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September 11, 2000

Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Action Plan (4503F) c/o U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue Washington, D. C. 20460

Dear Officials:

These comments address the Draft Plan of Action for Reducing, Mitigating, and Controlling Hypoxia in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. The first comments address the questions that the task force posed:

  1. We endorse the adoption of measurable goals. In that regard Goal 1.B is preferable although it is doubtful that the goal will be reached in 10 years. Since the plan states elsewhere that it will take decades to demonstrate the effect of management actions on the oxygen concentrations in the Gulf (page 11), the time frame should extend to at least 2020. The "Within Basin" and "Quality of Life" goals are not germane to the action plan and should be removed. States already have the "Within Basin" goal incorporated into their water quality protection responsibilities. The "Quality of Life" goal seems overly broad and many distract from the main goal of improving water quality.
  2. The following comments address Implementation Actions. The assumption that state governments will provide involved agencies with any new authorities needed to implement proposed actions and with additional appropriations needed to accomplish tasks not presently funded within agency budgets is unrealistic and casts doubt on the success of the action plan. A real education effect is needed to link the Gulf's problem with upstream state contributions so that it will get the attention of political decision-makers. State buy-in is necessary before the implementation actions can succeed. This has not occurred and the top down approach in the plan jeopardizes its success. Another basic flaw in the plans approach is the assumption that this plan it will be a state priority. It is not currently in Kentucky's long term planning strategy.
  1. The establishment of sub-basin committees will take longer than the Fall of 2001. States will need to be convinced to integrate it into existing watershed management frameworks that already have committee structures.
  2. This action has an unrealistic time frame for completion, particularly because it is a redirection of existing state priorities and resources.
  3. Same response as #2.
  4. Kentucky would not be able to accomplish this in the time frame indicated. The new resources to do this aren't available and the action would compete with other needed landowner BMP installations that are not nutrient related (sediment reduction from stream bank erosion, the need for off-stream livestock watering areas, etc.
  5. Same comment as #4.
  6. State funding for increased monitoring is doubtful at best. We are currently leveraging monitoring efforts by combining efforts of multiple agencies in our watershed management framework. We do this by concentrating efforts in a particular watershed. The monitoring component in #8 would need to be adjusted to this cycle or state cooperation would be difficult.

The following comments address other portions of the plan:

  1. Key Roles and Responsibilities
    • States and Tribes. The roles advocated for states to assess the effectiveness of their nutrient reduction programs assumes that states will make a commitment to do this in their strategic plans and identify resources to accomplish this. States will need convincing that this is in their best interest. Guidance also needs to be developed.
    • States can't technically do a TMDL for nitrogen unless a stream or river is on a 303(d) list because of nitrogen impairment. There are no streams or rivers listed in Kentucky because of nitrogen impairment. The next list is due in 2002 and the following one will probably be in 2006 if the new TMDL regulations are implemented. We do not have the methodology developed to make a link to a waterbody in Kentucky with a particular nitrogen load to the hypoxia in the Gulf nor to develop water quality criteria for this purpose. Phosphorous criteria development is a higher priority in Kentucky because we have impairments linked to it.
    • It is doubtful that states will be convinced to target SRF funds for Biological Nitrogen Removal in municipal sewage treatment plants, particularly when 90% of the nitrogen loading in the Gulf is from nonpoint sources.
    • States have already been pressured by EPA to devote more 319 funds for TMDL development. This competes with the plans assumption that states will use more 319 funds for improving nitrogen management. State priorities need to be the main use of 319 funds.
    • It is unrealistic to assume that states can document and monitor land use changes to identify priority areas of likely nitrogen loss to streams. Guidance for doing this needs to be developed to see if it is realistic, affordable and implementable.

Federal Agencies

  • Federal pass-through financial assistance for landowners BMPs through the 319 program is an idea worth developing. Currently the 319 program is limited to BMP installation in demonstration watersheds. Clear use of the funds for pass-through BMP installation would make the program more flexible and effective, particularly if more funds were made available.

We recognize the problem in the Gulf and the need for Basin states to address it but this plan is too ambitious and based on many false assumptions. Its chances of success are thus limited. Whatever plan eventually becomes implemented will require additional funds and we certainly support that need.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the plan.

Jack A. Wilson, Director
Division of Water

cc: Peter Tennant, ORSANCO

Robbi Savage, ASIWPCA

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