Water Quality Task Force Meeting
US EPA, Region 5
Midwest Biodiversity Institute
UMRBA/US EPA, Region 5
Call to Order and Introductions
The meeting of the UMRBA Water Quality Task Force (WQTF) was called to order at by Gregg Good. Introductions of all in attendance followed.
Corrections to Previous Meeting Summary
Dave Hokanson asked whether
there were any corrections to the summary of the
Interstate 305(b) Assessment and 303(d) Listing Consultation
Hokanson distributed updated 2008-2010
UMR impaired waters and approved TMDL comparison chart, noting that preliminary
Good said that
Shannon Lotthammer said that
Hokanson said that while Wisconsin
John Olson reported that US
EPA Region 7 had approved
Hokanson asked why
Olson added that a TMDL to address the localized nutrient “slime” impairment on UMR Reach 7 has been approved. Smogor asked whether the “slime” impairment was related to a particular compound. Olson replied that it was not necessarily a particular compound, but rather the outcome from processes used at the ADM plant at this location.
Dkhili reported that
Dkhili explained that the
localized lead and zinc impairment at
Dkhili also noted that
Hokanson provided brief
comments on behalf of US EPA Region 7, which had been forwarded to him by Larry
Shepard. These included a summary of
Peg Donnelly asked about
Olson said that Iowa
UMR TMDL Updates
Lotthammer reported that the
site-specific total suspended solids (TSS) standard of 32 mg/l for the “South
Metro Mississippi River” (Pools 2, 3 and Upper Pool 4) was approved by the MPCA
Citizens’ Board on
Lotthammer said that MPCA
also continues to work on riverine nutrient standards, though these are not
specific to the Lake Pepin TMDL per se. She
reported that technical support documents for these standards are currently
being reviewed at US EPA Region 5.
Dkhili asked Lotthammer to further describe the details of MPCA’s
approach. Lotthammer replied that it
includes a focus on phosphorus, as well as response variables including
chlorophyll-a, dissolved oxygen flux, and biological oxygen demand. She added that a nitrate toxicity standard is
also included in
In regard to the phosphorus standard, Dkhili asked whether a reference condition would be used. Lotthammer replied that reference condition was considered, but several other factors were part of the standard development. Dkhili further asked how backwaters would be addressed under this approach. Lotthammer replied that this would be considered in future implementation.
Tom Wilton asked if there was a stream size threshold for the applicability of the standards. Will Bouchard replied that there is no cutoff in applicability due to stream size. Good asked if it was the case that the phosphorus standard would only apply if response variables indicated a problem. Lotthammer replied that this was correct.
Chris Yoder observed that US
EPA Regions have been comfortable with approaches similar to what
Good asked why total nitrogen
was not addressed in
Dkhili asked whether a single
response variable could trigger a nutrient exceedance under
Dkhili described the current
draft TMDL to address elevated lead and zinc levels near
Dkhili continued by describing the watershed in which the impairment is identified and the land use within this watershed. He also reviewed the data used and methodology employed in development of the TMDL, including the use of load duration curves. Dkhili explained that all loads in the TMDL are attributed to waste load allocation, as the TMDL assumes no natural background lead or zinc concentrations. He added that the margin of safety for the TMDL is implicit, and incorporates a conservative approach in its assumptions.
Dkhili said that US EPA and Doe Run, the smelter’s owner, have a consent decree in place and are looking at ways to reduce pollution, including revisions to the NPDES permit for the facility. He noted that the 2010 CWA assessment of water quality data does not identify impairment and that as a result the segment may be delisted. Dkhili also displayed estimated outfall reductions for proposed permit conditions.
Lotthammer asked why it appears that an increase in lead is actually allowed at one of the outfalls. Hokanson asked if this might be the case because discharge at another outfall was being completely eliminated.
Hokanson asked whether the current lack of impairment was due to a change in observed values, or due to a change in calculations. Dkhili replied that it is due to change in observed values. Good asked whether the permit numbers will still apply without a current impairment listing. Dkhili answered that both the TMDL and the revised permit requirements would still apply. He added that US EPA is working with Doe Run to ensure that levels will be reduced to meet, or even be below, what is required by the TMDL.
