Water Quality Standards Tools for Tribes

About These Tools

This website provides tools to assist tribes with the adoption of new or revised water quality standards (WQS). Currently, the majority of tribal waters do not have EPA-approved WQS in effect for Clean Water Act (CWA) purposes. These tools are designed to (1) simplify tribal applications for “treatment in a similar manner as a state” (TAS) to administer CWA section 303(c) WQS and section 401 water quality certification programs; and (2) streamline the development of tribal WQS for tribal adoption and EPA approval under CWA 303(c). The tools include the following: 

  • The TAS application template is a downloadable and customizable document that addresses all of the eligibility requirements listed in EPA’s implementing regulations at 40 CFR 131.
  • The Model WQS template is a downloadable and customizable document that provides model WQS text which, together with tribal input and guidance from the EPA Region, will simplify the process of developing tribal WQS consistent with the CWA and EPA's implementing regulations at 40 CFR 131.  The template includes language covering designated uses, water quality criteria, antidegradation, and several general provisions.  Throughout the template there are opportunities for tribes to tailor their WQS to reflect tribe-specific circumstances, including a provision to protect cultural and traditional uses.
  • The Human Health Criteria Calculator is a tool that can help develop a numeric human health criteria (HHC) table for inclusion in the WQS.  This tool allows the applicant to adjust HHC values to reflect the tribe’s fish consumption rate and selected cancer risk level.

Tribes are encouraged to work with EPA Regional Offices when using these tools. Use of these tools is not required in order to submit completed TAS applications or WQS submissions to EPA. Completed TAS applications and WQS submissions should be submitted to the appropriate EPA Regional Office in accordance with EPA’s regulations at 40 CFR 131.20(c).

TAS Application Template for Water Quality Standards and Water Quality Certifications

This template helps tribes apply to EPA for eligibility to be treated in a similar manner as a state (TAS) for the purpose of administering both the CWA section 303(c) WQS and section 401 water quality certification programs. The template explains and organizes relevant language to address the eligibility requirements. At its discretion, an applicant tribe may modify the template to apply for eligibility for just one of the two programs. The template also describes relevant information needed in TAS applications for these programs in light of EPA’s May 16, 2016 final revised interpretive rule (below). EPA may revise this template in the future to keep it current and to reflect feedback on its usefulness.

Model WQS Template for Waters on Indian Reservations

Water quality standards (WQS), which are required by section 303(c) of the Clean Water Act (CWA), are the foundation of the water quality-based pollution control programs mandated by the CWA. WQS define the goals for a water body by designating its uses, setting criteria to protect those uses, and establishing antidegradation requirements.

This template is designed to facilitate drafting of WQS. EPA expects that tribes will be able to incorporate the template language and tables directly into their draft WQS after tribes have made changes to the text and/or tables in coordination with the appropriate EPA Regional Office. Because each tribe’s situation and local conditions are unique, following this template alone does not guarantee that a tribe’s submitted WQS will be approved by EPA. Coordination with the EPA Regional Office is therefore important to help ensure successful use of the template.

This template does not include specific text or table contents to develop WQS for waters in the Great Lakes system, as defined in 40 CFR part 132 (the Great Lakes Water Quality Guidance). Tribes with such waters should coordinate with the appropriate EPA Regional Office when using this template in order to ensure that the tribe’s WQS will comply with requirements unique to those waters, in addition to the national requirements of 40 CFR 131. EPA may revise this template in the future to keep it up to date and to reflect feedback on its usefulness.

The Human Health Criteria Calculator may be used in conjunction with the numeric criteria section of this template.

Human Health Criteria Calculator

Human health ambient water quality criteria represent specific levels of chemicals or conditions in a water body that are not expected to cause adverse effects to human health from ingesting drinking water, fish, or other aquatic organisms. The numeric criteria produced by this calculator are based on EPA’s national recommended water quality human health criteria for “water + organism” and “organism only.” EPA publishes these recommendations under section 304(a) of the Clean Water Act as guidance to states and authorized tribes. 

This calculator generates a customized numeric HHC table based upon a selected fish consumption rate (FCR) and cancer risk level (CRL). (For more information on the values included in the calculator below, please see the Model WQS Template.) Tribes may also enter their own fish consumption rates, provided they submit supporting documentation (e.g. fish consumption rate survey). Please work with your EPA Regional Office to determine the appropriate FCR. All selected values and supporting information should be noted in paragraph (d)(2) of the Model Water Quality Standards Template, or an equivalent section in any submitted WQS package.

To include the generated table and footnotes in your WQS, click the button below then paste the table into your document. Exported tables may be further modified to reflect desired HHC, but please note and explain any modifications in the submitted WQS package.

  Fish Consumption Rate   Cancer Risk Level
   
   

Important: Please work with your EPA Regional Office to determine the appropriate FCR.

