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Idaho looks at tweaking water-quality policy

A bill in the Idaho Legislature would align state and federal requirements designed to protect water quality in response to a recent federal lawsuit.

House Bill 42 accompanies a pending rule laying out the process the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and applicants go through to protect surface water quality, department Water Quality Division Administrator Barry Burnell said. The process involves federal permits for discharges into waters the Clean Water Act protects.

“The state has an anti-degradation policy but not an anti-degradation implementation plan,” he said.

The choices for the state were to do nothing and let EPA develop an anti-degradation plan for the state or  develop its own plan, he said

“We believe it provides certainty to industry and environmental groups on how the state will implement the anti-degradation procedures,” Burnell said.

The bill changes the definition of “lower water quality” so it can be applied to carrying out an anti-degradation rule, he said. It recognizes a reorganization of the section of water quality standards dealing with “outstanding resource waters” such as those with ecological or tourism value. It does not change water quality measurement criteria.

The bill and associated rulemaking were prepared to meet Clean Water Act standards. A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency representative in November told the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality board the rule meets EPA muster, Burnell said.

The Idaho Conservation League last April sued EPA for failure to act.

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