DEQ releases categorical UAA after multi-year processWritten by Saige Albert
Cheyenne – After a process that started several years ago, on Sept. 1, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) released the revised technical Categorical Use Attainability Analysis (UAA) for recreation that identifies low flow channels in Wyoming that are not used for swimming or similar water contact activities.
“This analysis is a big step toward ensuring that our streams have the appropriate protections for our citizens,” said Kevin Frederick, water quality administrator. “DEQ is confident that the revised designations will help the department better manage Wyoming’s surface waters and ensure that the uses of those waters are adequately protected.”
The revised analysis incorporates public feedback received prior to and during a public hearing in Casper, on Sept. 16, 2015. Since the project began in 2009, DEQ has improved the analysis based on the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and public feedback received through informal feedback, three written comment periods, a public meeting and an administrative hearing.
“DEQ sincerely appreciates the public’s participation in the development and revision of this analysis. Public comments have helped clarify the intent and improve the scope of the analysis,” added Frederick.
Last September’s hearing brought a wide audience and extensive comments. During the comment period on the UAA, 80 written comments and 30 verbal comments were received prior. “We’ve been working on this for quite a while,” said Lindsay Patterson of DEQ. “We’ve worked with EPA, the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts (WACD) and other users to develop the UAA to distinguish between primary and secondary recreation uses.”
Patterson noted that the resulting model accurately predicts conditions on streams 95 percent of the time.
“The UAA is very conservative,” she said. “It designates more water for primary contact use than would be designated when in the field looking at conditions.”
Patterson continued, “It’s a science-based approach and a big improvement on the previous system, where all water – regardless of suitability and capability – would be designated as primary recreation use.”
With the public comment taken into account, Patterson and Frederick noted that several changes have been made in the model to reflect concerns.
“We certainly appreciate the input we received from members of the public,” he said.
In the changes, first and foremost, Frederick noted that Class One waters were withdrawn from the analysis. Class One waters include waters in wilderness areas, national parks and the Fish Creek Watershed near Wilson. Other streams and river that are designated as class one include portions of the Snake River, Green River, Wind River, North Platte River, Sand Creek, Middle Fork of the Powder River, North Fork and South Forks of Tongue Rivers, Sweetwater River, Encampment River, Clarks Fork River, Granite Creek.
Additionally, waters in Indian Country were withdrawn from the analysis, as were Wyoming and scenic rivers.
“It’s also important to note that we have also revised and updated the UAA worksheet to better inform and assist members of the public in asking DEQ to reconsider a designation,” Frederick added.
If members of the public disagree with a classification, the worksheet, which is available on DEQ’s website, can be filled out, and the public can request the designation be changed.
Keith Guille, Wyoming DEQ public information officer, says, “We’re not done. This is an ever-evolving document. If there are areas that the public sees should be primary, not secondary, they can request re-classification.”
In the August 2014 UAA, 27,598 miles of stream were designated as primary recreation contact, or 24 percent of Wyoming waters. Waters designated as secondary contact amounted to 87,775 miles, or 76 percent of stream miles.
The revised analysis includes 21,249 miles of primary recreation contact waters and 82,986 miles of secondary contact.
Waters removed from the analysis in the September 2016 revision include 8,059 miles of Class One waters, four miles of Wild and Scenic waters and 3,172 miles of waters in Indian Country.
Eighteen percent of Wyoming streams are designated for primary recreation contact, and 72 percent are designated for secondary contact.
According to DEQ, the public will be given 60 days to review this final analysis and can appeal designations to the Environmental Quality Council.
The revised designations will then be submitted to the EPA for approval. Individuals are encouraged to work with DEQ to modify recreational designated uses, where appropriate, at specific sites after the Recreation UAA has been submitted.
“We need to remember that this is not a designation in the sense of drinking water,” Frederick said. “This is for recreation, and that has been confused in the media. Anytime anyone is out recreating, they shouldn’t be consuming the water. It’s important that people realize recreation waters are not for consumption.”
NCBA investigates misuse of funds by EPAWritten by Saige Albert
Following the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Spring Legislative Conference, Scott Yager, NCBA’s environmental counsel, noted that he asked members to reach out to their representatives in Congress and ask for their support in a formal investigation into the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) latest campaign against the agriculture industry.
“There are a number of bus placards and billboards in the state of Washington that show cows standing in a stream,” Yager said. “It says unregulated agriculture is putting our waterways at risk.”
Yager continued that a flashy website accompanies the campaign, allowing visitors to submit an email letter to Washington state legislators, asking for their support for more highly regulated agriculture.
“It turns out, this whole campaign was funded by an EPA Region X federal grant,” he said. “Just to be clear, federal money is not supposed to be used for lobbying. It’s illegal.”
A $570,000 grant was funneled to a partnership between an environmental group and an Indian tribe in the state, who paid for the campaign.
