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EQC adopts Administrative Rules for Water Quality Standards in Oregon
6/17/11: Oregonians for Food and Shelter
Elizabeth E. Howard, attorney from Dunn Carney in Portland:

Rules adopted by the Environmental Quality Commission (EQC) will require agricultural water quality management plans (also referred to as 1010 plans) to meet load allocations assigned by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). In Oregon, DEQ is charged with setting water quality standards and total maximum daily loads or TMDLs. TMDLs set the amount of pollutants that a water body can handle without exceeding water quality standards. Load allocations are part of the TMDLs and are the level of pollution allocated to background sources and, more importantly, nonpoint sources (i.e. sources of pollution that are added to a water body by a means other than a conveyance system such as a pipe). The Environmental Protection Agency approves or rejects water quality standards set by the EQC.

Since 2004, the EQC and DEQ have been considering revisions to the State’s water quality standards for human health. The EPA rejected earlier efforts by DEQ as too lenient. This led to the current proposed human health criteria for toxic pollutants that is based on a fish consumption rate of 175 grams per day. This is the most conservative in the nation.

In addition to the formal adoption of revised toxic water quality standards, at its meeting on June 16, the EQC is scheduled to adopt revised water quality standard implementation policies developed by the DEQ.

Under these new rules, DEQ may assign load allocations to agriculture and forestry nonpoint sources and to sectors within these industries. While DEQ’s staff report on the proposed new rules indicates that the Oregon Department of Agriculture will remain the “implementor” of the DEQ’s load allocations, if this “implementing agency” does not regulate to achieve the load allocations, DEQ will request the intervention of the EQC.

In its staff report, DEQ also takes the position that it has authority to take enforcement actions against individual landowners regardless of whether the implementing agencies are taking action against individual landowners. Further, in response to a comment that the Agricultural Water Quality Management Act is the sole means for regulating agricultural nonpoint sources, DEQ maintains that it retains authority to regulate water quality from agricultural nonpoint sources under Oregon Revised Statutes 468.

Finally, DEQ indicated that it intends to regulate air contaminants through TMDLs, but will do so in a separate rulemaking. Also on the horizon are revisions to Oregon’s turbidity standard.

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