Several Save The Illinois River Inc. members concerned about water quality were disappointed to learn Thursday night of a potential delay in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s environmental model.
The EPA slated the event to update residents on development of a Total Maximum Daily Load model for nutrient deposits in the Illinois River watershed and Lake Tenkiller.
According to Claudia Hosch, EPA Region 6 representative, the EPA has opted to add a peer review of its data before the modeling is complete.
“This should not add to the time frame for the completion of the TMDL,” said Hosch. “We have secured grant funding, and are seeking a neutral academic institution to conduct the review.”
Quang Nguyen, also with the EPA, said it’s their job to collect data to identify and quantify the source of impairment within the watershed and formulate a plan to reduce phosphorus to meet water quality standards. He told audience members the final TMDL should be ready by fall 2013.
STIR President Denise Deason-Toyne was disheartened by the delay, as the process for the model began over three years ago.
“In other words, this is being delayed a year or more,” said Deason-Toyne.
Nguyen said that due to the vast amounts of data received from stakeholders, the EPA must take time to review all data to come up with the most accurate model.
“Why isn’t it possible to go forward with the current data, and update and make adjustments moving forward?” asked Deason-Toyne.
She pointed out that recently, the Oklahoma Water Resources Board accepted a report confirming the validity of a .037 milligram phosphorus limit within the watershed, which is set to become permanent in July.
Several in the audience – including STIR member Kathy Tibbits – asked why that standard couldn’t be considered.
Hosch explained the delay is not being imposed to reach an ideal target number, but to provide a rock-solid model that can be defended against future litigation.
Others were concerned about which “neutral academic institution” would be selected, asking that the University of Arkansas be ruled out. Arkansas has no nutrient limit set, nor does it have a TMDL model in place.
“Our goal is to seek a neutral party with expertise in modeling,” said Nguyen. “We don’t foresee University of Arkansas or Oklahoma State University [as viable options] because of their involvement [with watershed issues] in the past. We want an unbiased peer review.”
Deason-Toyne pressed the panel about the accuracy of water quality standard set by Oklahoma.
“Has there been any evidence the water quality standard is inaccurate or incorrect?” she asked.
Hosch simply replied the .037 milligram per liter standard was set by the state of Oklahoma, not the EPA.
Deason-Toyne said the Oklahoma standard has been in place for years, and was irritated at the prospect of facing another delay in setting federal standards for Arkansas and Oklahoma.
“Our method is not to adopt a different standard,” said Hosch. “But the TMDL is a complex, sophisticated and expensive process.”
One attendee, who said he is a former member of U.S. special forces, is also opposed to any delay in the process.
“When is something actionable going to happen?” he asked. “I’m a former member of special forces. ...A good plan executed immediately, is preferable to an excellent plan [delayed].”
Tony Donigian, a representative of Aqua Terra, which is subcontracted by the EPA to conduct the Illinois River watershed portion of the model, gave a PowerPoint presentation that included discharge data from several points on both the Arkansas and Oklahoma sides of the river. Five Arkansas sources – Springdale, Fayetteville, Siloam Springs, Gentry and Prairie Grove – were highlighted as not providing load data.
“What we really need to move this portion forward is the data from these locations,” said Donigian. “The model will not work if we don’t have that.”
During the discussion portion of the meeting, Hosch was asked if the EPA is under any political pressure to either get the model developed or for its delay.
“Well, we have been working with both states for a long time,” said Hosch. “Part of what interested us is what was happening with Northwest Arkansas and its new wastewater plant. We felt we needed to have a sound model, as [setting load] limits create extra costs for municipalities. As of right now, requiring permits for those plants is on hold.”
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