Huntsville gets looser standards for waters
Water-quality standards will loosen on two waters in Northwest Arkansas after environmental regulators’ approval Friday.
Mineral standards for Town Branch and Holman Creek, specified in Arkansas regulations as “guidelines” rather than limits, will rise to higher levels under the regulation change.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has not accepted the state’s change to its regulations to specify that the standards are guidelines, but the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality has argued the standards have always been guidelines.
Friday’s vote by the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission ends a more than five-year process started by the city of Huntsville to change the standards to accommodate its wastewater utility. During that time, the city’s
proposal underwent various changes after initially being criticized for loosening the standards too much.
Huntsville requested the changes to Town Branch and Holman Creek — and initially War Eagle Creek — because, the city argued, the standards were too restrictive for the city’s wastewater utility and were not based on the natural conditions of the streams. The utility could not meet the levels specified without making upgrades to its treatment plant, which it argued it couldn’t afford.
The levels suggested by the utility matched what its 2013 research said would protect existing aquatic life and designated uses of the waters. Although the waters are located near Beaver Lake, a study done by the U.S. Geological Survey found that Beaver Lake, the drinking water source for 400,000 Northwest Arkansans, would not be harmed.
The city removed War Eagle Creek from its proposal after Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission member Doug Melton argued that the current conditions of the creek are better than what the city proposed. The city’s proposal was out of date, Melton argued at the commission’s October meeting. The commission then tabled the matter until Friday’s meeting.
After the October meeting, a consultant told the utility it could meet the current standards for War Eagle Creek and would not need to seek the change, Chuck Nestrud, an attorney for the city, told commissioners Friday.
Melton said he regretted the harshness of his criticism of the city at the last meeting but said he wasn’t sorry for the “zeal” he had for ensuring the state’s waters are protected.
“I feel that this process is flawed,” he said. “This rule-making was stale.”
Melton said the Department of Environmental Quality should find a way to speed up the rule-making process for such proposals so that research won’t be outdated when commissioners are asked to adopt them.
“This is not the way to be good stewards of the water in Arkansas,” he said.
Nestrud said he was not mad at Melton.
“We feel like we got to a better place,” he said.
The standards previously used for Holman Creek and Town Branch were those established broadly for the Ozark Highlands ecoregion. The ecoregion sets values for streams in the region unless they have been specifically changed. Those limits are 13 milligrams per liter for chlorides, 17 milligrams per liter for sulfates and 240 milligrams per liter for total dissolved solids.
For Holman Creek, from the confluence with Town Branch downstream to the confluence with War Eagle Creek, the chlorides limit will change to 180 milligrams per liter, the sulfates limit will be 48 milligrams per liter and the total dissolved solids limit will be 621 milligrams per liter.
Standards for Town Branch will change from the point of the city’s discharge downstream to the confluence with Holman Creek. The limit for chlorides will be 223 milligrams per liter, and the limits for sulfates and total dissolved solids will be 61 milligrams per liter and 779 milligrams per liter, respectively.
Caleb Osborne, the department’s associate director in charge of the office of water quality, said he and others have worked for about a year to calculate mineral levels that are more specific to water quality data in smaller areas.
Before Friday’s change, Huntsville’s wastewater discharge permit had been expired for years but remained active under an administrative hold placed on it by the department while the minerals proposal stalled.