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EPA Reestablishes Federal Water Pollution Standards for Washington

SEATTLE (November 15, 2022)  – Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a final rule to reestablish federal water quality standards for the State of Washington. The agency’s final rule follows the science to help protect the health of Washingtonians and Tribal members who eat fish and shellfish caught in the state.

Under the Clean Water Act, EPA has taken significant action to ensure our precious waters are safe for all to enjoy,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “This final rule utilizes the latest scientific knowledge and brings us one step closer to delivering safe swimmable, fishable bodies of water that the people of Washington deserve.”

"For many of us in Washington, and for the Tribal communities with whom we share geography, eating fish from Puget Sound and our streams and rivers is part of our daily lives," said Washington Governor Jay Inslee. "These fish must be safe for our families to eat. By reinstating the rule repealed by the prior administration, EPA honors our shared commitment to protect and preserve clean water now and for generations to come."

“EPA’s rule reestablishes standards that truly protect people who depend on locally caught fish as a staple in their diets,” said Laura Watson, director of the Washington Department of Ecology. “I am grateful that EPA restored rules that recognize and reflect the importance of fish for Tribes as well as many other communities in our state.”

"The Makah Tribe appreciates that EPA has made good on its commitment to restore water quality standards in Washington,” said Patrick DePoe, vice chair of the Makah Tribal Council. “This is an important step toward protecting water quality, ensuring health of our treaty resources, and supporting the exercise of our Treaty rights to harvest fish and marine mammals. We have relied on marine and freshwater resources for thousands of years and we need those resources to be clean and safe in order to survive and thrive as a people.  We hope that we can work with the United States and the State of Washington to build on this effort for continued improvement of water quality, and expect our federal and state partners to move forward based on sound science and fulfillment of their trust obligation to Tribes."

Under the Clean Water Act, states, or EPA when necessary, set limits (called “human health criteria”) for pollutants in water bodies that pose risks to human health through the consumption of locally caught fish and shellfish. Today EPA is finalizing limits for 72 different pollutants in Washington waters based on the comparatively large amount of fish and shellfish consumed by people in the state. These stricter limits will better protect Tribal fish consumers as well as all Washingtonians.

The agency’s final rule supports EPA’s commitment to protect water resources that support public health, economic development, cultural activities, and subsistence practices.

Over the objections of state and Tribal leaders, the previous administration rolled back protective water quality standards established by EPA in 2016. As a result of that rollback, water quality standards being implemented in Washington were inadequate to protect human health. The final rule announced today follows through on EPA’s June 2021 and March 2022 commitments to restore protective, science-based human health criteria in the state. View the final rule.

Learn more about protecting Tribal reserved rights in water quality standards in the Office of Water’s action plan, Strengthening The Nation-To-Nation Relationship with Tribes to Secure a Sustainable Water Future.

Background

Water quality standards define the water quality goals for a waterbody and provide a regulatory basis for many actions under the Clean Water Act, including reporting on water quality conditions and status; developing water quality-based effluent limits in National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits for point-sources; and setting targets for Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs).

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