Lake Erie

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Wednesday, June 07th, 2017

EPA reaches decision on Ohio’s list of impaired waters

Written by Ellen Essman, Law Fellow, OSU Agricultural & Resource Law Program

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finally rendered a decision on Ohio’s list of impaired waters following several months of delay and two lawsuits filed to compel the EPA to make a decision. (For a background on impaired waters and the two lawsuits, check out our previous blog posts here and here.)   On May 19, 2017, the EPA decided to accept the Ohio EPA’s proposed list of impaired waters for the State of Ohio.  Ohio’s list does not include the open waters in the Western Basin of Lake Erie.   However, the State of Michigan’s list of impaired waters previously approved by the EPA does include the open waters in its portion of the Western Basin of Lake Erie.  

The EPA explained that the agency deferred to Ohio's judgment not to include the open waters of the Western Basin of Lake Erie on the impaired waters list.  "EPA recognizes the State's ongoing efforts to control nutrient pollution in the Western Basin of Lake Erie," stated Chris Korleski, EPA's Region 5 Water Division Director and previously Ohio's EPA Director.   "EPA understands that Ohio EPA intends to evaluate options for developing objective criteria (e.g., microcystin or other metrics) for use in making decisions regarding the Western Basin for the 2018 list.  EPA expects the development of appropriate metrics, and is committed to working with you on them."

For now, the EPA appears satisfied with Ohio's plan for addressing nutrient reductions in Lake Erie's Western Basin.  It is possible, however, that additional lawsuits could be filed against the EPA in order to reconcile Ohio and Michigan's different designations of water in the same general area.

Read the EPA's Approval of Ohio's Submission of the State's Integrated Report with Respect to Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act here

 

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Thursday, May 18th, 2017

Written by Ellen Essman, Law Fellow, OSU Agricultural & Resource Law Program

On May 17, 2017, the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) and two of its members filed suit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. ELPC filed the lawsuit to compel the EPA to either accept or reject Ohio’s list of impaired waters. In April, the National Wildlife Federation and other groups sued the EPA in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for the same reason. For more information on the first lawsuit and a more thorough background on the topic, read our previous blog post.

Federal regulation under the Clean Water Act requires states to submit lists every two years of waters they determine to be impaired. The regulation also requires the EPA to either accept or reject the state listings within thirty days. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency submitted its list of impaired waters on October 20, 2016. The list did not include the open waters of the western basin of Lake Erie. The EPA has not made a decision on Ohio’s list.

To make the situation more complex, Michigan did include its share of the open waters of the western basin of Lake Erie on its list. What is more, the EPA approved of Michigan’s impaired waters list. The plaintiffs in both of these lawsuits seem to hope that forcing the EPA to make a decision on Ohio’s impaired list will resolve the differences in the two states’ listing of waters in the same general area of Lake Erie.

ELPC filed the lawsuit in the Toledo office of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, citing its proximity to Lake Erie, and in particular, to the pollution problem in the western basin of the lake. ELPC’s press release on its lawsuit is available here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted In: Environmental
Tags: Lake Erie, impaired waters
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By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Sunday, April 30th, 2017

Groups sue EPA over lack of impaired waters decision

Written by Ellen Essman, Law Fellow, OSU Agricultural & Resource Law Program

The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and five other environmental and outdoor groups (Plaintiffs) sued the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.  The Plaintiffs filed the lawsuit due to EPA’s failure to approve or disapprove the list of impaired waters submitted by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) within the time limit required by law. The Plaintiffs are particularly concerned that the EPA’s lack of a decision on the impaired waters list may affect pollution in Lake Erie’s waters.