Olson said that US EPA Region
7 has decided not to finalize the draft arsenic TMDL for two segments of the
Olson said that the arsenic
impairments will stay on
Hokanson noted that the WQTF meeting packet included UMRBA’s comment letter on the draft TMDL, which had pointed out a number of technical issues with the TMDL and urged US EPA not to purse the TMDL and rather to engage in cross-agency dialog. Olson thanked UMRBA for sending the letter and said that it may have been influential in US EPA’s decision. He also asked if UMRBA staff knew how the letter had been received by US EPA.
Hokanson noted that comment
letters had also been submitted by other states, including
Hokanson noted that US EPA’s response letter leaves open the potential to pursue the TMDL in the future. He added that the WQEC has continued to discuss some of the issues that were raised because of this TMDL and has developed a plan for conversations to explore these issues over the next 2-3 months. He noted that a description of this effort is included in the WQTF meeting packet and added that 604(b) cross-programmatic workshop could potentially be another way to further explore these issues.
Other Agency and Organization Updates
Good reported that Illinois
EPA is spending quite a bit of time on nutrient issues and on 2008 and 2010
impairment listings, including responding to US EPA Region 5’s questions
regarding the 2008 list. He said there
is also substantial time being invested into tiered aquatic life use (TALU)
development, including engagement with Illinois DNR and wastewater utilities
Lotthammer echoed Good’s remarks, saying funding constraints continue to affect MPCA’s programs. She said that MPCA continues to make progress on TALU development statewide and is currently developing indices of biotic integrity (IBIs) for cold water streams. Lotthammer said that MPCA’s triennial standards review will include replacing the existing turbidity standard with a TSS standard, where the TSS number will be adjusted for different regions of the state and different types of streams. Will Bouchard further explained that exceeding the standard more than 10% of the time will constitute a violation. Smogor asked whether the standard makes a link to aquatic life response. Bouchard replied that it does, that there is a causal association and that multiple lines of evidence will be considered.
In regard to 303(d) listing
issues, Olson said that he proposed not using a single sample bacteria maximum
for listing, as US EPA had said in a 2006 guidance document that a geometric
mean should be used. He stated that, to
date, US EPA Region 7 has not agreed with the geometric mean approach, but that
he intended to continue investigating this possibility. Lotthammer and Smogor commented that
single-sample exceedances tend to be the trigger for the majority of impairment
listings. With regard to chronic criteria for toxics, Olson noted that US EPA
has indicated that it may no longer allow use of a threshold of 10% of values
above the criteria before an impairment is identified. Smogor commented that
Olson said that Iowa
Dkhili reported that Missouri
Dkhili said that Missouri
In regard to bacteria
criteria, Dkhili said that
Franz said that US EPA will be asking states to include nutrient data collection as part of permit renewals and that the agency is moving toward technology-based limits for nutrients. Naramore asked which constituents would be subject to the monitoring requirements. Franz responded that it would be for N and P.
Franz mentioned the SPARROW model webinar that had been held the preceding week and said that Dale Robertson would now be focused on SPARROW modeling of nutrient loading at the 12-digit HUC level. Franz said that a decision support system (DSS) based on SPARROW was also in development and that this DSS should be available in about one year and will allow for manipulation of land use within the model. He said that another SPARROW webinar would take place soon, likely in January 2011.
Smogor asked what the Gulf
endpoint goal for nutrient reduction is.
Franz said that the goal has been established by the Hypoxia Task Force
as a 45% reduction in N and P from 2005 levels, in order help reduce the size
of the hypoxic zone. Smogor asked if
there is any legal requirement forcing the attainment of these reductions. Franz said that there is currently no legal
requirement, though the establishment of a TMDL could create such a legal
mandate. Donnelly said that an Executive
Order, as had been done for the Chesapeake Bay, is another tool that could be
used to establish a legal requirement, although that did not appear likely in
the near term for the
Good reported on the Nutrient
Summit held by Illinois EPA on
Good also said that Illinois EPA’s work on nutrients has not been demonstrating strong correlations between nutrient levels and impacts, though US EPA has been strongly hinting that a particular range of total nitrogen levels should be established in state water quality standards.
