Sunday, September 29, 2013

State discharge-permit law draws EPA scrutiny, newspaper reports


Discharge-permit law draws EPA scrutiny

Rules violate water act, state panel told

The state Pollution Control and Ecology Commission on Friday asked the Department of Environmental Quality to share with state legislators correspondence from federal regulators over mineral-discharge permits.
The request was made after the department warned that the Environmental Protection Agency might “federalize” 14 mineral-discharge permits issued by the state. Federal officials say a new Arkansas environmental law conflicts with the CleanWater Act.
Department Director Teresa Marks said federal officials are prepared to intervene in February if Arkansas officials do nothing. The permits are required before businesses and municipalities can discharge pollutants into the state’s waterways.
“It’s very much a conundrum for us, too, because even if we wanted to issue these permits the way they would be acceptable under federal law, we can’t because we’re prohibited under state law,” Marks said.
Act 954, which was approved by the Legislature earlier this year, removes the default drinking-water designation for Arkansas waterways and alters how the department monitors mineral discharges. Those changes, the department and EPA have said, put the state’s monitoring out of compliance with the federal Clean Water Act.
Critics of the new law have said it could endanger drinking-water sources by allowing an increase in minerals, including chlorides and sulfates, in state waterways.
Marks said the department has no discretion on whether to follow the law without action by the Legislature.
Charles Moulton, the pollution commission’s administrative law judge, reminded the commission that no action could be taken by the Legislature when it is not in session. The Legislature could take up the issue during a special session or the forthcoming fiscal session, but Moulton said that was unlikely.
If the EPA decides to “federalize” the mineral-discharge permits, federal regulators could do the same with 10-15 permits a year as they come up for renewal. But if the EPA changes stream designations, it could require all permits to be reviewed, said Ryan Benefield, the department’s deputy director.
Commissioner Bill Thompson of Cabot said he wanted to be sure that legislators were aware of the EPA’s findings and “the position the commission is in.” He said he felt litigation was inevitable.
“I don’t want to offend anyone; I don’t want to make them mad. I just want them to be aware of [the findings],” Thompson said.
Several commission members said representatives in the industry would prefer continued state control of the permits instead of having the process turned over to federal regulators.
“I’m sure when it finally hits these permittees that they’re going under federal, instead of state [regulation] … then they’re going to be unhappy,” Thompson said.
Northwest Arkansas, Pages 9 on 09/28/2013

Construction runoff cited during Beaver Lake watershed-protection meeting in Huntsville, Arkansas


Tame runoff, say watershed experts

HUNTSVILLE - As the population within the Beaver Lake Watershed continues to grow, residents will need to take increasing measures to mitigate the side effects of paving and construction, experts said Friday.
The importance of controlling storm-water runoff - a term for rainwater that can’t be absorbed into the soil because the land is covered with impermeable surfaces such as asphalt - was emphasized throughout several presentations during the Beaver Lake Watershed Symposium Friday at theCarroll Electric Building in Huntsville.
More than a dozen experts in hydrology, aquaculture and other biological sciences spoke before a crowd of about 60. While the topics of individual presentations ranged from the development and implementation of the Beaver Lake Watershed protection strategy to methods of stream restoration and water-quality testing, many of the speakers reiterated that one of the best ways to protect the region’s drinking water is to find ways of redirecting storm water into absorbent soils, rather thanlet it flow freely into open surface waters.
Katie Teague, an agent with the Benton County Extension Office, touched on several factors addressing water-quality protection while asking the audience to participate in a trivia game focused on water-pollution issues.
According to data provided by Teague and others, about 20 percent of rainfall in rural areas remains on the surface of the land as runoff when construction has made at least10 percent of the area impermeable. Teague said that a 1,000-square-foot house will displace 623 gallons of water from 1 inch of rainfall.
“From the homeowner side, it’s just the sheer volume of storm water that’s generated ontheir property, and pollutants that they can introduce that can be carried off their site, into a storm drain, untreated, into the nearest creek or stream,” Teague said. “We encourage ways to break up that path and slow down that water so it cansoak in.”
When water is allowed to permeate vegetation and existing soil, a natural filtration process can remove or reduce excess nutrients and other pollutants from the water as it makes its way into aquifers, and eventually into an area’s drinking water.
John Pennington, executive director of the Beaver Lake Watershed Alliance, has said he hopes the symposium will become an annual event. The alliance, a nonprofit organization founded in 2010, aims to promote awareness of factors that affect the quality of the drinking water in Beaver Lake,which is provided approximately to 420,000 people and sources its water from a watershed covering more than 1,200 square miles.
Brad Hufhines, an environmental technician with the Beaver Water District Treatment Plant, discussed how the use of “rain gardens” can help homes and businesses offset their impermeable footprint by creating areas of vegetation where storm-water runoff will pool and percolate into soil.
“We’re gaining 30 residents every day in Northwest Arkansas, so we’re becoming much more populated, much more built-out,” Hufhines said.“We’re covering up the natural land with impervious surfaces, and that’s causing a lot more water to flow into our streams rapidly. We’re getting more intense flooding and sediment from erosion that’s occurring at an increased level.”
Hufhines said the gardens, which are constructed in depressions to allow runoff to flow toward them, are effective and low-cost ways of trapping and filtering sediment and pollutants.
“I think that’s not the answer for everybody, but it’s one of several best management practices that can be used throughout the watershed.”
Northwest Arkansas, Pages 9 on 09/28/2013