Comments to EPA on Proposed WQS Revisions

On January 2, 2014 we joined Waterkeeper Alliance in submitting this WQS Comment Letter to EPA concerning its proposal to amend existing water quality standards (WQS) under the federal Clean Water Act. We helped draft these comments because strong WQS are essential to protecting and improving clean, fishable, swimmable, drinkable water for Southwest and West Central Montana.

What’s the Big Deal?

WQS are, in essence, the baseline rules by which we are guaranteed fishable, swimmable, drinkable water – uses essential to Montana’s quality of life. If enacted EPA’s recent proposal would allow municipalities, counties, and the state of Montana to shirk duties to Montanan citizens to clean-up polluted waters and, conversely, hurt our ability to protect good quality water. Communities and leaders of Southwest and West Central Montana are already struggling to address existing water pollution in the face of scant leadership from Montanan government; the last thing we need are changes to federal rules that would make our government less accountable to citizens and undermine progress already made in cleaning up and protecting our waters.

Want More Background?

Development and implementation of WQS are key components of the federal Clean Water Act (read more about the CWA here), with shared roles for states and EPA.  The Clean Water Act imposes an initial obligation on states to develop water quality standards as necessary to protect designated uses of each state’s waters.  Designated uses are the uses of water resources that existed in 1974, or better if waters have improved.

A state must, not less than once every three years, hold public hearings for the purpose of reviewing applicable water quality standards and, where appropriate and necessary to meeting the requirements of the Clean Water Act, modify and adopt new standards. Where a state fails to modify or adopt standards that stay abreast of scientific and technical developments as necessary to ensure protection of waters, EPA must and can step in and develop appropriately-protective standards for the state.

In this way WQS are a primary component of the “forward motion” for water quality  dictated by the Clean Water Act:  they (a) set standards for water quality that will dictate cleanup where necessary, and (b) set protective antidegradation requirements to preserve what is already clean. EPA’s proposed amendments to WQS would allow more loopholes by which states could kick the proverbial can down the road as regards water pollution issues, as well as would lessen tools available to ensure states protect our existing, good quality water.

Upper Missouri Waterkeeper believes…

…that clean swimmable, fishable, drinkable water is a right of every Montanan, but we also know that good intentions alone won’t keep our waters that way. Strong water quality standards based on science, realistic water conditions, and the law ensure that our government has clear direction on protecting and improving water quality that is essential to Montana’s families, communities, and vibrant way of life.