Sessions draw participants from throughout six-state bay watershed area
September 28, 2011
By John McVey - Journal staff writer , journal-news.net
SHEPHERDSTOWN - Close to 350 guests are expected to attend the sixth annual Chesapeake Watershed Forum this weekend at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Conservation Training Center outside Shepherdstown.
The forum is sponsored by the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, which is based in Baltimore.
While the forum attracts a mixed bag of attendees from all over the watershed area, the forum's focus is on local watershed groups, Lou Etgen, associate director of programs, said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
The other group that finds the forum especially helpful includes local government representatives, who are actually in the trenches doing the work to protect and preserve the Chesapeake Bay, he said.
In addition to West Virginia's eight-county Eastern Panhandle, the 64,000-square-mile Chesapeake Bay watershed region includes parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and Virginia and all of the District of Columbia.
Last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued new, strict pollution limits on nitrogen and phosphorus pollution and sediment pollution getting into the bay via its tributaries, such as the Potomac River.
The EPA's pollution-reduction mandates have targeted wastewater treatment plants, agricultural operations and stormwater runoff.
The unofficial theme for this year's forum is citizen engagement and social marketing, Etgen explained. An intro to community-based social marketing workshop is offered on Thursday, and other social media seminars are offered throughout the forum.
Friday's and Saturday's agenda includes six tracks, or topics of discussion: science and practice; conservation and preservation; planning and regulation; marketing/media, behavior change and advocacy; organizational development; and citizen engagement as well as a special seminar on Chesapeake websprint.
Registration for the forum is full, but information about the alliance is available at allianceforthebay.org.
Founded in 1971, the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay is the only regional nonprofit that brings all the voices of the bay together, Etgen said.
"The Alliance has a watershed-wide focus," he said.
- Staff writer John McVey can be reached at 304-263-3381, ext. 128, or jmcvey@journal-news. net
If You Go
What: Sixth annual Chesapeake Watershed Forum
When: Thursday to Sunday
Where: National Conservation Training Center, Shepherdstown
CHARLES TOWN - The Jefferson County Commission again discussed the role of the county's all-volunteer Water Advisory Committee at its meeting Thursday morning in Charles Town.
There have been several discussions on the matter since the start of this year.
The WAC was re-formed several years ago to address problems and concerns regarding water issues in Jefferson County. Members are appointed to the WAC by the Jefferson County Commission, and the committee does not receive regular funding from the commission.
The WAC has received several grants and been involved in organizing initiatives such as last year's hazardous waste pickup and a prescription drug dropoff event, both of which potentially stopped unsafe materials from being flushed and entering the water supply, according to the WAC.
Commissioner Walt Pellish asked to have this WAC discussion placed on the commission's agenda because, as he previously has stated, he feels the committee has become more activist than advisory in nature and that it might be better off not being associated with the Jefferson County Commission.
"It's my belief from what I have seen with the (WAC) over the past several months that they are off on their own doing a lot of things that do not accurately represent the citizens of Jefferson County," Pellish said. "I think the (WAC) has served its purpose as it was originally outlined several years ago to deal with the issue of the drought and to study whether or not there was adequate water in the county."
Pellish added that he was displeased with the WAC for presenting a water study report funded by the commission at Shepherd University before commissioners saw it. The report concluded that, while the county's water is in relatively good condition, swimming in it or eating fish from rivers or streams in Jefferson County could potentially cause illness.
Commissioner Dale Manuel also said he took issue with the health and safety issues raised by the report because he had never heard of anyone becoming sick after being in the county's water or eating a locally caught fish. However, Manuel added that he was not prepared to vote to disband the WAC.
The WAC has not been doing work on its own, and there has been a commissioner serving as a liaison to the committee since it was formed, said Commissioner Lyn Widmyer.
"If they have gone and strayed off on their own, it's this commission's fault," she said.
Commissioner Patsy Noland said she has heard complaints from county residents who feel the WAC is not acting in the best interest of citizens and businesses.
A motion to remove the WAC from under the authority of the County Commission was defeated in a 3-2 vote, with Commissioners Frances Morgan, Widmyer and Manuel voting against the motion and Commissioners Noland and Pellish voting for the motion.
A second motion, which would have asked the WAC to come back to the commission with a work plan and that would have re-evaluated the WAC's purpose, also was defeated in a 3-2 vote, with Commissioners Noland, Morgan and Pellish voting against the motion and Commissioners Widmyer and Manuel voting in favor.
The WAC will continue to function as it has been because the two motions were both defeated.
"If it ain't broke, you don't need to fix it," Morgan said after the meeting regarding her vote on the second motion. "I didn't feel that it was necessary to bring these professionals back in here and have them spend more time, I think they're doing just fine the way they are."
Several members of the WAC who were present at the meeting said they were glad the commission voted the way it did and that they will continue to work to address water issues in the county.
MARTINSBURG - While Martinsburg's wastewater treatment plant complies with its existing permit, it will have to undergo major upgrades to meet new, strict pollution limits imposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by the end of 2015.
"The plant was last upgraded in 1990 to 1991 to meet increased flows and regulations," Steve Knipe, the city's utilities director, told Martinsburg City Council members at their regular monthly meeting Thursday.
"We are at a point of another upgrade because of increased regulations to meet future nitrogen and phosphorus reductions," he continued. "We are not capable of meeting the future requirements. We need a major upgrade to the plant, which is driven by the Chesapeake Bay program."
Last year, the EPA issued new pollution limits to the states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed under a presidential executive order to greatly reduce the amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution from getting into the bay through its tributaries.
The Potomac River is one of the bay's major tributaries and the greater, eight-county Eastern Panhandle is in the Potomac River watershed.
Martinsburg council held a public meeting to present the city's facility plan for improving its sewer treatment plant to meet the new pollution reduction requirements, an estimated rate analysis for the proposed project and an opportunity for the public to comment on the plan.
O'Brien & Gere Engineers Inc. and Chester Engineers began drafting the facility plan in September 2009, and the final report was presented in November 2010.
Bill Meinert of O'Brien & Gere explained Thursday that a comprehensive study of the city's treatment plant was performed for the facility plan.
He said that in the final report, eight alternatives were considered that offered a wide range of options and costs. The recommended alternative would meet the EPA requirements and provide the highest quality treatment for at least 20 years.
The cost estimate was $45 million.
City Manager Mark Baldwin explained that the public meeting was the first step of the process to apply for funding and permitting.
In addition to the facility plan, an estimated rate analysis for the proposed project had to be prepared, he said. The accounting firm of CoxHollidaPrice LLP did the analysis.
According to the analysis, the city's current sewer rate is $3.85 per 1,000 gallons.
If the city were able to get a 40-year government loan at 0.5 percent interest, the estimated rate would be $7.30, the analysis indicated.
If the city were to have to go through the private bond market for a 40-year loan at 5 percent interest, the estimated rate would be $11.18, according to the analysis.
Baldwin emphasized that the analysis was not able to take into account any funding the city might be able to get through Senate Bill 245, which was passed by the state Legislature during its last regular session.
Shepherded through the Legislature by Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, SB245 sets aside excess lottery revenues to float a bond that would pay for about 40 percent of the cost to upgrade the sewer treatment plant.
The balance will have to be covered by the sewer system's customers.
However, the state will not know exactly how much money it can get through a bond issue until next year, and the money will not be available until 2013. The more funds the state can get from the bond, the less rates will have to be raised.
The only person who spoke during the public comment period wanted to know if a treatment system called biomag had been considered as one of the alternatives.
Meinert said that the biomag system was not compatible with the existing treatment operations, entailing all new construction. It would cost more than the recommended alternative, which retains as much of the existing plant as possible.
Council members unanimously adopted the facility plan, which will be submitted to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection for permitting review and to the West Virginia Infrastructure and Jobs Development Council for funding review.
Regardless of your opinion of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's mandates in the Chesapeake Bay Initiative, this week's meeting of industry leaders, government representatives and elected officials in an all-day summit was a good thing.
