Staff Riverkeeper Frank Chitwood said Coosa Riverkeeper informed ADEM it believes ADEM has acted wrongly in the proposed action that could delay the study and control of PCB pollution on Choccolocco Creek, Lake Logan Martin, Lay Lake and Lake Neely Henry.
Coosa Riverkeeper is a citizen-based non-profit whose mission is to protect and restore the Coosa River and its tributaries in Alabama. Coosa Riverkeeper is a member of Waterkeeper Alliance.
“The Department (ADEM) has either ignored the facts, the law, and/or the interests of improved water quality,” Chitwood said.
Chitwood said the issue at heart centers on ADEM’s Draft 2012 Section 303(d) List, which ADEM gave notice to the public on Feb. 12. The comment period ends March 13.
According to the notice, Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act requires that each state shall identify those waters within its boundaries for which controls of pollutant sources are not stringent enough to implement water quality standards applicable to such waters. In addition, each state shall establish a priority ranking for such waters, taking into account the severity of the pollution and the uses to be made of such waters. For each water body identified on the list, the state is required to establish a total maximum daily load (TMDL) for each pollutant at a level necessary to implement applicable water quality standards.
Chitwood said PCBs have made much of the Coosa unsafe for fishing, a designated use of this river.
“When a part of the river is determined to be too polluted for its intended use, it is added to the state’s 303(d) list,” he said. “Any stretch of river on the 303(d) must be studied further to determine how much pollution is too much pollution. The Coosa has been on the 303(d) list as a result of PCB contamination since the first list was issued in 1998.”
Chitwood said TMDLs have not been drafted yet for the Coosa.
“The goal was to do the TMDLs by 2017,” he said. “They basically said (in the draft) that they expect the water quality standards to be met in the next two years, based on the PCB cleanup in Anniston. The study for that cleanup won’t be done for three years, and the cleanup is only Choccolocco Creek and may not even start until four, five or even ten years from now. And that doesn’t provide justification for removing Lake Logan Martin and Lay Lake from the list.”
Chitwood said Coosa Riverkeeper is trying to encourage other lake groups, homeowners associations, and similar organizations to realize what this means to the lake and possibly write their own comment letters.
“Any citizen can write a comment letter,” he said. “The people of Alabama expect the Department (ADEM) to follow the letter and spirit of the law. Failing to reconsider this decision will harm more than attempts to remediate PCBs and improve water quality; it will damage the confidence of our society that our government can fulfill its given duties in order to protect our safety and our rights.”
ADEM spokesman Scott Hughes said ADEM is proposing to move those waterways into another category within the 303(d) list that fall under the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
“In order to be good stewards of taxpayer resources and not duplicate efforts, we are proposing to move these waterways to a different category that is still part of the 303(d) list and allow the CERCLA and RCRA programs to support water quality improvements,” he said.
Hughes said CERCLA and RCRA do not require TMDLs but use other mechanisms to support cleanup efforts.
“With the Coosa, it’s not really a water quality issue—it’s the PCBs already in the waterways and in fish tissue that caused fish consumption advisories, which is why the Coosa is on the 303(d) list,” he said. “We collect data (including samples of fish tissue) every year and make decisions based on that data.”
Hughes said the 303(d) list is revised every other year.
“If we see progress is not being made, we can move these waterways into a different category on the list that might require a TMDL or other measures,” he said. “It’s based on data and a science-based decision-making process. This is why we go through the public comment period. We want to be as transparent as possible and let citizens know what we plan to do before the decision is made.”
Hughes said the proposals go to the Environmental Protection Agency for review.
“If the EPA has any concerns, we will discuss it with them,” he said.
Persons wishing to submit comments or new information regarding the Draft 2012 Section 303(d) List are invited to do so in writing to Joseph Roy, Water Division, Alabama Department of Environmental Management, P.O. Box 301463, Montgomery, Alabama 36130-1463 (street address: 1400 Coliseum Boulevard, Montgomery, Alabama, 36110-2059). Roy’s phone number is 334-270-5635 and his email address is email@example.com. Comments must be received by the Department prior to 5 p.m. March 13.
Contact Elsie Hodnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.