Thursday, October 28, 2010

Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems

The federal 1987 Water Quality Act (WQA) was an amendment to the Clean Water Act, requiring that EPA issue National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits for storm water discharges that were permitted prior to February 4, 1987, or associated with industrial activity, or from Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4s) serving a population of 100,000 or more, or judged by the permitting authority to be significant sources of pollutants or which contribute to a violation of a water quality standard.

The storm water program also includes a Phase II, which phased in regulation of some smaller dischargers than previously regulated. These regulations require storm water permits by March 10, 2003 for numerous small MS4s, construction sites of one to five acres, and industrial facilities owned or operated by small MS4s which were previously exempted under the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act. Until now only a portion of the small MS4s have been regulated under Phase II.

The universe of small MS4s is quite large since it includes every storm water collection system in every community except for those medium and large MS4s regulated under the first phase of the storm water program. There are thousands of them. Only a portion of small MS4s have been regulated d by the Stormwater Phase II Final Rule, either by being located near an urban area having high population density or designation by the NPDES permitting authority because the MS4 or drainage ditch discharges to sensitive waters.

As was stated in Executive Order 13508 -Strategy for Restoring and Protecting the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Public Comment Response dated May 12, 2010: EPA will initiate rulemaking to increase coverage and raise standards for CAFOs, municipal stormwater, and new dischargers of pollution. The EPA representative at the Public Hearing in Annandale, VA stated that EPA expects that it will promulgate new Chesapeake Bay specific regulations expanding the reach of MS4 point source regulations to ensure compliance with the total maximum daily load, TMDL, numerical limit imposed by EPA.

Polluted stormwater runoff is commonly transported through Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4s), from which it is often discharged untreated into local water bodies. To prevent harmful pollutants from being washed or dumped into an MS4, operators must obtain a NPDES permit and develop a stormwater management program. In the smallest MS4s a stormwater management program consists of modest activities like education, best management practices, BMPs to control flow and run off.

On December 28, 2009, EPA issued a Federal Register Notice announcing EPA's initiation rulemaking to strengthen its stormwater program. EPA is now soliciting input on potential rules and regulations relating to the Chesapeake Bay watershed, with several public “listening sessions” to be held in October and November 2010, and an interactive Webcast scheduled for November 16, 2010, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. EST, Visit http://www.epa.gov/npdes/stormwater/rulemaking to register to participate in the Webcast.

The intent of the new regulations is to control and manage stormwater discharges not currently regulated that are causing or contributing to water quality impairments in the Bay watershed. That is pretty much every drop of stormwater in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. This would require additional measures, such as BMPs and change in flow patterns targeting ( but not limited to) nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, According to the Federal register these rules would require the retrofit of stormwater controls for existing developments; and applying specific performance standards to discharges from new and retrofitted stormwater systems within the watershed. EPA is also seeking input on whether to consider specific evaluation, tracking, or reporting elements.

That modest announcement will probably impact all homeowners throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The success of any changes in stormwater regulations in protecting the environment will depend on notification of and the compliance of individual homeowners, homeowner associations and communities. For the individual homeowner the regulations will have to be clear, fair and easily understood by a layman reading them and county and community staff will have to be informed and informative. Compliance with the regulations will suffer if no one is ever aware of them, the building department will issue roadwork permits with out ensuring compliance with MS4 regulations or the regulations are, or are perceived, to be excessively costly or burdensome and without environmental benefit.

Monday, October 25, 2010

HL Mooney Advanced Waste Water Treatment Plant


I went down to the HL Mooney Advanced Waste Water Treatment Plant, AWWTP, in Woodbridge, VA to talk with Glenn B. Harvey, the plant Process Engineer. HL Mooney AWWTP operates at around 13 million gallons of waste water a day. The plant was built originally in 1979, expanded in the 1990’s and is being expanded to 23 million gallons a day today. Expanding as Prince William Counties’ population grows. The plant capacity is being expanded from 18 million gallons of waste water a day to 24 million gallons of waste water a day capacity, in addition, the effectiveness of the nitrogen removal is going from 8 parts per million to 3 parts per million in this plant upgrade. The cost of this project is $120 million dollars paid for by the Service Authority water and sewage fees. HL Mooney serves around 130,000-150,000 people a day which represents about 40% of the current population of Prince William County.