Human Health Criteria
Pollutant cas water water + org
Pollutant a abc 123 456
 

Footnotes:

  1. EPA has issued a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for this chemical which may be more stringent. See EPA's National Primary Drinking Water Regulations.
  2. The criterion for organoleptic (taste and order) effects may be more stringent. See National Recommended Water Quality Criteria - Organoleptic Effects.
  3. This criterion was revised to reflect EPA's q1* or RfD as contained in the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) as of May 17, 2002. The fish tissue bioconcentration factor (BCF) is from the 1980 Ambient Water Quality Criteria document.
  4. Criteria for these pollutants are from the National Recommended Water Quality Criteria - Human Health Criteria Table. They are not calculated based on this table's inputs for fish consumption rate and cancer risk level.
  5. This human health criterion is the same as originally published in the Quality Criteria for Water, 1976 ("Red Book") which predates the 1980 methodology and did not utilize the fish ingestion BCF approach. This same criterion value is published in the Quality Criteria for Water, 1986 ("Gold Book").
  6. The Human Health for the consumption of Water + Organism criterion for manganese is not based on toxic effects, but rather is intended to minimize objectionable qualities such as laundry stains and objectionable tastes in beverages.
  7. This fish tissue residue criterion for methylmercury is based on the total fish consumption rate.
  8. This criterion applies to total PCBs (e.g., the sum of all congener or all isomer or homolog or Aroclor analyses).

Glossary

Term Definition
Antidegradation A policy in water quality standards that establishes a framework for maintaining and protecting water quality that has already been achieved.  See the WQS Handbook Chapter 4: Antidegradation.
Authorized tribe A tribe that EPA has found eligible to be treated in a similar manner as a state to administer a specific Clean Water Act program, such as water quality standards. See EPA Approvals of Tribal Water Quality Standards for a list of these tribes.
Cancer Risk Level (CRL) Estimated probability of an individual developing cancer over a lifetime as a result of exposure to a contaminant. The relationship between dose and response is quantified using a slope factor, which converts daily intakes of a carcinogen averaged over a lifetime directly to the upper bound risk of an individual developing cancer.
Clean Water Act (CWA) The Clean Water Act (CWA) establishes the basic structure for regulating discharges of pollutants into the waters of the United States. It includes requirements for states and authorized tribes to establish water quality standards for surface waters.
Criteria (or Water Quality Criteria) Statements of the conditions needed to support or protect the designated use or uses of a waterbody. Criteria may be narrative or numeric. See the WQS Handbook Chapter 3: Water Quality Criteria.
CWA section 303(c) Requires states and authorized tribes to develop, adopt, review, revise, and submit WQS, and requires EPA to review, approve, disapprove, and promulgate WQS.
CWA section 401 The requirement of Section 401(a) of the Clean Water Act that all federally issued licenses or permits for activities that may result in discharges to U.S. waters be certified by the state or authorized tribe in which the discharge occurs. The state or tribe may certify or deny certification that the proposed license or permit will comply with its water quality standards and other requirements.
CWA section 518(e) The Clean Water Act provision that enables EPA to treat eligible tribes in a similar manner as states for the purposes of administering programs such as water quality standards.
Designated use The description of an appropriate intended use by humans and/or aquatic life for a water body. A state or authorized tribe designates uses for its waters that may include – but are not limited to – propagation of fish and wildlife, recreation, water supply, and/or agricultural and industrial purposes.  See the WQS Handbook Chapter 2: Designation of Uses.
Fish consumption rate (FCR) An individual’s FCR is the expected quantity of fish consumed per unit time. EPA uses FCRs in developing national recommended ambient water quality criteria to protect human health as required under section 304(a) of the Clean Water Act.
General provisions of WQS Include certain discretionary policies that generally affect how WQS are applied or implemented. The most common provisions are those addressing mixing zones, compliance schedule authorization, and WQS variances.
Great Lakes Water Quality Guidance Identifies minimum water quality standards, antidegradation policies, and implementation procedures for the Great Lakes System to protect human health, aquatic life, and wildlife.
Human health criteria Human health ambient water quality criteria represent specific levels of chemicals or conditions in a water body that are not expected to cause adverse effects to human health. EPA provides recommendations for “water + organism” and “organism only” human health criteria for states and authorized tribes to consider when adopting criteria into their water quality standards. “Water + organism” applies to waters with both a fishable and a public drinking water supply use, and “organism only” applies to all waters with the fishable use and not a public drinking water supply use.  See the 2000 Human Health Methodology.
Indian reservation All land within the limits of a formal Indian reservation notwithstanding the issuance of any patent, and including rights-of-way running through the reservation. Also includes tribal trust land not located within the limits of a formal Indian reservation
National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) A national program under Section 402 of the Clean Water Act for regulation of discharges of pollutants from point sources to waters of the United States. Discharges are illegal unless authorized by an NPDES permit.
Revised Interpretation of Clean Water Act Tribal Provision Final interpretive rule published on May 16, 2016 that concludes definitively that section 518 of the CWA includes an express delegation of authority by Congress to Indian tribes to administer regulatory programs over their entire reservations, subject to the eligibility requirements in section 518.
TAS Treatment of a tribe in a similar manner as a state for the purposes of administering an EPA program such as Clean Water Act water quality standards.
Total maximum daily load (TMDL) A plan for attaining and maintaining applicable water quality standards. It includes wasteload allocations for point sources, load allocations for nonpoint sources and natural background, and a margin of safety. It can be expressed in terms of mass of pollutant per day, toxicity, or other appropriate measures that relate to the applicable standards.
Tribal trust land Land held in trust by the United States for a tribal government.
Tribe One of the 567 Indian tribes that are federally recognized. Only federally recognized tribes with reservations can apply for TAS.
Water quality standards Standards for surface waters of the United States that are established pursuant to section 303(c) of the Clean Water Act. The standards designate the desired use(s) of the water body, establish water quality criteria to protect the uses designated, and include provisions for antidegradation.