Implementing one of the key tools under the Clean Water Act for cleaning up the nation's waters - the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) program - could cost between $900 million and $4.3 billion dollars annually.

Implementing one of the key tools under the Clean Water Act for cleaning up the nation's waters, called the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) program, could cost between $900 million and $4.3 billion dollars annually, based on a draft cost study released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and on which public comment is being requested.

The study complements a recent report issued by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) recommending changes to the TMDL program. One key finding of the NAS report was that many states lack sufficient data to develop TMDLs for all of their impaired waters. The EPA cost study estimates the costs to states of additional data gathering to support the TMDL program at $17 million per year. Once states have collected good data, they will need to spend up to $69 million annually over the next 15 years to develop plans to clean up some 20,000 impaired waters currently on state lists, according to the cost study.

State costs to develop a cleanup plan for each of these 20,000 waters are projected to average about $52,000 per plan. EPA provides grants to states, tribes and interstate agencies to implement provisions of the Clean Water Act. In the current year, up to $210 million is available to states for TMDL and related clean water work, including monitoring.

Finally, the study projects implementation costs (i.e., costs of installing measures to reduce pollution) of $900 million up to $4.3 billion (an unlikely worst-case scenario) per year. These costs, which would be borne primarily by dischargers, include about 90 percent of the waters currently on state lists. For the remaining waters (such as waters impaired by mining or air deposition), EPA does not have sufficient data to estimate cleanup costs at this time.

"This draft report gives us important new information to use in determining the most effective course in restoring America's waters," said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. "We will continue to work with all parties to find a better way to finish the important job of cleaning up our great rivers, lakes and streams."

EPA also notes that the high-end estimate of more than $4 billion to fully implement the cleanup is a fraction of current national expenditures for clean water.

TMDLs are pollution limits set for a waterway, depending on its use. The limits are used to allocate any needed controls among all the pollutant sources, both point sources (industrial and municipal dischargers) and non-point sources (agriculture and urban runoff).

EPA issued a national rule in July 2000 to revise the existing TMDL program. This rule was scheduled to go into effect in October 2001, but has been the source of considerable debate, as well as a number of lawsuits. EPA Administrator Whitman announced on July 16 that she is convening a consensus-building process to engage the full spectrum of affected parties in developing a successful TMDL program. The consensus-building process will consider new information, including the recommendations in the recent NAS Report, in an effort to speed up the cleanup of the nation's impaired waters by developing a workable program with broad stakeholder support. To ensure full consideration of new information in an expeditious time frame, she proposed to delay the effective date of the July 2000 rule for 18 months.

"Our review will help improve our existing TMDL program and will not interfere with ongoing activities, such as development of water quality standards, issuance of permits to control discharges or enforcement against violators," said Whitman. "States will continue to identify impaired waters and develop plans for cleaning them up under the current TMDL program, and EPA will continue to support states in that effort."

EPA expects that more TMDLs will be developed during 2001 than in any prior year in the history of the TMDL program. Many states are beginning to find more efficient approaches for developing TMDLs, including bundling plans for different pollutants in the same water body, or for all water bodies within the same watershed, into a single TMDL. The cost study projects increasing efficiencies as states gain additional experience in TMDL development.