Testimony at the Maine Legislature
by Nick Bennett, staff scientist
Senator Martin, Representative Koffman, and Members of the Natural Resources Committee:
This testimony concerns LD 1899. We do not support the bill as written, but we would support the bill if the 6.5 ppm standard were enforced at any temperature, as is recommended in the Gold Book by USEPA. The Gold Book DO criterion document clearly states the following:
“The dissolved oxygen concentrations in the criteria are intended to be protective at typically high seasonal environmental temperatures for the appropriate taxonomic and life stage classifications, temperatures which are often higher than those used in the research from which the criteria were generated” (USEPA. 1986. Dissolved Oxygen Criterion Document.)
What does this mean? It means that the 6.5 ppm DO standard should be enforced at whatever the typical high temperatures are in the natural environment. This is not 20 degrees Celsius for Maine’s Class C rivers. It is more like 24-27 degrees, depending on the river, and DEP should have the flexibility to choose the appropriate numbers.
The Gold Book also goes on to state:
“In conducting wasteload allocation and treatment plant design computations, the choice of temperature in the models will be important. Probably the best option would be to use temperatures consistent with those expected in the receiving water over the critical dissolved oxygen period for the biota, in this case, trout and salmon.”
What is the critical dissolved oxygen period? It is when the water is warmest and naturally holds the least dissolved oxygen. It is also when fish are most stressed and need the oxygen the most. Therefore, temperatures used in the modeling should reflect the warmest temperatures in the river in question, which again, is likely to be 24-27 degrees.
USEPA has also sent correspondence to DEP stating that they would prefer Maine to adopt the 6.5 ppm standard and apply it across the range of natural temperatures of the river in question. After all, DEP has stated that all rivers in Maine, except the Androscoggin, meet the 6.5 ppm criterion at all temperatures. DEP has also stated that the St. Croix meets this standard as well, but that the Domtar mill would not be allowed to increase its pollution as much as its current license allows it to and still meet the standard. However, they would not have to lower their actual discharges to comply with this standard.
So essentially, nearly all rivers in the state meet the 6.5 ppm criterion at all temperatures. If the legislature chooses to enact a 6.5 ppm criterion at 20 or 21 degrees Celsius, as the paper industry has previously requested, it will be downgrading water quality standards in more than 1000 miles of Maine’s rivers and allowing increased pollution there. We object to this and believe it would violate both state and federal law. We also object to DEP’s previous proposal to apply a different standard to the St. Croix and the Androscoggin. What possible scientific justification could there be for this? If the standard works for the rest of Maine, it should work for the Androscoggin and the St. Croix as well.
I think it is important for the Committee to remember that what DEP asked the Legislature to do – at least initially – was adopt a USEPA recommended standard for DO. That should be a fairly simple proposition. Clearly, that has not been the case. However, we urge the legislature to focus on the issue at hand here, which is adopting a USEPA criterion to protect trout and salmon in 1000 miles of our rivers and streams, including some of the most important, like the Penobscot, the Kennebec, the St. Croix and the Androscoggin. Maine law requires these rivers support trout and salmon, and these fish are part of what makes Maine Maine.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony on this issue.
I am also attaching some key documents to this testimony as well as answers to a large number of questions that have surfaced concerning this issue. The documents are:
In addition, here are some answers to many of the questions that have surfaced regarding this bill:
The bacteria portions of LD 1899 bring DEP into consistency with Maine Department of Human Services and EPA numbers. The Legislature should support these numbers.
Because trout and salmon need this much oxygen in order to grow well, and Maine law requires that trout and salmon be protected in Class C rivers. Also, when the temperature gets warm, it stresses trout and salmon, so it’s important to provide them with plenty of oxygen to prevent further stress.
This number is a guideline from EPA. They have been asking Maine to adopt it in statute for many years.
Yes. DEP has used this number in licenses on Class C waters since 1986 regardless of temperature. This is only becoming an issue now because DEP is trying to use this number for the first time in licenses for Mead and International Paper. These mills have threatened to challenge DEP if it uses the 6.5 ppm number. Therefore, DEP is asking for the legislature’s help in codifying the 6.5 ppm number so that they can avoid a challenge from the mills.
Yes, over 1000 miles of Class C rivers meet this standard at all temperatures. The only exception is the Androscoggin River, because it is so heavily polluted (and it’s not just Gulf Island Pond. More than 20 miles of the Androscoggin above Gulf Island pond would fail to meet the 6.5 ppm standard if the mills discharge at their license limits). Even the St. Croix River meets this standard. The reason the Domtar mill in Baileyville is objecting to it is because they will not be able to increase their pollution as much as they would like from the levels they are currently discharging if the 6.5 ppm standard is used.
The more polluted a river is with organic wastes, the type of wastes that come from paper mills and sewage treatment plants, the less oxygen it will have. This is because bacteria in the water eat organic wastes, and as they eat it, they use up oxygen in the water, much as we breathe oxygen from the air to metabolize our food.
As the temperature gets warmer, water naturally holds less oxygen. Therefore, to keep higher levels of oxygen in the water, it must be cleaner at warmer temperatures. This is why the paper industry is arguing that the 6.5 ppm should only apply at 20 or 21 degrees Celsius. At these lower temperatures, it will be easy for them to comply with the 6.5 ppm standard, even if they pollute a lot.
It’s a nickname for a list of EPA water quality criteria, such as the 6.5 ppm DO standard.
No they are not. These numbers are only relevant when considering the effect of a discharge of heat to a waterbody that is lower in temperature than Maine waterbodies naturally get in the summer. In the Gold Book, EPA recommends that the 6.5 ppm DO criterion apply regardless of the temperature.
Mostly, this was their attempt at a compromise with the Androscoggin mills because it would be easier for them to comply with than EPA’s recommended criterion of 6.5 ppm at any temperature. However, the mills want to push DEP farther, to 20 or 21 degrees Celsius, because this will allow them to comply much more easily.
Yes they do. Industry says they always hide in cooler places, but such places do not always exist in a particular river. Therefore, oxygen must be protected in warmer water as well to keep trout and salmon healthy in summer months.