Imagine a squad of cheerleaders shouting out “Give me a T”, and the spectators calling back en masse, “T!!!” And then give them an “M”…and a “D”…and finally a “L”.
The spectators look confused. School spirit is suddenly stunningly low.
The cheerleaders plead all together, “What’s that spell?!”
Mumble-mumble-grumble, the spectators reply.
And yet TMDLs are the critical key that is unlocking the restoration of hundreds of Minnesota’s streams and lakes. Here on the North Shore, our polluted rivers are on their way to getting cleaned up, thanks to TMDLs.
Last week I tried to demystifying one acronym, BUIs. This acronym is harder because even if you know what the letters stand for, it’s still incomprehensible. TMDL stands for “Total Maximum Daily Load.”
The cheerleaders shouldn’t even bother asking “What’s that spell?,” just “What’s that?”
Total Maximum Daily Load is a measurement, typically a weight in tons or pounds or grams. It’s the amount of any given pollutant that a river or lake can handle on its own and not get any dirtier. Agencies that work to protect our waters have said, essentially, yes there will be pollution, but it won’t be all that bad. Here’s the PCA’s official definition.
But TMDL is more than a number, it’s a process. Up here on the North Shore, we just finished the TMDL process for the Knife River, which flows into Lake Superior between Duluth and Two Harbors. The Knife is too muddy, especially when the waters are high. The sediment-laden water is hard on fish and icky for swimming. Fishing and swimming are beneficial uses of the river, and the sediment has impaired those uses. In comes the Clean Water Act and the MPCA to clean it up.
Through the TMDL process (LINK: http://www.pca.state.mn.us/index.php/water/water-types-and-programs/minnesotas-impaired-waters-and-tmdls/minnesotas-impaired-waters-and-total-maximum-daily-loads-tmdls.html), we now know how much sediment is in the river, how much should be in the river, and what we can do to reduce the amount of sediment to acceptable levels…down to the Total Maximum Daily Load.
The same process of field research, modeling and math has happened on 226 rivers and lakes across the state, for pollutants ranging from sediment to fecal coliform. Another 710 TMDL projects are underway.
I can tell you from our experience here on the North Shore, the more that common citizens on the ground get involved in the TMDL process, the better the result will be. Get involved. Then you will have something to cheer about.