United States
Environmental Protection
Office of Water  EPA- 820-F-13-011
                                                August   2013
    Actions to Help States Address Barriers to Numeric
        Nutrient Criteria Implementation (2012-2014)
In October 2011, EPA initiated a workgroup of
state and EPA experts to explore ways in which
EPA and states could work together to identify
and remove the barriers that have been
preventing implementation of numeric nutrient
criteria (NNC). The workgroup's goal was to
define a set of actions that would make it easier
for states to adopt and implement NNC. The
EPA-state workgroup identified several of the
highest priority barriers to NNC implementation,
and options to help EPA address those barriers.
In response, EPA began to take a number of
specific state-requested actions.

The Problem
Excess nitrogen and phosphorus entering our
surface waters can cause harmful algae blooms
and fish kills, resulting in widespread losses of
revenue from recreation (beach closures),
fisheries losses, and the need for more drinking
water treatment. The results are decreased
quality of our nation's waters, increased public
health risks, and higher treatment costs from
contamination of drinking water supplies.

These pollutants enter the environment from
urbanization and stormwater runoff, municipal
wastewater discharges, air deposition, and
agricultural livestock and row-crop activities. As
the United States population grows, pollution
from excess nitrogen and phosphorus (nutrient
pollution) is expected to grow as well. Our
population is expected to increase from about
300 million people in 2008 to 435 million
people by 2050. (U.S. Census Bureau 2008,
2009). As a result, the rate and  impact of
nitrogen and phosphorus pollution will
noticeably accelerate.

The Challenge
EPA and the states have made major strides in
implementing and accomplishing the principles
of the  Clean Water Act, passed 40 years ago.
Despite this progress, there is more to do.
                          For the past decade, EPA and states have been
                          working hard to control nutrient pollution. The
                          Agency's focus has been to support states'
                          development and implementation of NNC.
                          However, for a number of reasons, states have
                          been unable to achieve broad-scale success.
                          EPA's and the states' concerns about the
                          problem are intensifying, since the successes to
                          date will likely be outpaced by the rapidly
                          increasing population and the resulting increase
                          in the rate and impact of nitrogen and
                          phosphorus pollution.

                          Current Efforts
                          To date, few states have established NNC for
                          nitrogen and phosphorus for all their waters. In
                          response, EPA has identified support for state
                          adoption of NNC as a priority and one of its
                          critical next steps. This decision is described in
                          EPA's March 16, 2011 memorandum, Working
                          in Partnership with States to Address
                          Phosphorus and Nitrogen Pollution through Use
                          of a Framework for State Nutrient Reductions,
                          available on-line at http://go.usa.gov/26hC.

                          Top Barriers and Actions to Address Them
                          The following Barriers and Actions have
                          received the support of our state partners.
                          Sections are divided into water protection
                          programs implemented by EPA and the States.
                          Within each program, we list the major obstacles
                          identified by the states as preventing adoption
                          and implementation of NNC, and the
                          accompanying actions that the Agency intends
                          to undertake.

                          Water Quality Standards Program
                          BARRIER: Difficulty using variances as a
                          tool to achieve incremental  improvements
                          States cannot fully use variances to achieve
                          water quality standards without case-specific
                          assistance on a number of issues such as timing,
                          requirements for justification, and the public

perception that this approach side-steps the
intention of water quality standards.

* Continue to collaborate with states and
   regions to most effectively use variances;
* Propose to revise the Water Quality Standards
  Regulation (submitted 2011, pending OMB
* Revise the Water Quality Standards
  Handbook (2012-2013); and
* Provide answers to frequently asked
  questions on multiple discharger variances
  (2013). Available at http://go.usa.gov/26p3.

BARRIER: Challenge associated with the
costs and the temporal and spatial variability
of the causal parameters TN and TP
Stakeholders lack confidence in the link between
TN/TP criteria and their associated responses,
and want to use shifts in a suite of response
parameters to confirm a nutrient-caused
environmental problem exists before imposing
costly controls.