Sanitary sewers carry wastewater from homes and businesses to the raw wastewater pumping stations around the eastern portion of the county. From the pump stations, the waste is pumped tot the treatment plant. The wastewater flows by gravity, once it reaches the plant.

Bar Screens with three eights of an inch holes let water pass, but not trash (such as rags, diapers, wood, tires and other junk.). The trash is collected and properly disposed of. The screened wastewater is pumped to the Grit Chambers that are the primary settling basins.

The Grit Chambers or settling basins slow down the flow to allow smaller particles like coffee grinds and dirt to settle from wastewater by gravity. After the waste water has been screened and allowed grit to settle out, the primary wastewater flows ont to the next stage of treatment. The next step is the equalization basins which aerate and control the flow. In the primary clarifiers settling is chemically enhanced. Scrapers collect the solid matter that remains (called "primary sludge"). A surface skimmer collects scum or grease floating on top of the basins.

The next step is the Aeration Basins supply large amounts of air to the mixture of primary wastewater and helpful bacteria and the other microorganisms that consume the harmful organic matter. The growth of the helpful microorganisms is sped up by vigorous mixing of air (aeration) with the concentrated microorganisms (activated sludge) and the wastewater. Adequate oxygen is supplied to support the biological process at a very active level. The ratio of food (organic matter) to organisms to oxygen is continually monitored and adjusted to meet daily variations in the wastewater. There are five parallel basins.

The secondary clarifiers allow the clumps of biological mass (the microorganisms) to settle from the water by gravity. 90-95 % of this mixture, called "activated sludge," is returned to the aeration basins to help maintain the needed amount of microorganisms. The waste stream passes through a series of filters where methanol and a carbon source are used to remove nitrogen.

The final step in the treatment is ultraviolet disinfection (which replaced chlorine disinfection). After disinfection, the water passes through a step aerator and is discharged to the 1,700-acre Occoquan Reservoir, which serves as the boundary between Fairfax and Prince William counties. Currently, the water released to the Occoquan contains 1 mg/l Total Suspended Solids (TSS), is non detect for Biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), 0.1 mg/l phosphorus, and is currently 5 mg/l of nitrogen, but will be 3 mg/l for nitrogen after the construction project is complete. The water released meets the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) criteria. The final effluent is monitored daily.


After talking to Mr. Harvey, I was amazed by how similar the operation of my little alternative on-site sewage system is to the basic steps in the AWWTP operation.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Implications of Complying with the TMDL for Virginia


The Chesapeake Bay Commission was created in 1980 to coordinate Bay-related policy across state lines and to develop shared solutions. The six Bay watershed states are Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York, and Delaware and the District of Columbia and are all parties to the Chesapeake Bay Agreement. Back in May 2010 the EPA announced that it will mandate that the six states and the District of Columbia who are parties to the Chesapeake Bay Agreement limit their nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment flow into the bay in compliance with an overall daily maximum, TMDL, allocated by the EPA. The six Bay watershed states (Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York, and Delaware) and the District of Columbia have all developed Watershed Implementation Plans, WIPs, to meet these targets.

The EPA found that none of the states met the reasonable assurance standard they set, but that Virginia’s WIP had a “moderate need” for federal backstops (the WIPs from Maryland and Washington, DC were found to need only minor backstops). Virginia’s WIP was found to have serious deficiencies. It did not meet allocations for nitrogen (6 percent over) and phosphorus (7 percent over), but did meet allocations for sediment (12 percent under). EPA will invoke federal authority where they can to ensure the mandated reduction in nutrient pollution to the Chesapeake Bay. Though EPA states that they prefer the individual states develop their own approach to develop a final WIP with an acceptable level of assurance, so that EPA will not have to invoke federal actions. The states have more flexibility and can achieve reductions from a wider range of sources than EPA can. Dozens of small measures will allow the state to achieve the TMDL goals. The problem is creating the regulatory network to control the non-point source nutrient and sediment contamination.

If the states’ WIPs do not meet the EPA standard of reasonable assurance, the EPA’s only possible response is to further control the point source contamination it can regulate. This means that more stringent waste load allocations will be applied to waste water treatment plants (regulated via federal programs). The waste stream from wastewater treatment plants was assigned to be 4 mg/L total nitrogen and 0.3 mg/L total phosphorus. For municipal separate storm sewer systems, MS4s, the federal government has imposed the requirement that 50% of urban MS4 lands meet aggressive performance standard through retrofit/ redevelopment; 50% of unregulated land will be treated as regulated, so that 25% of unregulated land meets aggressive performance standard.

