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.
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.