UMRBA Water Quality Executive Committee Meeting

November 14, 2007

St. Paul, Minnesota

Highlights and Action Items


1. Meeting Highlights



Marcia Willhite

Illinois EPA

Wayne Anderson

Minnesota PCA

Gaylen Reetz

Minnesota PCA

Rob Morrison

Missouri DNR

Tim Henry

U.S. EPA Region 5

Dave Hokanson


Barb Naramore


Holly Stoerker



National Research Council Report – Reaction and Responses

Response Letter from UMRBA

§         Gaylen Reetz, acting Water Quality Executive Committee (WQEC) chair, reminded the WQEC of discussion the preceding day with the UMRBA Board that resulted in a decision to draft a response letter to the report, and to have a conference call regarding this response letter on December 7, 2007 at 2 pm.

Audience for the Response Letter

§         Holly Stoerker noted that, when the idea was brought up in UMRBA Board/WQEC meeting, audiences for the letter were described as follows:

o       Primary audiences: US EPA (Headquarters) and Congress (Representatives of river districts, Senators, key committee leadership)

o       Secondary audience: Report authors (NRC panel)

Reactions to Report/Possible Themes for Response Letter

§         Rob Morrison and Reetz expressed reservations about the idea of a federally-driven TMDL for the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.  Reetz added that a single TMDL would not be feasible and that, if the TMDL approach was pursued, multiple TMDLs would be needed.  Both Morrison and Reetz also noted the potential for high cost associated with the development of such a TMDL or series of TMDLs.

§         Marcia Willhite added that she was concerned about the emphasis on the relationship between the states’ Clean Water Act (CWA) programs and the hypoxia issue.  She noted that states’ programs and the UMRBA’s efforts have been appropriately focused on addressing regional water quality issues, with an ancillary relationship to hypoxia in that UMR water quality improvement efforts can also contribute to the reduction of hypoxia.

§         Reetz commented that, while the report focused on federal leadership, what is needed is a layered approach where state, interstate, and federal efforts all work together.  He added that one form of federal leadership would be to provide resources to support interstate efforts such as UMRBA’s.

§         When asked how US EPA might respond to the report, Tim Henry replied that, while he was not aware of what a formal response – if any is produced – might include, it was likely that the report would be used to inform the Hypoxia Action Plan.  Henry also added that work such as UMRBA’s would likely be seen by the EPA Regions as “directionally correct progress.”  Finally, Henry expressed some surprise that the NRC report did not recognize the work of the UMRCC and Region 5 to compile UMR water quality data.

§         Reetz, Willhite, and Henry all observed that while state water quality standards established to protect UMR water quality would often be supportive of hypoxia improvement, the benefit would depend on the location and the nutrient in question.  Conversely, standards set to protect the Gulf may or may not result in UMR water quality improvement. Willhite re-emphasized Reetz’ earlier observation that a “layered” approach is needed where states and interstates focus on regional water quality, while the federal government focuses on hypoxia as a national issue.

§         Morrison, Reetz, and Willhite all commented that the sediment issue also has a strong local component, noting that the report had pointed out that the nature of sediment-related concerns (too much or too little) was largely driven by north-south location on the river.  Willhite added that, similar to the hypoxia issue, it would be appropriate for the federal government to focus on sediment delivery to the Gulf, while states work on local sediment issues.

§         Reetz suggested that UMRBA’s response letter acknowledge that the NRC report was correct in identifying nonpoint source pollution as an area where more progress needs to be made. Morrison added that federal leadership will be necessary and critical in addressing nonpoint source pollution if real progress is to be made. Willhite proposed that the response letter acknowledge the nonpoint source issue (and the relative effectiveness of the tools states have to address point and nonpoint sources), but not attempt to propose a specific recommendation to resolve the issue at this time.

§         Dave Hokanson suggested the following general structure for the letter:

o       Acknowledgement of the report and the major themes it highlighted.

o       Presentation of the idea that addressing water quality on the Mississippi River is a layered, woven approach with efforts taking place at the local, state, interstate, and national level.

o       Description of UMRBA’s role in this layered approach, which focuses on CWA implementation for regional water quality benefits on the UMR.

o       A request of support to aid UMRBA in its efforts.

