NPDES Permits in New England
Public Interest Advisory Committee (PIAC) Meeting
July 12, 2001, 12:00 to 2:00 PM
Members Present: Patty Foley, Save the Harbor/Save the Bay (chair); Robert Buchsbaum, Audubon; Marianne Farrington, New England Aquarium; Joe Favaloro, MWRA Advisory Board; and Steve Tucker, Cape Cod Commission.
Observers: Eugene Benson, MWRA; Grace Bigornia-Vitale, MWRA; Cathy Coniaris, MADEP; Susan Darling, MWRA; Maury Hall, MWRA; Matt Liebman, EPA; Steve Lipman, MADEP; Rich Masters, Normandeau Assoc.; Mike Mickelson, MWRA; Susan Redlich, MADEP; Andrea Rex, MWRA; Larry Schafer, observer; and David Wu, MWRA.
SUMMARY OF ACTION ITEMS
- PIAC ill forward M. Farringtons concerns about the protocol and reporting for toxicity testing to Andy Solow (OMSAP chair) and additional information will be requested from EPA.
- PIAC members listed ideas for workshop outreach (see page 4.
- PIAC approved the April 2001 minutes with no amendments.
UPDATE ON MENIDIA TOXICITY TEST EXCEEDANCE
M. Hall described the April 2001 Menidia (silverside fish) growth toxicity test exceedance. He described the test methods, statistics, and results [see meeting handout, for a copy, contact email@example.com]. He noted that the Menidia are fragile newborns, therefore weights are measured at the end of the test as dry weights. There is an assumption that all of the fish are all born within a few hours of each other and weigh almost the same. He showed the results and noted that they were barely statistically significant. The results also showed that the averaged weight of the control was high due to one large fish that skewed the results. Removing this outlier yields different results, with no violation. This test is sensitive to ammonia and so concentrations were closely examined but they were not higher than usual. M. Farrington asked what happens if the test is completed and is determined to not be valid. M. Hall replied that the test would be repeated the following week.
M. Hall then described the change in protocol for the calculation of the weights mandated by EPA two years ago. The purpose of the revised protocol was to take reductions in biomass and survival into account. In the old protocol, all the fish were weighed and divided by the number still alive. Now the total weight is divided by the total number of fish in the test. The underlying assumption is that all of the mortality and the changes in the growth are due to the effluent toxicity. Previous results have shown that it is expected that a few fish will die in each test group, even the control, regardless of effluent concentration. In the April test, none of the control animals died, whereas a few died in the other test groups. This is a bias that can work for, or against the discharger, and he sees as unresolved in this protocol. In this case, it worked against the discharger. M. Farrington asked who determines these protocols. M. Liebman replied that these are national protocols and there has been an ongoing debate on how to calculate the results.
M. Farrington thinks there are not enough fish used in the test to be able to calculate using the newer protocol. M. Hall noted that others have also questioned this. M. Farrington wondered if PIAC could get more information on why the test is run in this way. She is concerned that there was public notification of an exceedance, yet the results were questionable. She believes that something went wrong with the April test and she would have run it again. As a scientist, she would disregard these results, but wondered what the public would do with this information. M. Hall replied that most dischargers report quarterly and would have to do this test again, but since MWRA is required to run this test monthly, the re-test is the following months scheduled test. M. Farrington said that it did not make sense why MWRA is not allowed to re-run the test before it is reported. A. Rex replied that if they have legal results, they have to report them.
M. Farrington asked if they were still required to report data even if they are wrong. M. Hall said that they had already done the May test by the time they received the April results. M. Farrington is concerned that test results such as this are considered legal results. M. Liebman said that EPA did look at the weight of evidence and agreed with MWRAs conclusions. M. Farrington agreed but pointed out that there was still a public notification. She thinks that the general public should be receiving information that is meaningful and that the April test should have been thrown out. M. Liebman said that MWRA is required to report all of the results and the regulators can draw conclusions on whether it is a serious violation.
