Legal Settlement Could Resolve Long Dispute Over Huron River Phosphorus Discharges
ANN ARBOR, MI – Ann Arbor has reached a legal settlement with the Michigan Department of the Environment, Great Lakes and Energy regarding phosphorus releases to the Huron River.
City council voted unanimously in favor of the deal on Monday evening, June 21, hoping to resolve a long series of disputes and lawsuits over state-imposed phosphorus limits.
The problem dates back to 1999, when the Ann Arbor wastewater treatment plant was one of four major point sources in the area of ââthe Huron River watershed for which EGLE issued discharge permits with restrictions. increases on phosphorus, Deputy City Attorney Tim Wilhelm told council in a memo.
The limits were based on a “total maximum daily load” study conducted by EGLE in 1996 to control harmful algal blooms in two downstream river retention basins, Lakes Ford and Belleville, Wilhelm said. All four point sources – Ann Arbor, Chelsea, Dexter and the Loch Alpine Health Authority – withheld Varnum LLP and disputed the boundaries, arguing they were based on unrealistic modeling, ignored seasonal externalities, and reached wrong conclusions unsupported by science.
Communities argued that discharges from their sewage treatment plants were not the cause of the harmful algal blooms and that state limits did not represent proper management of the lake, Wilhelm said. Ann Arbor also argued that the limits would place a significant financial burden on city residents.
Attempts to resolve the dispute were unsuccessful, and the contested case was ultimately taken to an administrative law judge in 2015. After the judge ruled in favor of EGLE and upheld the rejection limits, the communities appealed to the court. the Washtenaw County Circuit Court, which ordered EGLE to investigate. new study and update of permits, said Wilhelm.
In 2019, EGLE conducted a new study “using the same flawed data and methodologies” and set even more restrictive phosphorus limits, which communities challenged through further administrative and legal actions, Wilhelm said.
Last year, the Circuit Court ordered the parties to go through mediation, which resulted in the proposed settlement.
Under the deal, EGLE is expected to issue new discharge permits with agreed phosphorus limits imposed at three levels over approximately 25 to 30 years, with new treatment plant testing requirements and artificial mixing. artificial lakes allowed as an alternative to more restrictive phosphorus limits. It does not call for any monetary payment.
The new phosphorus limits for the four communities are described in the tables in the settlement agreement. See here.
An EGLE spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
“I will support this regulation, but I’m really disappointed that as a progressive city – or a city that likes to think of itself as progressive – our phosphorus level is higher than what most progressive cities would consider acceptable,” said Kathy Griswold, D-2nd arrondissement.
âIt would be great if we didn’t have phosphorus,â said Jeff Hayner, board member D-1st Ward, calling it an example of regional environmental responsibility.
âFor the public that doesn’t know what’s going on here, we’re basically charged with violationsâ¦ of our discharge permits at our wastewater treatment plant due to the algae quality from Lakes Ford and Belleville,â Hayner mentioned. .
While regional communities should try to reduce phosphorus loadings, they are not the only ones controlling phosphorus in the Huron River, he said.
Hayner also suggested that the lake’s algae problems would not be as serious if the streams were allowed to run their natural course.
Lisa Disch, board member, D-1st Ward, cited phosphorus fertilizer runoff and low water conditions in the lake as problems. The city’s sewage treatment plant is not the problem, she said, saying EGLE uses a discharge restriction strategy and does not recognize the cause of the algae bloom.
âWhat’s at stake here is not so much what we do, but what EGLE doesn’t recognize is needed to manage an ecosystem,â she said. âAnd I hope we’ll be able to persuade them of an ecosystem approach over the next few years. So I agree that this is a good regulation, but I don’t want anyone to think that we are somehow managing our water discharge, because it is not. .
To comply with third-level limits that could come into effect in 2048 as part of the regulation, the city may need to make improvements to the treatment of the wastewater treatment plant, Wilhelm said, suggesting that this is something that the city could study from 2040.
But due to uncertainties over the level three limits coming into effect so far, the city reserves the right to challenge the limits, he said.
In the meantime, I hope there is time for further improvements related to current practices and products, said Hayner.
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