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State Innovation Grants

EPA 2005-2006 State Innovation Grants Competition Pre-Proposals

Implementing the Action Plan for Reducing, Mitigating, and Controlling Hypoxia in the Northern Gulf of Mexico in the Ohio River Basin

State Lead:
Ronald T. Price, Manager
Resource Planning and Program Support Branch
Kentucky Division of Water
Telephone: (502) 564-3410 x436
Fax: (502) 564-0111
Email: ronald.price@ky.gov

Submitted by the:
Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection
Division of Water
14 Reilly Road
Frankfort, KY 40601

Contact Person:
Ronald T. Price
Resource Planning and Program Support Branch

ORSANCO requests $*** to continue the work of its Ohio River Sub Basin Committee, which is utilizing a whole watershed approach to achieving the nutrient reductions set forth by the Action Plan for Reducing, Mitigating, and Controlling Hypoxia in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. It is envisioned that the efforts of the Sub Basin Committee will facilitate a cooperative effort across the Ohio River Basin resulting in a multifaceted strategy to reduce in stream nutrient loads. By including as many stakeholders as possible in order attain consensus on reaching reduction targets using innovative tools, such as a trading program, it is hoped that these targets can be reached more quickly and at a lower cost than traditionally would be possible.

The Watershed
The Ohio River Watershed covers an area of over 200,000 square miles in 14 states. The Ohio River flows 981 miles from its origin in Pittsburgh, PA to its confluence with the Mississippi River in Cairo, IL. Topography ranges from flat prairie in the northwest to mountains in the southeast. The Ohio is the second largest tributary watershed to the Mississippi, but contributes the largest volume of water. Agriculture represents the largest category of land use in the watershed (approximately 45% of the area).

Water Quality Threats and Impairments
Prior to the creation of ORSANCO in 1948, the Ohio River received millions of gallons of untreated waste each day from municipalities and industries, and was often referred to as an open sewer. Through the cooperative efforts of ORSANCO, its member states, and the federal government, dramatic improvement has been made. Today, the river supports a robust community of desirable fish species and is used extensively for recreation. Remaining water quality problems are related to urban wet weather sources on the main stem (approximately 10 percent of the combined sewer overflows in the US are located in Ohio River municipalities) and to nonpoint sources throughout the watershed. Elevated bacteria levels that often exceed contact recreation criteria represent the most widespread water quality problem on the Ohio. Historically, nutrients have not been considered a problem on the main stem; however, in recent years, algae-related taste and odor problems have been reported by drinking water utilities on the Ohio. On the tributaries, nutrients are one of the three most prevalent causes of water quality impairment.

Completed Assessments and Plans
The Action Plan for Reducing, Mitigating and Controlling Hypoxia in the Northern Gulf of Mexico, which was completed in 2001, establishes three goals:

Coastal: reduce the 5-year running average area extent of the hypoxic zone to less than 5000 square kilometers through implementation of specific, practical, and cost-effective voluntary actions;
Within-Basin: restore and protect the waters of the 31 states and tribal lands through implementation of nutrient and sediment reduction actions;
Quality of Life: improve communities and economic conditions across the basin through improved public and private land management and cooperative, incentive based approach.

In order to attain those goals, the Action Plan sets forth 11 short-term actions. The second such action is the formation of Sub-Basin Committees for each of the major tributaries to the Mississippi River; four of the short-term actions would then be carried out through the Sub-Basin Committees. Those four actions are:

  1. Develop a sub-basin strategy for nutrient reduction.
  2. Identify significant point sources of nutrients and establish a schedule for their reduction.
  3. Increase assistance to landowners for voluntary actions to restore, enhance, or create wetlands and vegetative or forested buffers along rivers and streams within priority watersheds.
  4. Increase assistance to agricultural producers, other landowners, and businesses for the voluntary implementation of best management practices (BMPs), which are effective in addressing loss of nitrogen to waterbodies.

ORSANCO formed the Ohio River Sub Basin Committee in order to carry out these actions and advance the implementation of the Action Plan.

Description of Proposed Activities
Numerous local nutrient control projects are planned or underway in the Ohio River watershed. Those projects include nonpoint source management activities coordinated by state environmental agencies and conservation programs administered through state and local agricultural agencies. The Sub Basin Committee represents the first effort to coordinate all local nutrient management activities in the Ohio River watershed in order to meet regional nutrient reduction goals.

