Contact us:

870.577.5071

jessie@whiteriverwaterkeeper.org

P.O. Box 744, Harrison, AR 72602

White River Waterkeeper is an Arkansas-based 501(c)3 non-profit organization that advocates for the White River, its watershed, and its communities. 

Reg. 37

Water Quality Trading or Pollution Scheme? 

UPDATES

UPDATES

6 August 2019 | Jessie J. Green

16 August 2019: NANTRAG will receive comments from the City of Fayetteville and Beaver Water District. 

6 August 2019: Fayetteville City Council will hear recommended changes proposed by the Water & Sewer Committee to improve Reg. 37. The Council will discuss and vote on proposed changes and improvements to Reg. 37 that the City of Fayetteville (NANTRAG member) will present to NANTRAG for consideration on Aug. 16th. 

30 July 2019: Fayetteville Water & Sewer Committee passed a resolution to bring before the full City Council regarding changes to Reg. 37 that would require: 

  1. The stated purpose that trades should result in improved water quality;

  2. "Watershed" be defined by a specific hydrologic unit code (HUC) level; and

  3. Areas of significant vulnerability and importance are exempt from trades.

9 July 2019: Fayetteville Water & Sewer Committee received updates regarding NANTRAG's Reg. 37 rulemaking process. White River Waterkeeper presented concerns and considerations that the Committee should keep in mind while considering changes during the 60-day pause. 

21 June 2019: NANTRAG voted to allow a 60-day pause so the City of Fayetteville and Beaver Water District could draft final recommendations before moving forward with the rulemaking process. 

How Does the Third-Party Rulemaking Process Work and Where are We Now?

We'll save the recap of how we got to where we are for another day. Here's where we are now and what's left -

  • Currently, NANTRAG and ADEQ are finalizing their Responses to Public Comments.

  • Once finalized, NANTRAG will file responses and the final draft of Reg. 37 with the Arkansas Legislature for Committee approvals.

  • The Public Health Committees and the Administrative Rules and Regulations Subcommittee will Review and send recommendations to the Arkansas Pollution Control & Ecology Commission (APC&EC). 

  • NANTRAG will file a motion for APC&EC to adopt Reg. 37. If approved, APC&EC will file regulation with the Secretary of State. 

  • Note: At this stage, EPA approval would be sought if necessary. The Clean Water Act does not authorize nutrient trading, therefore EPA approval is not necessary. 

Northwest Arkansas Nutrient Trading Regulatory Advisory Group (NANTRAG) Explained:  

Act 335 established the Arkansas Nutrient Water Quality Trading Advisory Panel (check out this AWRC piece for background information).

Governor Hutchinson appointed members onto the panel to avoid regulations that would ensure Northwest Arkansas isn't polluting and wreaking environmental and economic damage on the premier waterbody in Oklahoma - the Illinois River. NANTRAG was formed by the cities of Fayetteville, Rogers, Springdale, and Bentonville. For more information on why the background of Oklahoma vs. Arkansas and the Oklahoma Poultry lawsuits that have literally everything to do with why we're even discussing nutrient trading in Arkansas, check out Save the Illinois River

VIDEO UPDATES

Fayetteville City Council | Water & Sewer Committee

9 July 2019

04:00 - Nutrient Trading update from Tim Nyander (Fayetteville Utilities Director)

37:00 - Concerns & Considerations from Jessie Green (White River Waterkeeper)​ 

 - Link to agenda

30 July 2019

Note: Special meeting focused on Nutrient Trading and proposed changes drafted by Councilwoman Teresa Turk. 

20:40 - Comments from Jessie Green (Waterkeeper)

 - Link to agenda

Oldies, but Goodies | WRW Explains Nutrient Trading and Reg. 37

1 May 2018

4 May 2018

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

If you live in Fayetteville, Rogers, Springdale, or Bentonville - contact your Mayor and City Council members to:

  1. Let them know that you don't want your tax dollars to contribute to the establishment of a vague, arbitrary regulation that has the potential to degrade water quality. Don't forget - the purpose of Reg. 37 does not include improving water quality. ​​​​Also remind them that unless there are numeric nutrient criteria to establish a baseline goal and means of evaluating success, moving forward with the rulemaking process is putting the cart before the horse. 

  2. Request formal notice of when Reg. 37 will be sent to the legislature. (Reminder: your elected officials work for you. If you aren't engaging, then the only ones they are hearing from on this issue are those that have something to gain by not being regulated (i.e., if NWA poultry companies don't have to reduce nutrient runoff, then Wal-Mart can still sell cheap meat from CAFOs). 

  3. Ask them how much money they have spent pursuing third-party rulemaking of Reg. 37 and how much money the city will save if nutrient trading is passed.  

  4. Ask them why they don't value open and transparent government - made obvious by the fact that NANTRAG meeting minutes, agendas, proposed meeting dates, etc., are not available online. 

And then let us know what they say!

