Virginia has submitted its first-phase draft of a Chesapeake Bay watershed implementation plan to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as directed by that agency in accordance with the Clean Water Act.

The plan can be viewed on the Web site of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation at dcr.virginia.gov/soil_and_water/baytmdl.shtml. A public comment period on the plan will run from Sept. 24 through Nov. 8.

The EPA has directed states in the Bay watershed to develop and implement a "pollution diet" for the Bay known as a total maximum daily load, or TMDL. The TMDL would establish how much nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment can flow into the bay while maintaining a water quality standard that will allow for improvement.

In a cover letter that accompanied the draft, Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Doug Domenech noted on behalf of Gov. Bob McDonnell that the plan "is being developed during the worst economy in at least a generation." He said Virginia’s plan takes into account billions of dollars Virginians already have invested in Chesapeake Bay water quality and that its implementation "will likely cost billions of new dollars, which are unfunded federal mandates on the state, localities, farmers, private industries and homeowners."

For example, he continued, Virginia’s livestock producers face an $800 million price tag for mandated stream fencing — a single practice included in the plan. "In these austere times, we cannot guarantee such significant additional funding will be provided by our General Assembly."

 

Reliance on modeling

Another concern Domenech cited is the EPA’s "nearly absolute reliance on modeling rather than looking directly at outcomes and results in the Bay" to create a TMDL. "While this model has seen years of development, it continues to experience fundamental flaws that somewhat undermine its credibility."

His and McDonnell’s remarks also reflect the concerns of many Virginia farmers.

"More than half of Virginia is in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and additional mandates could be positively disastrous for them and for Virginia agriculture as a whole," said Wayne F. Pryor, president of Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, the state’s largest agricultural organization. "We are as committed as any other Virginian to preserving the Bay, but the haste and blind determination with which TMDL plans are being pursued is alarming.

"We will continue to monitor this process and to speak up for our communities and our industry. We greatly appeciate the efforts of Gov. McDonnell and his administration. It is gratifying that our concerns are shared by Virginia’s leadership."

EPA meetings for public comment have been scheduled for Oct. 4 at James Madison University, Oct. 6 at the University of Richmond and Oct. 7 in Hampton. An Oct. 7 Webinar is being planned as well. Comments also can be e-mailed to vabaytmdl@dcr.virginia.gov.

Domenech said in his letter that Virginia reserves the right to adjust its watershed plan and that the state will work with stakeholders and the public "to ensure that our implementation improves water quality in a manner that is sensible, fair and cost-effective as this process unfolds over the next 15 years."