At the public hearing held in Annandale, Virginia, Anthony Moore, Assistant Secretary for Chesapeake Bay Restoration in Virginia stated that the reduced levels of discharge of total nitrogen would not be set so low as to cause algae blooms in the Occoquan Reservoir. This statement left me confused since it is the nitrogen and phosphorus contamination which cases the algae blooms. I went down to the HL Mooney Waste Water Treatment Plant in Woodbridge, VA to talk about the TMDL and algae blooms with Glenn B. Harvey, the plant Process Engineer. He provided me with additional insight into the very complicated balancing act necessary to restore the Chesapeake Bay.

HL Mooney is an AWWTP operating at around 13 million gallons of waste water a day. The plant was built originally in 1979, expanded in the 1990’s and is being expanded to 23 million gallons a day today. HL Mooney serves around 130,000-150,000 people a day which represents about 40% of the population of Prince William County. Mr. Harvey explained to me that the sediment of the Occoquan contains amongst other contaminants nitrogen and phosphorus. He stated that when the nitrogen in the Occoquan waters falls too low, anaerobic nutrients are released from the sediment. According to Mr. Harvey, the nitrogen keeps it anoxic and not anaerobic. Unless, the entire Occoquan were dredged, which would make the water undrinkable for an extended period of time, release of nutrients from the sediment would have to be considered in any point sourc reduction.

HL Mooney is only a fraction (about 7%) of the size of Blue Plaines AWTTP. The monthly discharge averages are less than 0.1 for phosphorus, TSS 1 mg/l, BOD non- detect and nitrogen is currently 5 mg/l but according to Mr. Harvey will be 3 mg/l when the expansion is completed. He pointed out that the average monthly TMDL is about 50% more lenient a measure than the weekly measure that EPA is mandating. Mr. Harvey worried that the cost of the technology to achieve the weekly TMDL limit might be prohibitive. The more I examine the issure the more complicated it becomes. Weighing raising sewage and water rates on public systems to pay for the technology to meet the TMDL goal for the state and implementation and enforcement costs to have the Commonwealth regulate the non-point sources of contamination.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Energy Efficiency and the Passive House

The past year has been one of weather extremes. The winter of 2009-2010 in Virginia saw more snow than had fallen in over a quarter of a century. The summer saw almost seven weeks of days near 100 degrees. Nonetheless, Virginia has a moderate climate and I benefit in the winter by having my roof absorb heat and the southern open orientation of my house. Throughout the summer the same southern orientation results in extra load on the air conditioning/heat exchanger, but provides the optimal conditions for my solar photovoltaic panels. (My husband enjoys the cooler months when he is allowed to open the southern drapes to experience the full beauty of our setting.) My most successful sustainable living project to date has been the insulation of my attic which effectively thermally isolated the attic from the rest of the house. According to the US Department of Energy heating and cooling account for about 56% of the energy use in a typical U.S. home, making it the largest energy expense for most homes.

To further improve the energy efficiency of my home I have been saving up to install a ground source heat exchanger (commonly called a geothermal heat exchanger) when my existing system reaches the end of its life or just before the 30% federal tax credit expires whichever comes first. This past spring, the O’Neill home in Sonoma, CA became California’s first certified Passive House, and the first certified to the new retrofit standards. A Passivhaus or Passive House in English is simply a very well-insulated, virtually air-tight building that is primarily heated by passive solar gain and by internal gains from people, electrical equipment, etc. Energy losses are minimized. Any remaining heat demand is provided by a small heat exchanger. Though the standard was developed in cooler climates and at this time tends to work best at passive heating avoidance of heat gain through shading and window orientation is also part of the standard and helps to limit the cooling load. An energy recovery ventilator provides a constant, balanced fresh air supply. Overall, a Passivhaus is reported to have an R-value of 60.

Though the concept was first pursued in New England in the 1970’s, the first Passivhaus were built in Darmstadt, Germany in 1990 and the standards were developed out of those projects. The Passivhaus standard includes an airtight building shell measured by blower-door test; an annual heat requirement ≤ 1.39 kWh/sqft/year; and primary energy ≤ 11.16 kWh/sqft/year. In addition, there are some recommendations that vary with climate. Worldwide the estimated number of passive houses ranges from 15,000 to 25,000. Passive houses incorporate high performance triple-glazed windows with solar films and argon gas, super-insulation, an airtight building shell, limitation of thermal bridging and balanced energy recovery ventilation make possible extraordinary reductions in energy use and carbon emission. The result is home that reportedly saves up to 90% of space heating costs, and reportedly provides excellent indoor air quality. If every building in America was a Passivhaus we could reduce our energy use by almost half.

