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TMDL AS A REGULATORY PROCESS: CONDUCTING THE COPPER AND NICKEL TMDL IN SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO BAY

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Lower South San Francisco Bay (South Bay) has been listed as impaired due to point source discharges of generic metals since 1990 (EPA 304(l) listing) and most recently for copper and nickel from point and urban runoff sources in the State of California's 1998 303(d) list. The San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board's regulatory process calls for completion of various technical and scientific studies aimed at establishing site-specific water quality objectives for the South Bay by July 1, 2003, as set forth in the NPDES permits re-issued to South Bay dischargers June 17, 1998. As defined in the three South Bay POTW NPDES permits, involved parties have agreed it makes sense to operate within the overall framework of a broader, ongoing, Watershed Management Initiative. Thus, the copper and nickel Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) were integrated into the ongoing Santa Clara Basin Watershed Management Initiative (WMI) with a major emphasis placed on establishing and maintaining public and industry involvement through a specially established TMDL stakeholder group. The first major milestones of the TMDL stakeholder group were to recognize the TMDL effort as a decisionmaking PROCESS and to develop a TMDL Process Decision Diagram to serve as a roadmap to guide the overall TMDL effort.

This paper describes how the requirement to conduct a TMDL was a key component in the decision-making PROCESS to resolve long-standing water quality concerns in the South Bay, and how that process has been tremendously successful. In the problem formulation phase of the TMDL, new information was used to re-evaluate the determination that the beneficial uses of the South Bay were impaired due to ambient concentrations of copper and nickel. The findings of the assessment were that the impairment due to copper and nickel is unlikely, and a range of scientifically defensible site-specific water quality objectives for copper and nickel was presented. Although not all the steps of a TMDL were completed, the TMDL requirement itself provided the driving force for this work. Additionally, the TMDL process provided a systematic framework for dealing with long-standing water quality issues in the South Bay. Other factors that contributed to the success of the effort include stakeholder involvement, the strong emphasis on the technical approach and securing scientific credibility, and the funding provided by the City of San Jose.

As the nation moves into a new phase of water quality planning and implementation, driven by TMDLs, the long-term implications on point and urban runoff sources are not known. It is clear, however, that the short-term implications will be either to deliberately move towards resolution of water quality problems in a rational and scientifically credible manner or have the courts decide the solutions. The TMDL effort described in this paper clearly serves as an example of how the TMDL “process” is really a watershed management tool with potential application throughout the United States.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2000-01-01

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