Hokanson said that he and Nat
Kale had spoken with Jim Baumann regarding
Hokanson said that the rule including this criterion has completed legislative review and that only procedural steps, including the establishment of an effective date, remained and that no substantive changes were expected. He reported that Baumann had said one consideration in setting an effective date is to try and synchronize it with permit renewals, as well as the possibility for a gap time between state implementation and US EPA approval. Donnelly said it was unlikely that a state would go ahead with permits until US EPA had approved the standards. Hokanson said that his understanding from Baumann was that the rules had not yet been submitted to US EPA for approval.
Olson said that John Sullivan
is the new chair of the WQTS and that the WQTF will next meet
Aquatic Life Designated Uses (ALDU) Project
Donnelly reviewed the timeline for the completion of the ALDU project report, noting that the revised draft of the report would be provided to the WQTF in December 2010 for discussion at the January 2011 WQTF meeting, and that the report would be finalized by the end of the intergovernmental personnel agreement in February 2011.
Donnelly next gave an overview of the components of the draft project report, which had been sent out to the WQTF for review prior to the meeting. Donnelly emphasized that one area where the states’ review was needed was in the portrayal of their existing uses, criteria, and assessment methodologies in Chapter 2 of the draft report.
Hokanson and Donnelly noted
that they were unsure whether to include fish consumption as part of Table 2-9
summarizing the attainment of the aquatic life use on the UMR, as it appears
that some states may include fish consumption as part of their aquatic life
use. Good said that
Hokanson asked Olson whether it would be acceptable to send his comments on the draft report along to the full WQTF. Olson said that this would be fine. Naramore encouraged the WQTF to use “reply all” when making comments, so that all members could benefit from the input. Donnelly indicated that this was essentially a “last call” for comments on Chapters 1-3 of the report.
Donnelly said that Chapter 4 gives a summary of data and literature reviewed and that much of it had been previously communicated to the WQTF, but it is now compiled and internal summaries are provided. She noted that the discussions address longitudinal, lateral, and temporal variation.
Donnelly distributed a summary of EMAP data and acknowledged that the “above or below” language used here and in Chapter 4 to compare data to threshold values is not ideal, but that it did not seem appropriate to use the term “violation” in the context of this data analysis. Good asked what values had been used for the comparisons. Donnelly replied that in some cases these are existing or proposed criteria, while in other cases they are recommended values. Olson suggested adding language to qualify any discussion about violations. Smogor suggested using the terms “met” and “not met.”
Lotthammer proposed removing the comparison from a regulatory context entirely, and placing more emphasis on identifying where there are differences in observed values, rather than comparison to standards. She added that comparisons to single values may imply a consistency that doesn’t actually exist on the UMR. Dkhili concurred, suggesting that a statistical analysis of differences would be a more appropriate approach than the threshold comparisons, and that standards should not yet be part of the discussion.
Naramore suggested that perhaps table notes are needed that explain the origin of the thresholds used for comparison. Hokanson suggested it might useful to simply have a separate table explaining the threshold values selected. He recalled that one of Baumann comments on the report was that it needed to be more compelling in regard to “what are we trying to fix” and that the comparison to threshold values can help demonstrate what Baumann had described as areas of potential over- or under- regulation of the UMR’s water quality. Therefore, Hokanson said, a primary value of retaining the threshold comparisons is in the problem definition, though he agreed that statistical analysis of data may be more important in developing solutions.
Olson said that he favored the idea of having a separate table to describe the threshold values used. He also supported the use of alternate language to describe the threshold comparisons. Donnelly said that part of her uncertainty was in selecting threshold values to use (e.g., should temperature be 30° C or 31° C?). Hokanson emphasized that, since the numbers were just being used for comparative purposes, any reasonable choice could be employed, as long as it is appropriately explained.
Lotthammer reiterated that the report should not seek to be an assessment and, as such, there was not great benefit to the threshold comparisons. Donnelly pointed out that an additional problem is the interrelationship between variables, so that the value of single-parameter comparisons may be limited.
Smogor said that, in regard to the EMAP data summary tables, if the point is just to illustrate variability, it is not necessary to “color in” the highest and lowest values in order to observe longitudinal variation. Donnelly replied that the EMAP tables are the first data set that gets all 13 assessment reaches. She said her goal in assembling the tables was to illustrate where there may be breaks between assessment reaches; where the UMR should potentially be treated differently under the CWA. Donnelly said that one of her goals is to give the WQTF enough information to make an informed decision and to highlight longitudinal variation. Smogor reiterated that if the goal is to show longitudinal variation, the colored areas on the chart aren’t needed. Donnelly replied that the coloring helps to highlight “clumps” or breakpoints in the data.