The O’Neill home in Sonoma cost $500/sqft to retrofit, my house cost less than one fifth of that to purchase and came with acres of land. It is fair to say that I will never spend $500/ft sq to retrofit my home as a certified Passivhaus nor for that matter a LEEDs certified home. (About 39-percent of the points for LEED certification are energy related.) However, I think that despite the currently fashionable push into renewable energy, the real progress in reduction of energy use will be in insulation, strategies to reduce thermal bridging, and passive house techniques. Modifying our transportation behavior and reducing the energy used in our homes and buildings could change our national energy use significantly and it is within our control. Now that I have taken care of the attic insulation retrofit, I suspect that thermal bridging on the exterior walls combined with air leakage are the primary locations of heat loss and gain for my home and many others. To maximize the effectiveness of any future planned energy use improvement projects, I plan to investigate and incorporate (if possible) some of the design principals gleaned from the new Passive House retrofit standard and US Department of Energy recommendations in my next energy project.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Tough Choices Ahead for Virginia

The Chesapeake Bay and its tidal waters are impaired by amongst other things the release of excess nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment. These pollutants are released from waste water treatment plants, from agricultural operations, urban and suburban runoff, wastewater facilities, air pollution and other sources, including septic systems that enter the tributaries and Chesapeake Bay. These pollutants cause algae blooms that consume oxygen and create dead zones where fish and shellfish cannot survive, block sunlight that is needed for underwater grasses, and smother aquatic life on the bottom. The US EPA has taken control of the situation and has developed a new federally mandated TMDL to restore the Chesapeake. The total maximum daily limit, TMDL, allocates a pollution budget among the states which will decrease over time.

The plan to meet the federally mandated TMDL is called a Watershed Implementation Plan, WIP. The six Chesapeake Bay states and the District of Columbia were required to develop WIPs to meet the federally mandated TMDLs. The EPA found Virginia’s WIP to have serious deficiencies. It did not meet allocations for nitrogen (6 percent over the limit) and phosphorus (7 percent over the limit), but did meet allocations for sediment (12 percent under the limit). In addition, the EPA found that the Virginia WIP relied on pollution trading programs but had no commitment to adopt new regulations relying instead on market forces. The EPA deemed the WIP to be vague and contain limited enforceability and accountability for filling the gaps identified by the EPA. The federal government will require Virginia to reduce their nitrogen release by an addition 12 million pounds per year, and their phosphorus release by 1.7 million pounds per year beyond those identified in the WIP. EPA has made it clear they will enforce reductions in the areas they can control under federal law to meet the TMDL. The EPA can only mandate reductions in waste streams from waste water treatment plants, CAFOs (concentrated animal feed operations), municipal separate storm sewage systems, MS4s and wastewater treatment plants.

To ensure that Virginia meets the TMDL goals the EPA will squeeze the MS4s, CAFOs and waste water treatment plants possibly beyond the economically feasible limit to get what they want. The EPA wants Virginia to develop a set of regulations for land use that will meet the TMDL. The Chesapeake Bay TMDL will force changes in how each of us lives, the costs for building new homes, hospitals, businesses and roads, the costs for repaving roads and redeveloping areas, the costs for building and operating a septic system, the cost of public water and sewage and taxes. That is the price of growing population density and a healthy and sustainable Chesapeake Bay. About half the land and 60% of the population of Virginia is within the Chesapeake Bay TMDL.

The first TMDL to be developed for Prince William County, Virginia (where I live) is for Cedar Run. The Cedar Run watershed is the land area that drains into Cedar Run and includes much of Nokesville. The nearly 87,000 acre watershed continues into Fauquier County. While EPA and environmental groups have emphasized the contribution of agriculture in the form of CAFOs and waste water treatment plants, the reality is that only a portion of Prince William County is serviced by the HL Mooney a WWTP and the Daly City units and the county only has two working dairy farms left. These days the horse farms greatly out number the beef cattle operations. Golf courses and suburban development are increasingly the sources of nutrient and sediment contamination in the watershed. The state and county is going to have to increase regulations on hobby horse farms, golf clubs and suburban developments. In order to meet the TMDL for the watershed changes will have to be made. No area will remain untouched by regulation.

