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Mississippi River Water Quality and the Clean Water Act: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities 7 Collaboration for Water Quality Improvement Along the Mississippi River Corridor Management of water quality in interstate rivers under the Clean Water Act’s framework poses challenges for both state and federal agencies tasked with implementation of the act. States have the primary responsibility for implementing most of the act’s provisions through direct legislative authority or delegation of programs from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These responsibilities include permitting, water quality standard development, monitoring, and where necessary, preparation of Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs). Coordination and cooperation among states with shared surface waters is critical for effective water quality management under the Clean Water Act (USEPA, 1998b). The EPA also plays a major role through its mandated oversight to ensure that state programs for shared surface waters are compatible and consistent with goals of the Clean Water Act and related federal statutes. This role is particularly critical on the Mississippi River for which large-scale issues such as Gulf of Mexico hypoxia are linked with inputs and processes in upstream regions many hundreds of miles away. Clean Water Act (CWA) implementation along the Mississippi River represents a substantial scientific and public administration challenge, because it requires some degree of coordination among the 31 basin states, especially the 10 mainstem states. It also requires coordination among several federal and state agencies and activities. The Mississippi River flows through four EPA regions, while seven EPA regions oversee water quality protection activities across the entire river basin. Because delivery of CWA water quality programs is ultimately the EPA’s responsibility, coordination among the multiple EPA regions with Mississippi River basin jurisdiction,
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Mississippi River Water Quality and the Clean Water Act: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities particularly in the 10 mainstem states, is crucial. Coordination among other federal agencies is also necessary, because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have CWA-related programs and responsibilities along the river, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has some water quality monitoring responsibilities in the Gulf of Mexico. This chapter examines programs under the Clean Water Act in which federal, interstate, and state-federal coordination is needed for effective water quality protection in the Mississippi River. It examines existing and potential collaborations among states, EPA regions, and other federal agencies pertaining to Clean Water Act implementation, and the experience of various organizations that have been established to facilitate state and federal coordination on other shared U.S. waters. Finally, the chapter assesses the potential for using some of the approaches adopted by these organizations as models for improving Mississippi River water quality management. CLEAN WATER ACT COORDINATION NEEDS ON AN INTERSTATE RIVER As this report has explained, the pillars of the Clean Water Act are effective National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) point source permitting programs that achieve best available treatment technology; water quality standards comprising designated uses and water quality criteria; adequate monitoring to ensure protection of water quality and achievement of water quality standards; assessment to evaluate water quality status; and restoration programs to improve waters with impaired water quality relative to designated uses. For interstate rivers, coordination among states is important for effective implementation of each of these Clean Water Act components. Water quality standards are central to Clean Water Act implementation. As explained earlier in this report, states develop standards for particular waterbodies that consist of use designations and criteria for the waterbody’s physical, chemical, and biological quality. States and the EPA use these standards to establish water quality-based effluent limitations for point source discharges, to assess surface water quality, and to develop restoration programs, based on TMDLs, for waterbodies that do not meet standards. Different use designations and associated water quality criteria established by different states for the same shared waterbody can lead to conflicts in permitting, monitoring programs, assessment conclusions, and restoration strategies. Monitoring programs that both state and federal agencies administer are critical to the ability to determine the extent to which surface waters are meeting relevant water quality criteria, to understand trends and existing
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Mississippi River Water Quality and the Clean Water Act: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities or emerging problem areas, and to assess progress toward achievement of water quality goals (Chapter 5). Disparate monitoring goals and methods promote fragmented data sets, inconsistent laboratory results, and an overall inability to define water quality problems accurately. Assessments of water quality status determine the type of protective or restorative action needed for a particular waterbody. Unilateral assessments by individual states of shared waters can yield different conclusions regarding water quality for the same body of water. Such disparities are confusing to the public and promote inconsistent and even conflicting response programs for water quality remediation. Under the Clean Water Act, for waterbodies that remain impaired after required point source controls are adopted, additional restoration plans must be developed. The primary corrective approach specified in the Clean Water Act is Section 303(d), which requires assessment, identification of impaired waterbodies, and development of TMDLs to address water quality impairments. Water quality improvements will be difficult to achieve if multiple states with jurisdiction over sources discharging to the same waterbody are not in agreement about allocation of pollutant loads. For the Mississippi River, multistate coordination is essential for any prospect of effective water quality protection and restoration. COOPERATION ON INTERSTATE RIVERS Although states historically have focused most of their time and resources on programs to protect waters within their own jurisdictions, some activities specified in the Clean Water Act have resulted in coordination among states for shared waters such as the Mississippi River. When states are drafting permits for point source discharges to waters with boundaries shared with or upstream of another state, the permitting state must forward those permits to the adjoining or downstream state for comment before the permit is finalized. If necessary, a public hearing process is available to resolve any disputes. Like permitting, standards development provides a mechanism for state-to-state interaction. Public notice and hearings are required for any revision to a state’s water quality standards, including both water quality criteria and designated uses. These hearings provide an opportunity for adjoining states to raise concerns about interstate issues. Similar public notice provisions apply to the development and adoption of TMDLs for waters shared by or impacting those of another state. Although these CWA provisions offer an enforceable mechanism for states to interact on major decisions of joint interest, experience has shown that the mainstem Mississippi River states seldom use them. Monitoring programs on shared waters constitute another area in which direct state-to-state cooperation is desirable but has been limited
