March 2010, Vol. 22, No.3

US EPA Sets 15-Year Schedule for Chesapeake Bay Cleanup

News art_Mar10

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is driving the bandwagon in the parade of federal agencies lined up to fulfill U.S. President Barack Obama’s mandate to clean up Chesapeake Bay — but eagerness to climb aboard varies among bay watershed stakeholders.

“Bay cleanup deadlines in the past have been set and, as you know, missed,” said Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine in introducing the new cleanup effort in May 2009 at the annual meeting of the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council. Nevertheless, he said, “today, we present you a new end restoration date: no later than 2025.” Less than a year before, he noted, some of those responsible for meeting local or regional cleanup goals had set deadlines as late as 2040.

In a May 12, 2009, executive order declaring the 166,000-km2 (64,000-mi2) watershed a “national treasure,” Obama called for an EPA-led joint effort among several federal agencies to recharge the 30-year-old bay restoration endeavor and achieve the goal once and for all “as expeditiously as practicable.”

EPA on Nov. 4 announced “rigorous expectations” for the six Chesapeake watershed states (Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia) and the District of Columbia that are intended to “fulfill the mandate” of the executive order. It said the expectations “also are a component of the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), which will set pollution limits for point sources and nonpoint sources contributing nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment to the Bay and its tidal creeks, rivers and embayments.”

The agency stressed its determination to establish a final TMDL for the bay by December 2010. This will require states and the district by Nov. 1 to submit watershed implementation plans that must contain “a schedule for accomplishing reductions in nutrient and sediment loads needed to attain water quality standards,” including dates for “implementing key actions to achieve these reductions.” Preliminary draft plans are due June 1. In addition, these jurisdictions by November 2011 must specify how their planned load reductions will be divided among local authorities, “so that counties, municipalities, conservation districts and watershed organizations understand their role in meeting water quality goals.” They also must implement controls by 2017 that will achieve 60% of the planned reductions set for 2025.

EPA established preliminary maximum target loads to the bay of 200 million lb/yr (90 million kg/yr) of nitrogen and 15 million lb/yr (7 million kg/yr) of phosphorus. Following submission of the implementation plans, each jurisdiction’s progress in meeting its reduction targets will be measured “through benchmarks” every 2 years, “and EPA may impose federal consequences for inadequate plans or failure to meet the performance milestones,” the agency’s Nov. 4 announcement says. These “consequences” were unveiled Dec. 29 (see sidebar, right).

Mixed reactions. Some veterans of the bay restoration effort welcomed the accelerated cleanup deadline, along with the increased federal attention. Obama’s order “is major,” said Ann Swanson, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission (Annapolis, Md.), a legislative group representing Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania in issues relating to the bay. “If the federal government ends up putting more of its intellectual power, its regulatory power, and its financial power behind the bay cleanup, it’s got to improve the situation.”

Bill Holman, director of state policy at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University (Raleigh, N.C.), agreed. A former director of the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Holman said, “If I were a state official, I would say, ‘At least for the next 4 years, there’s going to be a sustained [federal] effort to restore Chesapeake Bay, and here’s an opportunity to get some national resources and get the attention of local officials and others to solve this problem.’”

However, some state officials may not be so welcoming, said Brooks Smith, a partner on the Environmental Team in the law firm of Hunton & Williams (Richmond, Va.) who specializes in TMDL issues. “EPA has said it would develop aggregate wasteload allocations … but once it does that, it’s going to point to the state to actually subdivide and assign pieces of that allocation to the universe of dischargers,” he said. “If I were in the states’ shoes, I would think that’s a pretty raw deal — EPA sets the numbers but then forces the states to deal with it.”

State and local governments also may feel they already have drained their resources by trying to meet earlier or current load reduction requirements, noted Karen Pallansch, general manager of the Alexandria (Va.) Sanitation Authority. “Before President Obama issued the executive order … we were still looking at spending upwards of $2 billion in the state of Virginia” to upgrade wastewater plants to meet existing
requirements, she said. “Now, we don’t know whether that’s going to be good enough, especially [based on] the consequences announcement, which says [EPA is] going to look at point sources again and perhaps take [discharge limits] even lower.”

Aside from lacking funds, many treatment facilities have reached the limits of possibility, technologically, for reducing wasteloads, said Jerry Johnson, general manager of the Washington (D.C.) Suburban Sanitary Commission and former head of the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority. “There’s not anything more you can get once you’ve gone to the limit of technology,” he said.