For example along with the issue of backyard chickens, the county will have to readdress the zoning for horses. The keeping of a single horse produces approximately 45 pounds of manure per day, and depending on the type and amount you use, bedding can add another 20 +/- pounds of waste a day. If the horse was kept turned out year round (in our area that would require approximately 3-4 acres of open field per horse) then the horse would not be using bedding, which accounts for an addition 50% of the waste and the open acreage could serve as a solution to what to do with the manure. That single horse produces approximately eight tons of manure each year that would be "spread" by the horse at a rate of about two ton per acre per year. Spreading manure at this rate probably will not overload the plants or cause water quality problems through runoff. However, if the property lacks adequate field to keep the horses turned out, then the waste from the sacrifice area and paddocks needs to be managed to prevent excessive nutrient runoff and contamination of ground water. One of the things that will have to be addressed in future regulations is the open acreage requirements for horses.

Septic systems are another area that will have to be reexamined. Dutchess County New York did a study to monitor the nitrate concentrations associated with septic systems. They chose to use nitrate concentrations at half the drinking water level as a proxy for adequate dilution and natural attenuation of all contaminants. Historically, little thought was given to the dilution for wastewater components like nitrate and phosphorus in developing septic regulations. The NY Department of Health separation distances were assumed (and these are almost identical to the Virginia setbacks), but the overall regional density of septic systems was examined to ensure that groundwater and surface resources would not be overwhelmed by the total load of contaminants. The density recommendations were developed based on the nitrate concentrations. Nitrate was used as a proxy because all humans produce nitrate, it does not easily break down and there is a drinking water standard. The study found that overall average density of on-site waste disposal should not exceed one unit per 2-3 acres for an average size household to ensure water quality. In many neighborhoods septic density is much greater than one unit per 2-3 acres. In the WIP Virginia is beginning to address the possibility of requiring nitrate removal technology in new and repaired septic systems.

The county is currently considering a proposal to allow backyard chickens in residential areas. According to the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, the typical household generates 10-15 pounds of nitrogen per year and 1-2 pounds of phosphorus per year. According to a Maryland state study, each chicken generates approximately 0.41 lbs of Nitrogen per year and around 0.35 pounds of phosphorus per year. Thus, each household with 10 chickens would generate 4.1 pounds of nitrogen and 3.5 pounds of phosphorus per year. This is a significant increase in the nutrient load of a typical house hold, a more than three fold increase in phosphorus load and an increase of nitrogen load by more than 30%. This additional waste is delivered in an uncontrolled manner to the surface. The poor location of a chicken coop could potentially impact ground water and well heads both on and off site and subject to runoff. Before Prince William allows additional nutrient loads they need to address reducing the current source of excess nutrient pollution.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Costs and Return of My Solar Panels in a Paperwork Nation

A few months back I had a 7.36 KW solar photovoltaic system installed on the roof of my house in Virginia. Though we struggled a bit through the installation process and up the learning curve with the contractor, the panels have been up and running for over four months. For the month of September my solar panels produced 1.1 MW hours of electricity to offset my electric bill. That power reduced my electric bill for September by $138.91. For the month of August the panels produced $126.28 worth of electricity. Since the solar panels were installed they have produced 4.7 KW hours or $593.52 in energy. While I find the electric savings to be exciting, it would take more than the rated lifetime of the solar panels to have the solar panels pay for themselves. The only reason solar panels made any economic sense at all was the various rebates that are available. My latest excitement is I have received my first check for selling my Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) to a Pennsylvania utility. The SREC sold for $301 and I netted $285.95 after fees to the broker. To successfully navigate the solar credit market you need to have the soul of an accountant or at least the aptitude. As Peggy Noonan pointed out in her most recent column, the paperwork nation we’ve become is at odds with the innovative character needed to create and modernize great industries. Still, I feel joy at having navigated the paper maze that is solar power.

