Wyoming Nutrient Work Group Update and 2019 Draft Priorities

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Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality

With the assistance of multiple partners, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) continues to make progress on addressing nutrient pollution in Wyoming’s surface waters. Efforts in 2018 focused on harmful cyanobacterial blooms (HCBs), the Boysen Reservoir Nutrient Initiative, and numeric nutrient criteria. Details on these and other efforts are described below.

DEQ has developed draft priorities for 2019 for the Wyoming Nutrient Work Group to review and provide input. DEQ will use the priorities to help plan work activities in 2019. Please direct any questions or feedback on the 2019 draft priorities to Lindsay Patterson at 307-777-7079 or Lindsay.Patterson@wyo.gov. Please provide comments on the 2019 draft priorities by 5 PM February 22, 2019.

Harmful Cyanobacterial/Algal Blooms. In 2018, DEQ worked with the Wyoming Department of Health and other stakeholders to update the Wyoming Harmful Algal Bloom Action Plan (Action Plan) and standard operating procedures for cyanobacteria and cyanotoxin sample collection. The updates incorporate lessons learned and stakeholder feedback to streamline investigations and the advisory process. To help increase public awareness, DEQ in cooperation with the Wyoming Department of Health and the Wyoming Livestock Board, put out a press release and informational video in June notifying the public to avoid and report cyanobacterial blooms. DEQ also hosted a webinar to provide background information on HCBs and describe the monitoring and response process outlined in the Action Plan. The slides and recording of the webinar, as well as additional documents, can be found at DEQ’s website: WyoHABs.org.

In August, the DEQ Water Quality Laboratory started analyzing water quality samples for microcystin, the most common cyanotoxin found in fresh water, using a newly acquired enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) system. The new equipment was used to process more than 100 cyanotoxin samples (32 lakes and reservoirs and 1 river) this summer and fall, from investigations of potential HCBs as well as routine monitoring of reservoirs.  

During the summer and fall of 2018, DEQ investigated potential HCBs at 14 reservoirs and one river. Sampling results from 12 lakes and reservoirs (Alcova, Big Sandy, Boysen, Eden, Flaming Gorge, Kemmerer City, Pathfinder and Wheatland #1, #2 and #3 Reservoirs, and Ocean and Viva Naughton Lakes) exceeded the recommended cyanobacteria and/or cyanotoxin thresholds in the Action Plan and resulted in the issuance of recreational use advisories by the Wyoming Department of Health. State, federal, and local management agencies as well as public health officials assisted in posting advisories and notifying the public about the blooms. For many of the investigations, DEQ used satellite imagery from the Cyanobacteria Assessment Network (CyAN) to determine when and where blooms were occurring and when blooms may have dissipated.

Boysen Reservoir Nutrient Initiative. In 2017, Boysen Reservoir was selected as a priority for implementing the Wyoming Nutrient Strategy due to its history of HCBs and high use for recreational activities such as swimming. The goal of the Boysen Reservoir Nutrient Initiative is to protect public health and improve recreational experiences by reducing nutrient loading to Boysen Reservoir to decrease the severity, frequency, and duration of cyanobacterial blooms. Based on feedback from the three Conservation Districts in the watershed (Lower Wind River, Dubois-Crowheart, and Popo Agie), DEQ compiled the available data on cyanobacteria and nutrients in the reservoir and watershed. Datasets included: cyanobacteria density data collected by DEQ; estimates of cyanobacteria density from satellite imagery; cyanotoxin data collected during bloom investigations; total phosphorus, total nitrogen, and nitrate data from United States Geologic Survey (USGS) sites on the three major tributaries (Wind River, Muddy Creek, and Fivemile Creek) and the Wind River downstream of Boysen dam; and nutrient data from streams and lakes within the approximately 7,500 square mile watershed. DEQ used the 2014-2017 monthly USGS nutrient data to develop a nutrient loading analysis for the reservoir. In September, DEQ presented these data to local Conservation Districts and discussed next steps for involving stakeholders in the effort. Since nutrient loading to Boysen is complex and spans a large geographic area, reducing nutrient loading will require significant resources, coordination among stakeholders, and a considerable amount of time for planning and implementation. As such, DEQ is working to clearly define goals and objectives for the initiative. DEQ has also been working to incorporate nutrient monitoring requirements into permits for point sources regulated under the Wyoming Point Source Discharge Elimination System (WYPDES) Program in the watershed. Finally, DEQ has supported the Town of Shoshoni’s efforts to no longer discharge wastewater to Poison Creek, a tributary to Boysen Reservoir, and instead inject the wastewater underground.

Numeric Nutrient Criteria. Wyoming Basin Lakes. In 2018, DEQ received feedback from three peer reviewers on a draft technical support document for numeric nutrient criteria for lakes and reservoirs in south-central Wyoming (Wyoming Basin). DEQ has evaluated the comments and updated the analyses and technical support document based on the feedback received. The document will now undergo internal review. After any additional revisions are made, the document will be shared with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) for feedback. DEQ will address USEPA’s feedback and share the analysis and results with the Wyoming Nutrient Work Group.

Additional Data Collection Efforts. As identified in the 2018 Lake/Reservoir Nutrient Monitoring Sampling and Analysis Plan, WDEQ’s Surface Water Monitoring Program collected nutrient and related data at 17 reservoirs in 2018. The primary focus was reservoirs in southeast Wyoming and reservoirs where data were lacking that are used as public water supplies or are heavily used for swimming. These data will be used for development of numeric nutrient criteria as well as prioritizing reservoirs for nutrient reduction efforts.