R. Buchsbaum thinks Contingency Plan notification is still a good idea. Hopefully people can be rational and understand that it is the interpretation that is really important. It would be worse to keep results from the public, it would seem that MWRA was hiding information. S. Tucker thinks it is informative to have EPAs interpretation of exceedances. MWRA has so far had good explanations of their interpretations. He thinks this discussion relates to the fall 2000 chlorophyll data and whether notification should go out as soon as there were results, even though they were still being reviewed for accuracy, or whether there was a reason to wait until there was a final interpretation of the data.
M. Liebman noted that the EPA listserver messages include EPA interpretation as well as follow-up requirements imposed on MWRA. He asked PIAC to let him know if there were any other suggestions for listeserver content. A. Rex asked M. Liebman how EPA in general regards toxicity test violations. M. Liebman replied that Brian Pitt and Eric Hall from EPA are better qualified to answer that question. A. Rex said that it is her understanding that EPA is aware of the variability of the tests and that it is the overall pattern of repeated exceedances that EPA looks for, and not a single incident. M. Liebman agreed. A. Rex thinks that this context should be better laid out.
M. Farrington also thinks that it would be more useful to report toxicity test results quarterly, and not monthly, so there is time to review all available information. M. Hall said that one option would be to change the threshold to consider more than one successive failure a permit violation. M. Farrington agreed with that approach. M. Hall said that statistically, there will be a failure 5% of the time, and there are 48 toxicity test results in a year, so it is expected that there be violations 2-4 times per year. L. Schafer does not think that the threshold should be changed, because a threshold is not sensitive enough if it is not exceeded once in a while.
ACTION: PIAC will forward M. Farringtons concerns about the protocol and reporting for toxicity testing to Andy Solow (OMSAP chair) and additional information will be requested from EPA.
M. Mickelson said that there were no exceedances for the month of June, bacteria levels and total organic carbon values were low. The plant has been running well, and the outfall remained purged, except for a brief period in mid-June when seawater intruded while flow was shut off so the hydropower plant could be started. The hydropower plant harnesses the energy of the waterfall at the end of the disinfection basin to generate one megawatt of electricity, which is about 1/20th of the entire plants demand.
M. Mickelson then described the hard bottom benthic survey conducted earlier this week. The survey looked at the health of the attached community, including life on some of the risers. The scientists videotaped clear footage of one of the risers covered with life, including anemones and cod swimming around. Images will be posted on the MWRA website. They could also see the clear effluent being discharged because of the wavy lines created when liquids with different indicies are mixed (Schlering Effect). This effect can also be detected acoustically. The discharge will be mapped using acoustics and dye during the plume tracking study next week. This is a permit requirement to assess the diffuser operation and dilution. EPA and NOAA will be conducting the acoustic part of the study. Meanwhile, the Battelle vessel will be measuring dye (Rhodamine WT) that will be added to the head end of the disinfection basin.
M. Mickelson then updated the group on chlorophyll. Chlorophyll in 2000 increased compared to 1999. There was a large, regional bloom in fall of 2000, beginning just before the outfall started up on September 6, 2000. When MWRA looked closer at the chlorophyll data, they noticed laboratory errors in the procedures that were discussed that at the April OMSAP meeting. He will be receiving data shortly for final review and MWRA plans to complete review by the end of July. They can say with confidence that there was a regional bloom, and it started before the outfall went on-line and there is no evidence that the outfall exacerbated the bloom. The dissolved oxygen levels, and species were normal and healthy with no eutrophication effects.
P. Foley thought it was important to meet today so the group can spend some time thinking about the public workshops. One of the most important challenges that will be faced will be informing the public and working to build a crowd. She thinks the content will be good quality but everyone should remain mindful of who the audience will be. C. Coniaris reviewed the workshop planning meeting in June [see handout]. The planning group developed the goals, potential themes, format, and title of the workshop and additional input from PIAC is welcome. There will be two evening workshops in October, one in Boston to serve the North Shore/Boston and one on Cape Cod to serve South Shore/Cape Cod.