The cost and return on a solar power system is based entirely on regulated incentives starting with Renewable Energy Rebates and federal tax credits. The final incentive is the Solar Renewable Energy Credit or SREC. Each SREC is a credit for each megawatt of electricity that is produced. A SREC is not electricity, it is a credit for energy I produce and use myself. In the first four and a half months of operation, my system has produced 4.7 megawatt hours. SRECs have value only because some states have Renewable Portfolio Standards, RPS, which require that a portion of energy produced by a utility be produced by renewable power. Utilities in the state buy SRECs from solar installation producers. It is a way for states to ensure that the upfront cost of solar power is recovered from utility companies (and ultimately from the consumers). Some states, like New Jersey and Maryland, require their utilities to buy SRECs only from residents of their states creating a closed market where the price is kept high. Other states, like Virginia, have no current RPS requirement. Still other states, like Pennsylvania allow their utilities to buy their RPS from any resident within the PJM regional transmission organization. The power in the grid is purchased and sole on a regional basis, so I suppose there is some logic to a regional SREC market.

To purchase and install a 7.36 KW solar array consisting of 32 Sharp 230 watt solar panels, 32 Enphase micro-inverters and mounts was $57,040. For the engineering and permits I paid $1,500 for a grand total of $58,540 out of pocket. Then it gets complicated because to make the economics of the system work, you must successfully navigate all the sources of rebates and credits. The 7.36 KW are equivalent to 6.2 KW PTC. I reserved 6 KW PTC Renewable Energy Rebate from Virginia and on completion of installation, inspection and approval by the county, and sign-off by my power company, NOVC, I filled out all my paperwork, provided copies of permits, signed off inspections, invoices, technical information and manufacturer certification, contractor information and pictures of the installation, and meter and fairly promptly (within 4 weeks) received my renewable energy rebate of $12,000 from Virginia. This payment may or may not be taxable income.

When I file my federal tax returns at the end of the year, I will have to fill out a special form (5695) and retain copies of all the documentation for my federal tax returns as well as provide evidence that Virginia reviewed my installation paperwork and paid my Renewable Energy Rebate (of $12,000) to obtain my 30% tax credit of $17,562. (Do not forget to adjust the basis in your home by the net cost of the solar panels only so that the tax credit will be recovered by the government upon sale of the house if you exceed the standard real estate profits allowance under the tax code.) Thus, from the original installation cost of $58,540 I subtract the Virginia Renewable Energy Rebate of $12,000 and the 30% federal residential energy tax credit of $17,562 and my total out of pocket cost for my solar system after the first year is $28,978. A rough estimate using the DOE model of my savings on electricity (I have an air heat exchanger) is $1,400 per year. That would be an under 5% return on my investment each year. In this market that was almost enough to make solar power look reasonable, but it was the possibility of selling the SRECS that made the return attractive enough to get my husband to agree to buy them. I agreed to manage the construction, documentation and paperwork because I really wanted solar panels. When we purchased this house, one of the selection criteria was an open southern roof span. It was the desire for the solar panels that saw me through the process of installation and paperwork.

My system should produce 11 SRECs a year. Under the federal incentives (what my husband lovingly calls Al Gore funny money) I can sell SRECs for 15 years assuming that there remains a market for SRECs in the future. Because SRECs are not physical entities, but merely a credit for having made power (I used all the power produced by the panels in my own home) their value depends entirely on regulation which can change over time. There is a certain risk that SRECs could become worthless at any time if regulations change. Of course they could become worth more. Meanwhile, I will continue selling SRECs on the spot market. After looking into creating an account for my SRECs in Pennsylvania and Washington DC, I ended up signing up with a service to manage my SRECs for 5% of the sale price. After investigating the market, I discovered that there are tremendous inefficiencies, a few young companies and not a lot of operating history. I ended up taking a bit of a flyer on SREC Trade, a small operation out of San Francisco after checking references with the state regulators. So far it is working out. I have successfully been registered in the Pennsylvania and Washington DC markets and have received my first check for the sale of a SREC.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Chesapeake Bay TMDL, Virginia WIP and the Northern Virginia Public Meeting

EPA has been having a series of public meetings in conjunction with the six Chesapeake Bay States to provide and information on the Chesapeake Bay strict pollution diet, the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), the Watershed Implementation Plans, WIPs and to encourage public comment. The Chesapeake Bay and its tidal waters are impaired by the release of excess nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment. These pollutants are released from waste water treatment plants, from agricultural operations, urban and suburban runoff, wastewater facilities, air pollution and other sources, including septic systems that enter the tributaries and Chesapeake Bay. These pollutants cause algae blooms that consume oxygen and create dead zones where fish and shellfish cannot survive, block sunlight that is needed for underwater grasses, and smother aquatic life on the bottom. Over the past quarter century the excess nutrient contamination to the Chesapeake Bay has decreased, but the Bay’s waters remain seriously degraded. As a result, US EPA has taken control of the situation and has developed a new federally mandated TMDL to restore the local waters. The TMDL (released as a Draft standard in July and to be finalized at the end of November) allocates a pollution budget among the states which will decrease over time. On Tuesday evening there was a public meeting at Northern VA Community College in Annandale.