A background on impaired waters designation

In 1972, Congress made amendments to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948. The result was what we know today as the Clean Water Act (CWA). The very first section of the CWA states: “[t]he objective of this Act is to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.”  In order to meet that objective, the CWA sets forth “effluent limitations,” or in other words, the amount of pollution allowed to be discharged. Polluters have different effluent limitations dependent on a number of variables. The states are to “identify” the waters where the “effluent limitations [from certain polluters] are not stringent enough” to meet water quality standards. The specific polluters to be examined are: 1) point sources, and 2) public treatment works either in existence on July 1, 1977 or approved under the CWA before June 30, 1974. For reference, point sources are defined as “any discernable, confined, and discrete conveyance, including but not limited to any pipe, ditch, channel, tunnel, conduit, well, discrete fissure, container, rolling stock, concentrated animal feeding operation, or vessel or other floating craft, from which pollutants are or may be discharged.” Point sources are not “agricultural stormwater discharges and return flows from irrigated agriculture.”

Those waters that states identify as not having stringent enough effluent limitations for point sources and public treatment works are called “impaired waters.” Along with the identification of impaired waters, states must also put forth total maximum daily loads (TMDLs), or the amounts of each kind of pollutant allowed. The CWA in its entirety is available here.

A regulation promulgated by the EPA under CWA mandates that states submit the list of waters they determine to be impaired every two years. The list must include a description of the “pollutants causing impairment” and their total maximum daily loads (TMDLs). The same regulation requires the EPA “to approve or disapprove such listing and loadings not later than 30 days after the date of submission.”

On October 20, 2016, OEPA submitted its list of impaired waters in the Ohio Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report, available here . The list of impaired waters included parts of Lake Erie, namely the Lake Erie Central Basin Shoreline and the Lake Erie Islands Shoreline. Significantly, OEPA did not include the open waters of the western basin of Lake Erie on its list. The EPA has not responded to Ohio’s list by approving or disproving its listings.

Michigan submitted its impaired waters list in November 2016 and the EPA approved the report on February 3, 2017. Michigan listed the entirety of the Lake Erie waters in the state’s jurisdiction as impaired. This would include Michigan’s share of open waters in the western basin of Lake Erie. Michigan’s report is here.

The current lawsuit

As discussed above, six environmental and outdoor groups based in Ohio, Michigan and Illinois sued the EPA and its national and Region 5 administrators for the lack of a decision on OEPA’s list of impaired waters. The EPA was required to make the decision within 30 days of October 20, 2016. The Plaintiffs gave the EPA prior warning of their intention to sue in a notice sent on December 19, 2016. Since then, the EPA still has not come to a decision about Ohio’s list of impaired waters.

The crux of this lawsuit is the difference between Ohio and Michigan’s listings of waters in the same general area—the Western Basin of Lake Erie. Michigan listed the basin as impaired and Ohio did not. The Plaintiffs argue that the “inaction” on the part of the EPA “allows pollution… to continue unabated” throughout Lake Erie. Implicit in the Plaintiffs’ argument is that it seems unlikely that the EPA would allow one state to designate their Lake Erie water as impaired while the other state does not since water does not necessarily stay within state boundaries. The Plaintiffs appear to anticipate that EPA, when forced to make a decision, will disapprove of Ohio’s listing. Consequently, TMDLs could be established for greater areas of the Lake and water quality would likely be improved for the use and enjoyment of the Plaintiffs and their members.

What would a disapproval of OEPA’s list mean for Ohio?

If the court compels EPA to make a decision and EPA decides that OEPA was wrong to exclude the open waters of the Western Basin of Lake Erie as impaired, EPA regulations give the EPA the authority to take action within thirty days. EPA actions would include identifying the waters as impaired and instituting the allowable TMDLs necessary to implement applicable water quality standards. After a public comment period and potential revisions to EPA’s actions, it would be up to the state of Ohio to meet the EPA’s TMDLs for the impaired waters.

What would a listing as impaired mean for Ohio residents—individuals, farms, and companies?  It would probably mean increased regulations, likely in the form of reduced allowable loads of pollutants from the point sources and public treatment works discussed above. Time, effort, and money might be necessary to comply with such changes. Regulations and TMDLs might affect more Ohioans than before, since OEPA designated parts of Lake Erie as impaired but not others.