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Mississippi River Water Quality and the Clean Water Act: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities on the Mississippi River. Missouri and Iowa, for example, use monitoring data that Illinois collects in order to avoid duplication at prime monitoring sites (e.g., bridges), which enables them to redirect resources to other priorities. However, as noted in Chapter 5, these limited cooperative activities have done little to expand data collection efforts on the Mississippi River. Although direct state-to-state interaction is desirable in implementing the Clean Water Act—and some formal mechanisms exist to facilitate such exchanges—Mississippi River states have seldom used these mechanisms effectively because of the river’s size and its numerous jurisdictions. A more structured approach is needed, such as a formal mechanism for cooperation among states for water management. In other river systems, states have coordinated their activities for water management principally through interstate compacts. Moreover, Section 103 of the Clean Water Act requires the EPA administrator to “encourage cooperative activities by the States and encourage compacts between States for the prevention and reduction of pollution.” This section further provides that “the consent of the Congress is hereby given to two or more States to negotiate and enter into agreements or compacts….” Numerous compacts exist to help define the many aspects of managing water, such as allocations, standards, and responsibilities (Table 7-1). Some interstate and federal-interstate river basin commissions oversee and help implement the provisions of these interstate compacts. Of the river basin commissions established under compacts listed in Table 7-1, six of them receive funding under Section 106 of the Clean Water Act: Delaware River Basin Commission Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin Interstate Environmental Commission (Tri-State Compact) New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission Susquehanna River Basin Commission Notably, all of the “Section 106” commissions were established prior to enactment of the 1972 Clean Water Act (UMRBA, 2006). Congress did not provide funding for similar commissions in the future. Four large river systems for which states have established compacts that include water quality management as an objective are the Delaware River, the Ohio River, the Potomac River, and the Susquehanna River. Delaware River Basin Commission The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) was established in 1961 as part of the Delaware River Basin Compact, a federal-state com-
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Mississippi River Water Quality and the Clean Water Act: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities TABLE 7-1 Partial Listing of Interstate Compacts with Water-Related Provisions and Functions Compact Signatories Objective Saco Watershed Compact New Hampshire, Maine Watershed development Bear River Compact Idaho, Utah, Wyoming Water allocation California-Nevada Interstate Compact California, Nevada Equitable apportionment of water conservation, development Colorado River Compact Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming Water apportionment and development Columbia River Compact Washington. Oregon Regulating, protecting, and preserving fish Columbia River Gorge Compact Washington, Oregon Watershed development Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Compact New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service Restoration of anadromous Atlantic salmon to the Connecticut River Connecticut River Flood Control Compact Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire Flood protection Delaware River Basin Compact New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, United States Protect, enhance, and develop water resources of the basin Great Lakes Basin Compact Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Illinois Development, conservation-balanced uses Interstate Compact for Jurisdiction on the Colorado River Arizona Concurrent law enforcement Interstate Compact on the Potomac River Basin Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, District of Columbia, United States Water resources management and interstate pollution abatement Interstate Public Water Supply Compact New Hampshire, Vermont Joint public water supply facilities Kansas-Missouri Flood Protection and Control Compact Kansas, Missouri Prevention and control of floods Klamath River Basin Compact California, Oregon Development, use, conservation Merrimack River Flood Control Compact Massachusetts, New Hampshire Water storage, utilization, and flood control Missouri River Barge Compact Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska River development for barge traffic
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Mississippi River Water Quality and the Clean Water Act: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities Compact Signatories Objective New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Compact Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont Abatement of interstate water pollution Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Compact Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia Interstate water pollution control Oregon-California Goose Lake Interstate Compact California, Oregon Basin development, water use, and conservation Republican River Compact Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska Water allocation Snake River Compact Idaho, Wyoming Development, use, flood protection South Platte River Compact Colorado, Nebraska Water apportionment Susquehanna River Basin Compact New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, United States Water resources management Tahoe Regional Planning Compact California, Nevada Conservation, preservation Tri-State Compact New York, New Jersey, Connecticut Water and air pollution abatement Upper Niobrara River Compact Wyoming, Nebraska Water apportionment, groundwater information Yellowstone River Compact Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming Water apportionment, development SOURCE: Reprinted, with permission from ICWP (2006). © 2006 by Interstate Council on Water Policy. pact among of Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, and the United States. The DRBC consists of the four basin state governors and a uniformed Corps of Engineers officer appointed by the President. The compact’s objectives include facilitating interstate comity; providing for planning, management and control of water resources; providing for cooperative planning and action by the signatory parties; and applying the principle of equitable allocation. The commission’s annual budget is approximately $4.5 million and it employs 42 full-time staff. Although the DRBC works under the authority of its compact, several DRBC programs support Clean Water Act provisions. These programs include designating special protection waters, development of TMDLs, water quality and groundwater monitoring, biomonitoring, fish tissue analysis, ambient toxics and sediment surveys, and coordination of states’ activities.
