Meetings focus on Ag Use Policy commentsWritten by Christy Hemken
A comment period on the change ran from July 8 through Aug. 26. On Feb. 16, 2007 the EQC approved all proposed revisions to Chapter 1 Water Quality Rules and Regulations except for the Agricultural Use Protection, which was in Appendix H and was remanded back to the DEQ for further directed revisions.
“Right now the Agricultural Use Protection section is a policy we use when we’re figuring out effluent limits, mostly for coalbed methane discharges,” says DEQ Permitting Program Manager Bill DiRienzo.
“The policy has been reworded quite a bit to put it into rule format, but it’s still basically the same thing,” he says, adding that a lot has been trimmed from the policy to fit rule format.
According to the proposal, Chapter 1 contains the quality standards for surface waters in the state, including water classifications, designation of protected uses, numeric and narrative water quality criteria and implementation policies. The proposed revisions are directly related to Section 20, Agricultural Water Supply in the form of a new appendix (Appendix H) which serves to interpret the Section 20 narrative standard into procedures for setting effluent limits and conditions in Wyoming Pollution Discharge Elimination System (WYPDES) permits.
DiRienzo says a rule would be more concrete and allow less flexibility. “It lays out precisely what we have to do and what we have to follow. It removes the case-by-case judgment we might otherwise apply.”
There are logical arguments on both sides of the debate, says DiRienzo. “Some people believe the flexibility we have in a policy is a necessary plus, while others argue it makes for too much confusion as to what’s ultimately going to be done.”
When the EQC examines the proposed rule again in a future meeting they can adopt what’s placed in front of them, or they can change it and then adopt it. “Whether this will have an effect on someone will depend on what action they ultimately take,” notes DiRienzo. “If it’s adopted as proposed I’d say there will be little change in actual operation.”
The agricultural use standard currently in Section 20 of Chapter 1 is a narrative standard, saying that water needs to be maintained at a quality that won’t cause a measurable decrease in crop or livestock production. “What that standard is can vary from place to place, depending on the crops, water quality and circumstances,” says DiRienzo. “The policy outlines the decision-making process that’s used to decide what level of water quality is necessary in a drainage. By making this a rule, those practices would be made mandatory.”
For example, the policy directs that background water quality be tested from soil samples, and it describes how many samples are necessary and where they should be taken. “Right now, if the policy says the field needs at least seven samples, and we don’t have seven samples, if we had six or five, we can look at it and make a decision that that’s enough, or not enough and we actually need 20 samples,” says DiRienzo. “When it’s in the rule and the rule says you need seven samples, that’s what you need.”
The EQC held a public hearing on Oct. 24 in Cheyenne. Upcoming hearings are on Oct. 28, 2008 at the Campbell County Extension Office, 1000 S. Douglas Hwy. 59, Powder River Conference Room, Gillette at 9:30 a.m.; Nov. 6 at the Holiday Inn of the Waters, 115 E. Park Street, Hot Springs State Park, Thermopolis at 9:30 a.m. At these hearings, the public is invited to provide oral statements that focus on the written comments, the DEQ’s analysis of comments and issues raised by the analysis.