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Clean Water Current

EPA Office of Inspector General Recommends Agencywide Plan on Harmful Algal Blooms

October 7, 2021

EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) published a recent report recommending that EPA develop an Agency Wide Strategic Action Plan to Address Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs).

The report recommends EPA incorporate strategies for closing knowledge gaps, monitoring and tracking HABs, enhancing EPA’s leadership role in addressing freshwater HABs, coordination with states, and establishing additional criteria, standards, and advisories, as the scientific information allows. There is an extra recommendation that EPA “develop new nutrient numeric water quality criteria recommendations” in lakes, reservoirs and streams under the Clean Water Act and leaves open whether additional actions are needed for drinking water.

Of the several recommendations, one OIG recommendation for EPA’s Office of Water (OW) remains unresolved. Recommendation number 3 states, “[m]indful that EPA has substantial work to complete before publishing final numeric water quality criteria recommendations for nitrogen and phosphorus under the CWA for rivers and streams, establish a plan, including milestones and identification of resource needs for developing and publishing those criteria recommendations.”

To address this recommendation, OW responded that the Agency will develop a strategic plan to explore the potential for new or revised numeric nutrient criteria with an estimated completion of December 30, 2022. Further, OW defended its work on nutrient criteria over the last decade with the recent finalization of its recommended ambient water quality criteria for nutrients in lakes and reservoirs and its Nutrient Scientific Technical Exchange Partnership & Support (N-STEPS) program with online resources.

OW pointed to the fact that very few states have adopted federal recommended numeric nutrient criteria and incorporated them into water quality standards. Even where states have adopted statewide numeric nutrient criteria (such as Florida), OW responded to the OIG Report that “there continues to be massive harmful algal blooms” and that “this may be an indication that the mere adoption of criteria does not necessarily solve the problem.”

NACWA will keep members informed as the procedural aspects of this recent OIG Report play out over the next few months. Please contact Emily Remmel, NACWA’s Director of Regulatory Affairs if members have questions.

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