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Session on Watershed Management Focuses on Solutions

By Madeline Ostrander
April 15, 2002

Four years after adopting policy on watershed management, Conference of Mayors' member cities are still searching for solutions to non'point source pollution, according to speakers at the Friday, April 5, Urban Water session on watershed management. Introduced by Augusta Mayor Bob Young, the session presented striking examples of problems and solutions from Waco (TX) and Chino (CA) and ended with comments on proposed federal regulations for animal feedlot operations that contribute to water pollution.

Action Plan for Sustainable Watershed Management Defines Urban Policy

Although more than 60 percent of non'point source water pollution comes from agriculture, federal regulations often hold cities responsible for water cleanup. The Conference of Mayors' 1998 Action Plan for Sustainable Watershed Management was intended to address this disparity. "The mayors expressed concern that watershed management could not be successful without the participation of multiple land users," Mayor Young said. The plan advocates for intergovernmental cooperation, and led to a 2000 case study, soon to be released.

Waco Seeks Solutions to Agricultural Non'point Source Pollution

Waco Mayor Linda Ethridge is at the forefront of finding multi'jurisdictional approaches to watershed problems. "The current systems for regulating non'point source pollution do not hold all parties accountable for their contributions to water quality problems," said Mayor Ethridge. Since the 1980s, Waco has watched while the number of dairy cows in upstream Erath County has nearly quadrupled and city water treatment costs have increased five'fold. Lake Waco, the city's drinking water source, receives 75% of its water from the North Bosque River, now on the EPA's impaired watershed list.

The main culprit in both Lake Waco and the North Bosque is phosphorous, occurring in cow manure and known to increase algae growth in streams and lakes. During rainstorms, excess phosphorous from dairy manure flushes into the North Bosque River. Though dairy contributes more to North Bosque phosphorous pollution than any other source, existing regulations on the industry are lenient and enforcement is poor. Waco staff has spotted dozens of violations during flights over Erath County.

Mayor Ethridge has challenged the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission's position on allowing new growth in the dairy industry. She has also questioned the EPA process for assigning an allowable Total Maximum Daily Load rate for phosphorous, a process the city claims will unfairly assign cleanup costs to local government with few responsibilities for dairy. She calls for stronger federal regulations on animal operations than those proposed and better enforcement of existing rules. "I believe that the citizens in my state should not need to sue to get clean drinking water," Ethridge said.

The mayor is actively pursuing innovative solutions, including a constructed wetland that will filter some of the runoff entering Lake Waco. Mayor Ethridge is also considering replicating Chino's anaerobic digester [see related story]. This year, she will seek dairy industry cooperation to form a multi'stakeholder group charged with finding solutions to the region's pollution problems.

Chino (CA) Adopts New Pollution Management Technology

Nearly 1500 miles from Waco, Chino (CA) has suffered similar problems, according to Richard Atwater of the public utility Inland Empire Utilities Agency. More than 300 dairy farms in the Chino Groundwater Basin produce over 1 million tons of manure annually, and odor, air, and water quality problems abound. But IEUA has one solution—an anaerobic digester that treats waste while producing electricity.

The facility digests manure in an oxygen'free process and uses methane subsequently released to generate power. The power fuels a groundwater desalter, providing drinking water for Chino Basin residents.

Designed and built with private partner Synagro, the digester couples environmental problem'solving with sound economics. "Dairy farms are a $5 billion industry in Chino," Atwater explained. "We needed a solution that would let them stay in business." Though constructed with state and federal grant moneys, the facility is supported by tipping fees paid by the dairy industry.

EPA Considers Changes to Proposed Rules for Animal Feedlot Operations and Non'point Source Pollution

Jim Hanlon, Director of the EPA Office of Wastewater, announced that the Office of Water plans to have final Confined Animal Feedlot Operations rules in place by January, and will propose revisions to TMDL rules this spring. Currently, EPA has "no authority" over non'point source pollution, according to Hanlon, though many states impose their own regulations.