“This clearly attempts to lobby the public and legislators to increase regulations of agriculture,” Yager added.
With the support of NCBA members, a letter from 145 members of the House of Representatives, drafted by Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.), was sent to EPA.
“Sens. Inhoff and Roberts also asked for a formal investigation, as did Rep. Mike Conaway,” Yager continued. “There was a big push to take down those billboards, as well as the bus placards and the lobbying component of the website.”
With the removal of the propaganda, Yager noted that steps are being taken in the right direction, but he also noted that there are a number of steps that must be taken still.
“Another big thing that has happened is the EPA Inspector General is going to initiate a formal investigation,” he said. “That will allow us to say what went wrong, if there was a violation and what we can do to fix it so it never happens again in the future.”
The trend from EPA, said Yager, seems to be one of EPA using – or misusing – federal monies to lobby.
“They can’t do that,” he added. “There is a Government Accountability Office legal opinion that states the EPA conducted improper lobbying and use of propaganda in the way that they solicited comments for the Waters of the U.S. rule.”
“This seems like round two of the same situation,” Yager said. “Federal money should be used for its intended purpose and not for lobbying purposes. We’re going to do everything we can do to make sure that happens.”
Water quality: Wyoming DEQ releases updated reportWritten by Saige Albert
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.
Hazardous algae blooms create potential challenges for livestock producersWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Blue-green algae is a problem worldwide and can occur almost anywhere with fresh, open water and the right combination of nutrients and sunlight.
“It’s a really challenging problem because, as human beings multiply, we are obliged to provide food,” noted Deon van der Merwe, toxicology section head and associate professor at Kansas State University.
“Arguably, the largest source of nutrients that eventually make their way into lakes and cause the trigger of blooms is nutrients from crop production,” he continued.
Blooms of algae
Algal blooms are composed of normal organisms that are part of the natural ecology of lakes and other water bodies.
“In many ecosystems, those organisms – called cyanobacteria – are very important primary producers. They produce the initial food for other organisms to build on, and we eventually have fish,” he explained. “The whole production of the animal ecosystem is dependent on these organisms being there.”
Cyanobacteria become a problem if conditions promote an overgrowth of the algae. Too many nutrients, coupled with intense sunlight, may lead to hazardous blooms.
“Conditions in the summer, for example with a heat wave and many cloudless, hot days, tend to promote the growth of the organisms,” he says.
One of the reasons algae blooms have become more common, according to van der Merwe, is that the landscape is changing. Many years ago, there were fewer open bodies of water.
“We create small water bodies, such as ponds for livestock and lakes for recreation and water management. This creates opportunities for the organisms to cause a problem when the conditions are right,” he comments.
Often, when there is an economic impact, it is not directly related to livestock or human poisoning. Costs are more commonly incurred when risk mitigation efforts are implemented to prevent poisoning events.
“When we have risky conditions, and we have to take action, we have to close lakes, farmers have to provide alternative water sources for livestock, etc. It really is a wide economic footprint if we think about conditions that lead to risk,” he noted.
There are various species of cyanobacteria that cause alga blooms and a variety of risks associated with them. One of the most common types of toxins created by cyanobacteria is called microcystin.
When van der Merwe first began looking into alga blooms, there was a particularly severe case of mycrocystin in a pond that dogs had access to.
“When the dogs visited the lake and ingested the material, they would typically die within a couple of days of ingestion from a very serious, rapidly developing disease due to liver failure,” he explained.
At first, the toxin causes a rapid inflammatory response, but if it is ingested, it will cause vomiting and diarrhea, leading to liver failure and death if the dose is high enough.
“Liver toxins are very important, but probably the second most important toxins, looking at the impact and number of cases we see, are some of the neurotoxic substances that are produced by cyanobacteria,” continued van der Merwe.
Anatoxin-a and anitoxin-as are two common neurotoxins that can be produced in algal blooms.
“These are quite similar in effect, but they are different toxins,” he explained. “They affect the muscular-skeletal system, and the control of the muscle becomes abnormal.”
Initially, muscle spasms or convulsions will be observed, and if the condition persists, paralysis or death can follow.
“It acts very fast. Anatoxin-a’s original name was ‘Very Fast Death Factor’ because when they injected mice with an extract of this algal scum, the mice would die very fast. Later on, when they described the structure and figured out more exactly what it was, they called it anatoxin-a,” he commented.
Toxins from algal blooms can affect any number of species, from livestock and pets to people, wildlife and even fish.
“If fish are swimming in a lake where there are high concentrations of the toxins and they are not able to avoid those high concentrations, fish might actually die,” noted van der Merwe.
The main factor impacting how different species are affected by the toxins is generally related to their exposure or how much of the toxin they ingest.
If a case of hazardous algal bloom occurs in a body of water, the first sign is typically a change in water color. In many cases, the change will be toward green, but it can be brownish or reddish, as well.
