s proposal has a lot of merit as a starting point for discussion. Certainly, if we can build in voluntary incentives to reduce P and N that is a good thing. As a former regulator, I have long been struck by how we enforce the Clean Water Act – as if it was federal guidance and the ten EPA Regions and 46 delegated states are free to then do whatever they want (as long as it is functionally equivalent, whatever that means). As an example, in the Great Lakes Region we have had a 1 mg/l P limit on effluent since the mid-90’s for all eight states and in several states since the early 90’s. Now most plants are operating at around .3-.4 mg/l. Yet, in other parts of the country they aren’t even monitoring for P, let alone treat for it. The technology is now advanced enough that a relatively modest investment (CO has estimated less than $100 million for every discharger in the state combined!) they could have a dramatic decrease in P loadings across the state.

We must take some actions to get us closer to the point where we are treating the water resources of this country as if they were all water resources of this country, regulated by a FEDERAL law called the Clean Water Act.

Todd L. Ambs
President
River Network
608 692-9974
503 241-3506 (National Office)
www.rivernetwork.org
Posted by: Tracy Mehan ( Email ) at 3/29/2011 10:41 AM


The following comments came in from Chris Hornback, National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA):

Thanks for sharing this proposal and your ongoing leadership on these issues. NACWA is very interested in maintaining a dialogue on new and innovative ways to make additional progress on this growing challenge. Our recent issue paper (attached), outlining the outcomes from a summit we held last fall with our members, underscores the importance of exploring a suite of options, not a one-size-fits-all approach, and in that context our members have discussed many of the elements in your proposal. We agree that once point source controls are more widespread it will be easier to put pressure on nonpoint source contributions, but we continue to approach discussions regarding early action by POTWs with some hesitation given our past experiences. I shared your proposal with the leaders of NACWA’s Water Quality Committee, Barbara Biggs, Metro Wastewater Reclamation District in Denver, Colorado and Jim Pletl, Hampton Roads Sanitation District in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and we offer the thoughts below and look forward to ongoing dialogue.


First, our members continue to recognize the importance of ‘knowing your watershed’ and collecting ample, high quality data. But there remains a reluctance among the clean water community to provide effluent data voluntarily. Some of this reluctance stems from the uncertainty around how that information will be used. This is true of any pollutant, but is particularly true of nutrients given the ongoing debate over whether we can really develop meaningful numeric criteria for nitrogen and phosphorus for some waters. As our issue paper outlines, NACWA believes that EPA’s insistence that states develop numeric criteria for nitrogen and phosphorus in all cases, and that these values be independently applied regardless of biological response, is flawed. Some are weary of how any information they may collect may lead to permit limits that are not sufficiently linked to water quality impacts. Where utilities are collecting this information voluntarily, it is often that voluntary data that has led directly to permit limits. This is an area where more dialogue and understanding will help and we welcome ideas and suggestions on how to overcome some of these concerns.

Second, many in the wastewater community understand that efforts may need to be taken before we can address all of the uncertainty behind the numbers and the linkages between nutrients and water quality impacts. Smart targeting of these early-action approaches would help to make real progress addressing the point source load. Simply collecting data on effluent concentrations, however, will not automatically translate into real reductions.

Such reductions come with real impacts on our operations and utilities must be able to demonstrate that they are making the right investments for their community. Water quality is of paramount concern, but the health and vibrancy of the communities these utilities serve is also important. There are ways to minimally adjust treatment processes to improve removals, but experience has shown that other considerations weigh heavily when evaluating whether the utility should ‘do the right thing.’ When the TMDL on the Chesapeake Bay was heating up, academicians were weighing in that significant nutrient removal could be accomplished with simple tweaks to treatment systems without capital expenditures. But as utilities dug deeper, those reductions would be made at the cost of losing growth capacity – a major concern that extends beyond water quality considerations. Certainly, if a utility is already doing nitrification/denitrification for ammonia and nitrate, they can probably find ways to improve processes and get higher effluent quality. Using excess capacity would enable a utility to do so without significant capital cost, but it would increase power and chemical costs and impact the ability of that community to grow. Nitrate concentrations can be ‘dialed in’, for example, but only by adding more acetic acid, or other supplemental carbon source, and using more electricity to keep more blowers running. There's some evidence that we can achieve lower effluent TP by utilizing enhanced primary clarification, but again, chemicals, ferric chloride and polymers, would be required. Both options are cheaper than building new secondary processes, and may be good first steps where the utility is facing nutrient control requirements, but they're not feasible as utilities approach the limit of their capacity and they have broader consequences for the community, making voluntary adoption more complicated.

