A Success Story: Transitioning from Permit Apprehension to Municipal Load Reductions
Recent NPDES stormwater permits have subjected municipalities to increased program tracking requirements that raise legitimate apprehension. During the 2011 NPDES Phase I municipal permit update at Lake Tahoe, regulators began implementing the Lake Tahoe TMDL by defining a regulatory credit requirement linked to pollutants responsible for clarity loss and streamlined the permit’s more traditional program checklist requirements to allow permittees to focus on implementation and prioritize effective actions. Within 5 years, permittees established pollutant load reduction plans, continued work to reduce sediment and nutrient loads, and registered the projects in an online tracking system that now documents a 10% fine sediment load reduction. Rapid annual assessments ensure permittees understand any risks for losing credit and streamline reporting on the function of BMPs going forward.
Since initial skepticism in 2011, participants have embraced this performance-driven approach to TMDL implementation and municipal permitting. Although the 2011 permit adoption was hotly contested, permittees expressed strong support the recent 2017 permit update that continued the 2011 permit approach. A strong partnership between the regulated community and local regulators allowed both to learn important lessons during the earlier permit cycle. Example lessons that will be discussed are: (1) the value of incorporating Reasonable Assurance Analysis, reporting, monitoring and tracking into one cohesive system, (2) the importance of limiting program administrative costs by identifying and implementing system efficiencies along the way, (3) program flexibility provides voluntary distribution of credits from one jurisdiction to another, (4) permittees have prioritized implementation efforts to leverage those actions that are most cost effective, (5) “shovel-ready” projects were deemphasized when analyzed with the program’s credit quantification tool and found to be less effective than previous estimates, (6) significant adaptations to the program were needed and a structured management process was vital, (7) the program was supported by EPA and eased issues raised by previous audit findings and (8) consistency and predictability in the permitting approach were highly valued.
This conference session employs a moderator to describe the Lake Clarity Crediting Program and panelists that will provide perspectives on the program’s value from the regulatory and municipal viewpoints. The panelists and moderator will have further questions designed to spark engagement with the audience about how a similar program might (or might not) work in other regions.
Robert Larsen is a Senior Environmental Scientist and the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board. He has worked on erosion control, stormwater management, and watershed restoration efforts at Lake Tahoe for more than fifteen years. Mr. Larsen holds a Master’s degree in Soil Science from the University of California, Davis and currently manages Lake Tahoe Total Maximum Daily Load implementation and associated policies for the State of California.
Jason Burke has worked for local governments in Lake Tahoe, Ventura County and the San Francisco Bay implementing Total Maximum Daily Load and municipal stormwater programs. He has a Masters in City and Regional Planning from Cal Poly - San Luis Obispo.
Chad Praul aspires to convert the valuable planning work that underpins TMDLs into effective implementation work that removes thousands of waterbodies from the 303d list. If we can focus on the essential core of a water quality issue, we can create a functional program to address it. If we can rationally tune the program, we can streamline unnecessary elements and maintain relevance over time. If we can shed the complexity of competing standards and monitoring requirements, we can accelerate water quality improvement. Chad is a civil engineer in California and has earned degrees in Mechanical Engineering from UC Berkeley and Environmental Economics from UC Santa Cruz.