June 30, 2016. The House has begun debate on a compromise version of the 2016-2017 budget bill (House Bill 1030) that resolves differences between House and Senate budget proposals. The new budget bill includes a modified version of a Senate provision on watershed-based water quality rules. See an earlier post for more on the original Senate provision in Sec. 14.13 of the budget bill. The significant pieces of the compromise provision:
The scope of the budget provision has been reduced. The new version of Sec. 14.13 only applies to nutrient rules adopted for the Falls Lake and Jordan Lake watersheds.
The provision no longer sunsets existing nutrient rules. The budget provision still funds a UNC study of nutrient rules (focused on the Falls Lake and Jordan Lake rules) and directs the Environmental Management Commission to review and readopt those nutrient management rules based on recommendations from the study. But the bill no longer automatically sunsets existing rules.
The UNC study of nutrient management strategies. The budget provision now funds the study for six years at $500,000 per year ($3 million for the entire study) and has separate report-back dates for the two watersheds — December 31, 2018 for Jordan Lake and December 21, 2021 for Falls Lake. In part, the provision requires UNC to compare water quality trends in Falls Lake and Jordan Lake to implementation of the different parts of the nutrient strategies. Since a number of the nutrient rules have not yet gone into effect because of legislative delays, evaluating the effectiveness of the rules based on water quality trends will be difficult. That is particularly true for wastewater discharge limits and stormwater controls that have never been implemented or only partially implemented in the two watersheds.
Delayed implementation of the Jordan Lake and Falls Lake rules. The provision further delays implementation of the nutrient management rules until at least 2019 for the Jordan Lake watershed and 2022 for the Falls Lake watershed.
DEQ study of in-situ technologies to address nutrient-related water quality problems. The budget provision continues to require a DEQ study of in situ technologies to reduce nutrient problems — now focused on algaecides and phosphorus-locking technologies. The DEQ study will be entirely separate from the UNC study of nutrient management strategies and receives a separate appropriation of $1.3 million for a trial of in situ technologies. The final report will be due on March 1, 2018.
Exclusion of areas within the Jordan Lake watershed from stormwater requirements. The compromise budget includes a new subsection 14.13(f) that says new impervious surface added in the Jordan Lake watershed between July 31, 2013 and December 2020 (after study and readopting of the rules as required under the budget provision) should not be counted as built-upon area for purposes of developing nutrient reduction targets under the Jordan Lake stormwater rules. It isn’t entirely clear what this means.
Under federal Clean Water Act requirements, the state has an obligation to cap discharges of any pollutant causing impaired water quality. These caps (called a Total Maximum Daily Load or “TMDL”) must be approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Jordan Lake rules cap nutrient loading at a level necessary to address impaired water quality in the Jordan Lake reservoir; meeting the TMDL requires a reduction in nutrient loading from the baseline years of 1997-2001. The rules then allocate the reductions proportionately to the different arms of Jordan Lake and to major nutrient sources in those watersheds – wastewater dischargers, stormwater runoff from developed areas, and agricultural activities.
So the new Sec. 14.13(f) raises several issues –
- The new subsection is written as though local governments in the Jordan Lake watershed develop their own stormwater nutrient reduction targets and can change the reduction target by excluding newly developed areas. In reality, the reduction targets have been based on allocation of the reductions required to meet the Jordan Lake TMDL under EMC rules and a watershed model developed by DEQ.
- It assumes that the nutrient reduction target assigned to stormwater would change based on development over this 7-year time period, but the target is based on reduction from the historic baseline of 1997-2001. The one thing that changes by delaying implementation of the Jordan Lake stormwater rules is that more areas will fall under requirements for stormwater retrofits of existing development rather than stormwater rules for new development projects.
- If the intent is to exclude these recently developed areas from future implementation of Jordan Lake stormwater rules for new or existing development, DEQ may have to allocate greater reductions to other nutrient sources in order to meet the Jordan Lake TMDL approved by EPA.
A new cross-reference to Chesapeake Bay stormwater measures. Another new subsection, Sec. 14.13(i), requires the state to allow stormwater measures approved by the Chesapeake Bay Commission for use in meeting the Chesapeake Bay TMDL to also be used to meet the Jordan Lake and Falls Lake TMDLs based on the same nutrient reduction credit allowed under the Chesapeake Bay program. The Chesapeake Bay Program (rather than the Chesapeake Bay Commission) maintains the Chesapeake Bay TMDL model and seems to be the gatekeeper for pollution reduction credits included in the model. Credits for nutrient removal under the Chesapeake Bay model will likely turn out to be a range based on the type of stormwater measure; the area; the volume of stormwater treated; etc. It isn’t immediately clear what — if any — stormwater measures would be authorized under this provision that are not already allowed under state rules.