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Thursday, September 3, 2009

What is a TMDL and Why Should You Care?

What is a TMDL and Why Should You Care?

On EPA’s website TMDL is defined as “A Total Maximum Daily Load, (TMDL), is a calculation of the maximum amount of a pollutant that a water body can receive and still safely meet water quality standards.”  Why should You Care?  As a builder, developer, municipality or citizen you should care because a TMDL has the potential to stop all building within a drainage area, cost a significant amount of money to meet compliance and still not correct the environmental issues.  Recently EPA has changed the impairment listing criteria and ignored their own standards set for the TMDL process. The public was never informed of the regulatory changes and our own Pa. DEP never looked for public comments.

The local TMDL for Paxton Creek could require existing NPDES permits be modified to meet new discharge treatment limits.  Think you have an existing approved plan, THINK AGAIN!!  Consider redesign of a multi phased plan that only has one or two phases built!  DEP is already requiring existing projects to meet the new stormwater requirements upon renewal of your NPDES permit which has a five year renewal period.  Given that the only impaired area of Paxton Creek is in the City of Harrisburg, where there are Combined Sewer/Storm Sewer Overflows with a concrete stream channel, anything done upstream of the city will not clean up the stream in the city.  What a waste of time and money!!!

The TMDL process should.

  • ·         Identify Applicable State Water Quality Standards.
  • ·         Identify waters not meeting the Standard (Impaired Waters)
  • ·         Complete Scientific Assessments to Confirm Problem Exists and Ensure Standards Compliance.
  • ·         Identify Sources of Pollutants That Must be Regulated (Point & Non Point)
  • ·         Establish Pollutant Limits / Restoration Activities Necessary to Eliminate Impairment
  • ·         Occur in a Open Public Process
  • ·         Use Site Specific Data Whenever Possible

The process in Pennsylvania has changed significantly over the past 9 years as shown below.

TP Limits
Pre 2004
Dissolved Oxygen
1.0 mg/l
Nuisance Alga
0.2 mg/l
Less than 0.04 mg/l
EPA’s new approach ignores plants and assumes that nutrient directly impairs invertebrate claiming “Weight of Evidence” even though there is no site specific data confirming this assumption.  

The new stream standard .025 to .040 mg/L -TP  for a TMDL would:
  • ·         Make Point & Non-Point Load Reduction targets unattainable
  • ·         Stop all New Projects / New Connections
  • ·         Cost at Least $200 Million in Local Expenditures for stormwater treatment
  • ·         Require existing approved projects to be redesigned if there is a way to even meet the new requirements or stop construction of future phases.
  • ·         Mandate an Additional Round of Reductions when goals are not met.

The Harrisburg Home Builders Association, Lower Paxton Township and several other municipalities have joined together to challenge the current EPA / DEP TMDL process based on the following:
  • ·         Illegal Water Quality Standard Adoption
  • ·         Illegal Amendment of an Impairment Designation
  • ·         Violation of Public Notice Requirements
  • ·         Illegal TMDL (Not Protective, Won’t Restore Use Impairment)
  • ·         Used Scientific Procedures that are Not Accepted
  • ·         Arbitrary DEP Approval of EPA TMDL Document
  • ·         Failure to Consider Site-Specific Information

Litigation Status
·         DEP requested a Jurisdictional Hearing which was held this week.
·         EPA has agreed to a Science Advisory Board (SAB) Peer Review which will be held September 9 -11, 2009.
Costs to Date for Harrisburg HBA & Others
HBA Industry Action Fund(IFA)
PAC Local Gov.
Realtors Assoc.
Note the above costs do not include the Lower Paxton Twp. Or other municipal contributions from Pa. Periphyton Group.
What we need to do now?
  • ·         Obtain Funding to get testimony to the SAB Peer review on September 9 – 11, 2009.
  • ·         Obtain Funding to complete the request to DEP to delist the Paxton Creek TMDL.
  • ·         Consider Legislative fix to limit DEP to using their own guidance documents.

Local Developers who have agreed to participate in the funding.
Yingst Homes, McNaughton Company, Triple Crown Corp., Classic Communities, Sydney Ruble

A win at the SAB peer review may have an impact on how EPA is allowed to conduct TMDL's across the country and not just Pennsylvania.  This issue is a lot larger than one drainage area near Harrisburg. 
Note: The above Information is based on a slide show presentation given by John C. Hall of Hall & Associates, Washington D.C. and information researched by R.J. Fisher, P.L.S., P.E.

For more information on this issue and other issues critical to Land Development go to

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