Third, our members have had experiences in the past where, as Glen Daigger noted in his earlier response, utilities are generally punished for early action by “having their good behavior incorporated into legally enforceable permits during the next permit renewal cycle” or reflected in future load allocations, serving as a disadvantage to early implementers. These are issues that we would need to address in some fashion should more widespread, voluntary action be sought.

Fourth, we wonder if EPA would be satisfied with this incremental approach. In Colorado, for example, stakeholders there were working towards a statewide nutrient control strategy that would have required most POTWs to implement BNR, without tertiary filtration, over the next 10 years, and EPA Region 8 has said in no uncertain terms: that's not enough, you must develop the criteria now so these efforts will meet water quality standards. EPA’s new framework memo seems to suggest that they may be more willing to embrace these types of interim approaches, but as we have seen in the past Regional implementation and Headquarters-developed plans don’t always match up.

Finally, the proposal, admittedly by design, only seeks to accelerate work to address a small part of the larger problem in the name of making progress. Clearly more can be done from a point source perspective, progress is needed and we should be looking to make that progress where it makes sense, but the programs are in place to address point source contributions long-term. The current CWA programs are taking time to get going, but we know that they will work to control the point source load once in place. What we don’t know yet is how we are going to address the ever growing nonpoint source contribution. We need to start thinking more creatively about new proposals for addressing nonpoint sources. If we don’t, our efforts on the point source side will only be evident on paper, not in real water quality improvements.

Thanks again for sharing the proposal and we look forward to discussing further.

Chris


Chris Hornback
Senior Director, Regulatory Affairs
National Association of Clean Water Agencies
1816 Jefferson Place, NW
Washington, DC 20036
www.nacwa.org

T: 202.833.9106
F: 202.833.4657
Posted by: Tracy Mehan ( Email ) at 3/29/2011 11:01 AM


Glen Daigger of CH2M Hill,and IWA president, offered these comments:

Thanks Tracy

It is certainly true that most plants could reduce nutrient discharges through modification of their operation and/or with very modest capital improvements. The magnitude will vary from plant to plant, but to see an average 15 to 20 % reduction is reasonably achievable. As you know, I work with treatment plants all the time in the area of nutrient control, so I have an experience basis for these immediately prior statements.

I would also suggest that consolidating and sharing information can have benefits. The issue with doing so only for treatment plants is that this approach would allow the non-point sources to continue to “hide” from the public view. Moreover, the spotlight would be shown on the point sources while allowing the non-point sources to get a free pass. On the other hand, a system which would post the best information available on total nutrient discharges would be highly useful. It would highlight those watersheds where point sources are significant (and there are those) and distinguish them from those where point sources are insignificant.

The other issue is the incentive for point sources to reduce their discharges. A key element of the Tar-Pamlico case study that you refer to is that the point sources were faced with imminent nutrient reductions, and the potential to off-set some of their costs by trading. One can ask why point sources are not already doing more than they are. The answer is that they generally are “punished” for doing so by having their good behavior incorporated into legally enforceable permits during the next permit renewal cycle. I would suggest that more plants would improve performance if it was clear that their improved performance was not going to be incorporated into future permits, for no good reason. Moreover, in many cases with nutrients past performance is reflected in “loading allocations” which make it a significant disadvantage to early implementers. The best situation, though, would be one where there was some benefit to the point sources for improved performance. How about an “early movers” approach where those who voluntarily reduce dischargers are the last to have nutrient limits incorporated into their permits.

A few thoughts to get the discussion going.

Glen T. Daigger, Ph.D., P.E., BCEE, NAE
President
International Water Association (IWA)
Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer
CH2M HILL
9191 South Jamaica Street
Englewood, CO 80112 USA
Phone: (+1) 720.286.2542
FAX: (+1) 720.286.9271
Mobile: (+1) 303.478.0777
gdaigger@ch2m.com
Posted by: Tracy Mehan ( Email | Visit ) at 4/6/2011 10:07 AM


In response to Glen Daigger and others who raise the "gotcha" issue, i.e., agencies jam a POTW's permit with mandated requirements based on previously voluntary reductions, I would offer the following: I sent an e-mail to several dozen POTWs reps, federal and state regulators, NGOs and environmental lawyers over a week and a half ago. To date, I have not received a single example or case of this happening. I am not saying it doesn't happen. I simply have not found a case where it did.