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Mississippi River Water Quality and the Clean Water Act: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities Further, the DRBC sets water quality standards and regulates effluents and water withdrawals. Among the commission’s institutional and operational challenges is a funding shortfall from the federal government. Although the United States is a compact signatory and, as such, is obligated to help fund commission operations, Congress has not appropriated its contractually based share (20 percent) since 1997. Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) was established in the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Compact of 1948 to help abate interstate water pollution. Participants include the states along the Ohio River—Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia—and New York and Virginia, which lie within the watershed’s upper reaches. Although the United States is not a signatory, there are three federal representatives on the commission along with three representatives from each state. ORSANCO is empowered to establish treatment standards for waste discharges to interstate streams within the participating states’ Ohio Valley drainage area, conduct surveys, recommend state legislation to achieve pollution abatement goals, and confer with any party that has an interest in water pollution control. ORSANCO’s activities concerning Clean Water Act implementation include the adoption of water quality standards, permitting coordination, water quality and biological monitoring and assessment, TMDLs, and Gulf of Mexico hypoxia abatement. ORSANCO also coordinates CWA programs with the source water protection provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act. ORSANCO’s annual budget is approximately $3.5 million and it has a full time staff of 25 (UMRBA, 2006). Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin The Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin (ICPRB) was established in 1940 to assist Potomac River basin states and the federal government to enhance, protect, and conserve the basin’s waters and associated land resources. The ICPRB comprises three commissioners and three alternate commissioners from Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the District of Columbia, along with three presidential appointees. ICPRB’s annual budget is approximately $2.4 million, which supports a staff of 23 (UMRBA, 2006). Programs related to Clean Water Act implementation include the Chesapeake Bay Program (see Chapter 4), TMDLs, spill modeling and tracking, water quality monitoring, and assessment and evaluation of indicators. Like the DRBC, Congress currently is failing in its funding obligation to the ICPRB.
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Mississippi River Water Quality and the Clean Water Act: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities Susquehanna River Basin Commission The Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) was established in 1970 for management of water resources in the Susquehanna River basin. Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, and the United States are compact members. The commission has one representative (the governor) from each participating state and one federal representative who is appointed by the President (the current federal representative is from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers). The SRBC focuses on flood mitigation and management of water resources for municipal, agricultural, recreational, commercial, and industrial purposes, but water quality protection and restoration are also part of its mission. The commission has undertaken various water quality monitoring, assessment, and restoration programs and participates in the EPA-coordinated, multistate effort to protect and restore water quality in the Chesapeake Bay. The SRBC’s annual budget is approximately $4.5 million and it has a full-time staff of 34. Congress currently is not providing its full funding obligation to the SRBC. Prospects for Mississippi River Compacts Clean Water Act implementation for the Mississippi River has not yielded the type and extent of state cooperation and coordination that have been achieved for the Delaware, Ohio, Potomac, and Susquehanna Rivers. In the case of DRBC, ORSANCO, ICPRB, and SRBC, each agency’s programs reflect the coordination needs unique to each river. DRBC programs that delineate special protection waters may provide a model with regard to the Mississippi River for areas of special ecological significance. ORSANCO’s organization of numerous committees of state and federal agency clean water program management personnel may also serve as a model for some Mississippi River administrative issues. These committees meet under ORSANCO’s aegis to discuss coordination needs and also to design and implement programs that eliminate duplication of effort, including development of databases and assessments, plans for response to spills, and integration of Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and Clean Water Act requirements. ICPRB and SRBC have been engaged by their cooperating states in coordinating roles to assist with reduction of nutrients to support restoration of the Chesapeake Bay, thus illustrating how an interstate organization can affect the type of cooperation needed to address nutrient pollution problems in a river system’s estuarine and gulf areas. An interstate compact can be an effective approach to water quality management, but can take many years to establish. Historically, the average time to enact the 19 existing compacts that govern river management
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Mississippi River Water Quality and the Clean Water Act: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities and water rights has been approximately nine years (UMRBA, 2006). Experience has shown that congressional consent for an interstate compact, although not a legal requirement, is desirable to help protect the compact from invalidation by a future act of Congress (UMRBA, 2006). Compacts are difficult to establish today because of complexities in creating an agreeable compact, resistance to the ceding of state authority to an interstate entity, and difficulty of obtaining long-term state and federal funding commitments. A 2006 report from the Interstate Council on Water Policy listed several principles that would help support programs for interstate water quality management programs (Box 7-1). These principles may be relevant for the Mississippi River states if they are considering possible future organizational and administrative frameworks to help improve interstate water quality management. COOPERATIVE EFFORTS ALONG THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER A compact is not the only mechanism for enhancing cooperation among states in management of shared waters, and the mainstem Mississippi River states have undertaken several non-compact, cooperative efforts focused on Mississippi River water quality management since passage of the Clean Water Act. Some of these have limited goals, whereas others are aimed at broader goals and long-term planning and cooperation. Most of the initiatives have achieved at least partial success but have encountered substantial obstacles to efficient, effective, and sustained collaboration and cooperation. Such obstacles include resource constraints, competing priorities among participating states, confusion regarding regulatory primacy for shared waters, and technical challenges related to monitoring water quality in a large, interstate river. This section reviews the experiences with interstate cooperation for water quality management along the Mississippi River. Early Efforts Initiatives to improve interstate cooperation along the Mississippi River have taken place for many years in the contexts of navigation and flood control (Anfinson, 2003; ICWP, 2006; UMRBA, 2006). Recognizing the need for improved and more systematic state-state and state-federal cooperation to improve water quantity and quality management, Congress passed the Water Resources Planning Act in 1965. Title II of this legislation authorized a series of federal-state river basin commissions and provided financial assistance to states for comprehensive river basin planning. In response, several river basin commissions were established across the United