S. Tucker thought Woods Hole was out of the way for some on the Cape and that Sandwich or Barnstable would be a better location. C. Coniaris agreed to look into booking an auditorium at the Cape Cod Community College or one of the high schools. S. Tucker said he would speak with Peter Borrelli regarding whether they would want to give a brief presentation at the workshops on their recent monitoring in Cape Cod Bay, however he understood that there might not be enough time on the agenda for this.
L. Schafer thinks there is not much interest for people to attend the workshops and that the title needs to be catchier, for example ask, are your beaches in danger?". A. Rex said that MWRA would be reluctant to do that since they are preparing the presentations and the workshop is their permit requirement. She does not want to exaggerate the situation to get more interest. P. Heidell said there are many ways to try to get people to attend, without trying to alarm people. R. Buchsbaum thinks just having MWRA on the meeting notice would generate interest. He said that people think about beaches, and perhaps a presentation on that topic would draw more people. S. Redlich suggested an overview of what changes, if any, environmentally, have been tracked for Boston Harbor and Mass Bays. One other thing that the public needs to know is the ongoing cost of maintaining the equipment and outfall in a way that it will continue to work well. L. Schafer agreed and added that people should also know how much outfall monitoring costs. S. Tucker suggested that since there will be two meetings, that proceedings be mailed to attendees or list a website at the workshops where they will be posted on the Internet. He also suggested that since there cannot be a catchy title, then catchy graphics might be used to increase interest.
P. Foley asked MWRA how they plan to advertise for the workshop, and how PIAC can help. A. Rex said that PIAC can certainly help since it is their constituencies that are the people who are really interested in this. She said that MWRA is not mandated to publicize the workshop but they will post information on their website and can help in other ways. ACTION: PIAC then discussed ways of advertising the public workshop. Ideas were to: send listserver messages (EPA MWRA, EPA Greenbytes, Fish Folk, New England Aquarium), send hard copy mailing, post brochures (New England Aquarium and Audubon sanctuaries), advertise in newsletters (Coastlines, Mass Bays Program, Gulf of Maine Times, MADMF), list in MEPA environmental monitor, notify Coastal Advocacy Network, send EPA/MADEP press release, and meet with editorial boards.
R. Buchsbaum thinks the presentations should look at the big picture. About 10 years ago, there were several over-arching questions that were identified, is public health protected and are resources protected. He thinks those questions should be revisited.
REVIEW OF DRAFT APRIL 2001 MINUTES
ACTION: PIAC approved the April 4, 2001 minutes with no amendments.
OUTSTANDING PIAC ISSUES
P. Foley stated that Mary Loebig informed PIAC in a letter that the Stop the Outfall Pipe (STOP) nonprofit organization has voted to dissolve its corporation. This means that she is subsequently stepping down as a member of PIAC. C. Coniaris added that there will be a new member on PIAC from the Wastewater Advisory Committee. R. Buchsbaum suggested that PIAC thank M. Loebig for her membership and urge her to continue to be a voice. S. Tucker said that he would look into whether there were any other Cape groups that could join PIAC in place of STOP.
P. Foley brought up the issue of attendance. Apparently, PIAC meeting attendance has been declining recently. Several members would like to see interest and enthusiasm regenerated. In recent months, she has attempted to reach out to members. For example, there were offers of a conference call as well as a member survey that asked what members hoped to get out their membership on the committee. Overall, there has been more opportunity to participate and she wonders if there is less interest because the outfall is now on-line, and so far running well. She thinks the group should continue to move forward and she would love to hear how the other members feel.
- July 2001 OMSAP/PIAC/IAAC membership lists
- April 2001 draft OMSAP minutes
- MWRA Menidia toxicity test handouts
- June 2001 workshop planning meeting summary
Summary prepared by C. Coniaris. Post-meeting comments are included in [brackets]. All such comments have been inserted for clarification only. They do not, nor are they intended to, suggest that such insertions were part of the live meeting components and have been expressly set-off so as to avoid such inference.