By Kirk Bowers and William Limpert
Bowers is pipelines campaign adviser with the Sierra Club and is based in Charlottesville. Limpert is a landowner in Bath County.
The State Water Control Board announced Dec. 13 that they would reconsider rescinding the Water Quality Certificate (WQC) for the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). That was more than two months ago. The Board should promptly revoke the WQC.
After more than 300 violations documented by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) were used in a lawsuit by Attorney General Herring, it is obvious that the certification is flawed. The certification was approved based on DEQ’s assurance that there would be no water quality violations from the project. Three hundred violations is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many more violations that were not documented in the mountains of Southwest Virginia.
The facts show that DEQ misinformed the Board in this process. DEQ has promoted the MVP, instead of regulating it. This promotion has occurred at State Water Control Board meetings where DEQ publicly congratulated themselves on a job well done, and told the Board that the pipeline projects have undergone the most rigorous review ever. But what they didn’t tell the Board was that the review was flawed by incorrect engineering assumptions.
This was never more apparent than at the Board meeting last August. As part of DEQ’s presentation to the Board, a DEQ storm water plan reviewer testified that most of the rain events in 2018 to that date were greater than the 2-year, 24-hour storm event. Along the path of the MVP, that’s about 3 inches of rain in 24 hours. He also stated that the approved sediment control plans are designed to control sediment runoff from storms up to that level. If a storm is greater than that, the controls are ineffective, and pollution occurs. According to the reviewer, the pollution occurred because of the extreme storms.
This testimony does not hold water. Most of the storms during that time were less than ¼ inch. Rainfall amounts for the 2 year storm are not considered when designing an erosion control plan. Design criteria for each erosion control device are clearly stated in the Virginia Erosion and Sediment Control Handbook. None of the standards include rainfall depth as a design criteria. Was the reviewer not familiar with erosion control design standards? Or was he confusing the issues?
DEQ can’t blame the weather for the pollution. DEQ has to take a good bit of the blame for approving a bad design. The plans that were approved by DEQ don’t include sediment basins and traps, don’t limit how much ground can be disturbed at any one time, and rely on much less effective erosion control devices. These ineffectual devices don’t work on the extreme mountain slopes along the MVP in Southwest Virginia. Citizens advised DEQ that the plans wouldn’t work during the erosion control plan review comment period. But DEQ ignored those comments. After approving the bad plans, DEQ also approved MVP’s variance requests and waived other regulatory requirements. DEQ waived the rights of Virginia residents to clean water.
The bottom line is the Water Control Board should rescind the WQC for the MVP, and require immediate stabilization of all disturbed areas. The erosion control plans for the MVP are not adequate to provide assurance that water quality standards are protected. The plans are flawed and cannot perform as intended. Erosion control plans using devices for flatter slopes don’t work on steep slopes. A mistake was made in approving the plans. Streams are flowing red with mud and sediment in Southwest Virginia. Urgent action is needed by the Board to stop the pollution of our streams. It is Time to Act and rescind the Water Quality Certificate.
If the Atlantic Coast Pipeline starts construction in Virginia, the board should also consider revoking the WQC for that project as well. DEQ has approved the same flawed design erosion control plans for the ACP over similar extreme terrain as the MVP. Aerial surveillance of the ACP in West Virginia shows ongoing violations and water pollution. We can expect massive pollution from the ACP unless that WQC is revoked as well.