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State imposes phosphorus limits on wastewater plants

Dayton, Montgomery County officials unhappy after delay rejected.

The state has rejected a request from Dayton and Montgomery County to delay setting limits on phosphorus discharge from their wastewater treatment plants, which could require the jurisdictions to invest in facility improvements and make other changes.

Phosphorus build up can harm water quality, and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency says phosphorus from the city’s and county’s wastewater facilities are clearly the largest contributors to pollution in the lower Great Miami River.

The city and county last year asked the state to hold off on imposing phosphorus restrictions until a thorough study of the river is completed to evaluate the exact causes and extent of nutrient pollution.

But the state rejected that, saying the limits are needed, feasible and not overly financially burdensome.

In a joint statement, the city and county said they are disappointed that the agency did not agree with most of their input about the proposed limits and compliance schedule.

“We’ll look at (the state’s response) and see what our next steps are,” said Montgomery County Commissioner Debbie Lieberman.

The city and county need permits from the Ohio EPA to discharge wastewater into the lower Great Miami River.

Last year, the state issued draft permits to the jurisdictions that included proposed phosphorous limits on discharge from their wastewater facilities that feed into the river.

The city and county sent a joint letter to the state asking it to shelve the restrictions until a multi-year study of the river is completed that analyzes all contributing sources of pollution.

Nutrient build-up from phosphorus and nitrogen threatens aquatic ecosystems by creating excessive algae that can harm water quality, food sources and habitats.

Dayton officials have said farm runoff and agricultural activities are likely the main culprits for nutrient concentration in the waterway.

Fifteen communities are partnering on the study with the stated goal of identifying effective and cost-effective measures to address pollution.

But in a Dec. 22 letter, the Ohio EPA said studies of the river show that the city’s and county’s facilities are a significant part of the problem.

The agency said improving the river’s water quality will not be possible without reducing the amount of phosphorous coming from the wastewater plants.

“Ohio EPA believes there is a legal basis for these limits that is supported by the technical and scientific information presented” to the jurisdictions, wrote Erin Sherer, National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program manager for the division of surface water.

The agency said the two plants account for about half of the total phosphorus load to the lower Great Miami River during a typical summer day.

The city and county jointly said they would continue to work with the state on a nutrient-management study to examine water quality and provide more data about pollution and contributors.

Montgomery County last month hired special legal counsel to “cost share and jointly fight” the Ohio EPA’s draft permit issue related to phosphorus limits.

“Montgomery County and the city of Dayton are committed to providing excellent wastewater treatment services to our citizens, making smart capital investments at our wastewater treatment plants and protecting the water quality of the lower Great Miami River,” the jurisdictions said in a prepared statement.

The Miami Conservancy District is facilitating the water study, which seeks to ensure any actions taken by the wastewater plants are based on good science, said Janet Bly, the district’s general manager.

The communities involved in the study believe imposing phosphorus limits before the river study is finished could mean expensive investments in the plants that may not be the best solution, she said.

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