Washington state public review process that was to close February 19 for nine
draft water quality permits at Columbia and Snake river dams took an unusual
turn late last week when the federal government withdrew the permits without
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sent six draft National Pollutant
Discharge Elimination System permits covering water quality issues, focusing on
oil and grease discharges, to the Washington Department of Ecology in September
and one more in October asking for 401 certifications under the federal Clean
Water Act. (For background see CBB, Jan. 27, 2017, “Columbia Riverkeeper,
Bureau Of Reclamation Reach Settlement On Pollution At Grand Coulee Dam” http://www.cbbulletin.com/438249.aspx)
EPA withdrew all nine permits and asked Ecology to return all “materials” it
provided with the permits.
a letter sent Feb. 1 to Heather Bartlett, Water Quality Program Manager at
Ecology, the EPA officially withdrew the permits, but gave no explanation as to
why it chose to retrieve them or as to if or when it would resubmit the permits
to Ecology for approval.
letter from Daniel Opalski, Director of EPA’s Region 10 office of Water and
Watersheds in Seattle, said “Please return to us the materials that we provided
with our certification requests. When we determine that a renewed request for
water quality certification is appropriate, we will be in further communication
with appropriately updated materials.”
surprised at EPA’s unusual request,” said Maia Bellon, director of Ecology, in
an email to the Seattle Times. “We’ve asked EPA to explain their motives but I
am concerned that this may signal the federal government backing away from a
commitment to protect the water quality of the Columbia and Snake rivers.
Washington state has no intention of abandoning our rivers and our salmon. We
have no plans to halt our current public comment period.”
Ecology’s water quality manager, sent a return letter Feb. 5 to Opalski seeking
the reason EPA was withdrawing the permits, saying “federally-issued NPDES
permits require Section 401 certification and must meet all federal and state
water quality standards.” She confirmed that Ecology intends to complete the
public process. As of today, Ecology has yet to receive EPA’s answer.
currently regulates water temperature and total dissolved gas at federal and
non-federal Columbia/Snake River
dams and “we’re looking for the
federal dams to have parity with all the other dams in the state,” said Colleen
Keltz, spokesperson for Ecology. “We want the same standards at all the dams.”
opened the public process Jan. 20 for a 20-day period that closes Feb. 19.
Keltz said that Ecology would leave the public process open pending an answer
to Bartlett’s letter to the EPA. Keltz added that all the materials provided by
EPA are part of the public process and copies will and must be kept by the
19, 2018, the EPA requested preliminary certification from Ecology for
Bonneville, The Dalles, John Day and McNary dams on the lower Columbia River.
It followed up Sept. 20 asking for certification for Ice Harbor, Lower
Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite dams on the lower Snake River. All
eight dams are operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. On Oct. 4 the EPA
asked for preliminary certification for Grand Coulee Dam, which is operated by
the Bureau of Reclamation.
EPA asked for a response to all the permits within 30 days.
public process has been a long time in the making, somewhat affected by the
35-day partial government shutdown. Picking up where EPA sent the draft NPDES
permits to Ecology, the timeline is:
Oct. 12, Ecology asked the EPA for more time to complete its approval process,
with EPA agreeing to a Dec. 18 deadline,
Ecology asked for 45 more days Dec. 7,
EPA extended the time Dec. 14 to Feb. 1,
EPA furloughed its staff that was working with Ecology Dec. 28,
At the end of the partial government shutdown, Jan. 25, Ecology asked for
another extension to complete the work,
Jan. 28, EPA grants an extension to Feb. 28,
Jan. 30, Ecology opens public comment period that is to end Feb. 19,
Feb. 1, EPA withdraws its requests for 401 certification at all nine federal
public comment period is announced at https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/ezshare/sea/401/401DamsPN.pdf.
asking for one of the extensions, a Dec. 7 letter from Bartlett to Opalsky said
that “Our work is further complicated by several ongoing efforts on the
Columbia and Snake Rivers that will impact the certifications you have
requested; the negotiations for the federal Biological Opinion for the Federal
Columbia River Power System (FCRPS) and the temperature total maximum daily
load (TMDL) that your agency is doing for the Columbia and Snake Rivers.
hope is that this period of time will allow you to issue your TMDL, allow
Ecology to better understand the federal biological opinion settlement, and
work with you and the federal agencies that operate the nine facilities so that
Ecology can issue 401 certifications that are workable for the federal agencies
while protecting Washington’s waters,” she said, adding emphatically that
“Washington is not waiving our 401-certification authority and we have no
desire to do so.”
states of Washington and Oregon had submitted temperature Total Maximum Daily
Load documents for the dams to the EPA, but in 2000, the states and others in a
memorandum of understanding with the EPA, agreed that the federal agency would
develop the temperature TMDLs and that the states would be responsible for
total dissolved gas TMDLs. The EPA has failed during the 18 year period to
develop the temperature limits.
October, U.S. District Court in the Western District of Washington ordered the
EPA to set temperature limits at dams in the Snake and Columbia rivers to
protect threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead. Judge Ricardo Martinez
issued his order Oct. 17, 2018.
said that both plaintiffs and defendants in the case agree that the potential
causes for increased water temperatures in the two rivers “appropriately lies
on the presence of dams and point source dischargers located on both rivers.”
gave the EPA 30 days to approve state temperature limits, or 30 more days to
develop temperature TMDLs on its own if it rejects the state-submitted TMDLs.
temperature TMDL is a federal CWA pollution budget designed to protect salmon
from hot water in rivers. According to the order, the presence of high
temperatures in the Columbia and Snake rivers led Washington and Oregon – both
for the first time in 1996 – to place both rivers on their CWA Sec. 303(d)
lists of impaired waters.
current standards require that temperatures must stay below 60.8-68 degrees F
depending upon the time of year, location, and fish present. Oregon’s ranges
from 55.4 degrees F for some fish spawning areas from the months of October to
April, to 68 degrees F year-round.
has appealed the order to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
CBB, February 1, 2019, “Washington Ecology’s Draft EIS Raises Gas Cap To Allow
More Spill For Fish At Columbia/Snake Dams, http://www.cbbulletin.com/442078.aspx
CBB, January 11, 2019, “Following Presidential Directive, Feds Shorten
Columbia/Snake Hydrosystem EIS Schedule By One Year,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/441998.aspx
CBB, December 21, 2018, “Parties Sign Agreement On Flexible Spill For Fish
Passage At Columbia/Snake Dams,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/441945.aspx
CBB, October 26, 2018, “Federal Court Orders EPA To Complete Water Temperature
Protections For Columbia/Snake Salmonids,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/441724.aspx
April 26, 2016, “Conservation Groups File Notice To Sue EPA Over Columbia/Snake
Water Temperatures,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/437375.aspx