Clean water plans are a watershed-based approach to outline a strategy to improve or protect water quality in a waterbody. These plans document pollution sources, set pollutant reduction goals, and identify strategies that communities may use to improve water quality. Types of Clean Water Plans include Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), Alternative Restoration Plan (ARP) and Nine Element Plan (9E). EPA has set specific criteria that must be met for these three types of watershed-based plans.
Clean Water Plans
All waterbodies in New York are classified for their best uses: public water supply, swimming, recreation, and fish reproduction. Water quality standards protect these uses. DEC's lake and river monitoring programs assess waterbodies on a 5-year cycle to evaluate whether waterbodies are meeting water quality standards and supporting best uses. For waterbodies that are not meeting their best use, a clean water plan must be developed to identify restoration activities. Clean water plans can also be used as a tool to protect high quality waterbodies that are supporting their best use.
Information collected through DEC's monitoring programs is used to develop New York's clean water workplan that is submitted to EPA. DEC's adaptive strategy is documented in Vision Approach to Implement Clean Water Act 303(d) Program and Clean Water Planning (PDF).
The process to develop a clean water plan
- Identify and quantify pollutant loads and sources. Pollutant sources may include: Point sources (State Pollution Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) permitted facilities) and nonpoint sources (agriculture, urban lands, septic systems, internal waterbody load, natural background).
- Engage the watershed community
- Develop an implementation plan (outlines how the loads will be reduced from each pollutant source)
- Draft document
- Public comment (required for TMDL) or public review of the draft document
- Final approval What is a TMDL?
Engaging the watershed community is an important part of this process. In order to develop a successful plan, DEC needs to understand how the lake is used, what the issues are, and what has been done to improve the lake so far. For information about waterbodies with plans in development, visit the Clean Water Plans public participation webpage.
Federal and state funding is available to communities or stakeholder groups that want to implement actions identified in clean water plans. Applications submitted to DEC's Water Quality Improvement Project (WQIP) grant program that identify actions from a TMDL or 9E plan receive higher points.
Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL)
A TMDL is a type of regulatory clean water plan that calculates the maximum amount of a single pollutant that a waterbody can receive and still meet water quality standards. Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act also requires states to identify impaired waters, where designated uses are not fully supported. These waterbodies are then listed on the Clean Water Act 303(d) "impaired waters" list. Waterbodies may have been identified as impaired due to fish consumption advisories, shellfishing closures, public bathing beach closures, or sampling results (high nutrient levels, turbidity, toxic sediments). The Clean Water Act also requires states to develop TMDLs for impaired waterbodies on the 303(d) list to reduce the amount of pollutants entering impaired waterbodies to meet water quality standards. TMDL plans may also be developed to protect waterbodies from becoming impaired - for example, protecting public drinking water supplies to protect human health. DEC develops TMDLs and EPA approves them. The Total Maximum Daily Load: An introduction (PDF) factsheet describes why TMDLs are needed, the information needed to develop a TMDL and plan outcomes.
Alternative Restoration Plans (ARP)
EPA recognizes that there are cases where cases in which pursuing alternative restoration approach before developing a TMDL may provide a more immediately beneficial or practicable path to restore water quality for impaired waterbodies. States may develop ARPs that include a description of actions, with a schedule and milestones, that is more immediately beneficial or practicable to achieving water quality standards. Impaired waters for which a state pursues an alternative restoration approach to achieve water quality standards would remain on the 303(d) list and still require TMDLs until water quality standards are attained, but states may delay the development of a TMDL until after the alternative restoration plan is implemented and water quality is re-evaluated.