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Mississippi River Water Quality and the Clean Water Act: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities BOX 7-1 Principles of Interstate Cooperation for Water Quality Management The effectiveness of interstate compacts or agreements was recently evaluated by the Interstate Council on Water Policy (ICWP, 2006). In that study, the following characteristics were identified that provide a “compelling rationale of such institutional arrangements”: Strength in numbers and enhanced voice: Multijurisdictional arrangements, such as interstate commissions (among many other forms), provide individual members with an opportunity to speak and act with a single, harmonized voice. Monitoring and surveillance: Ecosystem assessment programs provide the science-based data and information critical to program design, implementation, and evaluation. Such programs can be prohibitively expensive for a single jurisdiction, and to maximize their value, they need to be implemented on a watershed basis. Pooling and accessing resources and expertise: Multijurisdictional institutional arrangements allow individual members to leverage limited resources to dramatically increase capability in areas such as assessment, research, program design and implementation, and policy development, among others. Ecosystem-based management: Now widely accepted as a fundamental operating principle, the ecosystem approach to resource management recognizes the interrelatedness of ecosystem components and an associated need for a comprehensive, integrated, and multimedia management strategy. Regional priority setting: Individual institutions operating within a watershed find that inefficiency and unwanted redundancy can be avoided through a single priority setting process. Communication, collaboration, and technology transfer: Information exchange with like-minded professionals enhances efficiency, fosters partnerships, and encourages the type of innovation and creative thinking needed to advance the practice of watershed-based resource management. Uniformity, consistency, and program effectiveness: Results can be negated or otherwise compromised due to inconsistencies in the way multiple jurisdictions within a single watershed address a shared issue (e.g., pollution sources, fishing limits, invasive species prevention and control). Protecting jurisdictional interests: Jurisdictions can participate in a multijurisdictional institution as a means of “keeping an eye on” neighboring jurisdictions and other parties that may have goals contrary to their own. In the course of evaluating the pros and cons of various alternatives, each participant gets a chance to understand and demonstrate respect for the needs and contributions of other communities.
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Mississippi River Water Quality and the Clean Water Act: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities States, including the Upper Mississippi River Basin Commission. However, in 1981, President Reagan issued Executive Order 12319 calling for the dismantling of the Water Resources Planning Act commissions. This order ended federal support for these Title II commissions, but states preserved many of them in some form in order to maintain their interstate planning and coordination services. For example, the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association (UMRBA) was formed in response to the termination of the Upper Mississippi River Basin Commission. A planning and coordination commission was not developed for the lower Mississippi River under the Water Resources Planning Act of 1965. In that part of the basin, efforts remained focused on navigation and flood control, with the federal government represented by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the lead role. Water quality issues were secondary at best and, in many respects, remain of low priority today because of the limited ability of the lower Mississippi River states to influence water quality in the river (Chapter 5). However, there were some efforts to initiate interstate water quality coordination in the lower Mississippi River in the period after the federally supported commissions ended. In 1987, for example, the Louisiana legislature passed legislation directing the governor to execute a Lower Mississippi River Pollution Phase-out Compact with the United States and the upstream states along the river’s course. This was an initiative of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. The compact’s intended purposes were to reduce and then eliminate river pollution by 1998; encourage alternatives to discharging wastes and pollutants into the river; and maintain the biological and chemical integrity of the Mississippi River system to ensure water quality adequate for drinking water, agricultural, aquaculture, and recreational uses. In addition, the compact sought to ensure the collection and sharing of information among the signatories relative to technologies, methods, incentives, and regulatory means that could improve Mississippi River water quality. This compact was never put in place, however. Cooperation Outside of Compacts Upper Mississippi River Basin Association As noted above, the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association was established in 1981 as a successor to the Upper Mississippi River Basin Commission. A joint resolution signed by the governors of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin created the UMRBA and called for “the continuation of cooperation of the interstate organization to maintain communication and cooperation among the states on matters related to water planning and management.” Gubernatorial appointees, generally
