Water quality: Wyoming DEQ releases updated report
On Feb. 25, Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) released the 2014 Integrated 305(b) and 303(d) Report, along with their Response to Comments on the second draft of the report.
Lindsay Patterson, DEQ surface water quality standards supervisor, explains, “Sections 305(b) and 303(d) are sections of the Clean Water Act. Section 305(b) of the Clean Water Act requires states to submit a report of surface water quality condition to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by April 1 of even numbered years.”
The accompanying 303(d) Lists of Impaired and Threatened Waters requiring Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) must be approved by EPA.
The resulting integrated report is an approximately 200-page document that describes Sections 305(b) and 303(d) of the Clean Water Act, as well as information on monitoring programs around the state.
“The guts of the report break down the state basin by basin and watershed by watershed,” DEQ’s Richard Thorp says. “It looks at what we know about various watersheds and the quality within them.”
Finally, the end of the report summarizes the causes and sources of impairments within Wyoming’s surface waters, as well as trends for TMDLs and 303(d) listings.
“There are also various tables and figures that summarize water quality assessment decisions,” Thorp adds.
In the 2014 report, there were eight new pollutant/segment combinations that were been added to the 2014 303(d) List – one for E. coli, two for sediment, one for oil and grease, three for copper and one for selenium.
Thorp says, “In addition, 48 pollutant/segment combinations were removed from the 2014 303(d) List. Of those, 39 were removed and placed in category 4A following TMDLs approved by EPA, three were removed due to Quality Assurance and Quality Control (QA/QC) issues and six were removed after data showed that the pollutants causing threats or impairments were no longer elevated.”
Thorp notes that in the past five to six years, there has been an increase in the number of EPA-approved TMDLs in the state of Wyoming.
Patterson adds, “The increase in the number of EPA approved TMDLs has made our 303(d) List smaller.”
“The 303(d) List includes EPA category five waters, or those that are threatened or impaired and require TMDLs,” she continues. “As the state completes TMDLs, the associated waters are removed from the 303(d) List and placed in Category 4A.”
The increase in EPA-approved TMDLs has been driven by a focus on the program and a shift in DEQ’s strategy.
“Prior to about 2008, there was a lot of focus on developing watershed plans,” Patterson says. “There is also a timeline associated with when states need to complete TMDLs. Often, EPA uses an eight to 13-year timeframe. A lot of our impaired waters were listed in 1996, so we were running against that deadline.”
Waters are listed as threatened or impaired if they exceed criteria set out in a set of rules and standards developed by DEQ.
“Water quality standards are in Chapter One of Wyoming’s Water Quality Rules and Regulations, which are reviewed and updated approximately every three years,” Patterson says.
Different standards are adopted to protect drinking water, aquatic life other than fish, fisheries, recreation, industry, agriculture or scenic value designated uses.
“Another part of the standard is anti-degradation,” Patterson adds. “We adopt standards to support uses, and the assessment program evaluates if the uses are supported by evaluating water quality data.”
DEQ solicits data every two years to determine surface water quality.
“Water quality data must be submitted to the Water Quality Assessment Program no later than July 15 during odd-numbered years to be considered for inclusion in the subsequent Integrated Report,” Patterson says.
Thorp explains that much of the data utilized in the report comes from the agency’s water quality monitoring program.
“We get data from a variety of other sources, like conservation districts and the U.S. Geological Survey,” he says. “We also get data from Wyoming Game and Fish Department. There are lots of different sources for good water quality data.”
Patterson also emphasizes that DEQ uses QA/QC criteria to determine what data can be accepted and utilized.
“Besides QA/QC criteria, we have minimum requirements within our assessment methodologies to translate the water quality standards into designated use support determinations,” Patterson says.
QA/QC criteria require those submitting samples to have a pre-approved sampling analysis plan. There are nine elements set out in the plan, which include requirements to document sampling sites, permission to obtain the samples and permission to access the site.
“We review a lot of data submissions” she continues. “Some data do not end up meeting the agency’s QA/QC criteria”
An upcoming article in the Roundup will look inside Wyoming DEQ’s effort to ensure that quality data is used in their water quality programs.
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.