EPA does not accept the suggestion that lack of funding or limited technology should thwart the bay restoration effort, said J. Charles (“Chuck”) Fox, senior adviser to EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “Our actions are rooted in decades of insufficient action,” he said. As to the project’s alleged lack of feasibility, he added, “we do believe that we can achieve water quality standards in Chesapeake Bay. All of the science suggests that it is attainable, and the economic analysis that has been done to date suggests that it is economically feasible.”

Shifting the pressure. If the bay is to be restored, said Johnson and others on the point source side of the equation, then it is time for EPA to shift the pressure to nonpoint sources, especially agriculture, an avenue many say the agency has neglected. Most observers note that point sources contribute between 20% and 25% of the bay’s pollutant load, while nonpoint sources, such as agricultural and stormwater runoff, as well as air deposition of pollutants, make up the remainder.

“Other than having money thrown at it, the powers-that-be are really timid to go after agriculture, and that’s the biggest piece of the pie chart,” said Edward Graham, Water Resources Program director in the Department of Environmental Programs at the Metropolitan Washington (D.C.) Council of Governments. Also, he said, federal agencies should give more attention to involving both agriculture and local government — “where the burden of implementation actually rests” — in planning bay restoration efforts.

Fox noted that EPA is committed “to move forward with new regulations governing large animal agriculture operations and urban and suburban stormwater sources.” The agency on Jan. 11 announced plans to develop new stormwater rules “to control pollution from newly developed and redeveloped sites, while considering options for going beyond national requirements in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.” EPA also said it “will consider more stringent elements,” including “more extensively redefining” municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s), as well as “expanding the universe of CAFOs [concentrated animal-feeding operations] and requiring more stringent permit standards to control nutrients.”

Chesapeake Bay area farmers recognize that more regulatory pressure will be applied to them, said Tom Simpson, president and executive director of Water Stewardship Inc. (Annapolis, Md.), an independent assessor and developer of farm conservation practices. “They know you can only push point source dischargers so far, because [regulators] are then going to say, ‘The other part of the TMDL is some reasonable assurance that you’re getting reductions from the nonpoint sources.’”

Farmers respond better to economic incentives than to regulation, noted Jon Scholl, president of American Farmland Trust (Washington, D.C.), which promotes conservation practices in agriculture, including water quality trading. “Farmers understand markets,” he said, making them natural candidates for trading nutrient reduction credits with point sources. “They deal with markets every day, so when you apply the idea of markets to providing environmental benefits, it’s something they relate to and understand very clearly.” EPA has said it supports such trading as part of the bay restoration strategy.

Pollution trading ultimately could be beneficial for both point and nonpoint sources, said Cy Jones, a senior associate in the People and Ecosystems Program at the World Resources Institute (Washington, D.C.). Besides serving as an additional revenue source for farmers, he said, trading could provide substantial “cost savings for the wastewater treatment plants that buy the credits, at least for the plants whose costs for plant upgrades are comparatively high. Also … if MS4 communities can buy nutrient credits [to offset stormwater pollution], that’s a tremendous cost savings as well.”


— Jim Bishop, WE&T


‘Consequences’ for Failure

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Dec. 29 announced “potential actions” it may take to ensure that Chesapeake Bay watershed states and the District of Columbia develop and implement adequate watershed implementation plans, achieve their 2-year milestones, and “provide timely and complete information to an effective accountability system for monitoring pollutant reductions.” The agency said it is “fully committed” to imposing such “consequences” as the following, if necessary, to ensure that planned reductions are met:

  • Expand discharge-permit coverage to currently unregulated sources.
  • Object to “inadequate” discharge permits.
  • Require net improvement offsets for new or increased point source dischargers.
  • Revise the December 2010 Chesapeake Bay total maximum daily load to establish “finer-scale” wasteload and load allocations than those set by states or the district.
  • Reallocate additional load reductions from nonpoint to point sources, such as wastewater treatment plants.Increase federal enforcement and compliance assurance for air and water sources of nutrients.
  • Condition or redirect EPA grants to reduce nutrient and sediment loads further.
  • Issue federal standards where state or district standards do not fully protect downstream designated uses.


US EPA Begins Permeable-Pavement Research

In October, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began a 10-year project to test different types of permeable pavement. The agency replaced a 4000-m2 (43,000-ft2) section of the parking lot at the Edison (N.J.) Environmental Center with three different types of permeable pavement.