Rules Allowing Discharger Specific Variance. On February 21, 2018, the Environmental Quality Council approved revisions to Chapter 1 of the Water Quality Rules and Regulations to allow the Administrator of the Water Quality Division to grant point source dischargers variances to surface water quality criteria for ammonia and nutrients. The final rule was approved by the Governor and filed with the Secretary of State on April 24, 2018, then submitted to USEPA pursuant to the federal Clean Water Act. In July 2018, USEPA approved all but a minor component of the revised rules. DEQ will be discussing discharger specific variances at the upcoming Wyoming Engineering Society’s Annual Convention on Wednesday, February 6, 2019 in Cheyenne.

Voluntary Nutrient Reduction Efforts at Laramie Wastewater Treatment Plant. The City of Laramie’s Wastewater Treatment Plant was awarded DEQ’s 2018 Second Quarter Environmental Stewardship Award for their voluntary efforts to reduce nutrient levels in treated wastewater released from the plant. The plant worked with Grant Weaver of Clean Water Ops to identify low-cost operational changes that would reduce total nitrogen concentrations in wastewater that eventually reaches the Laramie River. Their efforts have reduced total nitrogen concentrations from approximately 25-30 mg/L to approximately 10 mg/L.

Cyanotoxin Monitoring at Drinking Water Utilities. No cyanotoxins from cyanobacteria were detected in treated drinking water collected from five public water supplies during 2018. The public water supplies were required to monitor for three cyanotoxins (total microcystin, cylindrospermopsin, and anatoxin-a) twice a month for four consecutive months between 2018 and 2020 under the fourth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 4). UCMR was included in amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) in 1996 as a means to collect data for contaminants that are suspected to be present in drinking water, yet do not have health-based standards under the SDWA. Additional large surface water systems in Wyoming (those that serve >10,000 people) that will be monitoring in 2019 or 2020 include Cheyenne, Laramie, Riverton, Evanston, and Casper.

Assessment Methods for Narrative Criteria. DEQ continues to work on developing more detailed methods to determine whether Wyoming’s existing narrative water quality criteria are exceeded due to nutrient pollution. The primary focus thus far has been developing tools to identify changes to the structure and function of aquatic communities in streams and rivers from nutrient pollution and identifying exceedances of narrative criteria protective of primary contact recreation due to harmful cyanobacterial blooms. WDEQ plans to share drafts of any proposed changes with the Nutrient Work Group before incorporating the recommendations into Wyoming’s Methods for Determining Surface Water Quality Condition and releasing for public comment.

Additional Nonpoint Source Efforts. In February, DEQ and Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) staff met to discuss ways to collaborate on addressing Wyoming water quality issues, including nutrient pollution. DEQ described efforts to address nutrient pollution and NRCS provided information on programs they administer that can potentially be used to implement conservation practices to address nutrient pollution. Potential programs include the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI), and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).

DEQ’s Nonpoint Source Program has also provided regular updates to the Nonpoint Source Task Force (a board of 13 citizens appointed by the Governor to oversee the Nonpoint Source Program) about DEQ’s efforts to reduce nutrient pollution. Discussions with the board have included how Nonpoint Source Program grant funding can be used to help address nutrient pollution in Wyoming’s surface waters.

Additional Point Source Efforts. DEQ staff attended three nutrient permitting workshops hosted by the Association of Clean Water Administrators. The workshops have focused on improvements in nutrient removal technology, permitting flexibilities and innovations, water quality trading, variances, and total maximum daily loads. The Water and Wastewater Program has also started to compile information on successful wastewater reuse programs in Wyoming. This information will be used to help promote wastewater reuse as one way to reduce nutrient pollution in Wyoming’s surface waters.

Additional Nutrient Studies and Assessments. Brooks Lake: Brooks Lake was included on the 2018 303(d) List of Impaired Waters based on a report finalized by DEQ in March of 2015. The report showed that the lake was not meeting its aquatic life designated uses due to excess nutrients and elevated pH. DEQ is working with the United States Forest Service, the local conservation district and other stakeholders to develop a monitoring plan to better understand the source of nutrients to the lake as well as what nutrient concentrations support its aquatic life designated uses.

Laramie River: DEQ is working with the City of Laramie and the Laramie Rivers Conservation District to monitor nutrients in the Laramie River. Nutrients were identified as a pollutant of concern in the Laramie River downstream of the City of Laramie’s wastewater treatment plant in a report finalized by DEQ in January 2015. The additional data will help identify sources of nutrients to the Laramie River and determine whether the Laramie River should be included on the 303(d) List of Impaired Waters.

Fish Creek: Since the mid-2000’s the Teton Conservation District (TCD) and the USGS have been investigating nuisance algal growth in Fish Creek, a Class 1 stream near Wilson, Wyoming. Using the USGS work as a springboard, DEQ has been working with the TCD since 2016 to collect and evaluate water quality data to determine whether Fish Creek is meeting its designated uses. Monitoring efforts were directed primarily at collecting data for assessing the effects of nutrients on the stream’s biological communities. A complete evaluation of the DEQ/TCD data will occur after results of biological and chemical samples collected in the fall of 2018 are received this spring.