Bouchard requested that the data be portrayed in graphs with box plots. Donnelly said that this could be done, though graphs have previously been provided to the WQTF and that US EPA would want to see “numbers” to justify decisions.
Good asked Donnelly and Hokanson what they needed to keep moving forward on the project. Hokanson replied that the report has gone as far as summarizing available data and that staff need input on the ideas in Chapter 5 regarding which option(s) the WQTF would like staff to investigate further.
Olson said he didn’t think that the WQTF was as far off track as the discussion might suggest. He said that the report has looked at both lateral and longitudinal differences, and that we need to know if the UMR states should modify their aquatic life uses to measure off channel areas.
Dkhili commented that the group should not be limited by what is done under current assessment approaches and that the data should inform decisions about where breakpoints should be. He also said that a more specific focus, such as concentrating on aquatic life use in the main channel in the near term, may facilitate progress.
Donnelly recalled comments made by Sullivan that the observation of differing water quality in backwaters indicate a need for different uses to be assigned in protecting backwater areas. She said that other national programs have made distinctions based on longitudinal and lateral variations, and that the project is going in this direction, but added that she needed input from the WQTF in how to proceed. Good said that is important that clear recommendations be made in the report.
Donnelly replied that the states need to realize that they will likely need to live with any recommendations that come out of the report, and as such feedback from the WQTF at this point is important. She asked that the WQTF review the report over the next few weeks and provide feedback. Donnelly also offered that a longitudinal division into 13 separate segments was not something she would recommend. Good concurred that division into 13 was not a desirable outcome. Donnelly observed that choices could be made both on what is emergent in the data and on approaches being taken in other programs, such as the geomorphic reaches used in restoration planning. Hokanson said that the type of feedback Good had provided (i.e., there is not interest in looking at 13 separate longitudinal classifications) is helpful as staff does not need to spend a lot of time looking at options that the WQTF will not ultimately support.
Bouchard said he is actually more interested in programmatic differences, such as how different the use definitions are between states and if states will need to work to bring assessments in line with each other. Donnelly observed that there is little point in putting out new uses if there is not an accompanying assessment methodology and criteria in place to determine attainment of the use. She added that a next logical step is a monitoring program and that all the components – use, criteria, monitoring, and assessment – will need to match up.
Bouchard asked if the current aquatic life uses in the states are very different. Donnelly replied that none are extremely specific about what aquatic life use attainment means. Lotthammer said that many of these use definitions were written before we had the tools to actually measure and characterize aquatic life. She suggested perhaps thinking about the project more iteratively, with a need to periodically revisit use definitions.
Olson said that the report needs to provide the rationale and justification for identifying distinctions laterally and longitudinally as its main focus, providing the basis for future work. He said that he thought the project is headed in the right direction.
Donnelly stated that the group has done a good job of defining the project, and that there are some similarities in the comments made during the discussion. She asked the WQTF to look through the report in detail, beyond the summaries. She noted that one of Baumann’s comments indicated that classifying for lateral diversity may not be necessary, as this not typically done for different portions of Wisconsin lakes. Therefore, she emphasized a need to be clear in stating why the WQTF might see a need to protect certain areas, such as backwaters, in a unique fashion.
Smogor said that he thought that the reason Yoder is looking at biological assessment in the main channel is because the WQTF had already decided to focus its work on the main channel. Hokanson replied that the two projects are related, but separate, as Yoder’s work is in response to a recognition that, under any classification structure, there is a need to have better tools to assess aquatic life attainment on the main channel. He continued by saying that the aquatic life designated use project is concurrently better defining the aquatic classes where tools such as bioassessment would be applied.
Good observed that it is confusing to talk about “uses” when, to his understanding, what is really being discussed is one aquatic life use, with subclasses for the impounded areas, side channel areas, etc. Hokanson replied that the question might then become not uses per se, but how the states separate out subclasses within the aquatic life use and if they use the same mechanism. Donnelly said that states use different approaches to accomplish this.
