Jefferson County will get more time to comment on proposed standards for the level of phosphorus that can be dumped into Locust Fork and Village Creek by its wastewater treatment plants.
Phosphorus levels in the two water bodies are linked to algae blooms, weeds and slimes in the water and may impair their use for such things as public drinking water, swimming and other recreational activities. Algae blooms are a nuisance primarily during the summer.
Commissioners said on June 21 that they had not been notified by the county’s Environmental Services Department in time to meet a July 10 deadline to comment on the proposal. In part, they are worried about the financial hit the rule could have on Jefferson County’s sewer costs, and its ratepayers, and wanted more time to study the situation.
The Alabama Department of Environmental Management granted the county’s request for an extension of the comment period to Sept. 8. The public also is invited to submit comments or new information on the matter.
At present, no limit on phosphorus is included in wastewater discharge permits in the Locust Fork watershed. ADEM spokeswoman Lynn Battle, chief of external affairs, said this week that the agency first discussed the potential change in phosphorus emissions on Feb. 14. Public notice that an additional permit limit would be required for the pollutant was issued May 10 with an original deadline of July 10.
“The document on public notice is a draft that proposes the total maximum daily level (TMDL) of phosphorus. We will draft a response to all comments received and then submit the TMDL to the Environmental Protection Agency for approval. Once the TMDL is approved, then the individual permits will be issued with the applicable permit limits,” said Battle.
Five segments of the Locust Fork and one segment of Village Creek, all in Jefferson County, are involved. The Locust Fork is a major tributary of the Black Warrior River, and Village Creek flows into the Locust Fork. Specific locations are available on the ADEM website under the Public Notice section at http://adem.alabama.gov/newsEvents/publicNotices.cnt, on the Notice of Extension of Comment Period (TMDLs) link.
The Locust Fork and several of its tributaries have been exposed to excessive industrial and municipal pollution as they flow through increasingly urbanized areas of the county. Improvements since the passage of the federal Clean Water Act and beginning of a permitting program have eased some of the problems, but increases in population in Jefferson and Blount counties “has translated to larger capacity municipal wastewater treatment plants in the watershed,” ADEM stated in its notice to the public in May.
The agency stated it intends to establish the total maximum daily load of the pollutant to reach water quality standards and allow designated use of the two waterways. ADEM said it regulates 33 municipal and industrial facilities that discharge in the Locust Fork watershed. It found elevated levels of phosphorus immediately downstream of those facilities, but the major offenders were on the Jefferson County part of the Locust Fork itself and on Village Creek.
Jefferson County Commissioners in their June 21 meeting said they were concerned that the new phosphorous limits could cost the county’s ratepayers more money.
Commission President Jimmie Stephens estimated the change would cost “tens of millions of dollars at a minimum.”
“We’re looking at five basins and improving the phosphorous for those five basins to .25 percent,” Stephens said.
Stephens said the 10-year plan of adjustment for sewer rates includes capital expenditures. It’s incumbent, he said, that the commission be sure those moneys “are needed and, if needed, are spent wisely.”