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Mississippi River Water Quality and the Clean Water Act: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities individuals from state agencies with substantial responsibilities for water resource management, represent UMRBA member states. Certain federal agencies participate as advisers to the UMRBA, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Coast Guard, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Maritime Administration, and the EPA. Although the UMRBA encourages dialogue and coordination of Clean Water Act program activities for the upper Mississippi River states, its role is purely advisory and its resources are modest. The upper Mississippi River states have recognized the need to create a stronger collaborative and cooperative mechanism for water quality management and, accordingly, are working through UMRBA to assess the feasibility of establishing an interstate organizational structure with the capacity to coordinate and/or administer water quality programs under the Clean Water Act (UMRBA, 2006). The six interstate commissions that receive federal funding under Section 106 of the Clean Water Act were examined in detail as part of this assessment. The UMRBA has developed a plan for phased expansion of its role toward becoming a body to help administer interstate water quality programs (UMRBA, 2006). An interstate compact is one approach to expanding both the authority of and the resources available to the UMRBA for improved implementation of the Clean Water Act on the Mississippi. However, such an approach will require significant dedicated funding from participating states, as well as formal legislative action by each state to ratify a compact. Given the limited state resources and the time needed to pursue the necessary legislation, a formal compact is not planned for the near term but remains a possibility for the future (UMRBA, 2006). Upper Mississippi River Water Suppliers Coalition The Upper Mississippi River Water Suppliers Coalition (UMRWSC) was established in 1999 to serve as a focal point to represent the common interests of the drinking and industrial water suppliers and to establish a formal communication network for the membership (UMRWSC, 2006). The organization also serves as a resource clearinghouse for river water quality and related information, promotes source water protection practices pursuant to the SDWA, and provides educational opportunities for members and their customers. The UMRWSC is working toward developing and maintaining an early-warning source water monitoring network by developing working relationships with other river stakeholders, particularly on river water quality initiatives. The UMRWSC has 26 water supplier members and holds periodic meetings. UMRWSC water suppliers collect
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Mississippi River Water Quality and the Clean Water Act: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities water quality data for the upper Mississippi River on a daily basis, and their combined long-term data record is an important resource. Upper Mississippi River Sub-basin Hypoxia Nutrient Committee Following up on a recommendation in the 2001 Hypoxia Action Plan (USEPA, 2001) to address hypoxic conditions created by Mississippi River discharge into the Gulf of Mexico, the states in the upper Mississippi River subbasin formed a committee to examine the relationship of agricultural practices to Gulf hypoxia. The Upper Mississippi River Sub-basin Hypoxia Nutrient Committee (UMRSHNC) includes the Illinois Department of Agriculture, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The subbasin committee, through its state members, is positioned to identify key stakeholders who need to be involved in the development and implementation of strategies to reduce nutrient loads to the Gulf of Mexico and to waterbodies within the basin. In 2004, the UMRSHNC formed a stakeholder group that includes representatives of key agricultural and environmental organizations and municipal, state, and federal agencies. UMRSHNC intends its activities to achieve a near-term goal of a technically sound and economically viable nutrient reduction strategy for the upper Mississippi River subbasin, and a long-term goal of reducing nutrient loadings to streams and lakes within the five states and to the northern Gulf of Mexico. Upper Mississippi River Conservation Committee The Upper Mississippi River Conservation Committee (UMRCC) is a cooperative, nonprofit organization of state and federal agencies formed to address the challenges of protecting and restoring the natural resources of the upper Mississippi River. Founded in 1943, the organization involves representatives of Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), USACE, and various local pollution control agencies. The UMRCC aims to provide continuing cooperation between conservation agencies responsible for fish, wildlife, and recreational management on the upper Mississippi River. Lower Mississippi River Conservation Committee The Lower Mississippi River Conservation Committee (LMRCC) is a cooperative, nonprofit organization of state and federal agencies formed to address the challenges of protecting and restoring the natural resources
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Mississippi River Water Quality and the Clean Water Act: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities of the lower Mississippi River. The LMRCC, founded in 1994, is focused on coordination of state and federal efforts. It has no regulatory authority, but it provides a regular forum for discussion of water quality and natural resource protection and restoration issues. Participants include representatives of the environmental quality and natural resource agencies of each of the six lower Mississippi River states—Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee—and representatives of five federal agencies—EPA, NRCS, USACE, USGS, and the USFWS. The mission of LMRCC encompasses the full spectrum of natural resources linked to the river. Thus, the organization does not focus exclusively on water quality. In 2000, the LMRCC completed a Lower Mississippi River Aquatic Resource Management Plan, a 10-year operational plan to address the primary factors adversely affecting aquatic resources in the river’s active floodplain and backwater areas. The LMRCC recognizes the need for a comprehensive system-wide assessment, such as that recommended under Section 102 of the Clean Water Act, and it is working to organize a lower Mississippi River resource assessment (Nassar, 2006). The LMRCC also is working to encourage the EPA to include the lower Mississippi River in the Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program (EMAP), similar to the upper Mississippi River EMAP effort (Ingram, 2006). Lower Mississippi River Sub-basin Committee on Gulf Hypoxia A Lower Mississippi River Sub-basin Committee on Gulf of Mexico hypoxia, similar to that for the upper Mississippi River subbasin, was formed in 2003 to support the Hypoxia Action Plan (USEPA, 2001). This committee expects to coordinate the Hypoxia Action Plan’s implementation in the lower river basin and to work with other states to ensure federal funding. Participating states are Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee. Regarding implementation, the committee will compile information on nutrient loadings (Mississippi and Atchafalaya River basins); assess impacts of state and federal programs aimed at reducing loadings; coordinate interstate watershed programs; promote and coordinate complementary regional and state efforts; and establish an open process for interested stakeholders, partner agencies, and universities to participate in and support pollutant reduction programs. Nongovernmental Organizations There are many nongovernmental organizations that focus on water resources, watershed protection, and water quality in the Mississippi River and its tributaries. These organizations typically focus on the waters of particular states. Examples include the Louisiana Environmental Action