In addition, I also received comments from a former state regulator in a Great Lake state which does have mandate limits for P in POTW permits and has done so for many years. In that case, the general practice was to ease up on the requirements or the timelines for implementation over time to allow the POTWs to make reasonable accomodation on financing, timing, etc.
Posted by: Tracy Mehan ( Email | Visit ) at 4/6/2011 10:13 AM


More comments from my friend, Glen Daigger:

What often happens to early movers is: (1) they get no credit for previous reductions and (2) because they appear to be the most cooperative they are required to comply with enforceable permit limits first. The issue is not to let the early movers off the hook. But, it could simply be to: (1) give them credit for their prior, voluntary reductions and (2) make them the last to get their enforceable permit limits, not the first ones.

Glen T. Daigger, Ph.D., P.E., BCEE, NAE
President
International Water Association (IWA)
Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer CH2M HILL
9191 South Jamaica Street
Englewood, CO 80112 USA
Phone: (+1) 720.286.2542
FAX: (+1) 720.286.9271
Mobile: (+1) 303.478.0777
gdaigger@ch2m.com
Posted by: Tracy Mehan ( Email | Visit ) at 4/6/2011 10:15 AM


Tracy, I agree your proposal has merit and hopefully will gain traction within the POTW world. I also think that bold steps need to continue to take place within the nonpoint source world. The Chesapeake Bay TMDL, although not perfect, represents a solid effort by EPA and the Bay States. And it requires incremental commitments and efforts by the Bay states to require all sources, point and nonpoint, to reduce nutrient loadings.

Cooperative federalism requires that the federal and state partners respect each other's roles and responsibilities to achieve the goals of the CWA.
The federal "backstops" are an appropriate response to states that, for whatever reason, fail to make appropriate progress. States should be told what is their fair share and expected to meet those reductions. I fear, however, by dictating to the States how and where they must achieve those reductions vis-a-vis the relative reductions from point and nonpoint sources, EPA is taking away the flexibility necessary for the States and local communities to determine how to most cost-effectively achieve those reductions.

EPA has every right to expect progress, and there should be consequences to the States for failing. However, the States must be given greater latitude to decide, as between point and nonpoint sources, how to get to the finish line. Market based approaches, including trading programs, are an integral part of the solution.

Thanks for continuing to make these nutrient rich waters, rich with ideas.

Brent Fewell
United Water
Posted by: Brent Fewell ( Email | Visit ) at 4/6/2011 2:26 PM


Brent,

Thanks for these comments. As I mentioned in my short piece, the Great Lakes and the Chesapeake Bay are unique cases in being way ahead of the curve on nutrient control for point sources. Nonpoint sources are a big part of the challenge there and everywhere.
Posted by: Tracy Mehan ( Email | Visit ) at 4/6/2011 4:08 PM


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TracyMehan.JPGPosted by:
Tracy Mehan, Principal, The Cadmus Group, Inc.

G. Tracy Mehan, III, is Principal with The Cadmus Group, Inc., an environmental consulting firm, since 2004.  Mehan served as Assistant Administrator for Water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from 2001-2003.  He served as Environmental Stewardship Counselor to the 2004 G-8 Summit Planning Organization (2004).  Mehan also served as director of the Michigan Office of the Great Lakes (1993-2001) and as Associate Deputy Administrator of EPA in 1992.  He was director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources from 1989 to 1992.  Mehan is a graduate of Saint Louis University and its School of Law.  Mehan served on the Water Science and Technology Board and now the Committee on the Mississippi River and the Clean Water Act for the National Research Council of the National Academies.  He was also an independent expert judge for the City Water Conservation Achievement Award program (2006 & 2011) sponsored by The U.S. Conference of Mayors and its Urban Water Council.

Mehan is an adjunct professor at George Mason University School of Law and a member of the Environmental Law Institute (ELI).  He is a regular book reviewer for ELI’s flagship publication, The Environmental Forum.

Mehan serves on the board of the Potomac Conservancy, Clean Water America Alliance and the Great Lakes Observing System.  He is also a member of the Advisory Board of the Center for Environmental Policy, School of Public Affairs, American University.

 


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