Dkhili said that it is
possible for the use and the use’s name to be unchanged, but for accompanying criteria
to be different. Donnelly said that one
way to accommodate for diversity is just to change the criteria for each
“zone,” though in
Smogor asked whether the
Bouchard suggested that
Good suggested that one appealing approach is to make distinctions between the upper and lower parts of the UMR, and a distinction between the main channel, side channel, connected backwater, and impounded areas – resulting in eight subtypes.
Franz said that from his perspective the report is a good start, but also tells us we have a ways to go. He stated that it is clearly important to recognize the diversity in the system and also to able to communicate the choices made to the public. Franz added that we need to be careful that we don’t convey that the upper UMR is “good” and the lower UMR is “bad,” but rather that the ecosystems are different. Smogor agreed, citing the example that people think that a natural swamp is “worse” than a natural stream.
Dkhili said that it is important to not let current criteria or methodology cloud the WQTF’s thinking in coming up with breaks on the river. He suggested running a statistical model to come up with how to break things up longitudinally. Dkhili added that dealing with multiple lateral classes might be overwhelming at this point. He suggested maintaining focus on aquatic life use in the main channel at this time, and then eventually expanding out to other aquatic areas and other uses (e.g., human health).
Good said that he was not
sure exactly what types of comments to get back to Donnelly. Franz suggested sending in any comments to
Donnelly and Hokanson, then determining whether a conference call might be
needed. Naramore suggested that comments
on the report be sent in by
Missouri’s Implementation of the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI)
Dkhili provided an update on
Dkhili reviewed the primary objectives of MRBI, which are to help producers voluntarily implement conservation practices that:
§ Avoid, control, and trap nutrient runoff,
§ Improve wildlife habitat, and
§ Maintain agricultural productivity.
He further explained that the MRBI is funded at a level of $80 million dollars in the years FY 2010 through FY 2013, with funding being provided through three existing conservation programs – the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI), Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program (WREP), and Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG).
Dkhili said that monitoring and evaluation under MRBI is to take place at three levels: 1) field scale/edge of field, 2) small watershed scale (12-digit HUC), and 3) large watershed scale (8-digit HUC).
In regard to
Dkhili described Missouri
Good asked how EOF monitoring is proceeding. Dkhili replied that this is a challenge for the program, noting that one landowner has engaged a university to do monitoring, but that others are still looking for ways of getting this done. Good asked whether a quality assurance project plan (QAPP) is required for EOF monitoring. Dkhili replied that a QAPP is not required and that it is not clear yet how EOF monitoring will play out in the program.
604(b)-Funded Nutrient Project
Kale gave an update on the status of the 604(b)-funded nutrient project. He reviewed the primary components of the project report and gave a brief description of the status of each of these elements. Kale said that one of the immediate next steps will be the distribution of a survey to UMR water suppliers and he provided copies of the survey for review and feedback from the WQTF. He said that a draft report would be given to the WQTF and other project participants in December, per the schedule in the 604(b) project work plan. Good asked whether the data to be used in the report is UMR-specific. Kale replied that basin-wide data will be included, but that UMR-specific information will pulled out from the basin-wide data.
604(b)-Funded Cross-Programmatic Workshops
Hokanson reminded the WQTF
that the 604(b) project included funding for two cross-programmatic workshops
to be completed by
Good offered that MRBI and human health use/arsenic discussions could be potential topics. In regard to human health/arsenic issues, Dkhili said that one of the considerations is how to handle background data, in cases where it’s higher than the recommended/required concentrations. Good offered that revisiting ecosystem restoration-Clean Water Act workshops could be an option. Franz suggested that emerging contaminants as a potential topic.
Naramore said that other topics could include collaboration with specific groups (e.g., NGOs, industry, water suppliers) and nutrients, potentially including hypoxia and state nutrient reduction plans. Franz commented that US EPA will be holding workshops for states regarding nutrient reduction plans. Good asked whether US EPA would be providing funds for the development of state nutrient reduction plans. Franz said that US EPA funds would not be available. Naramore asked whether the workshops would be state-based and Good asked who would be running them. Franz replied that workshops would be state-based and that Tom Davenport is leading the effort.
Hokanson summarized two immediate action steps arising from the day’s discussions:
1) Comments on the draft aquatic life designated use
report are due by
2) Comments on the water suppliers’ survey are due by
Hokanson also mentioned that the second work session for the UMR CWA Biological Assessment Guidance Document project would be taking place over the next two days.
The WQTF meeting adjourned at