Deadline for EPA input on Hinkson Creek cleanup approaching

Saturday, January 29, 2011 | 3:46 p.m. CST; updated 2:36 p.m. CST, Monday, February 28, 2011

COLUMBIA — Jan. 31 is the deadline for the EPA to issue its final recommendations to clean up Hinkson Creek.

The recommendations, called a Total Maximum Daily Load, will call for Columbia, Boone County, and MU to reduce the amount of stormwater entering Hinkson Creek.

The draft recommendations, released on Oct. 29, called for the city, county and MU to reduce the amount of stormwater runoff by 39.6 percent.

The EPA's draft recommendations describe numerous pollutants entering Hinkson Creek via stormwater runoff, including insecticides and herbicides, chloride, heavy metals and waste oil.

In a public comment to the EPA, David Shorr of law firm Lathrop and Gage, representing the city, county and MU, objected to the use of stormwater as a measure of Hinkson Creek's pollution.

The letter stated, among other objections, that "the EPA unlawfully treats (stormwater) flow as a pollutant in the Hinkson Creek TMDL."

Second Ward Councilman Jason Thornhill, whose ward includes Hinkson Creek, estimated the cost of reducing the amount of stormwater flow into Hinkson Creek could run into the "hundreds of millions of dollars."

Mayor Bob McDavid has said that the EPA's draft TMDL is "not reasonable" and "lacks science."

Hinkson Creek has been on the Department of Natural Resources' 303(d) list of impaired waters since 1998. In 2001, a federal court order attendant to the American Canoe Association v. The United States Environmental Protection Agency case mandated that the EPA issue a TMDL for Hinkson Creek by Dec. 31, 2010. That deadline was moved to Jan. 31, 2011.

Ken Midkiff, conservation chair of the Osage Group of the Sierra Club, represented the Sierra Club in the 2001 case. He supports stormwater reduction as an appropriate method for cleaning the creek.

"No one has submitted any data to show that stormwater reduction will be a problem," Midkiff said. "They've made assertions to that effect, but they haven't shown any data."

The language of the Clean Water Act, under which the TMDL will be issued, stipulates that a "specific pollutant" be identified before a stream can be listed in the 303(d) impaired streams list.

Though the Sierra Club has long stated that stormwater is an appropriate pollutant to fulfill the Clean Water Act's requirement for a "specific pollutant," Shorr disagrees.

"We'll challenge whether it's appropriate," Shorr said. "We do not believe it is. We do not agree with the Sierra Club's evaluation."

The City of South Burlington, Vt., was a pioneering case in TMDLs that call for stormwater reduction. Potash Brook, which runs through South Burlington, was issued a stormwater TMDL in 2006. South Burlington still has not implemented it.

"One of the main obstacles to implementation is cost," Tom DiPietro, stormwater superintendent for South Burlington, said. "The questions always come back to who is going to pay for it. The reason we haven't done the implementation yet is that most of those questions haven't been answered yet."

DiPietro said the state's cost estimate for the Potash Brook TMDL was $25 million.

There is no national precedent for a successfully implemented stormwater-based TMDL, DiPietro said.

Still, Midkiff predicts the EPA's final recommendations for the cleanup of Hinkson Creek will mandate stormwater reduction.

"I would doubt that EPA will modify its stormwater reduction standards," Midkiff said. "The last I heard was that EPA would make some minor wording changes, but no substantial changes."

John Glascock, director of Public Works, would not comment on what the city's response will be. He said the city would wait until the EPA issued its final recommendations.

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Ellis Smith January 30, 2011 | 8:44 a.m.

"One of the main obstacles to implementation is cost, Tom DePietro, stormwater superintendent for South Burlington [Vermont] said. The questions always come back to who is going to pay for it."

Doesn't that pretty well describe all such proposals? :)

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