On the flip side, increased regulation could mean better water quality in Lake Erie for drinking, sport, and other uses. For now, Ohioans and others who use Lake Erie’s waters or are located in areas that drain to the Lake will have to wait for the federal court to act on the lawsuit.

The full complaint in National Wildlife Federation v EPA is available here.

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Monday, July 06th, 2015

Ohio's newest legislation addressing water quality concerns became effective on July 3, 2015.  The new law, enacted by the Ohio legislature earlier this year as Senate Bill 1, affects Ohio agriculture with the following provisions:

1.  Fertilizer application restrictions in the western basin.  In the western basin of Lake Erie, a person may not apply fertilizer (defined as nitrogen or phosphorous) under these conditions:

  1. On snow-covered or frozen soil
  2. When the top two inches of soil are saturated from precipitation
  3. In a granular form when the local weather forecast for the application area contains greater than a 50% chance of precipitation exceeding one inch in a twelve-hour period

Exceptions—the above restrictions do not apply if the fertilizer is:

  1. Injected into the ground
  2. Incorporated within 24 hours of surface application
  3. Applied onto a growing crop

2.  Manure application restrictions in the western basin.  In the western basin of Lake Erie, a person may not surface apply manure (defined as animal excreta) under these conditions:

  1. On snow-covered or frozen soil
  2. When the top two inches of soil are saturated from precipitation
  3. When the local weather forecast for the application area contains greater than a 50% chance of precipitation exceeding 1/2 inch in a 24 hour period

Exceptions—the above restrictions do not apply if the manure is:

  1. Injected into the ground
  2. Incorporated within 24 hours of surface application
  3. Applied onto a growing crop
  4. Or if, in the event of an emergency, the chief of the division of soil and water resources provides written consent and the application is in accordance with NRCS practice standard code 590.

3.  Exemptions for small and medium operations.  Small and medium agricultural operations in the western basin, defined by number of species using the same criteria as Ohio Department of Agriculture's (ODA's) livesock environmental permitting program, may apply to the chief of the division of soil and water resources for a temporary exemption from the restrictions on manure applications. 

  1. A medium agricultural operation may be exempt for one year, up to July 3, 2016.
  2. A small operation may be exempt for two years, up to July 3, 2017.
  3. An exempt operation will not be subject to civil penalties for violations if working toward compliance and may request technical assistance to reach compliance standards.

4.  Certification requirements for any persons using manure from CAFFs anywhere in Ohio.  On 50 acres or more used in agricultural production anywhere in Ohio, no person may apply manure from a concentrated animal feeding facility regulated under a permit from ODA's Division of Livestock Environmental Permitting unless:

  1. The person has obtain Certified Livestock Manager (CLM) certification by ODA.
  2. The person has been certified by ODA through Ohio's fertilizer applicator certification program.

Complying with the new law

To ensure compliance with Senate Bill 1's fertilizer and manure restrictions that are now effective in Ohio, producers should consider these questions before making an application of manure or fertilizer:

1.  Will the application of fertilizer or manure occur in the western basin of Lake Erie?  If so, the new restrictions may apply to the application.  A map that outlines the 11 watersheds and all or parts of 25 counties that comprise the western basin is available here.

  • Does the application involve a restricted nutrient?  The new restrictions apply to any application that involves nitrogen, phosphorous or any type of animal manure.
  • Will the restricted nutrient be injected into the ground, incorporated within 24 hours, applied onto a growing crop or made with permission of the chief of soil and water resources due to an emergency involving manure applications?  If so, the application is permissible as an exception to the restrictions.
  • If one of the above exceptions does not apply to the application, do weather conditions prohibit the application?  
    • Is the ground frozen, snow covered or saturated two inches deep or more?  If so, the application is prohibited. 
    • Is there a greater than 50% chance that precipitation will exceed one inch in the next 12 hours for the area where the application will occur?  If so, an application of granular fertilizer is prohibited.
    • Is there a greater than 50% chance that precipitation will exceed one-half inch in the next 24 hours for the area where the application will occur?  If so, an application of manure is prohibited.
    • Refer to OSU Extension's C.O.R.N. newsletter for guidance on how to obtain important precipitation information prior to an application.

