Impaired waters two

...some state agencies have chosen to disregard almost all data other than their own. Regulations say states must evaluate “all readily available data and information” in developing their 303(d) lists

The Clean Water Act requires that each state report every two years on the health of all its waters, not just those that are impaired. Information from this report, known as the 305(b) report or “biennial water quality report,” has historically been used to develop the “threatened and impaired waters” list.

How impaired waters lists are created

Most states compile the data and findings from the 305(b) report and add information from other sources, such as the state's report of waters affected by nonpoint sources, to produce the 303(d) list. However, states have often failed to list waters for which there was ample evidence of impairment or future threats. Moreover, impaired and threatened waters that can meet water quality standards by assigning or enforcing basic (technology-based) pollutant limits are not to be listed.

The EPA recommends that states combine the threatened and impaired waters list with the 305(b) report to create an “Integrated Report,” due April 1 of even numbered years. In its July 2003 guidance for the 2004 Integrated Report, the EPA described five categories into which all water bodies should be placed:

  • Category 1: All designated uses are met;
  • Category 2: Some of the designated uses are met but there is insufficient data to determine if remaining designated uses are met;
  • Category 3: Insufficient data to determine whether any designated uses are met;
  • Category 4:Water is impaired or threatened, but a watershed restoration plan (TMDL) is not needed;
  • Category 5:Water is impaired or threatened, and a watershed restoration plan (TMDL) is needed.

At the time of printing of this book, EPA’s draft guidance for the 2006 Integrated Report recognized that water bodies may be placed into more than one of the five categories. States may categorize water bodies for which they don’t have data (Guidance for 2004 Integrated Report).

Most state water quality agencies are able to monitor only a small percentage of their waters consistently enough to detect water quality problems. Yet, some state agencies have chosen to disregard almost all data other than their own. Regulations say states must evaluate “all readily available data and information” in developing their 303(d) lists (40CFR130.7(b)(5)).

Over the years, the EPA has approved many state lists that were considered inadequate by the public. In the 1990s, numerous public interest groups across the country filed and won lawsuits against the EPA for approving state lists that were demonstrably incomplete. Consequently, the EPA and the public now take a harder look at the adequacy of these lists when they are updated every two years.

Finding listed waters

Your state water quality agency, your regional EPA office and EPA headquarters all should have copies of your state's most recent 303(d) list. Because final approval of the list sometimes takes years, there may be several draft versions. Be sure to get the current approved list. To find your state’s list online, go to EPA’s 303(d) website.

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