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Frequently Asked Questions on Long Island Sound Watershed Permitting

Technical Fact Sheet Dated November 21, 2016

  1. What is EPA's Long Island Sound Nitrogen Reduction Strategy?
  2. What outreach has EPA done on the Nitrogen Strategy?
  3. What outreach does EPA intend to provide in the future?
  4. What does EPA's nitrogen strategy say about future nitrogen reduction levels?
  5. What form will the allocations take and how will they be implemented?
  6. When will the allocations be available?
  7. Could a wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) that already has nitrogen limits under their existing permits be subject to more stringent nitrogen limits? If so, when would permits be modified to include more stringent limits?
  8. What are the order and timing of National Pollutant
  9. Will EPA lead a point source nitrogen trading program within the Long Island Sound watershed?

1) What is EPA's Long Island Sound Nitrogen Reduction Strategy?

EPA is committed to the restoration and protection of Long Island Sound by continuing progress on nitrogen reduction to meet water quality standards for dissolved oxygen and addressing other eutrophication-related impacts.

In December 2015 EPA signed a letter, sent to each of the five states in the Long Island Sound watershed, detailing a comprehensive EPA nitrogen reduction strategy. The Strategy builds on earlier progress on reducing nitrogen pollution and works in coordination with the States' continued implementation of the Total Maximum Daily Load to Achieve Water Quality Standards for Dissolved Oxygen in Long Island Sound (2000 TMDL). Implementation of the 2000 TMDL has resulted in a significant reduction of nitrogen pollution, and has improved dissolved oxygen (DO) conditions in the open waters of the Sound. The Strategy, however, recognizes that more work must be done to reduce nitrogen levels, further improve DO conditions, and attain other related water quality standards in Long Island Sound. The letter and attachments detail EPA's proposed actions to complement the State's efforts, with basic concepts organized around three watershed groupings.

EPA has a contractor on board to assist EPA in the application and refinement of a technical approach for establishing nitrogen thresholds and allowable loads consistent with achieving desired water quality conditions and uses. Over the next twelve months EPA will work to establish thresholds for sub basins in the watershed, including, the Western Long Island Sound, several coastal embayments, and the Connecticut River. Regular updates on the strategy will be posted at http://longislandsoundstudy.net/issues-actions/water-quality/nitrogen-strategy/

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2) What outreach has EPA done on the Nitrogen Strategy?

  • Letter to each of the states in the Long Island Sound watershed with attached nitrogen strategy on December 23, 2015

  • Public webinar Feb 26, 2016

  • 2016 EPA-State meetings on N strategy: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (March 7), Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (March 23), Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (March 31), Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (April 15), New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (April 27)

  • Public meetings held at the Stamford Government Center, CT, on Wednesday, April 13, the Huntington, NY Town Hall, on Friday, April 15, and the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission Conference Room Springfield, MA, on May 12

  • Public presentations at the Latitude 41 Conference, May 3, and the Connecticut Environmental Health Association Conference, September 21

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3) What outreach does EPA intend to provide in the future?

EPA will continue to engage states, municipalities, and watershed/environmental groups in the development and implementation of the strategy. EPA will share the technical portions of the nitrogen strategy as they develop. States and EPA will also fold the technical results into state and federal ongoing actions such as National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, agricultural practices, stormwater strategies and permitting, nonpoint source projects, etc. EPA will lead a small Technical Stakeholder Group that will provide its individual state or organization viewpoint to identify information EPA or its contractor may have missed. The Group will not collectively advise EPA or provide consensus recommendations.

EPA will be providing project updates for municipal officials, members of the public, environmental groups, and other interested parties to review the schedule and view major reports on the Long Island Sound Study (LISS) website at www.LongIslandSoundStudy.net. EPA encourages communities to work through their states or various municipal coalitions to review the posted materials and provide technical feedback. EPA will invite technical comment at various points in the process, but EPA does not anticipate a formal comment period or written response to comments. EPA also plans to host informational webinars to outline the conceptual flow of the project, to summarize progress to date and to provide an anticipated timeline for deliverables. Transparency of process, the timely release of deliverables and updates on progress under the Nitrogen Strategy are critical to both EPA and the LISS.

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4) What does EPA's nitrogen strategy say about future nitrogen reduction levels?

