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News & Press: Water/Wastewater

Missouri Water Regulation Update: Leader team set, water quality standards rulemaking imminent

Wednesday, December 13, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Kerry Cordray
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- by Trent Stober and David Carani

 

A number of changes and drivers are emerging at the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) as the Greitens administration establishes management leadership and takes command of the regulatory issues that were left from the transition. The administration has inserted a sound senior management team that includes Ed Galbraith, MDNR Division of Environmental Quality Director. Chris Wieberg is the new director of the Water Protection Program, the position formerly held by John Madras under the previous administration. Michael Abbott accepted the position of NPDES Permit Section Chief, replacing Chris Wieberg after his advancement. Several other staff advancements have also occurred below these management levels. Overall, these water managerial assignments are positive for municipal utilities as MDNR focuses priorities on reducing the backlog of expired NPDES permits and reducing ineffective and burdensome regulatory requirements that do not provide significant environmental benefits.


MDNR has also moved forward on the long-awaited water quality standards rulemaking package that has been in the works since 2014. The public comment period for the rule package ran through Nov. 28. The proposed rule revision has a number of important changes to Missouri’s water quality standards, with the most important addressing the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA) 2011 disapproval of most of the state’s lake nutrient criteria. The rejected criteria were originally established in 2009 in an effort to curb excessive algae growth that could impact beneficial uses. Under a court order, USEPA is now obligated to propose revised nutrient criteria for Missouri by Dec. 15, 2017 and promulgate revised criteria by Dec. 15, 2018, if MDNR does not adopt acceptable criteria before these dates. The MDNR originally planned to present its final rule recommendation to the Missouri Clean Water Commission on Dec. 6 but postponed the meeting. An email released by the department noted that it had received hundreds of pages of comments.


MDNR expedited the proposed rule in an effort to beat these deadlines and maintain control of the state’s program. MDNR estimates that the proposed rule has an implementation cost of approximately $50 million to $80 million, compared to the estimated $2.4 billion cost of USEPA’s anticipated rule. MDNR should be commended for taking a bold step to avoid such a dramatic difference in economic impacts, largely to be borne by municipalities, while receiving considerable pushback from a number of stakeholders across the spectrum of views.


Missouri’s proposed nutrient criteria are based on an innovative approach which balances the environmental risk of beneficial use impacts with the economic risk of making treatment upgrades where they may not be needed. This approach uses a tailored, site-specific analysis to determine if excessive nutrients are causing impacts to beneficial uses when water quality conditions are in a “grey zone”, as illustrated in the graphic below 

 

This approach builds off of similar approaches applied in Florida, Virginia, and Maine, and could help set the precedent for nutrient criteria implementation nationally.

In addition to the innovative nutrient criteria implementation approach, the water quality standards rule includes several other changes that will benefit municipal utilities. These include changes to the definition of Waters of the State, mixing zone provisions, pH criteria, and hardness assumptions for metals criteria. Based on these changes, municipalities may see appropriate and protective increases in permit limits during subsequent renewals. MDNR is also taking this opportunity to codify variance provisions within the water quality standards to issue multi-discharger variances (MDVs) and streamline site-specific variance provisions. These MDVs provide an opportunity for small communities to develop implementable and affordable long-term plans to address ammonia limits that have impacted towns for several years.

MPUA members are encouraged to get engaged with these changes to Missouri’s regulatory programs and in particular support the department in keeping control of the state’s water programs. For more information contact Ewell Lawson at MPUA or Trent Stober at HDR (trent.stober@hdrinc.com).


 



 


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