“It’s variable. Just a change in color is a danger sign,” stated van der Merwe.
Another sign is a collection of scum or an accumulation of blue, green, brown or red material along the downwind edges of a pond.
“It can be that the algal bloom will form a scum that floats on the surface, which is quite common but not always the case. Because they float to the surface, if there is a breeze that blows across the pond, they tend to blow along the water surface,” he remarked.
If a hazardous bloom is suspected, van der Merwe recommended preventing access to the water.
“What we can do about the problem depends on the type of pond and the circumstances,” he added.
In some cases, chemicals can be used to break up the algae, although they may only be effective for killing the current cyanobacteria. If conditions in the water remain the same, a new bloom can form.
“Things like copper can effectively kill the organisms. If we have a serious bloom, that is an option if the conditions are right,” he suggested.
Preventing light from reaching the water is also a recommended remedy. Adding trees for shade or adding specific products to the water that shade penetrable light are also potential solutions.
“If we have a lot of water plants in and around the water, they compete for nutrients with the cyanobacteria, so that can reduce the incidence as well. There are a lot of different things that can be used to prevent the problem from reoccurring,” said van der Merwe.
Conservation districts assist DEQ with stream classificationWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Worland – “It has always been a challenge for semi-arid states across the West to determine how they designate what types of recreational activities our waters can support,” stated Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts Executive Director Bobbie Frank at WESTI Ag Days in Worland on Feb. 19.
“We protect our waters for primary and secondary contact,” she said. “The E. coli standard means that the higher the use, the less E. coli should be in the water. It’s a risk management stamp.”
Frank went on to say that the standard is not a guarantee for anyone’s health or safety.
“It does not guarantee that if a water body meets the standard that someone won't get sick. All it says is that if there is a higher level of emersion activities where someone might ingest the water, there is a higher chance of getting sick if there is E. coli in the water,” she commented.
Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality's (DEQ) Water Quality Division Administrator made a final determination regarding designated use changes for primary and secondary classification of contact recreation for streams in Wyoming.
Without the DEQ changes, the standard of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to designate all waters under primary use, unless proven otherwise.
“There is what is called a ‘rebuttable presumption’ that everything is fishable and swimmable under the Clean Water Act until we demonstrate it’s not,” Frank explained.
To demonstrate that it’s not, an attainability analysis must be completed, illustrating that someone went to the site and collected information to find out if the area can support the indicated uses.
“If that first designation is not right, then all other decisions are going to be wrong. We are going to imply the wrong standard, and we are probably going to invest resources inaccurately,” she said.
DEQ realized that processing countless attainability analyses to correct designations throughout Wyoming would become a very difficult, expensive process, so they designed a categorical process using geographic information system (GIS) data and a set of criteria to develop a better system of recreational use classification.
Factors such as location, stream flow levels and designated contact use were built into the model to help designate streams.
“In our conversations with DEQ, we thought it was a great idea,” Frank noted.
However, there was some concern from the conservation districts about how DEQ would ground-truth the model, or verify its accuracy, especially with limited staff.
“Conservation districts started working on getting correct information to make sure that water bodies are classified to their true capability to serve for primary or secondary contact recreation,” Frank commented. “We know we want to make sure this is a defensible, science-based approach.”
Eight hundred randomly selected sites were distributed amongst the districts and employees collected data over four months.
“I have pictures of conservation districts folks who had to lease horses and horse trailers to go up into the wilderness in Teton County. They were all over,” she commented.
Review of the site inspections revealed that the DEQ model is about 75 percent accurate, a significant improvement over the EPA’s standard designation system.
“Assuming everything is primary means about 25 percent of our waters are probably classified correctly and 75 percent are classified incorrectly. Under the model, we’ve flipped that,” she explained, adding that conservation districts efforts saved taxpayer time and money.
DEQ submitted the model to the EPA for consideration, but Frank remarked, “The environmental community out-cried that they were not included in the process, despite the fact that there were several public notices and opportunities to comment.”
A formal public meeting was hosted by DEQ to discuss the model this past fall, and comments were collected.
“We are waiting for DEQ to finish their response to comments from the hearing last fall. They are going to resubmit it to EPA for approval, and we are going to back them up 100 percent on it,” she continued.
Although she admitted that the model isn’t perfect, its accuracy is much better than the current EPA standard, and she trusts that the groundwork from the districts has provided scientific and defensible data to back up stream recreational use designations.
The process for individual site verification will also still be available if EPA accepts the model. Therefore, if an individual disagrees with a certain classification, they can still go through the attainability analysis process.
“Folks may go to the DEQ website, pull up their place to look at the water bodies and say that it’s wrong. We can still do a site-specific analysis, and there is a process to submit that information,” she said.
An interactive map can be found on the DEQ website and specific bodies of water can be selected to determine both their classification and the listed reasons for the designated classification. Further information about how water bodies are classified can also be found at the site.