and support interstate cooperation to address larger-scale water quality problems. It also provides the EPA with multiple authorities that would allow it to assume a stronger leadership role in addressing Mississippi River and northern Gulf of Mexico water quality. The EPA has failed to use its mandatory and discretionary authorities under the Clean Water Act to provide adequate interstate coordination and oversight of state water quality activities along the Mississippi River that could help promote and ensure progress toward the act’s fishable and swimmable and related goals.
The EPA should act aggressively to ensure improved cooperation regarding water quality standards, nonpoint source management and control, and related programs under the Clean Water Act. The EPA is authorized to step in and address water quality problems that may exist because of limited state action in setting and enforcing water quality standards and related Clean Water Act provisions. Indeed, the EPA has the statutory duty to do so. A more aggressive role for EPA in this regard is crucial to maintaining and improving water quality in the Mississippi River and the northern Gulf of Mexico.
There are currently neither federal nor state water quality standards for nutrients for most of the Mississippi River, although standards for nutrients are under development in several states. Both numerical federal water quality criteria and state water quality standards for nutrients are essential precursors to reducing nutrient inputs to the river and achieving water quality objectives along the Mississippi River and for the Gulf of Mexico. A TMDL could be set for the Mississippi River and the northern Gulf of Mexico. This would entail the adoption by EPA of a numerical nutrient goal (criteria) for the terminus of the Mississippi River and the northern Gulf of Mexico. An amount of aggregate nutrient reduction, across the entire watershed, necessary to achieve that goal then could be calculated. Each state in the Mississippi River watershed then could be assigned its equitable share of reduction. The assigned maximum load for each state then could be translated into numerical water quality criteria applicable to each state’s waters.
The EPA should develop water quality criteria for nutrients in the Mississippi River and the northern Gulf of Mexico. Further, the EPA should ensure that states establish water quality standards (designated uses and water quality criteria) and TMDLs such that they protect water quality in the Mississippi River and the northern Gulf of Mexico from excessive nutrient pollution. In addition, through a process similar to that applied to the Chesapeake Bay, the EPA should develop a federal TMDL, or its functional equivalent, for the Mississippi River and the northern Gulf of Mexico.