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Mississippi River Water Quality and the Clean Water Act: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities Network, the Tennessee Clean Water Network, the Iowa Environmental Council, the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy. Some of the organizations promote interstate cooperation and data sharing, such as the Mississippi River Basin Alliance, a coalition of more than 80 environmental organizations and conservation groups with interests related to the Mississippi River. At the scale of the entire river, the Mississippi River Water Quality Collaborative, which is sponsored by the McKnight Foundation, brings together representatives from more than 20 nongovernmental organizations from states along the Mississippi River corridor to explore strategies for comprehensive, riverwide water quality improvements. EPA COLLABORATION ON THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER The EPA has a major role to play in the implementation of the Clean Water Act in the Mississippi River basin both directly through the development of guidance documents such as water quality criteria and oversight of programs that it has delegated to the states and indirectly through regional coordination of programs to protect major rivers. The Mississippi River watershed encompasses seven EPA regions Regions 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8. Historically, each EPA region has been delegated and has exercised considerable discretion in carrying out the various federal programs entrusted to the EPA, including the NPDES and Section 303(d) (TMDL) programs. As Figure 7-1 shows, four EPA regional offices share responsibility for the mainstem of the Mississippi River. These EPA offices have their headquarters in Atlanta (Region 4), Chicago (Region 5), Dallas (Region 6), and Kansas City (Region 7). Inconsistency among regional offices has been a persistent problem for the EPA with regard to a variety of Clean Water Act issues, including determination of impaired waters, approval of revised water quality standards, and enforcement. Such inconsistencies arise from several factors, including a lack of clear guidance from EPA headquarters, inexperienced personnel, and differing views of appropriate federal-state relations (GAO, 2000b). The St. Louis Compact of 1997 involved six EPA regions, the EPA Office of Water, and the EPA Gulf of Mexico Program, and sought to increase coordination of programs and activities in the Mississippi River Basin. The goals of the compact were to improve coordination and communication among regions, to develop the capacity to evaluate natural resource economic issues and address hypoxia issues in the Gulf of Mexico, and to characterize the basin’s physical and ecological features. Mississippi River basin strategy teams were to carry out these activities. Region 5 was designated the “lead” for the upper Mississippi River and Region 6 for the lower Mississippi. Although strategy team efforts ensued over several years following the signing of the agreement, activities under its aegis appear to have waned.
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Mississippi River Water Quality and the Clean Water Act: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities FIGURE 7-1 EPA regions with responsibility for the mainstem Mississippi River. SOURCE: Adapted from USEPA (2007e). The EPA regions must work with the states within their respective jurisdictions regarding implementation of Clean Water Act programs for which states have direct responsibility and those delegated to them by the EPA, both on the tributaries to the Mississippi River and, in principle, on the Mississippi River itself. The EPA has the authority, although it rarely exercises that authority, to review and approve discharge permits prior to their issuance. EPA must review state water quality standards periodically for their adequacy and approve any changes to existing standards that the states propose. In addition, the EPA requires states to submit an annual (or semiannual) program plan describing state water quality activities in support of the Clean Water Act as a condition of federal funding. The EPA provides a major source of funding to state agencies to implement the Clean Water Act. As such, it can influence significantly state priorities. The EPA also interacts with watershed associations, river basin associations, river
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Mississippi River Water Quality and the Clean Water Act: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities commissions, and other regional and interstate groups that work on water quality issues for the Mississippi River and its tributaries. These activities include the provision of funds to help support several of the interstate organizations discussed above. There has been limited intra-agency coordination among the relevant EPA regions regarding Mississippi River water quality issues; instead, the various EPA regions focus primarily on interactions with states on water quality issues and waterbodies of primary concern to the states. Some coordination is taking place, however. For example, in the upper Mississippi River basin, EPA Regions 5 and 7 are working with the UMRBA to improve coordination on water quality management issues (UMRBA, 2004). In 2001, the UMRBA undertook an upper Mississippi River water quality coordination project designed to identify and explain the approaches that each upper Mississippi River basin state uses in its Clean Water Act Section 305(b) assessments and Section 303(d) impaired waters designations. The results from this UMRBA effort illustrate the collaborative contributions of EPA Regions 5 and 7 (UMRBA, 2004). On the other hand, in the lower Mississippi River basin, EPA Regions 4 and 6, which encompass the states bordering the lower Mississippi River, appear to have had only limited involvement with the LMRCC. The EPA has recognized the importance of expanded and improved intra-agency coordination for more effective management of water quality in the Mississippi River. This large river usually receives only secondary attention from the states bordering it (as discussed in Chapter 4). Stronger leadership by the EPA in promoting interstate and interregion cooperation on Mississippi River water quality monitoring issues—including development of specific water quality criteria documents tailored to the unique needs of the Mississippi River—could promote a common framework for coordinating key water quality protection programs for the river and the northern Gulf of Mexico. The EPA has the legal authority to create a watershed-wide entity to ensure adequate protection of Mississippi River water quality. The EPA could, for example, create a coordinating program office for water quality in the Mississippi River, comprised of representatives of the four EPA regions that encompass the Mississippi River mainstem, plus the EPA Gulf of Mexico Program office, to ensure that these criteria are integrated into state programs (as discussed in Chapter 4, a relevant model of interregional cooperation and EPA coordination is the Chesapeake Bay Program). Whatever approach is taken, the EPA clearly must assume a strong coordinating role to ensure water quality protection and improvement in the Mississippi River and the northern Gulf of Mexico. Commensurate with a stronger coordinating role would be stronger efforts by EPA to promote better cooperation among the 10 Mississippi River mainstem states, which is consistent with and complementary to a “water-
