Water Quality | Standards and Classification
Water quality standards and classifications vary from state to state. States classify waterbodies based on their uses, such as drinking water, contact recreation, and aquatic life support. Criteria are then implemented to ensure the water body will safely support the specified uses. States have criteria for a wide variety of issues including bacteria and nutrients. (For information on NEIWPCC efforts in these areas, see the menu above.)
Criteria can be either numeric or narrative. To guide state standards, EPA has created water quality criteria for more than 150 pollutants. Additionally, standards exist as part of an antidegradation policy to prevent the deterioration of water quality. Antidegradation requires that existing stream water uses and the level of water quality necessary to protect those existing uses be maintained and protected.
Development of appropriate water quality standards is the core component of the Clean Water Act because water quality standards influence so many other CWA programs. These include water quality monitoring, total maximum daily loads (TMDLs), National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, nonpoint source programs, oceans and wetland programs, and source water protection. Below is a summary of just a few of the ways in which NEIWPCC is involved with the information sharing, development, and implementation of water quality standards.
NEIWPCC has a Water Quality Standards Workgroup that is comprised of our state and federal partners. This group meets twice a year or on an as-needed basis. The goal of the workgroup is not to seek uniformity in the states' standards and classifications, but rather to identify interstate water quality issues. The group provides a forum in which to develop solutions and identify and avoid potential future issues through improved communication. One tool that we have developed through this workgroup process is an interstate water quality standards matrix (pdf), which is in essence a summary of our member states water quality classifications and standards.
WQS Docket and the "Alaska Rule"
In addition to facilitating the workgroup and maintaining the WQS Matrix, NEIWPCC staff have been very involved in following developments and changes to states' water quality standards dockets and related litigation. In 1999 EPA revised its water quality standards rule as a result of an opinion announced on July 8, 1997 by the District Court for the Western District of Washington in regards to Alaska Clean Water Alliance v. Clark. That ruling determined that each states' water quality standards must be formally submitted and maintained in EPA's Water Quality Docket.
Standards identified in the docket can be implemented by the states and EPA and will be considered enforceable. The docket includes all elements of the standards, including applicability statements, definitions, designated uses, criteria, the classification for each waterbody/waterbody segment (including any partial use designations and variances that have been granted), antidegradation policy, and implementation policies and procedures. This includes implementation policies and procedures such as those for antidegradation, mixing zones, site-specific criteria/water effect ratios, variances, use attainability analysis, and water quality-based toxics control (including whole effluent toxicity) to the extent that they exist and are part of the water quality standards.
For more information on water quality standards and our workgroup, contact Erin Jacobs, the coordinator of our Water Quality Standards workgroup.