February 2018 | Jessie Green

     You may have heard the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission recently approved a petition to initiate rulemaking for Regulation No. 37: Arkansas Nutrient Water Quality Trading Regulations. As the White River Waterkeeper and avid outdoorswoman, I have concerns about how it could result in legal loopholes for polluters and encourage degradation of some waterbodies for the benefit of others. If not thoughtfully developed and implemented, our rivers, streams, and lakes could face dire consequences.

 

     In this context, “nutrients” refer to nitrogen and phosphorus, of which human and animal wastes and fertilizers are main sources. Wastewater treatment plants collect, treat, and discharge human wastes back to our waterways – these are considered point source dischargers, the likely credit buyers. Eroding stream banks and runoff from rainwater mixed with animal wastes and fertilizers are the major sources of nonpoint source pollution – which are largely unregulated and the most difficult sources of nutrients to quantify. Despite mechanism of transport, once excess amounts of nutrients enter our waterbodies, major ecosystem shifts can be observed. Algae growth is stimulated, and as plants decompose dissolved oxygen, necessary for the survival of fish, mussels, and insects, can be depleted. Extreme cases can result in massive fish kills, but lesser effects may only harm sensitive species. Increased algal density not only alters habitat for aquatic communities, but it also impacts the recreational potential of a waterbody. Personally, swimming through large patches of filamentous algae and submerged plants is not my idea of fun. And the enjoyment of fishing is lost when reeling in large mats of algae with every cast.

 

     But with the public and political will not wanting to enforce best management practices to regulate nonpoint source runoff, and regulated dischargers unwilling or unable to make investments to upgrade treatment infrastructure, what is the solution? That’s where water quality trading, or pollution trading, comes into play. Credits can be generated from projects that reduce nutrient inputs from unregulated sources and sold to regulated entities that can’t meet their discharge limits. It sounds great, but for it to work, careful planning and monitoring are needed to ensure estimated reductions are truly achieved. How and where credits are bought and sold is essential to safeguarding that water quality problems aren’t shifted from one area to benefit another. Legal loopholes can result in no one being held accountable for degradation of waterbodies when credits fail to reduce pollution. For a trading program to be successful, details are essential. But proponents of Regulation No. 37 will tell you that having vague and loose requirements are designed to be more adaptable to innovative projects. And while that sounds good in theory, it also requires the agencies administering the credits are capable of confirming reductions are met. If not attempting to confirm the success of credit-generating projects, then an indicator for determining when projects have failed is needed at the very least.

 

     Evaluating effects of nutrient enrichment on aquatic ecosystems is complicated. An objective water quality standard for nutrients is necessary and should come before any credit exchanges. If the state is unwilling to adopt criteria for concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus, even having criteria based on effects of nutrient enrichment (e.g., dissolved oxygen, water clarity, shifts in fish and insect communities, algae densities) would better protect the drinking water, fishing, and recreational potential of our waterbodies. For the past two years, we have heard concerns and seen pictures of algae on the Buffalo River. To date, Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) has yet to agree with the anglers and paddlers that these observations are considered “objectionable.” This is important because Arkansas’s nutrient standards are based on a subjective definition of “objectionable algal densities.” If the state can’t define what amount of algae constitutes an impairment of a waterbody, then how can they determine when nutrient trading isn’t working and is resulting in adverse effects on water quality?

 

     Show me a person that doesn’t like the idea of creating less costly alternatives for dischargers to meet water quality standards while at the same time creating a market to incentivize voluntary practices for private landowners to reduce their nutrient contributions. But the proposed Regulation No. 37 doesn’t outline the pathway for a successful trading program. It is devoid of all pertinent details and leaves all of it up for interpretation. Speaking from the perspective of someone who has worked for ADEQ and has firsthand experience in trying to interpret poorly constructed regulations – vague, arbitrary, and subjective regulations do not work. Private interests shouldn't prevail over the best interest of the public good.

 

Resources

Summary of Concerns

 

  1. Arkansas has not established appropriate water quality goals (total maximum daily loads, water quality based effluent limitations, numeric nutrient criteria, etc.) to create a market for trades.

  2. The Regulation as drafted lacks sufficient substance to ensure the trading is protective of water quality and will result in actual net improvement in water quality.

    1. Does not include an enforceable provision that the actual, instream nutrient concentrations and loads be reduced or that they even be maintained at current levels;

    2. Lacks sufficient implementation procedures;

    3. Lacks a defined process to evaluate non-point source nutrient credits and generators of those credits;

    4. The standards for the decision of the ADEQ Director to approve or disapprove a Nutrient Credit Generating Project do not adequately protect our water resources

    5. There is no required-minimum trade ratio and insufficient detail regarding how credits will be incorporated as offsets into NPDES permits;

    6. The Regulation is introducing an entirely new regulatory program and provides no consideration to the impact on ADEQ resources and staff and how those costs will be covered; and

    7. The Regulation limits ADEQ’s enforcement authority and only allows inspections by the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission. This is contrary to the delegation of the NPDES program to ADEQ by the U.S. EPA.