Water Pollution

Two federal agencies with jurisdiction over Clean Water Act issues announced Dec. 20 their intention to intensify their efforts to use a watershed-based approach to make management decisions. The Watershed Management Partnership Agreement was signed Nov. 19, by Benjamin Grumbles, the Environmental Protection Agency’s assistant administrator for water, and John Paul Woodley, assistant secretary of the Army’s civil works division, which includes the Corps of Engineers. “This is a significant step forward in advancing the watershed-based approach to water management,” Grumbles said EPA has jurisdiction over Clean Water Act programs, including the permitting of discharges to waters of the United States, and Safe Drinking Water Act programs. The Corps of Engineers issues dredge-and-fill permits under section 404 of the Clean Water Act, which is the primary mechanism for regulating activity in wetlands. EPA has oversight responsibility for wetlands issues, and the two agencies usually coordinate in issuing rule makings and guidance affecting wetlands.

The agreement is intended to help the two agencies work together to resolve conflicts and to seek consensus among the many different interests within a watershed on how the resource should be used. As part of the agreement, the corps and EPA said they will identify pilot projects and local initiatives “that will support watershed restoration, stewardship, and management efforts.” These efforts may include projects or interagency guidance on the use of best management practices and on innovative approaches to control water pollution. Grumbles said the agreement focuses on matters such as trading water pollution credits to control sediment and nutrients, the beneficial use of dredged material, the sharing of data on water monitoring, and advancing technologies for restoration.

The agreement is intended to strengthen the relationship between the two agencies and to help them to foster better communication with each other and with affected interest groups EPA has touted the watershed approach as the basis for its management decisions for several years, critics have said the corps has been slower to embrace the concept. The corps is drafting mitigation guidance, to be made final in late that will call for including in Section 404 dredge-and-fill permits requirements for mitigation projects and for measuring their success by considering the watershed as a whole, Mark Sudol, chief of the corps’ regulatory branch, told BNA Dec. 17.

We want to move faster on using a watershed basis for mitigation, Sudol said. “We want to look at mitigation from a watershed perspective. Where does the mitigation make the most sense?” BFA launched the watershed Initiatives in 2001 to support community-based efforts to restore certain rivers, lakes, and estuaries through a watershed approach.

More information is on the EPA-U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Watershed Management Partnership Agreement is available at:
http://www.epa.gov on the World Wide Web.

By Susan Bruninga
The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc.