Water quality – Public comment heard on UAA
Casper – Following a notice by the Environmental Protection Agency that inadequate public involvement occurred prior to the submission of its Categorical Use Attainability Analysis (UAA) for Recreation, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) held a public hearing in Casper on Sept. 16 to officially gather comments from stakeholders.
“The UAA has been publically noticed twice for review and comments by the public,” said Kevin Frederick of Wyoming DEQ. “There has been at least one public meeting to present information and answer questions.”
Frederick continued, “This hearing is to provide testimony on the UAA.”
With testimony coming from a wide swath of the public, DEQ heard testimony from 34 members of the public, both for and against the UAA, all of which was recorded by a court reporter. In addition, written statements were submitted, and more than 100 members of the public attended the meeting.
“The comments we received prior to and during the hearing will assist the agency in finalizing the UAA document,” said Todd Parfitt, DEQ director. “Having this additional public input helps DEQ improve the final UAA. I want to thank everyone who took time to participate in this process.”
Proponents of UAA
Agriculture and conservation groups testified largely in favor of the UAA, citing the use of sound science, as well as widespread public input during the three years since the public process began.
Wyoming Department of Agriculture Director Doug Miyamoto commented, “I support this proposal because it allows us a more accurate baseline, and it allows a cleaner process than the current method.”
Miyamoto continued that water bodies will still be protected, but rather than a uniform standard, the level of protection will reflect their uses.
In addition to providing written comments, representatives from 15 conservation districts around the state attended the meeting, largely voicing their support for the effort. District employees explained their involvement in ground-truthing the model, as well as their work in regulating water quality.
Christine Tilley of the Shoshone Conservation District said, “We have 1,609 stream miles in our conservation district. The very, very large majority of those stream miles cannot and will not support recreation. Prior to this UAA, they were listed to do just that.”
Tilley added that she logged 160 hours validating the UAA in 2010, noting that 77 percent of the waters were appropriately identified.
“Accuracy has been our goal,” she said.
“This is a risk management standard – not an absolute,” emphasized Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts Executive Director Bobbie Frank. “We believe DEQ has approached the UAA conservatively. Nothing in the UAA changes water quality conditions or eliminates water quality protection.”
Agriculture organizations, including Wyoming Farm Bureau (WyFB) and the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) also supported the UAA.
Ken Hamilton, WyFB executive director, noted, “Many of our members support the scientific process that DEQ used for this effort. This is something that has long been needed, and we support the process.”
He further commended DEQ on de-politicizing the effort and using a scientifically justifiable method of classifying streams.
WSGA’s Jim Magagna added that his organization did not participate in the original public input process “because the process DEQ proposed seem to be a logical way to address the issue.”
Additionally, he continued, “We stand in strong support of the approach taken. The proposed changes will help us to better manage water quality by focusing available resources on those locations where primary contact recreation is occurring or can potentially occur.”
However, concerns from groups including the Wyoming Outdoor Council and Sierra Club surrounded use of backcountry waters by hikers, outfitters and recreationists, among others.
Opponents of the UAA argued that the standards of more than an average of six cubic feet per second of flow for a primary contact recreation water was too high, and they noted that people hike many miles and recreate in streams that are very remote, despite levels of flow.
Gary Wilmont, executive director of the Wyoming Outdoor Council, mentioned, “DEQ could fix part of this problem by using flow data for early summer months when outdoor recreation and snowmelt are at their peak, rather than using the average.”
“The model captures a lot of great streams that people actually use for recreation,” he added.
Sierra Club’s Connie Wilbert commented, “We oppose the UAA as it is written. Some of the biggest concerns that our members have is the failure of DEQ to communicate with the citizens of Wyoming in an effective way about the changes.”
Wilbert asserted that the September meeting was the first she had heard about the UAA, though the process has been ongoing for several years.
While opposing the UAA, some groups did come with suggestions.
In a comment letter dated Sept. 15, the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Region and Intermountain Region requested that all waters managed under the Wilderness Act of 1964 or the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968 remain designated as primary contact recreation use.
A number of backcountry land users also recommended that Forest Service, wilderness areas, wilderness study areas and wild and scenic rivers be excluded from the UAA.
Additionally, opponents urged DEQ to re-open the comment period on the UAA and to conduct additional public meetings around the state.
Comments closed when the public meeting was adjourned, and at this point, DEQ will review and respond to all written and oral statements. All information submitted will be given due consideration for changes to the UAA, the agency reports.
“Once the review and responses are complete, the agency will release both the updated UAA and the response to comments document,” DEQ said.
In addition, DEQ emphasized, “As this comment period has ended, the public is still able to provide site specific information that will help the department better prioritize streams for protection and restoration based on the actual use of the water.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.