Water Quality Task Force and Water Quality Executive Committee
Bill Franz US EPA Region 5
Dave Hokanson UMRBA
Kirsten Mickelsen UMRBA
Barb Naramore UMRBA
*Participated via conference call.
Call to Order and Introductions
The joint meeting of the UMRBA Water Quality Task Force (WQTF) and Water Quality Executive Committee (WQEC) was called to order by Jim Baumann, WQTF Chair, at Introductions of all in attendance followed.
(Note: Chuck Corell, WQEC
Chair, was not present due to
UMRBA Staffing Update
UMRBA Staffing Changes
Dave Hokanson reported that Holly Stoerker will be retiring as
UMRBA Executive Director effective
Interagency Personnel Agreement with
Hokanson reported that three
individuals from US EPA had applied for the position to fill the interagency
personnel agreement (IPA) with the UMRBA.
However, in the judgment of Bill Anderson, Water Policy Staff Director
within US EPA’s Office of Water, none of the applications was strong enough to
warrant further pursuit or interviews with the candidates. Hokanson added that Anderson, who has been
UMRBA’s primary point of contact within the Office of Water regarding the IPA,
will be moving to a new position within US EPA as of July 2008. Gregg Good asked whether it was possible to open
up the IPA position to state agency staff.
Rich Batiuk noted that this had been done for the
Recent UMRBA Board and UMRBA Water Quality Executive Committee (WQEC) Activities
reported on the
§ Meetings took place with senior staff from US EPA’s Office of Water, US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and Department of the Army officials, and the staff of members of Congress.
§ The two areas the discussions focused on were: 1) UMR navigation and restoration programs, including program funding, and 2) support for UMR water quality work through the UMRBA.
§ In general, there was interest in and support for UMRBA’s water quality efforts among both US EPA officials and Congressional staff. However, prospects for funding support in FY 2009 appeared to be very limited due to budget constraints and reluctance to support “earmarks.”
§ Some Congressional staff inquired about specific authorization language for a UMR water quality program, indicating that this might be needed to aid in allocating funding.
§ Occasionally, there was also a need to clarify with Congressional staff how the UMRBA water quality effort is distinct from other UMR efforts (e.g., ecosystem restorations programs, McKnight Water Quality Collaborative).
Speaking from his experience with the Chesapeake Bay Program, Batiuk suggested the following strategies for ongoing UMRBA water quality efforts: 1) a need to continue to raise the profile of the UMR generally, 2) increasing the requested funding amount, 3) providing multiple options for support to both US EPA and legislators, 4) utilizing the power of Congressional delegations and working directly with members (not just staff), and 5) seeking the assistance of the Northeast-Midwest Institute in Washington, DC outreach efforts.
Morrison concurred with the need to raise the profile of the UMR. Franz suggested that the UMRBA could potentially join forces with NGOs in crafting and delivering a message to Congress. Hokanson noted that members of the UMRBA Board and WQEC had met with representatives of the McKnight Water Quality Collaborative in February 2008 to initiate a connection. Franz added that working with the NGOs might be a long-term project. Naramore agreed that collaboration with NGOs was potentially beneficial, but at this time there did not seem to be a close alignment of interests.
John Olson suggested that connections between water quality and ecosystem restoration programs, such as those being brought out in recent workshops, could be a selling point for support of UMR water quality efforts. However, he added that work needed to be done in assessing the impacts of restoration projects on water quality.
observed that outreach efforts to US EPA Office of Water officials may need to
be repeated if there are significant staff changes with a new Presidential
administration in 2009. Good asked
whether a more full-time outreach presence representing the UMRBA in
Morrison suggested that more concrete products might be needed to encourage further support of UMR water quality efforts, noting that as long as the UMRBA discussions are just collaboration, there are limits to what can be accomplished.
Good asked whether a crisis might be the only way that further support for the UMR is triggered. Batiuk suggested that the message be developed as preventative one, to head off potential crises.
