Huntsville gets looser stan­dards for wa­ters

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - Arkansas - EMILY WALKENHORST

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 The city’s pro­posal was out of date, Mel­ton ar­gued at the com­mis­sion’s Oc­to­ber meet­ing.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.

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