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DEC rescinds some local water quality regulations

A recently rescinded New York State Department of Environmental Conservation decision will put local municipalities in charge of their own water quality management.

In Southold, the reversal will impact Total Maximum Daily Load limits that were imposed over a decade ago to monitor pollutants entering the water.

The DEC announced Nov. 14 that three Long Island TMDLs approved by the Environmental Protection Agency between 2003 and 2007 would be withdrawn.

Total Maximum Daily Load refers to the maximum amount of a pollutant a body of water can receive while upholding water quality standards.

Peconic Bay Pathogens TMDL, finalized in 2006, put load limits on 25 bodies of water, including 11 in Southold Town, according to Southold Town engineer Michael Collins.

He said he was thrilled to see some control returned to Southold Town.

“We won’t be focusing our efforts on places where we know there isn’t an issue,” Mr. Collins said.

“The state didn’t have its facts right,” he added at a Town Board work session last Tuesday. Using data that was sometimes years out of date, state officials declared water bodies impaired, he said.

According to a fact sheet recently published by the DEC, the implementation of TMDLs has not achieved water quality standards in receiving waters, based on “dramatically overestimated” stormwater contributions, for example.

A DEC spokesperson said in some cases, “significant errors” in pollution source identification and pollutant loading estimates were discovered during the implementation of the TMDLs. Because of the errors, pollution reduction programs are at risk of being ineffective.

“The TMDLs assumed that the entire topographic watershed discharges to the impaired waterbody, where in many areas only a small portion of the watershed discharges to the waterbody,” the fact sheet claims.

In Southold, the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) program came under DEC regulation as TMDLs were monitored more closely.

The DEC spokesperson said that due to binding permits, communities with MS4 programs must continue to implement stormwater management practices to continue reducing pathogen pollution.

Mr. Collins said regulations were put in place without considering measures the town had already been taking regarding stormwater runoff.

“We already put a treatment on, so how could we be responsible for half of this theoretical pollution?” he said, referring to cases such as James Creek in Southold.

The town has several more projects planned to mitigate stormwater runoff in 2019.

Many of the bodies of water on the list were declared impaired due to shellfish closures.

“Ninety percent of the time it was because of boats,” town engineer Jamie Richter said, adding that the shellfish closures helped DEC officials create a 303(d) list of impaired waters. “[The DEC] didn’t bother to come down and ask anybody what’s going on.”

Town officials have been pushing back against the DEC regulations for a decade since they were imposed. “Most people will not do that for fear of retaliation or enforcement but in this case, the facts were on our side,” Mr. Collins said.

A work group consisting of the DEC and more municipal representatives will kick off in December. Their goal is to more accurately account for sources of pathogen pollution, the DEC spokesperson said. The group will be comprised of local stakeholders, including environmental groups.

“Going forward, we’ll have more local control, more science, more oversight, more input and hopefully we’ll get it right the second time,” Mr. Collins said.

Other bodies of water impacted by the withdrawal include Oyster Bay Harbor and Mill Neck Creek in Bayville.

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This post was updated to reflect comment from the DEC.