DEQ continues public input meetings on water use analysisWritten by Saige Albert
Streams across Wyoming are classified based on their use by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). That use dictates water quality standards that must be upheld before waters are classified as impaired.
In an attempt to streamline the process for designating waters, in 2009, DEQ began an effort to collect data and develop a model to designate streams across the state for either primary or secondary recreational use. The model, called the Categorical Use Attainability Analysis (UAA) will be undergoing a final public hearing in September, and Wyoming’s agriculture and conservation organizations encourage producers to get involved and understand the impacts of this analysis.
“The UAA is our effort to appropriately assign designated uses to stream channels in the state to identify areas that are used for swimming or high intensity contact with the water versus stream channels where people have little contact with the water,” explains Lindsay Patterson, DEQ surface water quality standards supervisor.
After spending nearly six years developing the UAA, Patterson notes that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wrote a letter to DEQ requiring them to have a final, transcribed public hearing before the UAA could be approved for use.
DEQ Public Information Officer Keith Guille says, “We certainly understand that the public has concerns about what this means to them and waters that they may or may not recreate in. There was a lot of analysis done, but if we missed something or didn’t get something right, we want to know. We can review it and see if a water needs to be changed.”
“It is important for a lot of stakeholders that we assign the appropriate expectations for our waters,” Patterson explains.
If waters are appropriately designated, she says Wyoming DEQ is able to protect or clean up waters to an appropriate standard that is also realistic.
“Part of the effort is to make sure we are directing resources appropriately and we aren’t overregulating water quality,” she says. “We want to regulate water based on how that water is actually used.”
Guille notes that about 93 percent of the waterways that are being changed to secondary contact use have a mean annual flow of less than three cubic feet per second – which is minimal.
“It would be difficult to immerse oneself in those waters or recreate in them,” he said. “The majority of the streams that are being designated as secondary use under the UAA model are not heavy-flow streams.”
The standards in place on water bodies are based on their use. For E. coli, the standard for primary waters is 126 colony forming units (CFUs). For secondary waters, the standard is 630 CFUs. Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts Executive Director Bobbie Frank mentions that the difference between the two reflects the difference in waters capable of supporting immersion type activities compared to low-flow waters that cannot support those uses.
“We should direct our resources toward water bodies where there are potential human health concerns rather than treating all waters across the board the same,” Frank adds. “Secondary contact waters are still regulated to a standard appropriate for uses and potential risk of ingestion.”
She comments, “This is about accurately designating waters and reflecting the uses that water can support.”
Another concern that the public might not understand, Guille says, is that recreational-designated uses are not related to drinking water standards.
“This is about recreation,” he explains. “None of these surface waters are ones that we say people should drink without being treated. Drinking water standards are separate.”
“We are very confident in the work we have done,” Guille says.
Guille also adds that the analysis provides a starting place for designation of streams statewide.
“We are talking about literally thousands of waters, and if they were all done individually, a UAA would have to be done on each of them, and each would have to go through a rule making process,” says Frank. “If they were done individually, it would overwhelm DEQ.”
Patterson adds, “There is a process that provides for an individual water’s designation to be changed. Anyone at any time can petition the agency for a change – either to restore primary contact use or to drop to secondary contact.”
A final public hearing on the UAA will be held on Sept. 16 in Casper at the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission beginning at 5:30 p.m.
After several years of development, comments and public meetings, Frank says, “We think DEQ already did an adequate job on the public input process. This process has gone on for several years.”
“We need people to show up at this meeting to make sure the model is upheld and we designate waters appropriately,” she continues.
Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna notes, “Some have weighed in to say even streams in wilderness areas have a chance of being primary contact because people may jump in and take a bath when they are in the backcountry. Just because a stream is close to a public road doesn’t mean they are a primary contact water.”
Franks adds, “The model will not be 100 percent accurate, but we know that it is over 75 percent accurate. If people can demonstrate primary contact recreation, the UAA process is fairly simple, so waters can be changed. We need to make sure we are designating water bodies appropriately so they can support the uses they are protected for.”
Magagna and Frank emphasized that not over-designating waters is important to responsibly utilizing resources.
Those wishing to provide comments prior to the public hearing can submit them in writing to David Waterstreet, Watershed Section Manager, 122 West 25th Street, Herschler Building 4-W, Cheyenne, WY 82002 or by fax at 307-777-5973.
History of the Use Attainability Analysis
Prior to 2009, Lindsay Patterson, DEQ surface water quality standards supervisor, says that DEQ began receiving inquiries and interest in appropriately designating recreational uses on waters of the state.
“A lot of that interest was in making sure recreation uses were correctly assigned, so the state began collecting data from different entities to begin that process,” she says. “In 2010, DEQ and conservation districts did site-specific surveys. Over 800 surveys were completed.”
DEQ completed 150 surveys while conservation districts contributed 720 surveys that were used in the analysis.
“We used the survey data to verify the work that had been done in developing the model,” Patterson adds.
After the surveys were completed, their model was modified, and an early draft of the UAA was sent to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in February 2012.
“Based on their feedback, we modified the UAA quite a bit, focusing on flow and additional streams where we thought kids might have a high level of contact with the water,” Patterson notes, adding that areas near schools, picnic areas, communities, campgrounds or where children might play were designated as primary contact due to potential ingestion of the water. “We submitted a revised version to EPA in October 2012.”
Patterson adds that preliminary feedback from EPA showed that analysis was consistent with federal regulations, and at that point, DEQ began to work through their formal public process.
“We put a draft of the analysis out after we incorporated feedback from EPA in August 2013,” she says. “At that time, we began accepting formal and informal comment.”
DEQ also held a meeting in August 2013, and Patterson attended a number of conservation district regional meetings to answer questions.
Changes based on those comments were incorporated in the analysis, and another version was released in January 2014 for a 45-day formal written comment period.
“We got a handful of comments then, and we made a few minor tweaks to the UAA,” Patterson says. “We submitted it to EPA in December 2014.”
In June, EPA replied back to DEQ noting that an additional public hearing would be necessary before the UAA could be approved.