There is much debate about the EPA's plan and its impact on the region, but no one is against reducing pollution or cleaning up our waterways.
Groups at the Region 9 Chesapeake Bay Summit at the Byrd Health Sciences Center this week represented wastewater treatment plants, developed and industrial lands, agriculture/forestry and elected officials from Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties and the nine municipalities in those three counties. The greater, eight-county Eastern Panhandle is in the Potomac River watershed, one of the bay's major tributaries.
The EPA wants to dramatically reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus, pollution and sediment pollution getting into the Chesapeake Bay through its tributaries. The plan has many challengers and critics, but be certain of this fact: The Chesapeake Bay Initiative, while possibly facing some changes, will impact every aspect of life in our region.
This week's meeting brought the major players to the table for planning and discussion. It was another step in the right direction. Our region is better served by hoping for the best but planning for the worst.
MARTINSBURG - While local wastewater treatment plant operators are interested in a nutrient credit trading program for West Virginia, local farmers have reservations about participating.
"The basic premise is if it's bad for the Chesapeake Bay, then it's hypocritical to dump our excess on someone else," Warren Mickey said Wednesday during the Region 9 Chesapeake Bay Summit.
The Jefferson County farmer is a supervisor of the Eastern Panhandle Conservation District and was a member of the agriculture/forestry work group that has been working since May on the second phase of West Virginia's Watershed Implementation Plan.
The state was required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to write a WIP to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.
The EPA ordered the six states in the bay watershed to make drastic reductions in nutrient, that is nitrogen and phosphorus, pollution getting into the bay through its tributaries.
The eight-county Eastern Panhandle is in the Potomac River drainage basin, which is a major tributary of the Chesapeake Bay.
Mickey attended the all-day summit at the Byrd Health Sciences Center that brought together the agriculture/forestry work group with the wastewater work group, which also was working on the WIP Phase II.
Agricultural operations and wastewater treatment plants are two of the sectors that must meet very low nutrient pollution limits as part of the Chesapeake Bay restoration program.
In a nutrient credit trading program, or offset program, farmers or wastewater treatment plant operators would be given credit for any excess pollution reductions they implement beyond the limits imposed by the EPA's so-called "pollution diet" for the Chesapeake Bay.
Under such a trading program, they would be able to sell their credits, like a commodity, to other farmers or sewer plants that had not met their required nutrient pollution limits.
Calling the trading program proposal "voodoo," he said pollution should not be shifted to someplace else.
"We can't pass the buck," Mickey said. "We must find a way to pay the bill."
Troy Truax, vice president of the consultant firm Delta Development Group, facilitated the work groups' efforts. He said Wednesday that a nutrient credit trading program is anticipated to be part of the WIP Phase II in the first phase document and that the EPA's pollution-reduction mandates assume there would be an offset program.
Truax explained that for a trading program to be implemented, existing wastewater treatment permit requirements must be met first before trading can even be considered.
He added that baselines for nutrient limits also must be established before trading can be employed and that those baselines would be established in the WIP Phase II.
Dave Montali, of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, said nutrient credit trading between sewer treatment plants is possible now through the permitting process, but trading between farmers and sewer plants is not possible at this time because there is no baseline for agricultural nutrient limits.
"Phase II's goal is to define baseline for agriculture," he said.
He added, though, that he does not see a need for a "full-blown" program because he is not seeing a demand for credit trading.
"We'll set the baseline and then see if a program is called for," Montali said. "There are no resources for a program now and no big demand to justify a program."
Joe Hankins, chairman of the Jefferson County Public Service District, countered that other sectors, such as developers, will be looking for offsets to meet EPA limits placed on land development.
West Virginia Senate Bill 715, passed in 2009, specifically mandated a state NCTP be established and a framework for establishing a state NCTP was written by the West Virginia Conservation Agency.
Hankins and Montali agreed that the Conservation Agency's framework for a NCTP would be a good place to start to form a trading program under the Chesapeake Bay restoration program's requirements.