Robert Koroncai from Region III of the US EPA Water Protection Division in Philadelphia made it quite clear that the federal government is in charge and in their evaluation of the Virginia WIP the plan did not meet the TMDL loading levels with “reasonable assurance.” The EPA found that none of the states met the reasonable assurance standard, but that Virginia’s WIP had a “moderate need” for federal backstops. Virginia’s WIP was found to have serious deficiencies. It did not meet allocations for nitrogen (6 percent over) and phosphorus (7 percent over), but did meet allocations for sediment (12 percent under). In addition, the EPA found that the Virginia WIP relied on pollution trading programs but had no commitment to adopt new regulations relying instead on market forces. The WIP was deemed to be vague and was found to have limited enforceability and accountability for filling the gaps identified by the EPA and few data points to demonstrate compliance. Stronger CAFO (concentrated animal feed operation), MS4s and wastewater treatment plants were all areas that Mr. Koroncai pointed out required federal backstops. Mr. Koroncai stated that Virginia needed to reduce their nitrogen release by an addition 12 million pounds per year, and their phosphorus release by 1.7 million pounds per year beyond those identified in the WIP.

EPA is invoking a “moderate levels of back stops” for Virginia to ensure adequate reduction in nutrient pollution to the Chesapeake Bay. This means that the WIP aggregate point source allocations for storm water and animal agriculture (CAFO) sectors were adjusted by the federal government to match levels determined to be adequate in Maryland’s WIPs. More stringent waste load allocations were applied to waste water treatment plants (regulated via federal programs); so that the waste stream from wastewater treatment plants was assigned to be 4 mg/L total nitrogen and 0.3 mg/L total phosphorus. For municipal separate storm sewer systems, MS4s, the federal government has imposed the requirement that 50% of urban MS4 lands meet aggressive performance standard through retrofit/ redevelopment; 50% of unregulated land will be treated as regulated, so that 25% of unregulated land meets aggressive performance standard. I’m, quite frankly, not sure what that means in terms of installation and operation of storm systems. Erosion and sediment control will be required on all lands subject to Construction General Permit. Finally, in animal agriculture and CAFO operations waste management, barnyard runoff control, mortality composting will be required. In addition, precision feed management for all animals in unpermitted animal feed operations, permitted CAFOs but not to dairies.

Mr. Koroncai did make positive comments on the Nutrient credit exchange program that Anthony Moore, the Assistant Secretary for Chesapeake Bay Restoration of Virginia, highlighted. Mr. Moore was the primary speaker for Virginia and highlighted the WIP for the audience. It was clear that addition requirements will have to be placed on existing homeowners, neighborhoods and communities. Animal agriculture will have to expand best management practices, BMPs and waste water treatment plants will have to be retrofitted with additional equipment. This all comes down to the limitations to land use freedom, increased regulation, costs and taxes. The Virginia homeowner and citizen needs a voice in the process to determine the balance of regulations, taxes and fees that occur in meeting the TMDL. The Chesapeake Bay will be cleaned up, that is not in question, how we pay for the cleanup is in question. Significant changes in land use regulations, storm water management, waste treatment plant operation, septic regulations and operations, agricultural practices will have to be made to meet the TMDL, the federal regulators should allow Virginia to decide how to best meet the TMDL and not impose the command and control method of compliance they prefer. There is cost to achieve a healthy Chesapeake Bay, let us determine how to pay for it.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Backyard Chickens, Virginia Chesapeake Bay WIP, and October 5th

October 5th is a busy evening in Northern Virginia for the environment. On the agenda for the October 5th meeting of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, is a proposal to change to the zoning and land use regulations within the county. Currently chickens and other farm animals are allowed on 2 acres or more of agricultural land, but only if there's no house on the land. If there's a house, the property is considered residential and chickens are not allowed. County staff and Planning Commission have offered two differing recommendations for changes to the zoning regulations. The Planning Commission would allow chickens on properties under two acres within the county's rural area, whereas staff recommended that all properties should have to be at least two acres. Two emus, ostriches and similar large birds would be allowed on parcels of at least two acres, but less than 10 acres.

