Arkansas Water Quality Improvements Refuted

July 25, 2017
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White River Waterkeeper Refutes Claims Regarding Drastic Water Quality Improvements in Arkansas

Released on July 24, 2017

Jessie J. Green, White River Waterkeeper released a report evaluating the degree of imporvements in Arkansas from 2008 to 2016 rebutting claims announced in a press release from Governor Asa Hutchinson's office on Thursday, July 20, 2017.

Water quality standards combine the designated uses of a waterbody, such as its ability to provide fishable, swimmable, and drinkable uses, along with criteria necessary to support those uses, such as the concentration of oxygen needed to support a fishery or concentration of allowable bacteria that can be present while protecting public health of swimmers. Every two years, states are required to complete an assessment of the waters of their state to determine which waterbodies are meeting, or “attaining”, water quality standards and which ones are not. Those waters not meeting water quality standards are considered “impaired”, because water quality is insufficient to provide safe water for uses such as fishing, swimming, or drinking.

Pursuant to section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act, states must compile a list of impaired waters that need to be addressed through regulatory action, such as reviewing the discharge limits of pollutants allowed in a waterbody to meet water quality standards. The list of waters considered impaired and needing improvement to meet standards is referred to as the 303(d) list. States must provide EPA with a justification for all of their attainment or impairment decisions for EPA to determine whether or not they approve of the state’s assessment. It is encouraged that states come up with an Assessment Methodology that outlines objective and consistent guidelines for basing decisions. A well accepted and common method of basing decisions is through the utilization of exceedance thresholds. In the case of bacteria, the concentration (i.e. criteria) can be surpassed up to 25% of samples collected during the summer months (i.e. Primary Contact Season) and still be considered as “attaining” its water quality standards. As discussed in the report, raising the allowable exceedance threshold for minerals is one of the reasons Arkansas has not  had a 303(d) list approved since 2008.

White River Waterkeeper, Jessie J. Green, who recently left her position as a Senior Ecologist in the Water Quality Planning Branch of Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ), the section tasked with developing water quality standards and assessing water quality attainment, stated “as someone who was actively involved with the development of the 2016 Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report, it was alarming to see such erroneous claims of drastic water quality improvement in Arkansas, as this hinders our state’s ability to protect water quality for current and future generations. While we have made some strides in the state, inaccurately depicting the state of our waters is damaging to our state’s ability to restore water quality where needed and to the public’s trust of the work that comes out of ADEQ.

The Governor has term limits, but the Department of Environmental Quality will be around long after political seats change hand. Citizens need to be able to trust ADEQ’s ability to protect the environment for the benefit of the public. Misinterpreting the results and altering interpretations based on politics, rather than scientific rationale, doesn’t serve the citizens of Arkansas well.”