A draft of the WIP Phase II must be submitted to the EPA by Dec. 15. The final document is due March 30.
MARTINSBURG - Industry leaders, government representatives and elected officials gathered Wednesday for an all-day summit to talk about what has to be done locally to meet new, strict pollution-reduction requirements for the Chesapeake Bay.
The Region 9 Chesapeake Bay Summit at the Byrd Health Sciences Center was the culmination of efforts by four work groups that have been meeting since May to help formulate Phase II of the West Virginia Watershed Implementation Plan, explained Troy Truax, vice president of Delta Development Group, a consultant firm working on Phase II of the WIP with the state Department of Environmental Protection and Region 9 Planning and Development Council.
"A Phase II objective was that there must be local involvement," he said, which is where the work groups came in.
The groups represented the three sectors - wastewater treatment plants; developed and industrial lands; and agriculture/forestry - that have been targeted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to dramatically reduce nutrient, that is nitrogen and phosphorus, pollution and sediment pollution from getting into the Chesapeake Bay through its tributaries.
The fourth group consisted of elected officials from Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties and the nine municipalities in those three counties.
Under a presidential executive order, the EPA has issued stringent new pollution limits for the six states that are in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
The greater, eight-county Eastern Panhandle is in the Potomac River watershed, one of the bay's major tributaries.
"One of the goals of the work groups was to understand the level of effort expected to meet (pollution reductions)," Truax said. "This is a collective effort. If one sector falls short, other sectors must make up the difference."
He gave an overview of the wastewater and the developed and industrial lands work groups' efforts.
The wastewater work group, which was made up of managers of wastewater treatment plants that handle more than 400,000 gallons of sewage per day, was concerned about funding to upgrade or build new plants to meet the EPA's pollution-reduction mandates.
It has been estimated that it will cost Martinsburg about $45 million to build a new sewer treatment plant capable of meeting the new requirements. The Berkeley County Public Service Sewer District has estimated it will cost about $40,000 to upgrade its five sewer plants to meet the new pollution limits.
There also is a relatively tight timeframe in which these improvements must be made to the sewer plants: the end of 2015.
Steve Knipe, Martinsburg's utilities director, is confident the city can meet the 2015 deadline.
"We expect to let the design contract in the fall or winter and start construction in 2013, so it should be ready by 2015," he said during a break in the conference.
Berkeley County PSSD Executive Director Curtis Keller also is confident that the sewer district can meet the deadline.
"I believe we will be ready by 2015," he said during a break in the conference. "We don't have to rebuild, just add treatment capabilities, additional chemical and filtration to achieve the goals."
Knipe and Keller both said their agencies would apply for funds through the West Virginia Infrastructure and Jobs Development Council to help pay for the sewer plant improvements.
The funds were made possible by state Senate Bill 245, which was sponsored by state Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson. The bill will use surplus lottery revenues to float bonds that will cover about 40 percent of the costs for sewer plant construction.
They both said their agencies would have to ask the state Public Service Commission for rate increases to pay for the remaining costs to make sewer plant improvements required by the new pollution limits.
Without the sewer treatment improvements, the EPA could impose caps on development, Truax said.
"This is a clean water issue, but it is an economic development issue, also," he said.
Concerns of the developed and industrial lands work group, Truax said, were new stormwater management requirements for Charles Town, Ranson and Shepherdstown; EPA requirements to retrofit stormwater management projects to attain pollution control goals; and how stricter stormwater management requirements might force development out of the regulated areas and into non-regulated areas.
The agriculture/forestry work group's overview was presented by Christina Mellors of Tetra Tech Inc., the EPA's consultant working on Phase II of the WIP.
She said the agriculture/forestry work group was concerned about getting credit for management practices to reduce pollution that are already being implemented by farmers and funding sources to implement pollution-reduction management practices.
"Implementing best management practices is a huge out-of-pocket cost to farmers," Mellors said.
Dave Montali, of the West Virginia DEP, told the about 75 people who attended the summit that a draft of the state's Phase II WIP must be submitted to the EPA by Dec. 15 and the final document must be done by March 30.