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EPA Approves Colville Tribes’ Application to Implement Water Quality Standards Program

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Bill Dunbar (

Seattle -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved the request by the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation to assume responsibilities of the Clean Water Act’s Water Quality Standards and Certification programs. 

Specifically, this approval will enable the Colville Tribes to establish the regulatory and scientific foundation for protecting water quality by setting water quality goals and standards for the surface water bodies within the reservation. 

The Colville Tribes applied to the EPA for “Treatment in the Same Manner As a State” (TAS) for the Clean Water Act Section 303(c) and the 401 Certification programs in late 2013. After careful review of the application, and all the comments received during two 30-day public comment opportunities, the EPA has approved the Colville Tribes’ application. The approval authorizes the Colville Tribes to develop water quality standards for all surface water within the reservation, and to ensure that CWA-permitted discharges will meet the requirements of the EPA-approved water quality standards for reservation waters.

The Colville Tribes have previously been granted TAS status for CWA Section 106 (Water Pollution Protection) and Section 319 (Nonpoint Source) programs.

 “The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation have long maintained strong environmental programs, and their commitment to a strong water quality program was evident in their application,” said Chris Hladick, the Regional Administrator for the agency’s Region 10 office in Seattle.  “We look forward to the Colville Tribes’ continued engagement with the EPA, the state of Washington and stakeholders in the local counties as they implement their new authorities.”

The water resources within the Colville Reservation include portions of the Columbia River, the Okanogan River, Hall Creek, Twin Lakes, Wilmont Creek, the West Fork of the San Poil River, the San Poil River, the Nespelem River, Lost Creek, Omak Creek as well as other lakes, wetlands, ponds, springs and creeks. The TAS application identifies 15 watersheds within the reservation boundaries. The EPA’s approval action does not alter water quality standards outside of the reservation, but does provide the Colville Tribes additional ability to weigh in on certain upstream activities that could have impacts on reservation waters.

Several federal environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act, authorize the EPA to treat eligible federally recognized Indian tribes in a similar manner as a state for implementing and managing certain environmental programs. The basic requirements for applying for TAS are that the tribe must be federally recognized; have a governing body to carry out substantial governmental duties and powers; have the appropriate authority; and be capable of administering the functions of the program.

The EPA’s approval of the Colville Tribes’ application does not constitute an approval (nor disapproval) of the tribes’ water quality standards. Any water quality standards adopted by the Colville Tribes and submitted to the EPA for action must satisfy all the CWA and regulatory requirements, including public participation to ensure an appropriate opportunity for any interested entities to provide input on the proposed water quality standards.

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