To: Bryan Harrington July 25, 2016
From: David L. Deen River Steward for the Connecticut River Watershed Council
Re: Indirect Discharge permit 9-0055 for Grafton Village Cheese Company
Following are the comments of the Connecticut River Watershed Council on permit 9-0055.
Background CRC feels we need to put our comments into the context of the entire watershed for the Connecticut River. The River is the largest source of fresh water entering Long Island Sound (LIS) but LIS is impaired for nitrogen and although Vermont is not a party to the EPA approved TMDL for LIS, the TMDL does have an impact in Vermont. EPA has required nitrogen (N) reduction plans as part of all NPDES permits that renew in the CT River watershed, anticipating EPA requirements to reduce N discharge to the CT River. N in its many forms is part of the waste that is permitted to be land spread in this permit and could be adding N to our river and LIS.
General Comments Along with an N reduction plan, VT NPDES permits include a limit of N discharged to at or below the previous level of N in the discharge. Although the premise of an indirect discharge is that none of the waste will make its way into the waters of VT, there does not seem to be a requirement that N discharge should equal to or less than previous levels as a condition of this permit.
CRC in this case, as with other whey and wash water permits for cheese manufacturing is concerned at the sheer volume of the waste permitted for land application under the terms of the draft permit. The concentration levels of N in this permit are unknown or at least unpublished as part of the permit but even if the concentration of N in the discharge is low, a low percentage of a large volume still represents a significant amount of N being land applied. Consequently, the permit should require the most environmentally responsible manner possible. CRC feels that adding whey and wash water discharge to digesters and/or putting it through a wastewater treatment facility meet that highest standard.
Land application is a more challenging approach in terms of meeting the highest standards and CRC is concerned that the draft permit does not require testing at the edge of field for runoff. If the presumption is, the discharge does not reach the waters of Vermont yet there is no mechanism for verifying that is the outcome.
The agency supplied fact sheet provides:
The Agency proposes to issue a permit renewal to Grafton Village Cheese Company. Although there is limited groundwater quality data and no stream quality data, the available stream flow and biological assessment information indicates that the land application of whey and washwater is not having a detrimental impact on water quality in the receiving streams. The draft permit renewal contains additional monitoring requirements to verify further this conclusion.
Following this approach means there will be no baseline data that indicates the stream quality before the impact of the discharge. That seems a little backwards. Existing conditions are not the natural stream if the discharge is already taking place.
Lastly, in the general comment area CRC is aware that the VT F&W Department has written off the Saxtons River as a stream capable of supporting a wild population of trout. That is unfortunate and this discharge is not the sole of even a major reason for that assessment but it does argue for the highest standards when permitting discharge to the Saxtons River.
Section by section comments
D.5 The draft permit requires a certified operator to supervise all aspects of the land application activities. CRC feels the permit should go one-step further. A certified WWTF operator is not a soil or water scientist so in this situation we have a lack of specific knowledge to protect the health of our waters.
The developing Required Agricultural Practices (RAP)s require custom applicators of manure be trained and certified under an Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets (AAFM) program to prevent applicators from misapplying nutrients too close to the waters of Vermont or at inappropriate times. Because of the huge amount of waste that will be land applied under this permit, the drivers of the vehicles should receive the same training and certification under the AAFM program. This training is a preventative step to insure no inadvertent nutrient release to the waters of Vermont.
E.1 CRC requests that the agency publish the QA/QC plan and identify the laboratory the applicant will use to do the individual tests.
E.3, E.4, E.5, Although the fact sheet gives historic levels of pollutants in the discharge and the draft permit does require testing of the surface waters in August and September, the permit does not establish maximum levels of nutrient/pollutants for surface or ground water. The factory testing leaves the same question why are there no standards. If there are standards in another regulation/s, the permit should present them here. The permit, as written does not require a biological sampling plan to determine the impacts on the surface water unless required by the Secretary. That is backwards. The plan should be established and implemented at the start of the permit.
E5.B. CRC feels the condition is backwards and the permit should require the applicant to develop a sampling plan for all surface waters potentially affected by the land application and implement it immediately as a condition of the permit. The applicant should undertake initial testing to establish a base line for biological sampling and analysis of the receiving stream with regular testing during the entire land application season.
E.7 Any soil testing is at the request of the Secretary of ANR if the Secretary feels it is necessary at some future date, not as a condition of operating right now. This is contradictory to the developing Required Agricultural Practices (RAP) that will require soil testing for nutrients as a regular part in the practice of agriculture. CRC feel there is no reason under the terms of this permit not to meet the RAP requirements of regular testing prior to the application of nutrients.
E.8 the permit should not put off toxics testing until 2020. A once a year test would seem more protective and informative to both the agency and the applicant.
Section F Who determines that there is a “possibility” that there could be a violation. The permit should identify the specific office responsible for that initial determination before they send it to the Secretary for action.
Thank you for allowing CRC to comment on the conditions of this permit. The agency should modify this permit to include CRC suggested conditions in the permit. Those changes will mean a significant improvement to the health of the Connecticut River and Long Island Sound.