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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 NW
Washington, DC 20460

Dear Comment Clerk:

     Goal 1.C is the most practicable approach to dealing with the Gulf of Mexico hypoxia problem. This problem did not occur overnight and it will take time to develop and implement solutions. NPS improvements are going to require more than increased public education and a desire to do what is necessary; it will take money and incentives. The setting of reduction targets creates expectations and potential frustrations. Setting the targets without sufficient new federal funding may do both.

     Makeup of the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force needs to be modifed. The Strategy assumes that the Task Force will be continued. The Task Force needs to be expanded to include all of the 31 basin states that are potentially impacted as it deals with the regulatory and policy decisions associated with adaptive management, alternative adoption, and implementation. The role of the federal agencies and particularly the educational institutions needs to be revisited if the plan moves forward to implementation.

     The short term actions essentially call for the development of a phased Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) before coordinating and ?promoting funding for necessary research and modeling efforts to reduce uncertainties regarding the sources, effects (including economic effects in the Gulf as well as the basin), and geotechnical processes for hypoxia in the Gulf.? Actions 6 through 9 should be completed first to ensure adequate data is available fully understand the hypoxia cause/effect relationship and before developing the most practicable, cost effective solutions.

     Action #3 calls for states to undertake steps to reduce nutrient loadings from point sources. How can states impose permit nutrient limits without criteria in state water quality standards? EPA will be recommending nutrient criteria by years end. States will then have three years to adopt them or face possible EPA promulgation. This process has been very controversial and not one that states? necessarily agree with, especially when trying to justify criteria to protect in-state beneficial uses.

     Federally funded navigation and flood control projects throughout the basin have also contributed to the hypoxia problem. The beneficiaries of these protections should share in the solutions to the hypoxia problem in the Gulf.

     Education, incentives, coordination, resource targeting, increased assistance to agricultural producers, and pollution prevention (BMPs) are good tools and necessary components of a successful implementation strategy. Additional federal funding will be necessary to assure success in these indeavors. Redirection of existing federal and state water quality efforts needs to be consistent with the water quality priorities of the states. State budgets are limited and states may have different ideas about where their resources should be spent.

     The Strategy calls for states to document and monitor land use changes. Many state environmental organizations are not doing this now and significant additional resources would be necessary. If a state decides not to comply with this directive, does the Task Force or EPA have the authority to require it?

     Nebraskans have long been good stewards of the land and the environment. Over 25 years ago Nebraska consolidated 154 special purpose natural resource programs and entities and formed 23 Natural Resource Districts(NRDs). In addition to the many conservation, environment, and natural resource programs already underway through the NRDs, Nebraska requires nutrient management plans for livestock waste control facilities and application of wastes at agronomic rates (for nitrogen). Nebraska also recently enacted and funded a successful buffer strip program.

     Nebraska has a long history of conservation, cooperation, and coordination between producers, municipalities, industries, and local, state, and federal entities. Nebraska is committed to protecting, preserving and enhancing its natural resources and environment for present and future generations. By continuing to do these things, combined with the additional educational, technical, and federal financial assistance identified in the Strategy, Nebraskans will be able do their part to reduce hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico.

Very truly yours,
Patrick W. Rice, Assistant Director
Water Quality Division

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