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Surface Water Solutions, Inc. is committed to helping people understand how we affect water quality, and to learn ways to protect the water - from compost to chemistry - creating solutions we all can live with.

We simply LOVE “TMDLs”!

(And, no, we are NOT lawyers.)

Whether you are a regulatory agency involved in the writing a TMDL, a community facing the issues related to having an impaired waterbody, an environmental group or lake association needing to understand the reports you have (or ones you need to create), or just someone who wants to know what this is all about - we can help!

Huh? Impaired what? And what is a TMDL?

In June of 1969, the Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught fire – again. Not a new occurrence, it had happened before, but this time the story ended up in TIME magazine. A chain reaction from public outcry led to a number of changes, among them, the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970, and the Clean Water Act (CWA) in 1972. Part of the CWA included the creation of the biennial “report card” for the waters of each state (known as the 305(b), referring to the chapter of the CWA the requirement is found in) and the “impaired list” (known as the 303(d) list of bodies not meeting water quality standards). Waters on the Impaired List require a TMDL.

Total Maximum Daily Loading (TMDL) – a calculation of the maximum amount a waterbody can receive of a pollutant or stessor and still meet its water quality standards. A waterbody has a legal description of its uses set for it by the state, and each particular use has a water quality standard associated to it. An example of a “use” would be that it is a fishery, so there are “standards” to protect those fish: like having enough dissolved oxygen (DO) in the water, not receiving too much sediment to interfere with spawning, and/or not getting too warm for the predominant types of fish who live there. There could be a TMDL needed for each of those “stressors”, and that’s where things can get complicated. Sediment is relatively straightforward, look to stopping erosion above the river or lake. Low DO could have several causes, but is most often from excess nutrients promoting algae growth. Temperature fluctuation might be from too much concrete or loss of plant cover on the ground above, or loss of tree cover along the shore. These are simpler examples. It can be much more complicated.

Although the rules that govern TMDLs were created in 1972, most of the focus was on controlling industrial and toxic wastes. Starting in 1985, numerous suits were filed, primarily by the Sierra club, stating that EPA needed to force states to move forward on their TMDL development. In spite of the overwhelming workload created by the legal, financial and logistical issues around the Clean Water Act 303(d) list, they highlight how important water quality protection is. Although for many, these documents may seem like closing the gate after the horses are already out, they present an opportunity for a community to protect its resources and insure its future.

There are numerous idioms about how to take a difficult situation and turn it into opportunity. (We prefer the lemons to lemonade one...) Trite as these sayings may seem, improving water quality just makes sense. The TMDL program was intended to do just that.

Of course, wouldn’t be better to make the changes BEFORE the water is impaired?

Watershed management benefits us all – from the large-scale issues of chemical and commercial uses, impervious surfaces, and stormwater management - to the choices we make in our own backyards. It influences the decisions we make about the food we eat, the bills we pay, the services we enjoy, and the recreational activities that are an integral part of our lives.

Call us at (816) 606-5347; or email us at vlwilliams@surfacewatersolutions.com
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