Good asked how the UMR might
be included in US EPA’s recently created Council of Large Aquatic
Ecosystems. Tim Henry responded that
members of the Council are those efforts associated with the National Estuary
Program and other programs which have had several years of significant program
presence and funding. He noted that
Betty Berry of US EPA Region 7 had advocated for the inclusion of the UMR on
the Council, but that a decision was made to include only existing programs
with an established “track record” at this time. Henry pointed out that all the
programs involved on the Council have a significant element of US EPA
leadership. He added that the UMR also
faces a challenge in that US EPA’s emphasis on the
Meeting with US EPA Region 7 Administrator
Hokanson reported that he and
Chuck Corell had met with US EPA Region 7 Administrator John Askew on
Water Quality Task Force Report
Baumann provided a report on the recent activities of the WQTF and plans for upcoming activities.
(Note: The WQTF’s designated uses project was not addressed in this report, but was addressed at length in the subsequent discussion item.)
Interstate Assessment and Listing Consultation
Baumann reported that the
WQTF continues its ongoing consultations regarding 305(b) assessments and
303(d) impairment listings at its regularly scheduled meetings. Olson commented that, generally, there seems
to be progress toward consistency in the states’ approaches, giving the
Baumann indicated that collaboration by WQTF with US EPA’s National Exposure Research Laboratory on sampling the UMR for the presence of PFCs is ongoing through the summer of 2008. He noted that this is a good example of the type of cooperation that can be facilitated by the WQTF.
Development of Assessment Tools/Index of Biological Integrity
In considering future WQTF activities, Baumann noted that the WQTF is interested in working on the development of assessment tools for the UMR generally and an index of biological integrity (IBI) for fish on the UMR specifically. Henry noted that there is an opportunity to include this discussion in the SWiMS meeting agenda in 2009.
UMR Designated Uses Project
Baumann next provided a detailed report on the WQTF’s UMR designated use project as described below.
Drinking Water and Contact Recreation Uses
Baumann reported that the
WQTF did not view either the drinking water use or contact recreation use as
high priorities for action at this time.
For the drinking water use, Baumann noted that while there are some differences
among states at this time, it did not appear to be high priority given
currently available resources. In terms
of the contact recreation use, he observed that – with the exception of a small
reach in the greater
Aquatic Life Use
Baumann provided a presentation summarizing the status of the WQTF’s efforts to re-examine aquatic life use designations for the UMR, as informed by the river’s biology and physical structure. He made the following observations during his presentation:
§ There is an abundance of mapped information regarding the UMR, especially in the “trend pools” examined by the Long Term Resource Monitoring Program (LTRMP).
§ Mapped information available from LTRMP clearly illustrates differences in the character of the river and associated habitats, such as in the impounded vs. unimpounded areas.
§ One challenge is whether to “lump” or “split” in defining habitat/aquatic areas for the river. For example, lake-like areas on the river could all be considered as one category or spilt into as many as five sub-categories.
§ Being informed by the LTRMP sampling strata would suggest working forward from the following aquatic area classifications for the river:
o Secondary channel
o Backwater, contiguous
o Backwater, isolated
He also noted that differentiation between “backwater, contiguous” and “impounded/lake” may be potentially difficult.
§ Potential next steps in moving forward:
o Refine the role of habitat information in a designated use context.
o Draft a summary of the current “working concept” regarding the definition of aquatic life areas. Share the working concept with others and continue to explore and refine it.
o Identify assessment methods applicable to defined aquatic areas (e.g., UMR fish IBI).
o Review and assign appropriate water quality standards/criteria (e.g., turbidity/SAV protection criteria), as informed by aquatic life area distinctions.
o Produce a final report on the examination of aquatic life use designations within one year.
Morrison asked whether US EPA would support the development of aquatic life use sub-category designations, as this appeared to be where the WQTF’s efforts are headed. He emphasized the need to see buy-in from US EPA as the project progresses, so that there would not be a situation where an EPA Region might not support the collective work that had been done. Jeff Robichaud indicated he would communicate within Region 7 regarding the project. Franz indicated that Region 5 would seek to work in partnership, observing that it was important to develop trust between the participants in moving the effort forward.
Batiuk suggested that one way to build buy-in from US EPA was to assign tasks to US EPA Regional staff. He also encouraged staying in communication with US EPA-Headquarters regarding the effort, as Headquarters had been supportive of similar work on the Chesapeake Bay. Batiuk recommended using the term “sub-categories of the aquatic life use” to describe the effort.