The Ohio River Sub Basin Committee began its work in October 2004. Utilizing a separate federal grant, ORSANCO established four work groups. Those work groups and their work products are:

Inventory Work Group – The inventory work group aims to provide a snapshot of what the existing nutrient loadings are. The efforts of ORSANCO’s Nutrient Criteria Sub Committee will be incorporated as a component of this work group. Doing so will help keep the Sub Basin Committee apprised of ORSANCO’s progress with the states in developing nutrient water quality standards for the Ohio River, while avoiding the appearance that the Sub Basin Committee is in the process of proposing its own numerical criteria. Furthermore, the work group will stay informed of state progress on proposing standards for the tributaries to the Ohio River. This workgroup includes personnel from state and EPA point and nonpoint source control programs. Task is to develop and maintain an inventory of existing nutrient control efforts throughout the Basin and estimates of the reductions to be attained.

Monitoring Work Group – Includes personnel from state environmental agencies, US EPA regional offices and USGS. The monitoring group is tasked with compiling and assessing what monitoring is currently being conducted in the Basin. In addition, the work group is charged with identifying additional monitoring needs in order to provide adequate data so that adequate baselines can be set and progress tracked.

Implementation Approaches Work Group – Includes personnel from US EPA, USDA, state environmental and agricultural agencies. This group will look at a broad range of strategies to reduce nutrient loads. A priority of the work group is to investigate the feasibility of trading as a means of reducing nutrient loads in the Basin and, as appropriate, work to facilitate trades.

Outreach Work Group – Includes personnel from state watershed steering groups and/or public information offices. Will identify stakeholders in nutrient reduction efforts and develop an outreach strategy.

The outputs from the Work Groups will provide a foundation for the efforts of the Sub Basin Committee. The Committee held its first teleconference in November 2004 and has spent its first months beginning the process of crafting a Nutrient Reduction Strategy for the Ohio River watershed. The next year will be spent overseeing and coordinating the implementation of the Strategy. It is anticipated that the Mississippi River/ Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force will continue its efforts, and that those efforts may result in revisions to the short-term actions to be carried out by the Sub Basin Committee. ORSANCO will provide liaison between the two groups and will identify any needed revisions to the Ohio Sub Basin Strategy due to new or modified actions adopted by the Task Force. The following work schedule is subject to adjustments in order to accommodate the activities of the Task Force. The four work groups will continue to operate as required by the Sub Basin Committee.

Schedule of Activities

Date Activity
October 2005 Third Meeting of Sub Basin Committee
Adopt Sub Basin Strategy
Nov 05- May 06 Local meetings to present and discuss the Strategy
(One meeting for each state on Ohio River)
June 2006 Fourth Meeting of Sub Basin Committee
Presentation of Input from Local Meetings
Plan Implementation of Strategy

Monitoring and Evaluation Component (ORSANCO cost share)
ORSANCO operates an algae and nutrient monitoring program on the Ohio River. Samples are collected twice each month at ten locations and analyzed for total phosphorus, total Kjeldahl nitrogen, ammonia nitrogen, nitrate plus nitrite nitrogen, chlorophyll a, turbidity, and algae. This program was initiated to provide consistent monitoring of algal activity along the Ohio; beginning in 2000, parameters were expanded to support development of numerical criteria for nutrients. Data from this program will provide the basis for evaluating the effectiveness of nutrient reduction activities undertaken through the Sub Basin Committee, and to assess progress towards the goals of the Action Plan. Monitoring design and procedures are described in the Quality Assurance Plan for this program (available from ORSANCO).

The Outreach Work Group for the Ohio River Sub Basin Committee will include representatives of each state’s watershed steering committee – typically a multi-agency group that coordinates watershed planning and management activities of the participants. This will enable the Sub Basin Committee to utilize existing inter-agency partnerships that are already involved in activities that support the goals of the Action Plan.

Outreach activities for this project include two phases. The first involves outreach from ORSANCO to local, state and federal agencies with whom the Commission does not currently have working relationships. State Commissioners to ORSANCO include Secretaries of Environmental agencies, and one federal Commissioner is traditionally a Regional Administrator for US EPA; as a result, ORSANCO has strong working relationships with the state environmental agencies. ORSANCO has also formed working relationships with local water and wastewater utilities, and with industries along the Ohio. In order to carry out the Action Plan, however, similar relationships are needed with agricultural and conservation agencies. In 2005, the Outreach Work Group will identify those agencies that should be represented on the Sub Basin Committee as well as other agencies that need to be informed of the Sub Basin Committee’s activities.

The Outreach Work Group will develop an outreach strategy to increase public awareness of the relationship between activities in the Ohio River watershed and hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico. It is anticipated that the Outreach Strategy will include local meetings to present and discuss the actions needed to reduce nutrient loadings in the watershed.


[Budget removed by EPA]

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