§         Reetz noted that it may be important to explain the UMRBA’s approach in looking at the “building blocks” of the CWA on the UMR, and designated uses specifically. Anderson asked whether hypoxia and/or local water quality needs were likely to be drivers behind changes in CWA implementation on the UMR.  Willhite replied that nutrient/hypoxia issues were not likely to be drivers of change.  Morrison added that the states do not create designated uses for downstream waters.  Willhite concurred with this observation.

§         Stoerker asked whether it would be important to comment in the letter on US EPA’s specific role in monitoring on the River.  Willhite suggested that there should be a role for UMRBA in compiling and maintaining UMR monitoring data.  Hokanson and Henry both emphasized that it would be important to identify the purpose of the monitoring (i.e. what is being protected) before developing/expanding a river-wide monitoring approach.

Tailoring Message to EPA and Congressional Audiences

§         Reetz suggested that the letter sent to Congressional members may have slightly different themes than the letter sent to US EPA.  In particular, he suggested that the Congressional letter emphasize the overall federal role (not just EPA’s role) in improving Mississippi River water quality. Stoerker, however, noted that it would be important to be specific in the Congressional letter about what was being requesting in regard to US EPA and its budget.  Reetz agreed, but added that USDA also has a major role to play, so it would be important to at least mention agencies beyond US EPA.


Gulf Hypoxia and the Upper Mississippi River

Presentation from Wayne Anderson, Minnesota PCA

§         Wayne Anderson, Agricultural Policy Director with the Minnesota PCA, provided a presentation to the WQEC regarding recent findings of the Hypoxia Science Advisory Board (SAB), the process of revising the Hypoxia Action Plan, and highlights from the recently released draft of the revised Action Plan.

§         Anderson noted the five following individuals who provide staffing to the state representatives on the Hypoxia Task Force: Dennis McKenna (IL), Dean Lemke (IA), Wayne Anderson (MN), Sarah Fast (MO) and Susan Sylvester (WI).

§         Anderson noted that comments on the draft revised Hypoxia Action Plan were due by January 4, 2008, with a final revised plan expected by March 2008.

§         Anderson’s presentation included the following observations:

o       The Hypoxia Task Force has had an interest in UMRBA’s connection to the Governors of the five UMRBA states.

o       The original Hypoxia Action Plan laid out 11 action steps and estimated annual funding needs of approximately $1 billion.  However, funding was never dedicated to implementation of the Action Plan.

o       A summary of the findings in the SAB report currently being finalized as follows:

§         Nitrogen (N) is the primary limiting nutrient in offshore waters, but phosphorus (P) plays a co-limiting role in nearshore waters.

§         The temporal nature of inputs affecting size of hypoxic zone, with spring runoff potentially being the most critical time period.

§         Reductions in both N and P are needed.  Restoration plans focusing on N alone may be insufficient. Recommended reductions are 45% for N and 40% for P (as compared to 1985-1995 base period). These reductions are thought to have locally-occurring benefits as well.

§         Contributions from point sources appear to be slightly higher than previously estimated.

§         The goal of reducing the hypoxic zone to 5000 square kilometers is still appropriate, but may need to be revisited in the future.

§         Targeting of nutrient reduction practices may allow best optimization of costs and benefits.

o       Highlighted elements of the revised action plan as follows:

§         Increasing accountability and specificity in Action Framework.

§         Use of an annual operating plan and annual report to improve tracking of progress.

§         Emphasis on states as leads for nutrient reduction strategies, with complementary federal strategies.

§         Focus on science basis and engagement of stakeholders.

§         Anderson noted that the next meeting of the Hypoxia Task Force would be January 28-29 in Chicago.

§         Henry and Willhite both observed that there may be room for further reductions in point sources, given the higher contribution identified by the SAB.

UMRBA Comments on Draft Revised Action Plan

§         Stoerker recalled for the group that, at the combined UMRBA Board/WQEC meeting, the Board had asked the WQEC to pursue making comments on the draft Revised Hypoxia Action plan and that a conference call had been scheduled for December 19, 2007 at 3 pm to discuss these comments.  Stoerker asked Anderson if state agencies represented on the Hypoxia Task Force were likely to comment on the Action Plan. Anderson replied that the Departments of Agriculture were likely to comment.

§         Willhite noted that caution must be used in commenting as to not imply too great of a role for UMRBA in regard to hypoxia.

§         Reetz and Morrison stated that the comment letter on the hypoxia action plan may actually be another opportunity to reiterate UMRBA’s vision for coordinated water quality activities on the UMR.

