Section 303 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) requires states to modify and improve their water quality standards (WQS) at least once every three years. Under this triennial review process, states are to review, and modify and adopt as appropriate, applicable water quality standards, taking into consideration public concerns, EPA guidance, and new scientific and technical information.
The CWA requires states to adopt EPA’s recommended criteria, or develop their own, and routinely review and update water quality standards to ensure consistency with the requirements of the Act. Specifically, §303(c)(1) states the "...State shall from time to time (but at least once each three year period...) hold public hearings for the purpose of reviewing applicable water quality standards and, as appropriate, modifying and adopting standards." This public review period is referred to as the "triennial review."
In addition to requiring states to "open the book" to the public for their comments on state water quality standards, the CWA requires states to respond to EPA guidance on new toxic criteria as well. "Whenever a State reviews water quality standards... or revises or adopts new standards..., such State shall adopt criteria for all toxic pollutants listed pursuant to §307(a)(1) of this title for which criteria have been published under Section 304(a) of this title, the discharge or presence of which in the affected waters could reasonably be expected to interfere with those designated uses adopted by the State, as necessary to support such designated uses.” [§303(c)(2)(B)]
States are also required to identify those water bodies that are not designated or protected for fishable/swimmable uses and to determine if any new information has become available that will allow the attainment of these uses. If the state determines that the fishable/swimmable uses are, in fact, attainable in those water bodies, the WQS are to be revised accordingly. Similarly, the state should work to designate uses to water bodies that have not yet been designated in the WQS.
The CWA is emphatic about providing opportunities for public input and indicates that "public participation in the development, revision, and enforcement of any regulation, standard, effluent limitation, plan, or program established by... any State under this Act shall be provided for, encouraged and assisted by the... States." [§101(e)] "The State shall hold a public hearing for the purpose of reviewing water quality standards, in accordance with State law, EPA's water quality management regulations (40 CFR 130.3(b)(6)) and public participation regulation (40 CFR Part 25)." [40 CFR 131.20(b)]
Triennial Review Process 2014-16
The triennial review process is not a one-time exercise; rather it occurs in part whenever DEQ updates the water quality standards. The process outlined here may change as necessary in accordance with Idaho and federal rules in future triennial review cycles. Having processes in place is critical for managing workloads and producing results in a timely manner. The following information outlines the requirements of the CWA for reviewing water quality standards and sets forth the process by which DEQ intends to conduct its triennial review in 2014-16.
Development of Rulemaking Packages: 2015 - 2016
The triennial review process is intended to identify and prioritize needed changes to the WQS. DEQ intends to initiate rulemaking to make needed changes in accordance with its priorities and as agency resources allow. Issues for rulemaking set by the triennial review process, however, may change in subsequent years as a result of new information, litigation, legislative actions or other events. Access current DEQ rulemaking activities here.
Report to EPA: Completed November 2014
DEQ has compiled a report of all of the triennial review findings and submitted it to EPA in November 2014.
Public Workshops and Public Comment Period: Completed June - August 2014
Three public workshops directed by DEQ staff were held at DEQ’s State Office in Boise to discuss the Potential Triennial Review Items proposed for review and receive input on additional WQS topics which may need consideration according to the public. Issue papers were also made available for public review and discussion at the workshops. The public workshops were broadcast via teleconference to DEQ's regional offices so that participation was not limited to only those who could attend the Boise workshop location. The first workshop was held June 25, the second July 30, and the third August 20. The workshops were informal and designed to present or clarify the information posted on DEQ’s website and to receive feedback from the public on their WQS interests and concerns.
DEQ allowed for a public comment period following each workshop for members of the public to submit comments on the information presented during that specific workshop. DEQ will post on its website any comments received from the public.
Workshop 1: June 25, 2014
Workshop 2: July 30, 2014
Workshop 3: August 20, 2014
Public Announcement: Completed May 2014
In May 2014, issued a DEQ public announcement of planned public workshops and provided a list of Potential Triennial Review Items for the current triennial review for public review. The public was invited to review the list and attend the workshops to discuss these and any other topics that the public believes should be addressed.
Planning: Completed February - April 2014
A work group consisting of individuals within the agency who have direct knowledge and experience working with the WQS, and who will be otherwise involved in the triennial review proceedings, was assembled. The work group formulated a list of issues pertaining to the standards which need to be reviewed and/or revised. This list was shared with regional staff for additional input and priorities assessment. The agency then prepared a priorities list and publicly announced the list along with a schedule of public workshops.
Agency staff prepared issue summaries for each of the proposed standards on the list to be considered for review or revision during the current triennial review process. These summaries present the public with important information pertaining to the particular standards. It should be made clear to the public that not all of the potential items in need of review and updating will be tackled at once. The agency also has to consider workload, resources and priorities over the ensuing triennial review period.