For each sub-watershed, EPA plans to translate existing state narrative nutrient criteria into numeric nitrogen thresholds that are protective of designated uses of Long Island Sound. There are many sub-watersheds so this work will be phased in over time beginning with Tier 1 sub-watersheds:

  1. Connecticut River Watershed,
  2. Western Long Island Sound Open Waters,
  3. and the coastal embayments of (proposed embayments in no particular order):
    • Connecticut
      • Stonington Harbor / Pawcatuck River
      • Saugatuck Estuary
      • Norwalk Harbor - Mystic Harbor
      • Niantic Bay
      • Farm River
      • Southport Harbor / Sasco Brook
    • New York
      • Northport-Centerport Harbor Complex
      • Port Jefferson Harbor
      • Nissequogue River
      • Stony Brook Harbor
      • Mt. Sinai Harbor

Once thresholds are complete, EPA then will move to develop allocations for each Tier 1 sub- watershed.

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5) What form will the allocations take and how will they be implemented?

EPA expects that a single total nitrogen load allocation will be established for each state where nitrogen reductions are determined to be necessary for each sub-watershed. Wastewater permits issued in each individual state will have to demonstrate consistency with achieving the load allocation for that state to meet water quality standards in a particular sub-watershed. To the extent there is interest in offsetting point source nitrogen reductions with nonpoint source nitrogen reductions, the feasibility of achieving the nonpoint source reductions will have to be demonstrated and a tracking and accounting system established that addresses all 3 changes to watershed nitrogen loadings. States and/or municipalities that intend to offset point source nitrogen reductions with nonpoint source nitrogen reductions are strongly encouraged to begin developing these plans now.

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6) When will the allocations be available?

The first phase of EPA's contractor's work is anticipated to be completed by fall of 2017 which will include recommended loading thresholds for Tier 1 watersheds (see above) for EPA's consideration. Once EPA has set thresholds, it will move to develop allocations. The Connecticut River watershed is in Tier 1. The Housatonic and Thames River watersheds as well as additional coastal embayments are included in Tier 2, which are in the option period of the contract. Although municipal permit Water Quality Based Effluent Limits (WQBELs) in Tier 2 sub-watersheds will be on a later schedule, facilities should start planning now for future water quality based nitrogen limits, especially if they are planning upgrades to existing treatment plants.

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7) Could a wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) that already has nitrogen limits under their existing permits be subject to more stringent nitrogen limits? If so, when would permits be modified to include more stringent limits?

In setting allocations and developing water quality based effluent limits, a WWTP may have to further control nitrogen depending on the final allocations. EPA and states will consider factors such as the magnitude of the necessary nitrogen reduction, the facility size and current nitrogen discharge concentration, and the facility's proximity to the sub-embayment.

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8) What are the order and timing of National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit renewals and allocations in the watershed?

The state or federal agencies that issue permits determine the volume of effluent that can be discharged from a given facility and set limits in the permit to ensure that water quality is not compromised. EPA has two non-authorized states (or non-delegated states) in the Long Island Sound Watershed where EPA has the lead in drafting permits: Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The remaining states of New York, Connecticut and Vermont, are each authorized to issue NPDES permits, but under EPA oversight. Once allocations are completed, EPA will review permits in a particular sub-watershed to develop a permit strategy for EPA-issued permits, and will coordinate with the delegated states to develop a permit strategy for state issued permits, that include water quality based limits for nitrogen. EPA and state permitting programs will use a combination of permit renewals and/or revisions to existing NPDES permits as appropriate to incorporate revised nitrogen limits where necessary.

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9) Will EPA lead a point source nitrogen trading program within the Long Island Sound watershed?

EPA will not lead a nitrogen trading program but encourages the states, municipalities, interstate or other local governmental organizations to investigate the feasibility of a trading program. Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has developed a formal Nitrogen Credit Exchange Program and has implemented trading for years. This program may be helpful to others. States are encouraged to consult with EPA throughout the development of a trading program to facilitate alignment with the Clean Water Act (CWA). EPA will use its permit issuance and state oversight authorities to ensure that trades and trading programs are fully consistent with the CWA and its implementing programs, including achieving water quality standards as soon as possible. More information can be found at: https://www.epa.gov/npdes/water-quality-trading

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