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Mississippi River Water Quality and the Clean Water Act: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities BOX 7-2 EPA and the Watershed Approach The Environmental Protection Agency encourages citizens, agencies, and nongovernmental organizations to view water management as something that is most appropriately conducted at the watershed scale. EPA has promoted the watershed approach as “the most effective framework to address today’s water resource challenges” since the early 1990s. EPA considers this approach to be hydrologically defined, inclusive of all stakeholders, and able to strategically pursue water resources goals. The approach is one of the four pillars of EPA’s own Sustainable Infrastructure Initiative. EPA supports several web sites devoted to watershed planning and management and has issued several documents that explain its vision for watershed-level management and offer planning tools for watershed management. Given the river’s role in supporting interstate commerce and the river’s ecosystems that cross state lines and extend into the Gulf of Mexico, federal interest in the Mississippi River is undeniable. Managing Mississippi River water quality among the multiple states along its corridor, and across its river basin area, is watershed planning on the largest scale and would be consistent with EPA’s promotion of watershed-scale programs and initiatives. SOURCE: USEPA (2007f). shed approach” to water management. EPA has been vigorously promoting this watershed approach for more than 10 years (see Box 7-2), and stronger efforts by EPA in promoting interstate collaboration along the Mississippi River fit well with this paradigm. Furthermore, several National Research Council (NRC) reports issued in the 1990s and 2000s encourage the use of the watershed and the river basin as management units to help promote better management of drinking water supplies, environmental goods and services, and drought and water conservation programs (NRC, 1999a, 1999b, 2000b, 2002, 2004a, 2004b, 2007). COOPERATION AMONG FEDERAL AGENCIES ON THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER Numerous federal agencies have jurisdiction over activities that influence water quality in the Mississippi River. Of primary importance in this regard are the Environmental Protection Agency, with its responsibilities under the Clean Water Act; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, with its authorizations related to water resource management for navigation and flood control; and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with its activities under the Farm Bill to minimize impacts of agricultural practices on water quality.
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Mississippi River Water Quality and the Clean Water Act: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is an important actor through its authority and responsibilities regarding the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Geological Survey also plays a significant role through its streamflow and water quality monitoring activities throughout the Mississippi River basin. Finally, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is a crucial participant given its monitoring responsibilities in the Gulf of Mexico. With respect to water quality protection in the mainstem Mississippi River, a prominent example of interagency coordination is the Mississippi River-Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force. The task force includes states, tribes, and federal agencies and was established in 1997 to evaluate and consider options to mitigate hypoxic conditions in the northern Gulf of Mexico, where the Mississippi River discharges its nutrient load. The EPA has a leadership role in this effort. Table 7-2 lists state and federal agencies that participate in the task force and the two subbasin committees that have been established: the Upper Mississippi River Sub-basin Hypoxia Nutrient Committee and the Lower Mississippi River Sub-basin Committee on Gulf Hypoxia. Federal agencies involved are those with responsibilities TABLE 7-2 Federal and State Participants in the Mississippi River-Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force Subbasin Committees Federal Agencies Upper Mississippi River Sub-basin Hypoxia Nutrient Committee Lower Mississippi River Sub-basin Committee on Gulf Hypoxia Council on Environmental Quality National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration U.S. Army Corps of Engineers U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service U.S. Department of Justice U.S. Department of the Interior U.S. Environmental Protection Agency U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service U.S. Geological Survey White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Illinois Department of Agriculture Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Soil Conservation Division Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Missouri Department of Natural Resources Wisconsin Natural Resources Department Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation Commission Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality Louisiana Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality Missouri Department of Natural Resources Tennessee Department of Agriculture
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Mississippi River Water Quality and the Clean Water Act: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities for activities in the Mississippi River basin, the Louisiana coastline, and the Gulf of Mexico. States in the broader Mississippi River basin also participate, although not all basin states are represented. For the Ohio River valley, ORSANCO serves as the coordinating agency for all activities of the Ohio Basin Subcommittee. Thus, ORSANCO, its member states, and Tennessee cooperate on Gulf of Mexico hypoxia-related issues. In 2001 the Mississippi River-Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force issued an action plan (USEPA, 2001) for reducing, mitigating, and controlling hypoxia in the northern Gulf of Mexico. The plan outlined a range of possible actions to reduce nutrient loads, with a focus on nitrogen, and to increase nitrogen retention and denitrification in the Mississippi River and its tributaries. Progress on the activities recommended in the plan has been limited. As of 2007, the action plan was under a five-year assessment that was one year past due. In a June 2007 letter to the EPA, a group of 11 Gulf of Mexico scientists noted this limited progress on the action plan and on addressing the hypoxia problem: “It is now nearly halfway between the submission of the Action Plan to the President and the Congress in January 2001 and the 