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Letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson

April 5, 2012

Honorable Lisa P. Jackson
U. S. Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20460

Dear Administrator Jackson:

I trust that you have been well since we last communicated. Thank you for your continuing public service.

I write today regarding the urgent matter of water quality impairments in Southern Cayuga Lake. This long-standing regulatory problem has received extensive national attention and involves critically important environmental protection policy decisions.

I request that you take immediate action to address the concerns spelled out below. I trust that you will find my request self-explanatory, but please do not hesitate to contact me if I can answer any questions you might have about it. If appropriate, I would be pleased to meet with you.

Please note that several weeks ago I contacted your colleague in Region 2, Karen O'Brien. She was involved with this matter for many years before recently accepting a different assignment. She said she would check into it and get back to me. Since I never heard back, I called and left three messages. Given the time-sensitivity of this matter, I am now writing to you directly.

Southern Cayuga Lake Water Quality Impairments/Cornell University Lake Source Cooling Discharge Permit

As we discussed when I met with you and your colleagues, the southernmost 5,000 acres of Cayuga Lake are included in the national 303(d) registry of impaired waterbodies (Clean Water Act, 33 U. S. C. §1313) due to nutrient and turbidity problems. For decades, Southern Cayuga Lake has often been inundated with massive accumulations of algae and weeds due to phosphorus and turbidity concentrations that exceed applicable narrative water quality standards and guidance values.

That portion of Cayuga Lake is the receiving body of water for the Cornell University Lake Source Cooling effluent discharge. Your agency's Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) regulations regarding Section 303(d) prohibit the issuance of permits to "a new source or a new discharger, if the discharge from its construction or operation will cause or contribute to the violation of water quality standards." The Lake Source Cooling permitted discharge contravenes 40 C.F.R §122.4(i) because its effluent discharge contributes Soluble Reactive Phosphorus (SRP) to the area of Cayuga Lake which exceeds that applicable water quality standard.

This concern was highlighted in an article that appeared in The New York Times:

Southern Cayuga Lake's compliance with the Clean Water Act has yet to be achieved. In 1999, EPA Region 2 proposed a landmark agreement to address Southern Cayuga Lake's water quality impairments, but it was never implemented. EPA's proposed policy would have set a precedent that could have been replicated on a national basis.

Even though Southern Cayuga Lake was required to have a TMDL to address its water quality impairments as a "high priority" by 2004, no TMDL has been adopted.

Even though existing water quality problems are worse than ever, the Lake Source Cooling discharge permit was allowed to lapse and has not been renewed.

After dragging its feet for years, Cornell finally performed a Before-After-Control-Impact Study in order to assess the impact of the Lake Source Cooling effluent discharge on water quality in Cayuga Lake. The BACI analysis of Cornell's raw monitoring data documented an increase of more than 50% in chlorophyll a at Site 7 after the Lake Source Cooling Project began operation. Site 7 is the location with arguably the worst algae and weed hazards in Southern Cayuga Lake.

This algae and weed increase is plain to see from photos taken before and after Lake Source Cooling went on-line. Since 1998, the area of heavy algae and weed infestation spread south nearly 1,000 feet as well as thousands of feet west. See attached.

Please note that a 2010 thesis by Seth Avram Schweitzer (The effects of runoff and upwelling events on the water quality of the southern shelf of Cayuga Lake, Cornell University.) reported: "When the wind blows from the south for a duration greater than the lake's uninodal horizontal seiche period (T/4), the thermocline tilts up in the vicinity of the shelf. This leads to reduced exchange between the shelf and the main basin's epilimnion, resulting in higher nutrient levels near loading sources on the shelf."

This directly contradicts the fundamental assertion of the Lake Source Cooling Environmental Impact Statement that the facility's nutrient-loading contribution would migrate north due to the Coriolis effect. In short, the impact of Lake Source Cooling's effluent discharge on water quality could be greater than earlier determined.

Immediate Request for Regulatory Enforcement Action

It is entirely unacceptable that this regulatory matter has dragged on for approximately 14 years without being resolved in strict compliance with all applicable law. Frankly, Lake Source Cooling's improper discharge has been managed in a truly disgraceful manner that undermines public confidence in government's ability to safeguard the environment.

The BACI determination triggers a critical provision in the Lake Source Cooling discharge permit requiring Cornell to treat the effluent discharge to remove phosphorus or to move the discharge pipe "off the shelf" to send the untreated discharge down to the depths of the lake below the photic zone.

I write to request that you require EPA Region 2 to intervene immediately to enforce that permit provision and to take further action to clean up Southern Cayuga Lake.

First, I request that EPA require Lake Source Cooling's effluent discharge of SRP to be treated using Best Available Technology or moved "off the shelf."

Second, I request that EPA and DEC allow an alternative solution of converting the "once-through, non-contact" cooling water discharge to a "closed-loop" system that would eliminate any transfer of SRP from the bottom of Southern Cayuga Lake to shallower areas. I believe this would constitute an ideal resolution to the current Lake Source Cooling nutrient-loading problem.

Third, I request that EPA tolerate no further delay in issuing a renewal of the Lake Source Cooling discharge permit in order to implement the provisions referenced above.

Fourth, I request that EPA require a TMDL to be proposed and implemented within one year by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Any further delay in this matter must not be tolerated.

Finally, I request that EPA reject any proposal that allows Cornell University to delay enforcement of its Lake Source Cooling permit or play any role in preparing a proposed TMDL. Either action would clearly conflict with the public interest.


In conclusion, Cornell University repeatedly tried to halt in-lake water quality monitoring in order to avoid documenting Lake Source Cooling's impact on Southern Cayuga Lake. It also offered to fund local groups if they supported ending in-lake water quality monitoring. This constitutes the worst kind of financial conflict of interest. Cornell also repeatedly tried to avoid undertaking a BACI study and tried to skew its findings in order to avoid eliminating Lake Source Cooling's impact on Southern Cayuga Lake.

EPA must put a halt to Cornell University's self-serving delay tactics.

EPA and DEC are under intense scrutiny with regard to their ability to regulate proposed shale gas extraction activities that threaten water resources. With all respect, if those agencies cannot resolve the long-standing pollution problems of one of America's most historic bodies of water, the public can have no confidence in government's ability to prevent shale gas hazards in New York's Marcellus Shale formation.

On a final note, Cornell and the groups it offered to fund have long denied the existence of algae and aquatic weed infestation problems in Southern Cayuga Lake. Ironically, those entities are now the most ardent advocates of applying herbicides to control the growth of Hydrilla that was recently identified in Cayuga Inlet.

If the nutrient loading concerns documented nearly 14 years ago in Southern Cayuga lake and its tributaries had been addressed by EPA, DEC and Cornell, this latest water quality threat could have been minimized or avoided altogether.

For all the aforementioned reasons, I request your swift action. As you well know, "justice delayed is justice denied."

Thank you for your attention to my request. I look forward to your prompt reply.

Very truly yours,

Walter Hang

Lake Source Cooling: