Thursday, January 12, 2012

Federal Plan to Address Oceans and Coasts Includes Mississippi River Basin Actions

Today (January 12) the White House's National Ocean Council released for public comment, a draft National Ocean Policy Implementation Plan, touted by the Council as "an action plan to address the most pressing challenges facing ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes resources." The draft Implementation Plan details more than 50 Federal actions to be taken to "improve the health of the ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes," including several actions which relate explicitly in the Plan to reducing the impacts of point and non-point sources of nutrient pollution in the Mississippi River Basin. For each action, the Plan outlines key milestones, identifies responsible Federal agencies, and sets an anticipated time frame for completion. Major actions specifically related in the Plan to the Mississippi River Basin include:
  • Improving water quality by reducing the impacts of trash, marine debris, and sources of excess nutrients, sediments, pollutants, and pathogens; and
  • Minimizing impacts of hypoxia.
Under the Plan action item of "reduc(ing) rural sources of excessive nutrients, sediments, toxics, and pathogens," the Plan designates six Federal agencies (USDA, EPA, USGS, NOAA, USACE and DOI) to be responsible for "reducing pollutants from rural sources (to) improve local water quality and enhance ecosystem services and benefits within rural watersheds and in downstream waters." Specific milestones applicable to the Mississippi River Basin under this action item are (with responsible Federal entities and milestone dates indicated in the parentheses):
  • Establishing Priority Watersheds within current Regional Landscape Initiatives (e.g., Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watershed Initiative) and other water quality restoration efforts on public and private lands. (USDA, EPA, USGS; 2012) 
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of restoration efforts and BMPs for mitigating hypoxia through watershed nutrient loading reductions, using quantitative performance measures and an adaptive management approach. (NOAA, NRCS; 2013)
  • Establishing integrated interagency monitoring, modeling, and assessment partnerships in priority watersheds to better evaluate the effectiveness of land treatment practices (e.g., the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative). (USDA, EPA, USACE, DOI, NOAA; 2013)
  • Making financial cost-sharing assistance available to assist private landowners in priority watersheds (e.g., Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative) on a voluntary basis with the application of conservation practices to reduce excessive nutrient and sediment loadings from entering the Nation’s waters. (USDA; 2012)
  • Completing implementation of the EPA 2008 Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations regulation. (EPA; 2012)
  • Implementing environmental market pilot projects between Federal and regional partners for nutrient and sediment reduction. (USDA, DOI, EPA; 2013
  • Supporting the development and implementation of State-wide nitrogen and phosphorus reduction strategies in the Mississippi River Basin and Gulf region, working collaboratively with interested states, and verify and communicate these results to the public. (EPA; 2014)
  • Targeting State Clean Water Act section 319 programs to current regional landscape initiatives and other priority areas identified by States as they develop comprehensive strategies for reducing nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, and encouraging the use of Clean Water State Revolving Fund funding to high-priority projects in each state, including those that address nutrient pollution. (EPA; 2015), and
  • Supporting development of State regulatory certainty programs for reducing nutrient and sediment loads that will accelerate the adoption of voluntary conservation efforts. (USDA, EPA; 2013).
Under the Plan's action item of minimizing the adverse impacts of hypoxia, NOAA, USDA, USGS, the Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Task Force, EPA and DOC will be responsible for meeting the objective of "increas(ing) scientific knowledge and more effective environmental monitoring and forecasting (to) provide decision-makers with the necessary information to minimize and mitigate impacts of hypoxia on regional ecosystems, fisheries resources, wildlife, and human populations."  Mississippi River Basin-relevant milestones under the hypoxia-reduction action include:
  • Identifying collaborative measures with regional partnerships to improve water quality in the Gulf of Mexico. (NOAA, USDA, USGS, Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Task Force; 2012)
  • Advancing the development and application of scenario-based ecosystem models to quantitatively evaluate hypoxia causes and impacts, using an integrative modeling approach, and developing outreach tools to communicate advanced understanding to coastal managers and other stakeholders. (NOAA, USGS; 2013)
  • Producing and implementing at least 12 State-wide nutrient reduction strategies. (EPA; 2013)
  • Providing results of integrated modeling and resulting tool kits for communicating hypoxia-related information to coastal managers and other stakeholders. (NOAA, USGS, USDA; 2013)
  • Producing an interagency report on socioeconomic benefits to coastal communities of restoring hypoxic zones. (NOAA, EPA, DOC; 2015), and
  • Developing a national hypoxia data portal for seamless data sharing and information dissemination, building on the success of the EPA/USGS data portal, and link to (NOAA, USGS, EPA; 2015).  
The draft Implementation Plan will be available for public comment through February 27, 2012.

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