What Will It Take to Limit "Daily Loads"?

IN THE CROWDED CONFERENCE ROOM at the Caroline County Health and Public Services Building in Denton, Maryland, Jennifer Dindinger takes questions from the audience in rapid-fire succession. The questions are coming from local officials, land-use planners, agency personnel, community activists, and environmental advocates. They've driven here from all over the Eastern Shore to get answers about what to expect from the new Baywide Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) process coming down the pike. They know that the Environmental Protection Agency is establishing load limits for nutrients and sediments for the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries — but they don't know how they're supposed to meet those limits.

Dindinger projects calm and assurance as she fields these inquiries, deflecting palpable anxiety from the crowd that fills the room. As Eastern Shore watershed restoration specialist for Maryland Sea Grant Extension, she's helping to explain the Watershed Implementation Planning (WIP) process — the nitty-gritty work required for developing a roadmap for nutrient management to achieve and maintain stringent load requirements for nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment to meet Bay water quality standards.

Everyone in the room already grasps the basics of the federal TMDL. They understand that the Environmental Protection Agency is establishing load limits because of continued violations under the federal Clean Water Act and a watershedwide failure to meet the goals set forth in the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement. They may also know that the Chesapeake Bay TMDL will be the largest and most complex TMDL ever, involving interstate waters and effects on water quality from the cumulative impact of more than 17 million people, 88,000 farms, 483 significant treatment plants, and thousands of smaller facilities.

Jennifer Dindinger by Erica Goldman
It won't be business as usual, explains Jennifer Dindinger, watershed restoration specialist for Maryland Sea Grant Extension. The Baywide Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) will require new levels of detailed planning and implementation to meet nutrient reduction goals. This is the message Dindinger sends to this audience at a public meeting on the Eastern Shore held to discuss new expectations. This fall, the Environmental Protection Agency will hold 18 such meetings to answer questions and hear public comment. Credit: Erica Goldman

What they don't know yet is exactly what they will be asked to do to meet the new requirements — and the devil will be in the details.

Faced with a short timeline for developing the Watershed Implementation Plans, the audience asks Dindinger a lot of questions. She shares the microphone with Catherine Shanks, the program manager for community and local government services for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Together they do their best to clarify and reassure.

The EPA issued a draft TMDL on July 1 that specified nutrient allocations for each jurisdiction. The states in turn will be required to submit final Watershed Implementation Plans by November 29, and that document will serve as a roadmap for achieving and maintaining those limits. By December 31, 2010, the EPA will issue the Baywide TMDL, with final allocations that will achieve water quality standards.

What differs from past efforts to reduce nutrients in the watershed is that the TMDL process spells out a procedure for accountability and consequences should the states and the District fail to meet load allocations. Instead of pursuing a distant deadline, the jurisdictions will be required to meet two-year milestones. The states and the District adopted the first set of milestones at the 2009 meeting of the Chesapeake Executive Council and will be required to meet them by December 31, 2011. In successive two-year increments, Bay jurisdictions will be required to put in place all pollution control measures necessary to restore the Bay by 2025.

Accountability will be essential to the TMDL process. The EPA is working with jurisdictions to develop an adaptive management approach that includes contingencies and consequences if a state or the District does not establish two-year milestones sufficient to reduce pollution loads on schedule or does not achieve its previous two-year milestone commitments.

Corsica River by Erica Goldman
To restore the Bay one river at a time, TMDLs emphasize accountability and consequences for failure to meet load allocations. The Corsica River (above) has already grappled with many of the challenges of reducing nutrient loads, offering a model for "lessons learned" as the new TMDL process moves forward. Credit: Erica Goldman

Dindinger's position as a Maryland Sea Grant watershed restoration specialist is linked to the TMDL process. In 2009, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources teamed up with the University of Maryland Sea Grant Extension, the Environmental Finance Center, and the Chesapeake Bay Trust to create the Watershed Assistance Collaborative (WAC). Working through Sea Grant Extension and the collaborative, Dindinger serves as a liaison with local governments and watershed groups to help them secure funding from grant programs like the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund to launch projects for improving water quality. She works closely with Amanda Rockler, the Sea Grant Extension watershed restoration specialist for Central Maryland and Jackie Takacs, who serves Southern Maryland, along with Sea Grant Extension coastal communities specialist Vicky Carrasco.

"I enjoy meeting with the people who run towns and counties, helping them write grants and implement restoration projects," says Dindinger who works to show how on-the-ground restoration fits into reducing nutrient loads. She will remain deeply engaged at this level. "This is one of the metrics that we will be ultimately measured by," she says.

As the Bay TMDL process ramps up, lessons from the Corsica River loom large. This pilot project functioned a lot like a TMDL. Throughout the Corsica watershed, homeowners, farmers, and others set about implementing intensive efforts to reduce nutrient loads, sector-by-sector. Water quality monitoring closely tracked these efforts. Funding and resources helped to ensure that restoration efforts moved forward. Still, nutrient loads have been slow to decline.

With the requirements of the Bay TMDL setting the bar higher than ever, specialists like Dindinger will prove essential. Acting as an on-the-ground conduit of information between the local level and state agencies, she offers an avenue for true two-way communication. She says, "I am a presence people can rely on."

vol. 9, no. 3
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