There are two risks that should be carefully considered by the Prince William Board of County Supervisors when making this decision, potential contamination of the drinking water supply for the area and potential for contaminated runoff to impact the Chesapeake Bay. As our area has become more suburban, density has increased, along with the utilization of groundwater for domestic purposes and the density of septic systems. This suburban development has increased the suburban runoff and nutrient contamination to our groundwater and watershed. The proposed zoning change would allow additional nutrient load in the form of backyard poultry. Unless, the county intends to regulate the micro poultry “farms” and require the implementation of and maintenance of BMPs to manage the waste and locating of coops according to the protective separation requirements of the septic regulations, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors should consider only the more conservative staff recommendation.

Also on October 5th is the Northern Virginia’s EPA's Chesapeake Bay TMDL public meeting. The meeting is being held on October 5th from 6:00 to 8:00 pm at the Annandale, campus of Northern Virginia Community College. The address and building appear in the list below. There are 4 public meetings and a webinar scheduled for Virginia. The meetings are scheduled to allow EPA to have a 40-45 minutes presentation, followed by an overview of the Virginia WIP for 15-20 minutes, followed by Q&A and public comments for about 1 hour.

Over the past quarter century the excess nutrient contamination to the Chesapeake Bay has decreased, but the Bay’s waters remain seriously degraded. As a result, US EPA has taken control of the situation and has developed a new federally mandated total maximum daily load, TMDL, of contaminants to restore the local waters. The TMDL (released as a Draft standard in July) allocates a pollution budget among the states which will decrease over time. There is no segment of the Virginia watershed that meets the TMDL at this time, yet Prince William is considering increasing the nutrient load on properties by allowing backyard poultry.

Virginia's secretary of natural resources, Doug Domenech, submitted Virginia's Watershed Implementation Plan to the Environmental Protection Agency on Sept. 3, 2010. For the urban and suburban storm water to meet the federal mandated pollution diet, new developments will be subject to storm water management, urban nutrient management and erosion and sediment controls that have recently be implemented and development of a nutrient exchange program to encourage voluntary implementation of BMPs (best management practices). However, the new storm water regulations will not address the sediment and nutrient loads associated with existing development and septic systems, or even the proposed expansion of residential nutrient loads by allowing backyard poultry. EPA is mandating nutrient and sediment reductions to the EPA’s determined acceptable level on a segment by segment basis. Prince William Board of County Supervisors needs to carefully consider what steps they are going to have to take to meet the federally mandated reduction in TMDL when considering any zoning changes. Even with statewide compliance and the new storm water management regulation the WIP talks of restrictions on lawn and turf fertilizers, increasing regulation on both traditional and alternative septic systems. Increasing the waste load from backyard poultry does not fit into these reductions in nutrient runoff.

The WIP does not specify how Virginia will reduce nonpoint runoff pollution from farms, suburban and urban areas beyond allowing the local governments to make those decisions. Prince William Board of County Supervisors have the opportunity to demonstrate how communities in Virginia will rise to the occasion. The reaction by EPA to the WIP and their comments at the public meetings will tell us if the federal regulators intend to regulate down to the suburban backyard or if they will allow the Commonwealth to have the local communities address how to reduce their contributions to pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. The actions of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors will tell us if they can rise to the challenge of restoring and managing our natural resources.

The Prince William Board of County Supervisors will meet on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2010, in the Board Chambers of the James J. McCoart Administration Building. The zoning change is scheduled for the evening session.

EPA's Chesapeake Bay TMDL public meetings are being held in Virginia October 4th to 7th 2010.

October 4 - from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. Grafton Theatre, James Madison University, 281 Warren Service Drive, Harrisonburg, VA.

October 5 - from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. Northern Virginia Community College, Annandale Campus, Ernst Community Cultural Center, 8333 Little River Turnpike, Annandale VA

October 6 - from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. Robins Pavilion Jepson Alumni Center, University of Richmond, 28 Westhampton Way, Richmond, VA

October 7, webinar 1:00 to 3:00 p.m.
https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/689259867

October 7 - from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. Crowne Plaza Hampton Marina Hotel, 700 Settlers Landing Road, Hampton, VA