March 2007, Vol. 19, No.3

Briefs

Supreme Court Denies Petition Seeking Review of TMDL Decision

On Jan. 16, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a lower court ruling handed down last spring requiring daily pollutant limits for the Anacostia River — a ruling that had been contested by the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) and the National Association for Clean Water Agencies (NACWA; Washington, D.C.).

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in April 2006 that the word “daily” means “every day” in the Clean Water Act for total maximum daily loads (TMDLs). On July 24, WASA filed a certiorari petition with the Supreme Court seeking review of the case, and NACWA submitted an amici curiae brief to the high court. Both argued that the decision places a burden on wastewater utilities, weakens the national TMDL program, and creates a split between appellate circuits on how TMDLs should be expressed.

On Nov. 24, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Friends of the Earth, an international network of grassroots environmental organizations, filed separate briefs with the Supreme Court arguing against review of the decision.

EPA began implementing its approach to manage the D.C. Circuit Court decision in November when it issued nationwide guidance requesting daily load allocations in all TMDLs but allowing them to be implemented through permits in nondaily ways. EPA is currently drafting a series of fact sheets on how to derive daily load expressions for different types of TMDLs.

Nutrient Runoff Contributing to Gulf of Mexico’s ‘Dead Zone’

Nitrogen is flowing down the Mississippi River and into the Gulf of Mexico faster than it can be consumed by phytoplankton, increasing the size of the “dead zone” off the Louisiana coast. These findings, based on analysis of data gathered in 2001, were published in the November issue of the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

Because of the increased nitrogen levels, phytoplankton blooms are growing, and the Gulf’s hypoxia zone is getting bigger, according to a news release from the National Science Foundation.

“In a pristine system, nutrients would flow down the river and into the Gulf, and there would be limited phytoplankton growth and no hypoxia,” said James Ammerman, co-author of the paper and a biological oceanographer at Rutgers University (New Brunswick, N.J.). “Heavy use of fertilizers containing nitrogen and phosphorus in the agriculture of the Mississippi Valley has thrown the system out of balance.” 

According to Ammerman, phytoplankton needs both nitrogen and phosphorus to grow. Because it requires a 16–1 ratio of nitrogen to phosphorus, phytoplankton usually run out of nitrogen first; most coastal surface waters have lower ratios. 

“There is now so much nitrogen in the Gulf that even though phytoplankton consume it faster than they consume phosphorus, they can’t get rid of it fast enough, and it's the phosphorus, instead of nitrogen, that runs out first and becomes the limiting nutrient,” Ammerman said.

Contact Ammerman at ammerman@marine.rutgers.edu.

EPA to Require Monitoring for Unregulated Contaminants

Approximately 4000 public water systems will monitor drinking water for as many as 25 unregulated chemicals to inform the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about the frequency and levels at which these contaminants are found in drinking water systems across the United States. The information, according to an EPA news release, will help determine whether regulations are needed to protect public health. This is the second scheduled review under the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 2). 

EPA currently has regulations for more than 90 contaminants. The Safe Drinking Water Act requires EPA to identify up to 30 contaminants for monitoring every 5 years. The first cycle, UCMR 1, was published in 1999 and covered 25 chemicals and one microorganism. The new rule requires systems to monitor for contaminants that are not regulated under existing law. 

EPA selected the contaminants that will be monitored through a process that included a review of

  • EPA’s Contaminant Candidate List, which contains priority contaminants that are researched to make decisions about whether regulations are needed. The contaminants on the list are known or anticipated to occur in public water systems. However, they are unregulated by existing national drinking water regulations.
  • Additional contaminants of concern based on current research about occurrence and various health-risk factors.
  • Costs for the 5-year UCMR 2 will total about $44.3 million, according to EPA. The agency will conduct and pay for the monitoring for those water systems serving 10,000 people or fewer, at a cost of $9 million.

To learn more about the UCMR 2 rule, see www.epa.gov/safewater/ucmr/ucmr2, or call the Safe Drinking Water Hotline, (800) 426-4791.

EPA Updating Its Libraries

Resources of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are going digital. The agency, according to an EPA news release, is providing broader access to a larger audience by making its library materials available through its public Web site. Retrieving materials will be more efficient and easier to locate by using EPA’s online collection and reference services. 

“When libraries go digital, everyone benefits,” said Deputy Administrator Marcus Peacock. 

To date, more than 22,000 of 51,000 EPA documents are available through the agency’s public Web site, and all EPA-unique documents will be online within 2 years, according to the news release.

EPA documents remain available via interlibrary loans during the digitization process. Regional offices will continue providing library services through EPA’s library network. Materials that are not EPA-unique remain available through the archive at EPA headquarters or through the interlibrary loan program.  

Since 2003, EPA has been examining ways to modernize the library system. EPA is adhering to the American Library Association's guidance and criteria for reviewing its library collection.  

EPA’s National Framework for HQ and Regional Libraries was posted on EPA’s Web site and an internal memo went out to all EPA employees regarding the library plan.  

Read more about EPA Libraries at www.epa.gov/natlibra/index.