Nine Element (9E) Watershed Plans
Similar to TMDLs, 9E Plans require pollutant sources to be identified and quantified, pollutant reductions goals established, and an implementation plan developed (e.g., how to achieve reductions, tracking progress, and monitoring water quality improvements). Unlike TMDLs, 9E plans can be developed by watershed stakeholder groups and are approved by DEC. 9E plans can be targeted to unimpaired waterbodies that require protection. The Nine Element Plan: An introduction (PDF) factsheet describes the nine elements, when nine plans are used, information needed to develop a nine element plan and plan outcomes. An overview of EPA's 9E Plan framework is in Nine Minimum Elements to be included in a Watershed Plan document (PDF).
9E Plan Resources
To assist watershed communities to evaluate existing planning documents and to better understand 9E plan report requirements, DEC has drafted the following resources:
- Reviewer Guidance, Reviewer Checklist and Recommended 9E Plan Outline (PDF) - used by Division of Water staff to review and approve 9E plans
- Presentation from Water Quality Symposium/ NYS CDEA Annual Training Session (PDF) - presentation provides an overview of the nine elements and modeling
- Quality assurance project plan (QAPP) templates for monitoring and modeling
Communities are strongly encouraged to contact DEC before starting to prepare a 9E plan. DEC staff can assist communities to determine data needs, provide technical assistance and discuss other planning considerations to help communities prepare plans efficiently. Contact information is right-hand column of this page.
Grant funding to support the development of 9E plans is available through the NYS Department of State through the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) Local Waterfront Revitalization Program.
Other Watershed-Based Plans
Drinking Water Source Protection Program Plan (DWSP2)
The Drinking Water Source Protection Program (DWSP2) is a joint DEC and DOH-run program created to assist municipalities with proactively protecting their drinking water sources. The goal is to help municipalities develop and implement their own unique drinking water source protection plan for the source(s) of their drinking water. These plans use a watershed-based approach and document potential pollution sources that impact drinking water. These plans do not quantify pollutant loads or estimate the pollutant reductions needed to achieve water quality goals--these are critical elements of TMDLs, 9E plans, or ARPs. The differences between clean water plans and DWSP2 plans are shown in the table below.
|Better for nonpoint sources
|Considers point and nonpoint sources
|Considers point and nonpoint sources
|Source Water Assessment
|Critical and Source Water Protection Area
|Progression and Maintenance
|As suggested by Element F of the 9E Plan
|As suggested by implementation plan
|Recommended at a minimum of 5 years
|Public Comment Period
|No (public participation is conducted throughout plan development)
|State and federal opportunities
|State and federal opportunities
Department of State (DOS) Watershed Plans
Through the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, DOS funds the development of watershed plans. These plans use a watershed-based approach and document point and nonpoint sources, similar to TMDLs, 9E, and ARP plans. Unlike TMDLs, 9E, or ARP plans, NYS Department of State funded watershed plans may or may not quantify pollutant loads or estimate the pollutant reductions needed to achieve water quality goals. These plans can serve as the basis of a full 9E plan, but often require additional work to satisfy all the required elements needed for DEC approval.
Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) Action Plans
New York State's Water Quality Rapid Response Team, national experts and local stakeholders collaboratively developed Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) Action Plans for twelve priority lakes that are vulnerable to HABs, are critical sources of drinking water, and are vital tourism drivers. These twelve lakes were chosen as part of New York State's HAB initiative because they represent a wide range of conditions and vulnerabilities, and the lessons learned will be applied to other impacted waterbodies moving forward. Each action plan identifies contributing factors fueling HABs and immediate actions that can be taken to reduce the sources of pollution that spark algal blooms.
Communities and watershed organizations are encouraged to review the plan for their lake, particularly the proposed actions, and work with state and local partners to implement those recommendations. Individuals can get involved with local groups and encourage their communities or organizations to act. The Action Plans are intended to be 'living documents' and interested members of the public are encouraged to submit comments and ideas to [email protected] to assist with HABs prevention and treatment moving forward.
Which waterbodies have Clean Water Plans?
Clean water plans have been completed for many waterbodies in New York State. The following list links to the clean water plan documents for specific waterbodies.