Thursday, September 5, 2013

Good News for Water Quality in Arkansas

Update 10/21/13: After seeing that warnings from policy experts and scientists were true, the cosponsors of Act 954 (which sought to weaken water quality protections) asked Gov. Beebe to call a special session and allow them to vote to repeal their own bill.


The EPA recently threatened to remove some of Arkansas' authority to enact and enforce the Clean Water Act (CWA) after finding that a bill from the most recent state legislative session weakening water quality protection in the state was in clear violation of the CWA.  This means that our state government's attempts to allow much higher levels of pollutants into most of our state's waterways has been thwarted, which is great news for people who enjoy spending time in and around those waterways.

Having worked on water quality issues in Arkansas for many years, I wish the EPA would go even farther with this.  The article linked to above, states that ADEQ Director Teresa Marks says this could eventually lead to the EPA federalizing all water permitting in the state.  In my opinion this would be the best course of action for protecting water in Arkansas.  One additional reason for this is that Little Rock has poorly handled its MS4 permitting responsibilities under Section 319 of the CWA.  Proof of this lies in the fact that Fourche Creek, which drains most of Little Rock, has been listed on the 303d list of impaired waterbodies for turbidity for many years.  In fact, it would have been listed for many more years if it weren't for the fact that no one was testing its water quality regularly; not even ADEQ or the City of Little Rock, both of which are essentially charged with protecting this creek.  Stormwater permits are supposed to reduce erosion and sediment from damaging our waterways, so the fact that Fourche Creek has been impaired by turbidity (caused by bank erosion and sediment runoff) for over a decade while Little Rock was in charge of permitting is a clear demonstration they have failed and are in violation of the CWA.  Frustratingly enough, the EPA visited Little Rock a few years ago and despite the clear evidence listed above, did nothing to penalize the city.  Other cities, like Dallas, have been issued large fines and ordered to make drastic changes. 

Having cited the 303d list of impaired waterbodies, I feel required to note that the most recent list that has been approved by the EPA is from 2008.  The 2010 and 2012 lists produced by ADEQ have yet to be approved by the EPA due to disagreements in determining which waterbodies are impaired.  I'll let you guess which side is arguing for weaker standards.  If you are curious about which lakes and streams in your neck of the woods are impaired, ADEQ has maps by county and the 303d lists here, but here is a little map I prepared, followed by a map showing mercury contamination in waterways.  Can you spot Arkansas?  Clearly we aren't doing a good job and apparently we need help.
Impaired Waterbodies from 2010 list. Lakes not included.

Red and dark red are bad, green is good.  Yes, Arkansas is the big glob of bad near the middle.

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