Developing Numeric Nutrient Criteria For Mississippi's Surface Waters

Author(s): Young, A.

Over the last 50 years, the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus entering our surface waters across the nation has increased significantly. The degradation of water quality associated with excess levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in our surface waters has been extensively studied and documented. In Mississippi, like many other states, excessive amounts of nutrients, including nitrogen and phosphorus, have been a major cause of surface water impairments. In 2001, EPA developed an Action Plan requiring that all states develop numeric nutrient criteria in order to protect our waters from nutrient pollution impacts. Since 2001, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) has been working diligently to develop appropriate and protective numeric nutrient criteria for Mississippi’s waters including (1) the development and implementation of MS’s Nutrient Criteria Development Plan, (2) collecting extensive data to derive scientifically defensible nutrient criteria, and (3) developing robust tools to assess the biological condition of our waters. In 2010, MDEQ formed the MS Nutrient Technical Advisory Group (TAG) consisting of members of state, federal, and research scientists to aid the agency in deriving these criteria providing technical knowledge and regional expertise to the criteria development process. In an effort to be more scientifically defensible, MDEQ is applying the multiple lines of evidence approach for nutrient criteria development. The multiple lines of evidence approach involves looking at several lines of analysis, such as distributional analysis, stressor-response, scientific literature, and water quality models to establish a final endpoint. MDEQ is currently working to develop numeric nutrient criteria for the various water body types around our state which have been categorized into (1) Non-Delta Lakes and Reservoirs, (2) Coastal and Estuarine Waters, (3) Non-Delta Streams, and (4) Delta Waters. Non-Delta Lakes and Reservoirs will be the first water body type in which numeric nutrient criteria will be established. MDEQ is aiming for a public notice date no later than June 30, 2016. MDEQ will continue with criteria development efforts within the remaining water body types in a sequential manner. MDEQ recognizes the complexities that will be faced when implementing numeric nutrient criteria across the various water programs within MDEQ. Therefore, the agency is has established an internal nutrient criteria implementation work group that is developing a Nutrient Criteria Implementation Plan to describe how the criteria will be incorporated into programs such as permitting, water quality assessment, water quality monitoring, total maximum daily loads (TMDLs), and waste load allocations (WLAs). MDEQ, along with the support of the TAG and the engagement of stakeholders, continues to make great strides in developing nutrient criteria for Mississippi’s surface waters.

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