* Help states to integrate chemical and
  biological response parameters  into their
  TN/TP criteria (2013 forward);
* Organize a workshop/panel for  scientific
  evaluation of methods to integrate chemical
  and biological response parameters into
  TN/TP criteria (i.e., bioconfirmation)
  (completed April 2013); and
* Develop cost estimates of nutrient controls
  and pollution impacts (2013).

Assessment, Listing, Total Maximum Daily
Load (TMDL), and Nonpoint Sources
BARRIER: Challenges in streamlining
TMDL development
States and dischargers in general want to apply
adaptive management approaches  to implement
nutrient TMDLs, but have not always been able
to effectively utilize such approaches.  Also,
TMDLs are re source-intensive to develop and
take significant time to implement and to
generate improvements.

* Continue working with states to build
  understanding of opportunities to use adaptive
  management concepts for mixed-source
TMDLs (2013).

BARRIER: Inability to reduce nonpoint
source loads of nitrogen and phosphorus
Unlike states, EPA and citizens cannot enforce
nonpoint source reductions under the Clean
Water Act. Additionally, some states have
expressed the view that trading is constrained
because nonpoint source TMDL allocations
must be met before generating credits for trading
with permitted point sources.

* Collaborate with US Department of
  Agriculture (USDA) to better quantify the
  environmental results of targeting suites of
  agricultural conservation practices/BMPs in
  priority watersheds (beginning 2013);
* Collaborate with US Department of
  Agriculture (USDA) to implement the
  National Water Quality Initiative, Mississippi
  River Basin Initiative, and other collaborative
  efforts to build partnerships at state and local
  levels that leverage USDA resources for
  conservation practices to reduce nutrients and
  other impairments (continue in 2013);
* Continue and improve implementation of the
  CWA Section 319 grant program with a focus
  on protecting and restoring impaired waters,
  including those  impaired by nutrients, through
  implementation of watershed-based plans
* Address the challenges of manure
  management by engaging large animal
  growers and poultry integrators in
  sustainability agreements and practices that
  reduce nutrient pollution (begin in 2013); and
* Develop, compile, and share tools that
  facilitate identification of specific solutions to
  targeting the reduction of nonpoint source
  loads (2013).
Permits, Technology, and Compliance
BARRIER: Problems implementing water
quality-based limits
It may not be feasible for some dischargers to
meet water quality-based effluent limits

(WQBELs) in the immediate term.

* Develop a compendium of nutrient removal

BARRIER: Lack of training and tools for
permit writers
Permit writers often lack a translator tool to help
in deriving numeric nutrient WQBELs from
narrative criteria; in addition, there is also no
specific guidance or training for developing
WQBELs when water quality criteria are
measured by the protection of aquatic life rather
than by actual chemical concentrations.

* Continue effort to develop training materials
  to aid permit writers in the development of
  WQBELs in NPDES permits to address
  nutrient pollution (2013).

BARRIER: Difficulty setting case-specific
effluent limit expressions for nutrients
Because regulations generally require the use of
daily, weekly, or monthly effluent limits—
unless impracticable—permitting authorities
find it burdensome  and difficult to justify the use
of annual water quality-based effluent limits for
nutrients on a case-by-case  basis.

* Develop training materials to aid
  permit writers in the development of
  WQBELs for nutrient pollution, which will
  identify circumstances where annual or
  seasonal limits may be appropriate (2013).
future efforts.

For More Information
Contact Mario Sengco sengco .marioigiepa. gov
or (202) 566-2676, or visit the EPA website at
As a result of these actions, EPA hopes to see
broader adoption and implementation of NNC
across the states, and a subsequent reduction in
nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in our surface
waters. The Agency is keenly aware that the
pervasive and pernicious effects of nutrient
pollution cannot be entirely solved simply by
removing the barriers to state implementation of
NNC. However, EPA expects these actions will
result in meaningful reductions in nutrient
pollution entering our water bodies and will
establish a foundation that can be expanded with