Key Concepts Module 6: Review

This module addresses submission of a State or Tribe's water quality standards to the EPA Regional Office for review, including consideration of timelines and types of Agency determinations. EPA approval is required before a State/Tribe can use its standards as the basis for implementation actions, such as establishing effluent limitations.

The module also touches on the requirement that States/Tribes periodically review their water quality standards to identify any modifications needed to better focus the standards on the goals of the Clean Water Act (CWA).

In particular, this module provides answers to the following:

  • What steps are required of States/Tribes before submitting water quality standards to the EPA Regional Office for review?
  • What must States/Tribes include in the submission to EPA?
  • What types of responses can a State/Tribe expect from EPA and when?
  • How often must a State/Tribe revisit its approved standards and what's involved in revising the standards?

At the end of the module is a brief quiz intended to touch on some Core Modules regarding State/Tribe submission and EPA review of water quality standards—concepts that will be further examined in the classroom session of this module.

This module's main pages and brief quiz at the end take about 15 minutes to complete.

Preparing for Submission

When the State or authorized Tribe has completed the process of developing its water quality standards, the following steps must be taken before adopting and submitting them to EPA for review:

  • Make the submission package available for public review—that is, the standards and supporting documentation.
  • Convene a formal public hearing on the standards.
  • Obtain certification of the standards by the appropriate State/Tribal authority.

The public hearing notification should specify the time and location of the hearing, provide an agenda and listing of major issues to be addressed, and identify the location of the submission package for public review. Following the public hearing, a transcript or summary of the proceedings should be made available.

Key Point. EPA has delegated review and approval of State/Tribal water quality standards to the EPA Regions. Thus, the State/Tribe should direct its submission to the appropriate EPA Regional Administrator.

Key Point. The State/Tribe must not implement revised water quality standards (e.g., as a basis for a discharge permit limit) until EPA has approved them and they become "applicable water quality standards." 

What to Include

When the State/Tribe's water quality standards have been finalized, the package that is submitted to the EPA Regional Office must include seven key elements.

Item #1
Waterbody use designations that are consistent with the Clean Water Act.


Item #2
Methods and analyses used to support the standards, particularly for any that are atypical (e.g., not specified in 40 CFR 131.11(a)(b)(1)(iii)).

Item #3
Water quality criteria sufficient to protect designated uses.

Item #4
An antidegradation policy and accompanying implementation procedures.

Item #5
Certification by the Attorney General or appropriate Tribal legal authority that the standards were duly adopted according to State/Tribal law.

Item #6
Information to support uses not specified in CWA Section 101(a)(2).

Item #7
General State/Tribal policies affecting the application and implementation of the standards (e.g., variance policy).

Key Point. The submission should also include use attainability analyses as appropriate (e.g., to justify a designated use that does not address the CWA's "fishable/swimmable" goal).

EPA Focus and Timelines

The focus of the EPA Regional Administrator's review of the State/Tribe's submission is to determine whether the new or revised water quality standards meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act (and the implementing regulations at 40 CFR 131).

Key Point. EPA does not review or act on elements of a State/Tribe's submission that are not subject to the CWA (e.g., groundwater criteria).

EPA must complete its review and approve or disapprove the State/Tribe's submission within specified time frames, which differ depending on the determination. Select the links below to view the time frames:

Approve

If EPA decides that the submission meets the CWA requirements, the Agency has 60 days from the submission date to issue a letter approving the submission (40 CFR 131.21(a)(1)). At that point, the standards become applicable.
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Disapprove

If EPA decides that the submission does not comply with the CWA requirements, the Agency has 90 days from the submission date to issue a letter disapproving the submission and specifying changes that should be made to bring the standards into compliance (40 CFR 131.21(a)(2)).
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Types of Approval

The EPA Regional Administrator can issue any one of three types of approvals following review of a State/Tribe's standards.

Resource. Online library of State/Tribal water quality standards currently in effect.