“Runoff from parking lots and driveways is a significant source of water pollution in the United States and puts undue stress on our water infrastructure, especially in densely populated urban areas,” said George Pavlou, acting administrator of EPA Region 2. “By evaluating different designs and materials, this study will help us develop strategies to lessen the environmental impacts of parking lots across the country and make our communities more sustainable.”

This study is part of an effort by EPA’s National Risk Management Research Laboratory to evaluate permeable pavement as it relates to stormwater management practices on a national scale. While the installation of permeable pavement systems has become more prevalent, there is a lack of full-scale, outdoor, real-world permeable-pavement research projects, according Michael Borst, the project’s principal investigator. “There are a lot of examples of folks who have stuck them in and monitored for short terms, but there are really no long-term data available,” he said.

Study Specifics

During the next decade, EPA will evaluate how effectively three pavement types — porous concrete, porous asphalt, and interlocking concrete pavers — remove pollutants from stormwater, how they help water filter back into the ground, and what type and degree of maintenance they require. The parking lot will be functional during the study to evaluate accurately how the different types of pavement handle traffic and vehicle-related pollution, such as leaking oil.

The interlocking paver surface is composed of impervious concrete blocks with No. 8 gravel laid between them. Located beneath the wearing surface of the permeable surfaces is a storage gallery that varies in depth with the design goals of a project, Borst said. At the Edison facility, the storage gallery reaches 0.6 m (2 ft) deep. The storage gallery reaches below the frost line so that the porous surfaces can be effective even during freezing weather.

Sampling Strategy

The project’s four investigators — Borst, Thomas O’Connor, Amy Rowe, and Emilie Stander — will look at two sets of measurements. One set will use electronic probes at the bottom of the storage layer, immediately above the native soil. This set will include such parameters as “pH, temperature, conductivity, nitrates, and anything we have an [ion-selective electrode] for, basically,” Borst said. This electronic set also will be used to determine if infiltration rates over time can be monitored electronically.

The other set will rely on samples drawn from storage tanks that collect water from immediately below the storage layer. “We have four lined sections in each permeable pavement that drain to tanks, so we can grab physical samples and take them to our onsite lab for analysis,” Borst said.

Bacterial loads are the main component being measured using the physical samples, Borst said. The physical samples also will be used to assess volatile organic compound concentrations, as well as other parameters.

Another portion of the Edison facility’s parking lot, covered with standard hot-mix asphalt, will serve as the control case for the project. The control lot has been outfitted with curb cuts to make collecting samples easier. These samples will be compared directly to the infiltrated water from the test cases, Borst said.

Maintenance Measures

Maintenance practices are a key research question for the project, Borst said. A perceived concern in the user community is whether porous surfaces are a maintenance nightmare.

“We’re pretty sure the answer to that is no,” Borst explained, but no one has laid out how to design a maintenance schedule or what kind of results one can expect from a regeneration treatment.

The project will include periodic maintenance cleanings and will measure what kind of recovery these cleanings provide, Borst said.

Currently, the project is focusing only on regenerative air vacuums, which are commonly used in the field, Borst said. These devices pull the debris out of the pores on the pervious surface to enable the water to pass through the pores again.

The permeable surfaces already have faced another maintenance hurdle: excessive snow. When the Edison facility was inundated with 0.6 m (2 ft) of snow in December — a rarity for New Jersey — the surfaces were plowed in the same way as the traditional asphalt sections of the parking lot, Borst said.

Industry Cooperation

While EPA’s National Risk Management Research Laboratory is running the project, industry also is cooperating, Borst said.

In particular, Borst said, a few trade groups — the National Asphalt Pavement Association (Lanham, Md.), National Ready Mixed Concrete Association (Silver Spring, Md.), and Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute (Herndon, Va.) — have been working hand-in-hand with the agency. They provided comments to the agency to help refine the original plan to ensure a properly built application of the products being tested, as well as observed the installation of the pervious surfaces to ensure a proper installation.

Early Results

Because the study began only a few months ago, at press time, no pollutant removal results were ready to be released. However, the investigators’ initial impression of the porous pavements ability to handle rainfall was positive. Initial tests have shown the surfaces' infiltration rates to be “greater than any rain I ever expect to see in New Jersey … hundreds of inches per hour,” Borst said.

A synopsis of the research project can be viewed at, and a video of the initial infiltrative capacity of one of the permeable surfaces can be viewed at


— Steve Spicer, WE&T

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