2015 target date for reducing the hypoxic zone to less than 5,000 km2. Yet there is no evidence of progress toward that goal and modest implementation of actions to achieve it” (UMCES, 2007). With a continued interest in a watershed-based, “ecosystem partnership” approach for water quality management that emerged in the 1980s (ICWP, 2006), both opportunities and the need for cooperation among federal agencies for water quality protection and restoration in large river systems are greater than ever. With the authority created by the Clean Water Act and the continuing mission expansion of other federal agencies such as the Corps of Engineers and the USDA to encompass water quality, the EPA is well positioned to lead cooperative efforts among federal agencies. Such efforts can produce innovative approaches, better leveraging of available resources, and significant water quality improvements. The length of the Mississippi River, the numerous states along its corridor, the river’s importance in interstate commerce, and the ecosystems that span several states all justify a strong federal role for coordinated, rational, and effective management of water quality. On the basis of its authority under the Clean Water Act, its regional organization, and its relationships with state water quality agencies, the EPA clearly is the federal agency in the best position to provide this needed coordination and management guidance. The EPA should exercise a stronger coordinating role in improving interstate cooperation and consistency in water quality standards, monitoring, and control. Several ongoing activities could be expanded to good effect (e.g., the National Stream Quality Accounting Network program discussed in Chapter 5). There are also opportunities for new cooperative efforts among the states that EPA is well positioned to lead or assist. In
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Mississippi River Water Quality and the Clean Water Act: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities making progress on Mississippi River water quality management issues, it will be important to take stock of existing programs and ensure that future efforts effectively draw from, and do not duplicate, existing efforts. SUMMARY Implementing the Clean Water Act for water quality protection and improvement along the 10-state Mississippi River corridor is a complex and challenging endeavor. At present, it is not being carried out effectively because of inadequate coordination among state and federal agencies. Successful implementation of the Clean Water Act for the Mississippi River requires improved coordination on every level. There is cooperation among various groups regarding Mississippi River mainstem water quality issues. However, with the exception of the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association, these collaborations generally do not focus on CWA implementation issues. For example, states may share some information gained in their monitoring activities, but they are not collaborating on design and implementation of Clean Water Act program components, such as the development of water quality standards and TMDLs. There is a strong need for improved regional cooperation and coordination on water quality issues for the lower Mississippi River states, where progress generally lags behind that seen in the upper river states. Although many aspects of the UMRBA experience, including its organizational structure, may not directly and immediately transfer to the lower basin states, these states would benefit from more formal and stronger cooperative efforts. One option for promoting better lower river cooperation would be to provide additional resources and responsibilities to the existing Lower Mississippi River Conservation Commission. Another option would be to establish an interstate water quality body as part of an interstate compact, as has been done with organizations such as the Delaware River Basin Commission and ORSANCO. A third option would be to establish a non-compact organization such as the UMRBA which offers an advantage in that it could be established relatively quickly. Further, UMRBA represents an existing model, on the same river, that has been beneficial in many ways and could be replicated for the states of the lower river. Better interstate cooperation on lower Mississippi River water quality issues is necessary to achieve water quality improvements. The lower Mississippi River states should strive to create a cooperative mechanism, similar in organization to the UMRBA, in order to promote better interstate collaboration on lower Mississippi River water quality issues. The upper and lower portions of the Mississippi River have very different features and therefore present distinctive water quality issues and challenges. At the same time, improved management of basinwide water
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Mississippi River Water Quality and the Clean Water Act: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities quality issues, such as excess nutrient loading, requires more active coordination, and there is a distinct need for integrated management of water quality by all 10 states. For example, periodic meetings involving upper and lower Mississippi River water quality professionals, which could be convened by the EPA, would strengthen communication and collaboration among the 10 river states. Integration of water quality-related activities along the entire Mississippi River will require better coordination among the 10 Mississippi River mainstem states. The states will achieve far more by working cooperatively than by each state’s going it alone. The EPA should encourage and support the efforts of all 10 Mississippi River states to effect regional coordination on water quality monitoring and planning and should facilitate stronger integration of state-level programs. The EPA has an opportunity to broker better interstate collaboration and thereby improve delivery of Clean Water Act-related programs, such as permitting, monitoring and assessment, and water quality standards development. The EPA should provide a commensurate level of resources to help realize this better coordination. Better consistency and integration of Mississippi River water quality programs is inhibited by the fact that four EPA regions have responsibilities for different stretches of the Mississippi River. Cooperation regarding water quality standards and TMDL development is an example of intra-agency coordination that would yield immediate benefits for Mississippi River water quality management. Indeed, the EPA has recognized the importance of intra-agency coordination for more effective management of water quality in the Mississippi—but it has so far failed to meet this challenge effectively. A useful model of regional cooperation and EPA coordination, as explained in Chapter 4 of this report, is the Chesapeake Bay Program. Whatever the approach adopted, a strong EPA coordinating role is essential for water quality protection and improvement in the Mississippi River. The EPA administrator should ensure coordination among the four EPA regions along the Mississippi River corridor so that the regional offices act consistently with regard to water quality issues along the Mississippi River and in the northern Gulf of Mexico.