Actions Following Disapproval

EPA may decide that part or all of a State/Tribe's water quality standards submission does not meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act. In which case, the Regional Administrator will specify changes that would make the standards approvable.

The State/Tribe may respond in one of three ways to the disapproval.

Learn More. See flow diagram on EPA review determinations and actions. Also, information about how EPA promulgates water quality standards when a State/Tribe fails to adopt approvable standards. Proceed to the Learn More Topic.

Purpose of Routine State/Tribal Review

After EPA approval of water quality standards, the State/Tribe is required to continually review its approach to water quality protection—at least once every 3 years.

The requirement prompts States/Tribes to reassess whether their standards should be revised or expanded in light of new information to more fully address the purposes of the CWA:  "[T]o protect public health or welfare" and "enhance the quality of water."

Key Point. In reviewing its standards, a State or Tribe must examine any water body (or waterbody segment) with designated uses that do not encompass the CWA 101(a) goal uses. If new information indicates that these uses are attainable, the State/Tribe must modify its standards accordingly

Concepts Applied. Read how the concept of periodic review and revision of standards was written into the Tribal water quality standards for Pueblo of Acoma in New Mexico (PDF) (55 pp, 3MB, About PDF).

State/Tribal Flexibilities

States/Tribes have flexibility concerning whether they review water quality standards (WQS) and then submit results for all relevant water bodies at once or in sequence.

All relevant water bodies/segments
One comprehensive package of results/revisions every 3 years.

Relevant water bodies/segments on a "rolling" basis
Results/revisions as they are ready within the 3-year time frame.

Relevant water bodies/segments on a watershed-by-watershed basis
Results/revisions as they are ready within the 3-year time frame.

Regardless of whether the State/Tribe determines that revisions or expansions of the standards are needed, the results of the review must be made available to the public and then submitted to the EPA Regional Administrator (40 CFR 313.20).

Key Point. EPA time frames for completing review of revised or expanded standards are the same as for a State/Tribe's submission of completely new standards; that is, 60 days for approval and 90 days for disapproval (with specification for changes).

Learn More. Best practice recommendations regarding State/Tribal review of approved water quality standards. Also, flow diagram on State/Tribal review process. Proceed to the Learn More Topic.

Summary

  • EPA has delegated review of State/Tribal water quality standards to the EPA Regions.

  • A State/Tribe must involve the public in developing its standards.

  • EPA must approve a State/Tribe's submission within 60 days or disapprove it within 90 days and identify necessary changes.

  • If EPA disapproves part or all of a submission, the State/Tribe cannot implement those provisions in its program.

  • If the State/Tribe does not revise disapproved standards, EPA may promulgate Federal standards to replace the disapproved standards if necessary.

Also,

  • Following EPA approval, States/Tribes must review their water quality standards at least once every 3 years.

  • As necessary, the State/Tribe must hold a public hearing, adopt revised/new standards, and submit them to EPA for review.

  • If no changes are needed, the State/Tribe still must submit the results of its review to EPA.

Quiz

To complete your review of the topic in this module, please take the self-assessment quiz by reviewing each question and considering the possible responses.

A note about the quiz:

Your answers will NOT be scored or recorded. However, selecting the Submit button for each question will provide you with the correct answers on screen.

At the end of the quiz is a Get Password button. Select this after you have completed the quiz to obtain one of the six passwords you will need to obtain your Certificate of Completion at the end of the course.

Answer each of the questions below

1. Statement: Upon completion, a State/Tribe should submit its water quality standards to EPA Headquarters in Washington, DC, for review.


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2. Which of the following must be included in a State/Tribe's submission of its water quality standards to EPA for review?








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3. Statement: If EPA disapproves a State/Tribe's water quality standards, the Agency automatically begins promulgating Federal standards to replace the disapproved standards.


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4. Each time a State/Tribe conducts a triennial review of its water quality standards, what water bodies must States/Tribes examine?



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5. Which of the following must be included in a State/Tribe's notification about a formal public hearing on water quality standards?





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Disclaimer:
For informational purposes only–Not official statements of EPA policy.