Baumann indicated that previous discussions with US EPA Region 5 had been helpful and it was now time to sort out questions such as whether modifications would be made to assessment methodologies and/or water quality standards. He added that these are the types of questions the WQTF should seek to resolve over the course of the next year. Batiuk offered to have his water quality standards staff collaborate via conference call with the WQTF.
Morrison indicated that he felt this type of approach was appropriate in that it would help develop a more precise tool for assessing the river, as opposed to a “one size fits all” approach. However, he emphasized his concern that the effort be productive and successful.
Henry commented that one of the challenges would be the “lumper vs. splitter” question, in determining how to trade off precision vs. ability to implement.
Morrison asked whether sufficient chemical and biological data was available to make improved assessments of the river, expressing doubt that enough data was available. Hora concurred that data may be limited. Baumann noted that the greatest abundance of data existed for the main channel and less data was available for other lateral areas.
Hora observed that physical
characteristics such as flow, turbidity, and temperature may be more critical
to a habitat than chemical concentrations.
Morrison noted that
John Olson commented that a good amount of data is available for some parameters, such as DO and pH. He added that biological information may aid in making “lumping vs. splitting” decisions. Baumann observed that it would be important to bring individuals together in order to accelerate the process of IBI development for the river.
Good emphasized that the overall goal of the WQTF is to have better and more consistent assessment and listing for the UMR. He noted that if the UMR states move towards use of a fish IBI for the UMR, it will be essential for US EPA Regions 5 and 7 to agree with this approach to assessment and listing. Hora noted that the idea of the “independent applicability” of chemical and biological criteria is important in considering how biological data is incorporated into Clean Water Act water quality assessments.
Batiuk encouraged the WQTF to
consider designated uses first and then elements such as criteria and
assessment/listing methodologies. He
suggested that the use of “professional judgment” in assessments be minimized
and an approach developed where the same conclusion would be reached by anyone
performing the assessment. Batiuk
characterized such as effort as a requiring substantial upfront work, but also
having the potential of substantial benefits if completed. He recalled that work on the
Good and Morrison asked
Batiuk whether an “independent applicability” approach is used for the
Chesapeake Bay or whether an attempt is made to integrate biological and
physical data in assessments. Batiuk
responded that both approaches were employed to a certain extent on the
Morrison and Olson asked
Hypoxia Action Plan Update
Hokanson reported that the
2008 Gulf Hypoxia Action Plan is scheduled for release on
In regard to the Operating
Plan accompanying the Action Plan, Hokanson pointed out a work item indicating
that, by December 2008, US EPA will “analyze opportunities for a federal
strategy to improve the effectiveness of Clean Water Act programs in the
Baumann asked whether the increased role for states in the Action Plan implied a diminished role for sub-basin groups such as the Upper Mississippi River Sub-Basin Hypoxia Nutrient Committee (UMRSHNC). Franz replied that the role of sub-basin groups would likely be reduced, but that some funding for these groups would still be provided.
Henry asked if there was any
further information available about the Operating Plan element regarding US
EPA’s effort to “analyze opportunities for a federal strategy to improve the
effectiveness of Clean Water Act programs in the
Hokanson asked whether
comment from the UMRBA could essentially re-state the content of previous
communications to US EPA regarding the Hypoxia Action Plan and the UMRBA’s role
Hokanson noted that both the UMRBA Board and WQEC have historically expressed caution about involvement with the hypoxia issue. Morrison concurred that there has been concern about involvement with hypoxia having the potential to consume time and resources at the expense of progress on other fronts. Batiuk suggested that a letter could be composed in a way that frames comments so as to not take the UMRBA off course from its intended work. Naramore suggested that a letter could be drafted and then circulated to the UMRBA Board and WQEC for review. Morrison agreed with this approach and Hokanson indicated that he would work on the draft correspondence.
Planning for FY 2009 Water Quality Activities
Hokanson noted that the following appear to be near-term activities, based on discussions at this meeting and the previous day’s WQTF meeting:
§ A short (approximately four page) document summarizing the WQTF’s work on designated uses to date and its “conceptual framework” for moving forward.
§ Correspondence to US EPA regarding the 2008 Hypoxia Action Plan, the FY 2008 Operating Plan (accompanying the Action Plan), and the UMRBA’s role in Mississippi River water quality management.
