For release: June 16, 2011
Environmental Quality Commission Approves Revised Water Quality Standards for Oregon
Standards to improve human health protection for users of state’s waters, await EPA approval before going into effect
The Oregon Environmental Quality Commission today approved new water quality standards designed to reduce or prevent toxic pollutants in Oregon waterways and add health protections for people using state rivers and streams for fishing, drinking water and other purposes. The new state standards will go into effect pending U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approval.
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality developed the new standards over the past several years through a collaborative effort with EPA, tribal governments and a host of industrial, municipal and environmental groups, as well as through an extensive scientific review and public comment process. The revised standards are expected to improve health protection for those using Oregon waters by requiring pollution sources to take targeted actions where needed to reduce toxic pollutants discharged into those waters. These actions will in turn help sources achieve the new water quality standards. Any needed reductions will be reflected in discharge permits these sources operate under and as called for in the federal Clean Water Act.
The commission approved the standards by a 4-1 margin, with Vice Chair Ken Williamson saying the standards “provide greater protections for sensitive populations. As a society we need to provide these protections. We are moving in the right direction.”
“We realize these new standards have drawn a great deal of interest and concern from the business and agricultural community, legislators and others who fear they will be overly restrictive. But DEQ will work closely with all those affected to ensure these changes are implemented fairly and effectively,” said DEQ Director Dick Pedersen. “We will monitor the new regulations’ effectiveness and report back to legislators and others on how the new standards are working. We feel strongly that these standards set the right goals for Oregon waters and, over time, will form the basis for any needed improvements in the quality of Oregon’s waters, its overall environment, and its overall livability.”
A gap in the level of human health protection provided by Oregon’s existing water quality standards formed the basis of EPA’s June 2010 disapproval of Oregon’s 2004 proposed human health criteria for toxic pollutants. EPA determined that the human health criteria based on a 17.5 grams per day fish consumption rate did not adequately protect all Oregonians. After EPA rejected DEQ’s 2004 rules, the criteria reverted back to even less protective values based on a fish consumption rate of 6.5 grams per day – equal to less than one 8-ounce fish serving a month. In 2006, DEQ enlisted the aid of public health experts to examine fish consumption studies relevant to Oregon, and subsequently proposed criteria based on a 175 grams-per-day fish consumption rate – equivalent to about 23 fish or shellfish meals a month.
EPA deems the 175 grams per day rate more accurate in depicting actual fish consumption by all Oregonians, including tribal members, who eat more fish than the typical Oregonian. EPA must approve the new toxics criteria based on the higher fish consumption rate, which will likely happen this year.
The new standards that include the protective toxics criteria are expected to affect cities and facilities that are permitted to discharge one or more regulated pollutants to state waters. Forestry, agricultural, construction and other activities may also be affected by the new standards. DEQ is clarifying how it will interact with the Oregon Departments of Agriculture and Forestry to help pollution runoff sources implement management practices to reduce toxic runoff from farm and timber lands.
As part of the revisions approved today, DEQ will also offer new permitting implementation tools to assist dischargers in making changes. Several of these tools take into account levels of background pollutants already present in a discharger’s intake water through intake credits and a site-specific background pollutant provision. If a facility cannot meet discharge limits based on the new standards, it may be able to qualify for a variance. It would then apply for a variance, which includes development of a pollutant reduction plan approved and monitored by DEQ. DEQ and EPA have coordinated and agreed on a process to review variances expeditiously.
These new standards are one of several regulatory and non-regulatory tools DEQ uses to reduce toxics in Oregon. Other tools include the Pesticide Stewardship Partnership Program, in which DEQ works at the local level with a wide range of groups to find ways to reduce pesticide levels in rivers and streams; and DEQ’s air toxics program, in which it works with scientific experts, neighborhood groups and industry to find ways to reduce emissions of toxics into the atmosphere. DEQ also has helped develop product stewardship programs such as Oregon E-Cycles, which via free recycling of televisions and computers helps reduce the amount of toxics that enter the environment. DEQ is currently drafting a comprehensive Toxics Reduction Strategy to identify the most effective, efficient ways of reducing toxics over the next several years.
For more details on the new standards, please see DEQ’s “human health rulemaking” web page at http://www.deq.state.or.us/wq/standards/humanhealthrule.htm .