A TMDL Alternative is a watershed restoration plan or set of actions pursued in the near-term that, when fully implemented, are designed to attain water quality standards. Communities that are taking initiative to voluntarily create and execute plans to clean up impaired waters may defer or even bypass the need for a TMDL. These alternative plans are locally crafted and executed, giving flexibility in the restoration process. Both DWR and EPA recognize these restoration efforts and, if guidelines are met, are reflected on NC’s 303(d) list. Additional EPA information on alternative restoration plans is available here.
There are two options for TMDL alternatives: 5r (9-element watershed plan) or 4b Demonstration Plan.
5r (9-Element Watershed Plan)
Impaired waters with a DWR-approved 9-Element (9E) Watershed Plan are eligible for Category 5r on the 303(d) list. Waters with a 5r designation are still considered impaired, and included on the 303(d) list, but TMDL development is deferred while the plan is being implemented. Projects identified in the 9E Watershed Plan are eligible for 319 funding.
9E Watershed Plans are consistent with the EPA's framework to develop watershed-based plans and consist of nine key elements. The elements are intended to ensure that the contributing causes and sources of nonpoint source pollution are identified, that key stakeholders are involved in the planning process and that restoration and protection strategies are identified that will address the water quality concerns. An overview of the 9E framework is provided in Introduction to the 9 Elements of a Watershed Restoration Plan.
4b Demonstration Plan
Impaired waters with enforceable pollution control programs in place that are expected to solve pollution problems (i.e., meet water quality standards) are commonly referred to as “Category 4b” waters because they are moved from Category 5 (303(d) list - impaired and needs TMDL) of the State’s Integrated Report to Category 4b (impaired but TMDL not required). While pollution control programs are not TMDLs, they must have many of the same features, and there must be some legal or financial assurance that they will be implemented.
A Category 4b demonstration allows DWR and EPA to formally recognize actions that, from a local perspective, provide a more appropriate and effective response to impairment than TMDL development. DWR has developed guidance (North Carolina’s Division of Water Resources Category 4b Demonstration Guidance) for communities interested in developing a plan to address impaired waters. The guidance describes the elements required to qualify for Category 4b. Communities interested in pursuing this option should review the guidance document and plan to meet with DWR’s Modeling and Assessment Branch prior to development. Some communities may find that they are already meeting most if not all of the required elements.