2.  Is a temporary exemption from the manure restrictions available?  If manure applications will be made by a "small" or "medium" animal feeding facility in the western basin, the facility may request the temporary exemption from the restrictions.  Refer to ODA's explanation of what qualifies as a small or medium animal feeding facility on its website, here.

3.  Is the manure or fertilizer obtained from a confined animal feeding facility regulated by ODA's Division of Livestock Environmental Permitting and to be applied on more than 50 acres of land in agricultural production anywhere in Ohio?  If so, the person applying the manure or fertilizer must be certified by ODA as a Certified Livestock Manager or agricultural fertilizer applicator.  A tool to search for concentrated animal feeding facilities operating under permit is available on ODA's website, here, as is information about CLM certification and the agricultural fertilizer certification program.

Non-compliance risk

ODA has authority to investigate potential violations of the new fertilizer application restrictions and the Division of Soil and Water Resources has similar authority over potential violations of manure application restrictions.  The agencies may investigate upon receiving a complaint from any person or receiving any information that suggests a potential violation.  If a violation has occurred or is occurring, the law grants the agencies rulemaking authority to establish penalty amounts for violations, which may not exceed $10,000 per separate violation.  To date, the agencies have not yet initiated proposed rules for the penalty amounts.  The agencies may not assess penalties until after providing an alleged violator opportunity for a hearing.

Due to the risk of non-compliance with the new law, producers should review insurance policies and determine whether insurance coverage exists or is available for a mishap under the new law. 

 

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

Ohio’s Senate and House of Representatives have agreed upon a final bill intended to control algae production in Lake Erie and its western basin.  Senate Bill 1, as amended by the House, passed both chambers on March 25 and now awaits Governor Kasich’s signature. (Post note:  Governor signed the bill on April 2, 2015; its effective date is July 3, 2015).

The law will regulate manure and fertilizer applications in the western basin of Lake Erie, require monitoring of phosphorous for certain publicly owned treatment works, regulate the placement of dredged materials in Lake Erie and its tributaries, change how the Healthy Lake Erie Fund may be used and establish agency coordination and research on harmful algae management and response.

In regards to fertilizer and manure applications, the legislation includes two new amendments that were not part of the original bills passed earlier by the Senate and House:

  • Certification requirements for persons using manure from CAFFs.  To utilize manure from a concentrated animal feeding facility that is regulated under ODA’s Division of Livestock Environmental Permitting, a person must hold either a Certified Livestock Manager license or certification under Ohio’s new fertilizer applicator certification program.  The provision pertains only if applying the manure for agricultural production on more than 50 acres.  This language closes the proclaimed “loophole” that allowed persons to receive and apply manure from a livestock facility without being subject to the same regulations as the facility.   ORC 903.40.
  • Exemptions for small and medium operations.  Small and medium agricultural operations may apply for a temporary exemption from the law’s restrictions on manure applications.  The chief of the division of soil and water resources may grant an exemption of up to one year for a medium agricultural operation and up to two years for a small operation, if the operation is working toward compliance.  An exempted operation may request technical assistance to reach compliance, and will not be subject to civil penalties for violations.  The law defines small and medium agricultural operations in the same way as the Livestock Environmental Permitting program, based on the number of livestock according to species.  ORC 1511(D). 

Other changes to the final bill include a removal of a five-year sunset provision and attempts to address lead contamination.  The final bill contains the following provisions:

Fertilizer application restrictions in the western basin

For applications of fertilizer in the western basin, a person may not apply fertilizer, defined as nitrogen or phosphorous, under these conditions:

(1) On snow-covered or frozen soil, or

(2) When the top two inches of soil are saturated from precipitation, or

(3) In a granular form when the local weather forecast for the application area contains greater than a 50% chance of precipitation exceeding one inch in a twelve-hour period,

unless the fertilizer is injected into the ground, incorporated within 24 hours of surface application or applied onto a growing crop.

Small and medium operations may apply for a temporary exemption from the restrictions, as explained above.  The ODA will have authority to investigate complaints of potential violations and to assess penalties for violations, which may not exceed $10,000 for each violation.  

Manure application restrictions in the western basin

A person may not surface apply manure in the western basin under any of the following circumstances:

(1) On snow-covered or frozen soil;

(2) When the top two inches of soil are saturated from precipitation;

(3) When the local weather forecast for the application area contains greater than a 50% chance of precipitation exceeding one-half inch in a 24 hour period.

unless the manure is injected into the ground, incorporated within 24 hours of surface application, applied onto a growing crop, or if in the event of an emergency, the chief of the division of soil and water resources or the chief's designee provides written consent and the manure application is made in accordance with procedures established in the United States department of agriculture natural resources conservation service practice standard code 590 prepared for this state.

Small and medium operations may apply for a temporary exemption from the restrictions, as explained above.  The ODA will have authority to investigate complaints of potential violations and to assess penalties for violations, which may not exceed $10,000 for each violation.  

Applications of sewage sludge

In issuing sewage sludge management permits, the director of Ohio EPA may not allow the placement of sludge on frozen ground.

Agency responsibilities for harmful algal management and response

  • The law appoints the director of the Ohio EPA or his/her designee to serve as the coordinator of harmful algae management and response.
  • Requires the Director of Environmental Protection to consult with specified state and local officials and representatives to develop actions that protect against cyanobacteria in the western basin and public water supplies and that manage wastewater to limit nutrient loading into the western basin.
  • Requires the Director to develop and implement protocols and actions regarding monitoring and management of cyanobacteria and other agents that may result in harmful algal production.

Healthy Lake Erie Fund

The fund shall now be used in support of conservation measures in the western basin as determined by the director of ODNR; for funding assistance for soil testing, winter cover crops, edge of field testing, tributary monitoring and animal waste abatement; and for any additional efforts to reduce nutrient runoff as the director may decide. The director must give priority to recommendations that encourage farmers to adopt agricultural production guidelines commonly known as 4R nutrient stewardship

Phosphorous monitoring for publicly owned treatment works

  • Requires certain publicly owned treatment work to begin monthly monitoring of total and dissolved phosphorous by December 1, 2016.
  • Requires a publicly owned treatment works that is not subject to a specified phosphorous effluent limit on the bill's effective date to complete and submit an optimization study that evaluates its ability to reduce phosphorous to that limit.

Dredged material in Lake Erie and tributaries

  • Beginning on July 1, 2020, prohibits deposits of dredged material from harbor or navigation maintenance activities in Ohio’s portion of Lake Erie and direct tributaries of the lake unless authorized by the Director of Ohio EPA.
  • Allows the Ohio EPA Director to authorize a deposit of dredged material for confined disposal facilities; beneficial use; beach nourishment; placement in the littoral drift; habitat restoration and projects involving amounts of dredged material of less than 10,000 cubic yards.
  • Requires the Ohio EPA Director to endeavor to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on long-term planning for the disposition of dredged materials.

Implementation review

The final version of the legislation requires a review three years after the law’s effective date by the appropriate House and Senate committees, who must assess the results of implementing the new measures and issue a report of their findings and recommendations for revisions of repeal to the Governor.

Transfer of Agricultural Pollution Abatement Program

The law declares that the legislature intends to enact legislation to transfer the Ohio Agricultural Pollution Abatement Program from ODNR to ODA by July 1, 2015. 

The bill is now awaiting action by Governor Kasich.  The final version of the legislation and accompanying documents are available here.

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