Waterkeepers Chesapeake’s comments on Virginia’s Draft 2016 Integrated Report of Surface Water Quality (IR) highlight the many ways that this report on water quality does not protect local waterways and fails to make plans to improve impaired waterways.
Even after several years, impaired segments of waterways listed as Category 5 have not yet received required Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs). By comparing the 2016 IR and the 2014 IR, it becomes clear that many waterways listed as “Category 5” in 2014 have not yet received a TMDL. According to the Clean Water Act §303 (d)(1), every state must identify impaired waters, rank those waters in terms of severity of pollution, and assign TMDLs to those waters in accordance with the priority ranking. As Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is well aware, when a waterway is listed as a Category 5 it means that the body of water is impaired, or does not attain water quality standards and needs a TMDL; this is the classic list of Section 303 (d) waters. It’s unclear why these waterways have not received a TMDL over the years. A long list of waterways in Virginia’s Potomac and Shenandoah River basins have not received a TMDL for over nine years now, despite being listed as a Category 5.
There is little to no justification for why these impaired waterways have not yet received a TMDL over the years, some of which have been listed for over a decade. Further, some of the justifications in the notes section of the 2016 IR are exactly the same as the 2014 IR. Solely by looking at parts of the James River and Potomac Rivers, which have not received a TMDL, it becomes clear that there were absolutely no changes from the 2014 IR to the 2016 IR in terms of associated notes for PCBs in fish and public water supplies, E. Coli in recreational waters, pH issues impairing aquatic life, among other issues that cause environmental harm and public health concerns. This is the same for many other waterways. It is important that DEQ assign TMDLs to these waterways to ensure that water quality standards are being attained and that Virginia’s anti-degradation policy is being followed.
Impaired segments covered by the Chesapeake Bay TMDL still require local TMDLs. DEQ should reverse its decision to remove hundreds of impaired segments of waterways from Virginia’s Category 5 list of impaired waters due to the Chesapeake Bay TMDL in the 2012 IR, 2014 IR, and 2016 draft IR. Many of the water segments removed from the Category 5 list of impaired waters needing a TMDL and placed on the Category 4a list only had conclusive statements about their reasons for removal. For instance, in the 2016 IR, for a segment of the James River that was partially delisted, there is a lack of clear explanation for why the segment was delisted along with, “The Chesapeake Bay TMDL was approved by the EPA on 12/29/2010; therefore, it will be considered Category 2C.” Under the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, the EPA stated that “in some cases, the reductions required to meet local conditions shown in existing TMDLs may be more stringent than those needed to meet Bay Requirements.” A local TMDL is needed for many of the water segments listed in Category 4a because the Chesapeake Bay TMDL is not localized to address specific needs of certain waterways and, in many cases, is less stringent than those DEQ previously determined.
DEQ has failed to gain any new information on many waterways listed as Category 3 over the years. Many waterways listed as Category 3 have been listed as such for many years now, with no progress made on obtaining any new information to decide whether water quality standards are being met. Even Category 3b waterways have not been reassessed. According to the 2016 IR, Category 3b listings mean that “some data exists but it is insufficient to determine support of any designated uses. Such waters will be prioritized for follow up monitoring.” It is important that DEQ gather more information on these waterways and work with local water quality organizations to ensure that water quality standards are being attained and that Virginia’s anti-degradation policy is being followed.
DEQ should make clearer any designation changes from previous IRs for increased public participation and awareness. In order to assess any changes to designations from previous reports, DEQ should simply add a column to the Appendix 1 Integrated List of All Waters in Virginia that includes the waterway’s designation from the prior report. This would make it easier for the public to see whether there have been any changes, improvements, degradations, or assigned TMDLs over the prior two years. This information is essential not only for transparency, but will allow citizens and water quality organizations to more easily assess whether water quality standards are being attained in their watersheds.