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City, sanitary district waiting for review of Total Maximum Daily Load appeal

by SARA HOTTMAN, Herald and News 7/16/11

The city of Klamath Falls and South Suburban Sanitary District are at a standstill in the total maximum daily load process until at least September as the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality reviews appeals to the order it issued last December.


“We anticipate by Sept. 30 we’ll finalize decisions on what we’ll revise in the TMDL,” said Gene Foster, manager of DEQ’s watershed management section. “We won’t necessarily make revisions then, but we’ll say these are things we’ll take up and are willing to revise.”


Total maximum daily loads, more commonly known as TMDLs, are a mechanism in the federal Clean Water Act to regulate water pollution.


For the city of Klamath Falls and South Suburban Sanitary District, called point sources because they discharge treated wastewater into water bodies, the Klamath and Lost rivers’ TMDL dictates the amount of pollutants allowed in effluent.


Point sources must get state permits to discharge treated wastewater into water bodies, but they can’t get new permits until they meet TMDL requirements.


“As far as implementing, we’d like to see it move forward, but we realize the permit holders will eventually need to revise and resubmit permits, but we don’t anticipate them to resubmit those until after the EPA approves the TMDL,” Foster said.


The Environmental Protection Agency must give the order final approval, but will delay its review until the petition process is finished, officials said.


The TMDL order, issued Dec. 22, would require point sources to reduce phosphorous content by 91 percent — a mandate that could cost city ratepayers at least $6 million in treatment machinery and South Suburban ratepayers between $60 and $90 million.


In February, the point sources and non-point sources — Klamath County, Columbia Forest Products, Klamath Water Users Association, PacifiCorp — filed petitions for reconsideration asking the state to revise the TMDL order, which also requires reductions in nitrogen, biological oxygen demand and temperature.


DEQ accepted the petitions in April and started meeting with petitioners in June. The results:


Point sources: city of Klamath Falls, South Suburban Sanitary District


City Public Works Director Mark Willrett and South Suburban Sanitary District General Manager Michael Fritschi said the meeting with DEQ seemed to be more of a meet-and-greet.


“I don’t have a good feel for … DEQ’s take,” Willrett said. “It really is kind of vague right now.”


Fritschi said it “looks like DEQ is pretty firm in its assertions of the validity of the model” used to conclude phosphorous needs to be reduced dramatically, though petitioners believe “phosphorous is a little over the top.”


DEQ officials are still trying to “better identify what the substantive issues are,” Foster said. Officials want to meet with point sources again to further discuss issues with technical details. From there they’ll have internal discussions to decide what they’re willing to give on.


“I hope they’ll look at everything,” Willrett said. “We’re trying to be optimistic right now.”


“We want to take the time and do it right and respond to petitions,” said Steve Kirk, Klamath Basin coordinator with DEQ. “There’s no mandated schedule … We’ve been dealing with water quality issues in the Klamath Basin for years. This is just one more step.”


Non-point sources: Klamath Water Users Association, Klamath County, Columbia Forest Products, PacifiCorp


Non-point sources are identified in the TMDL as indirectly contributing to water pollution, mostly through water runoff from commercial operations or irrigation.


Despite their petitions for reconsideration, they still have a June 2012 deadline to write up a water quality improvement plan to curb their contributions to water pollution as identified in the TMDL.


Only the Klamath Water Users Association, an irrigator group, has met with DEQ officials. Columbia Forest Products and PacifiCorp, commercial operations, and Klamath County, which doesn’t have its own treatment facility, have meetings scheduled late this month or early next month.


Greg Addington, director of Klamath Water Users, said the membership’s main issue is they don’t understand what their responsibility is within the plan they’re supposed to write.


Non-point sources’ requirements lack specificity, Addington said, whereas point sources must meet clear permit obligations.


“We’re trying to get an understanding of what is required and what it’ll cost,” Addington said. “It’s a big deal because some of these alleged solutions are pie-in-the-sky ideas on treatment facilities,” which would be expensive for irrigation districts, he said.


Foster said DEQ officials wanted to meet with the Klamath Water Users again to hammer out their issues, including how irrigators will coordinate with California TMDL requirements.


While he didn’t sense concessions on “big issues” like modeling or boundaries, “I don’t think they were shutting the door on anything,” Addington said. “Whatever we end up doing with best management practice, we have to do it in a coordinated fashion with the two states.”

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