§         Anderson noted that it might be important to comment on the concept of targeting resources/BMPs, as targeting without additional funding would necessarily mean that resources would have to be reduced in some areas.

§         Stoerker suggested that the letter may need to comment on targeting, as well as specifically mentioning UMRBA’s role in regard to the data sharing action step.

§         Overall, it appeared that the comment letter could build from the content of the letter developed to respond to the NRC report, with possible additional discussion of targeting resources, the need for new resources to address hypoxia, and UMRBA’s role in data sharing.


WQEC and Water Quality Task Force (WQTF) Activities and Relationships

Designated Use Project/Upcoming Water Quality Task Force Meeting

§         Hokanson summarized the status of the designated use project and distributed a copy of the draft agenda for the January 2008 meeting of the WQTF, which is planned to focus primarily on the habitats/aquatic life use piece of the designated use effort.

§         Hokanson asked whether issues brought forward as potential stakeholder concerns in combined meeting the previous day (anti-degradation and nutrient criteria) should be addressed at this time by the WQTF.  All WQEC members responded that the designated use effort should be predominant and that this would, in the long run, help address some of these other issues.

§         Morrison emphasized that it would be important to produce a more specific work plan as an outcome of the January meeting.

§         Hokanson noted that it would also be important to include state and federal standards staff in the upcoming meeting, as they would be in the best position to assess the scope of the designated use effort and craft a work plan for moving forward.  WQEC members generally acknowledged this, while Hokanson added that it would also be critical to ensure continuity by having the regular members of the WQTF also engaged in the discussion.

§         Hokanson and Henry described the meeting at US EPA Region 5 held on November 6, 2007.  Both described it as a valuable opportunity to exchange information and noted the questions Region 5 staff had expressed about the designated use project. Both Henry and Hokanson agreed that Region 5 was not presenting a “stop sign” to UMRBA on this effort, but was rather seeking to better understand the effort and direct it on a most productive path.  Reetz emphasized the appeal of this approach as “starting from scratch” and considering how the River could be best protected under the CWA.

§         Reetz proposed that he would ask Marvin Hora to come to the next WQTF meeting prepared to offer MPCA’s services in drafting a preliminary scope of work as an outcome of the meeting.

Funding Opportunities

§         Willhite indicated that she will be working on outreach to Congressional members regarding support for UMRBA’s water quality efforts.

§         Reetz asked Henry if there were any current EPA funding opportunities that UMRBA should be pursuing.  Henry replied that he was not aware of any current opportunities, but added that any scope of work developed as an outcome of the WQTF meeting should be forwarded to the EPA Regions for consideration of IPA and/or contractor support.

Administrative Issues

Travel Reimbursement Status

§         Stoerker noted that approximately $1400 of originally budgeted $2100 for FY08 remained available for water quality travel reimbursement.  She added that this amount would likely be reduced by Missouri reimbursement for the current WQEC meeting.

Future Meetings and Conference Calls

§         Conference Call, NRC Report Response Letter and UMRBA Congressional Briefing: Friday, December 7, 2007 at 2 pm.

§         Conference Call, UMRBA Comments on Draft Revised Hypoxia Action Plan: Wednesday, December 19, 2007 at 3 pm.

§         Water Quality Task Force Meeting: January 16-17, 2008. (Quad Cities location likely)

§         UMRBA Congressional Briefing: Likely the week of March 3rd, Washington, DC. (Exact dates/times to be determined.)

§         Clean Water Act/Ecosystem Restoration Workshops: Tentative dates are April 16-17, 2008 and June 11-12, 2008.  Both workshops are to be held in Dubuque, Iowa.


2. Action Items


§         UMRBA staff will send out a reminder to the WQEC and the UMRBA Board regarding conference calls on 12/7 and 12/19.

§         In preparation for conference calls, UMRBA staff will prepare draft letters regarding the NRC panel report and the draft revised Hypoxia Action Plan.  UMRBA staff will also assemble background information regarding the UMRBA Congressional Briefing.

§         UMRBA staff will communicate outcome of the WQEC meeting to members not in attendance.

§         WQEC members will consider appropriate representation at the January 2008 WQTF meeting and encourage staff to participate as appropriate.  UMRBA staff will finalize plans for this WQTF meeting.

§         Reetz will consult with Hora regarding the possibility of MPCA producing a draft scope of work for designated uses effort following the January 2008 WQTF meeting.

§         Willhite will continue to pursue Congressional support for funding of UMRBA water quality activities.