§ Completion of the Mississippi River PFC sampling effort.
Longer Term Activities
Hokanson also pointed out the following as likely longer term activities:
§ Initiating work on UMR IBI development, including a meeting/workshop on the topic.
§ Full report on the WQTF’s designated uses project.
Hokanson asked whether it would be helpful to provide some type of summary document with an overview of these anticipated activities. Morrison replied that this would be valuable.
Preview of CWA-Ecosystem Restoration Workshop
Hokanson provided a brief
overview of the Clean Water Act-Ecosystem Restoration workshop that would
follow the WQTF-WQEC meetings, beginning the afternoon of June 11th. He highlighted that Batiuk and Stu Applebaum
of USACE would be giving case study presentations about the
Water Quality Executive Committee Discussion
(Note: At this point, the meeting transitioned to a conversation among the WQEC members.)
Outreach Strategies to Increase Support for UMR Work and Secure Funding
Morrison commented that the UMRBA’s work would be bolstered by securing an ongoing source of funding. However, he noted that it was not clear how to proceed at this time, and that ideas from the WQEC in developing strategies would be helpful, emphasizing that it may be important to seize opportunities where they exist. Baumann reported that Todd Ambs had suggested reconnecting with Congressional delegations and EPA leadership in 2009, subsequent to the arrival of a new Presidential administration. He also noted that it may be necessary to repeat outreach efforts and messages more than once, until there is success. Baumann also commented that revisiting the potential connection of the UMR to the Council of Large Aquatic Ecosystems may be worthwhile.
asked about the Northeast-Midwest Institute and the opportunities for working
with them to conduct outreach in
(Note: More information about the Institute can be found online at: http://www.nemw.org/.)
Naramore reported that there has been interest expressed by the Coordinator of the Upper Mississippi River Conservation Committee (UMRCC) in creating an annual advocacy effort for the UMR similar to Great Lakes Days. She added that this type of effort’s strength is that it can bring together a broad coalition, but that it can be difficult for such a coalition to reach agreement on priority messages.
Hokanson asked whether there were any steps that could still be taken regarding the FY09 budget at this point. Morrison asked whether a response had ever been received from Ben Grumbles regarding UMRBA’s letters and requests for support. Hokanson replied that the offer of an IPA (and/or small grants and contract support) was the Office of Water’s response to the UMRBA’s requests at this time.
Naramore suggested that it may be beneficial to focus on working with the members of Congress who were most responsive to the proposal made in March. Batiuk advised that proposals to Congress or US EPA should include multiple options for support.
Hokanson commented that one
of the challenges encountered in discussing the proposal in March had been that
it largely focused on staff. Baumann observed
that it is important that staffing requests be tied to specific, tangible
projects, giving the example from the
Henry suggested that a sidebar conversation be held at the August ASIWPCA meeting to reconnect with Office of Water senior staff.
Naramore emphasized that a message may need to be repeated several times before it is successful.
Interagency Personnel Agreement with US
Hokanson revisited the status of the effort to fill the UMRBA position under an IPA with US EPA, noting that the initial effort did not result in any promising candidates.
Henry suggested that it
continues to be important to entertain multiple options beyond just the IPA
itself. Hokanson observed that the
designated use project might be best suited to support via an IPA, where
perhaps contractual support could be brought in to aid with IBI development
workshops. Good suggested that it might
be appropriate to request support for two meetings to advance UMR IBI
work. Baumann suggested one strategy to
improve the success of the IPA might be to remove the requirement that the
individual be located in
Possibilities for Inclusion of the UMR in US EPA’s Strategic Plan
Henry indicated that US EPA is initiating its next round of strategic planning and may consider how to incorporate the UMR in its strategic planning. He suggested that the UMRBA seek to engage US EPA regarding its strategic planning process. Hokanson asked how the UMRBA could engage in this way. Henry replied that it could include talking with Office Directors within the Office of Water and indicating interest in being included in the Strategic Plan. Morrison asked whether US EPA would want include the basin, and not just the mainstem, in the Strategic Plan. Henry replied that this was likely and the UMRBA would need to be aware of this and plan accordingly.
The meeting adjourned at on