EPA ap­proves im­paired-waters list

The Arkansas Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Qual­ity sub­mits a list to the EPA every two years, but the EPA had un­til this month de­clined to act on the past four lists.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - EMILY WALKENHORST

The long-de­layed fed­eral ap­proval of Arkansas’ list of im­paired wa­ter bod­ies adds and re­moves nu­mer­ous wa­ter bod­ies, al­low­ing some to be de­pri­or­i­tized and oth­ers to be con­sid­ered for more rig­or­ous study for the first time.

The U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency re­leased a de­ci­sion doc­u­ment this month for the first time in eight years ap­prov­ing the Arkansas Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Qual­ity’s list, of­ten re­ferred to as the 303(d) list af­ter the part of the Clean Wa­ter Act that re­quires it.

The depart­ment sub­mits a list to the EPA every two years, but the EPA had un­til this month de­clined to act on the past four lists. The EPA was able to take ac­tion on the list af­ter ap­prov­ing and dis­ap­prov­ing of el­e­ments of Arkansas’ wa­ter-qual­ity stan­dards last fall, said Becky Keogh, di­rec­tor of the En­vi­ron­men­tal Qual­ity Depart­ment.

This month, the EPA ap­proved many streams’ re­moval from the list and their ad­di­tion to the list and de­ferred ac­tion for fur­ther re­view on dozens of oth­ers.

“The EPA has con­cluded that Arkansas has met the re­quire­ments of 40 C.F.R § 130.7(b)(5) with re­gards to all the waters listed by the state,” the EPA’s July 19 let­ter to the depart­ment reads.

The EPA’s ac­tion on the list is a re­lief for the

depart­ment, while other groups had been dis­sat­is­fied with the depart­ment’s list from the start.

Keogh said she was “pleased” with the EPA’s ac­tion, and a news re­lease from Gov. Asa Hutchin­son said the de­ci­sion to re­move many of the waters once listed as im­paired un­der­scores the state’s ef­forts to “pro­tect and en­hance our nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment.”

Jessie Green, a for­mer se­nior ecol­o­gist with the depart­ment who now runs the White River Water­keeper Al­liance, said she is con­cerned that changes to wa­ter stan­dards al­lowed more wa­ter bod­ies to be re­moved from the list than would have un­der old rules. She also re­jected the EPA’s and the depart­ment’s de­ci­sion not to in­clude Big Creek on the list, a sen­ti­ment echoed by Ozark So­ci­ety Arkansas di­rec­tor Bob Cross.

Green cited the rig­or­ous study of Big Creek since the open­ing of C&H Hog Farms nearby in 2013 as a rea­son to be­lieve data on the creek were suf­fi­cient to de­ter­mine that it was im­paired.

“There’s more than enough data to re­fute those claims” she said. “There’s prob­a­bly more E. coli data for Big Creek than any other stream in the state.”

Green, the Na­tional Park Ser­vice and other groups wanted to see cer­tain Buf­falo Na­tional River trib­u­taries, namely Big Creek, added to the list. The depart­ment re­jected that, ar­gu­ing it had in­suf­fi­cient data and that the data it did have did not in­di­cate pol­lu­tion.

High E. coli lev­els had been de­tected at Mill Creek, and low dis­solved oxy­gen lev­els were de­tected at Mill Creek, Bear Creek and Big Creek. But

the depart­ment uses five years of data to de­ter­mine im­pair­ment, which it did not have.

“Based upon com­mu­ni­ca­tions with Arkansas, in­suf­fi­cient Escherichia coli data ex­ist to as­sess one seg­ment of Big Creek,” the EPA noted in its de­ci­sion to re­quire no fur­ther ac­tion on the creek.

Shawn Hodges, the Park Ser­vice’s ecol­o­gist for the Buf­falo Na­tional River, said he sub­mit­ted new data on Big Creek to the depart­ment Fri­day that he be­lieves will meet the depart­ment’s stan­dards for data for the 2018 list, which will come out early next year. The data would be from con­tin­u­ous mon­i­tor­ing, a type of data col­lec­tion the depart­ment has not had as a method of guid­ing in­ter­pre­ta­tion.

The 303(d) list of­ten con­tains hun­dreds of lakes and streams, as­sessed by data col­lected dur­ing a five-year pe­riod ex­am­in­ing things like E. coli and dis­solved oxy­gen lev­els. The data, if deemed suf­fi­cient by the depart­ment and the EPA, are in­tended to de­ter­mine if a wa­ter body is meet­ing its des­ig­nated use — for ex­am­ple, as a fish­ing source, drink­ing wa­ter source or swim­ming hole.

Place­ment on the list means a wa­ter body can be con­sid­ered for a To­tal Max­i­mum Daily Load study, which would de­ter­mine what re­stric­tions and ac­tiv­i­ties need to be un­der­taken to meet wa­ter-qual­ity stan­dards. For the past eight years, the depart­ment has been able to ini­ti­ate

more data col­lec­tion only for wa­ter bod­ies it de­ter­mined to be im­paired be­cause it could not of­fi­cially place them on the 303(d) list.

“So it’s im­por­tant to have an up­dated list” to make sure prob­lems in streams can be re­solved, said Caleb Osborne, depart­ment as­so­ciate di­rec­tor in charge of the of­fice of wa­ter qual­ity.

From 2008-16, the depart­ment sub­mit­ted 27 fewer wa­ter bod­ies to the EPA for in­clu­sion on the list, 325 in­stead of 352. This month, the EPA de­ter­mined that 76 per­cent of the wa­ter bod­ies, of vary­ing lengths and sizes, la­beled as im­paired in 2008 could be re­moved from the list, ac­cord­ing to the news re­lease from Hutchin­son’s of­fice.

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