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Ecology to Revise Washington’s Water Quality Standards following EPA Ruling

On March 22, 2006 the U.S. EPA formally disapproved parts of Washington’s water quality standards because they do not go far enough under the Clean Water Act to protect salmon and bull trout in certain streams and rivers. The Washington State Department of Ecology is proposing a new set of rules to fix the deficiencies identified by EPA.

Ecology revised its water quality standards to adopt new maximum temperature criteria that apply to specific river segments to protect salmon. The rule revisions will affect major rivers that drain into Puget Sound, such as the Nooksack, Skagit, Stillaguamish, Snohomish, Green, Puyallup and Nisqually Rivers. These rivers include important spawning, rearing and migration habitat for ESA threatened species of Chinook salmon and bull trout.

Many activities contribute to water temperature problems. Over the last century, trees that provide shade along river banks have been removed due to forestry and agricultural practices and urban development.

Rivers have been altered by dams to store water and by levees for flood control. In a few cases, industrial and municipal discharges can warm a stream. Although some programs are already in place to restore temperatures and meet existing standards, the more protective water quality standards will help focus needed improvements to protect salmon and bull trout.

In addition to concerns about the temperature standards, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the National Fish and Wildlife Service have expressed concerns that even the dissolved oxygen standards that apply to the revised uses may not be protective enough. 

Ecology will engage in further study in coordination with federal fish agencies and EPA to determine the most appropriate standards for dissolved oxygen to protect salmon during spawning and egg and fry development. Ecology will share the results with the public in a series of technical workshops.

If results of the study and workshops indicate that the dissolved oxygen criteria should be corrected, Ecology will begin a follow-up rule-making process by summer 2008.

EPA will not act on the remainder of the package of water quality standards adopted by the state in 2003 until it completes its review of the salmonid-use revisions to be completed during the upcoming rulemaking. 
A Public comment period runs from July 5, 2006 through September 5, 2006. Public hearings will be held in five locations around the state August 7-15, 2006. Click here for more information.

Contact: Glenn Kuper, Department of Ecology, (360) 407-6848; Marianne Deppman, Environmental Protection Agency, (206) 553-1237.
Ecology's Water Quality Web Site.


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