Sierran Masthead

Conservation Committee Works on Water Issues

by Bill Hayden
Chapter Conservation Chair

EPA Makes Final Comments on Indiana's Great Lakes Initiative Rule

The Great Lakes Initiative (GLI) is an effort by the Congress to require that all the Great Lakes states have basically the same water quality standards. Several of the states, including Indiana, have adopted water quality standards that attempt to comply.

After some prodding from Indiana environmental groups, the EPA made its final comments on the Indiana GLI rule.

The EPA raised many serious issues with Indiana's GLI rule. A few can be addressed through policy clarification by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM), but a couple will require changes in Indiana law.

For example, Indiana requires that a company only show that it is harmed by the standards to get a variance. EPA regulation requires that economic and social impacts also be considered.

What Is the Anti-Degradation Implementation Policy?

One of the prime tenets of the Clean Water Act (CWA) is nondegradation. This means that if a stream is impaired to the extent that it is not safe for existing and designated uses such as swimming and fishing, or if it is an Outstanding State Resource Water (OSRW) or Outstanding National Resource (ONRW) Water, then it should not be subjected to additional contamination.

Indiana did not adopt an Anti-Degradation Implementation Policy for its OSRWs in 1990 when it did its last triennial review of water quality standards, but it did adopt a temporary one for the GLI rule.

After that rule expired Dec. 31, 1998, the Water Pollution Control Board (WPCB) readopted it without a termination date.

This rule allows IDEM to grant permits that allow degradation without any public participation or demonstration of serious social and economic impacts if additional pollution is not allowed.

This rule will remain on the books until it is replaced by a new Anti-Degradation Implementation Policy.

Not One More Molecule?

The other issue regarding anti-degradation is whether it means "not one more molecule of pollution" or "no violation of the water quality standards."

For certain high-quality waters, it doesn't mean "not one more molecule" as long as the permit does not allow the water quality standards to be violated. But ONRWs are clearly held to the "not one more molecule" standard.

Industry fears that the state's Anti-Degradation Implementation Policy for OSRWs will mean "not one more molecule."

This has caused them to fight to get the WPCB to adopt a process for the undesignation of existing OSRWs and to get a bill passed that would make it impossible for any waters to be designated OSRWs in the future by requiring that they have both excellent chemical and biological water quality. SB 343 would have required this but was vetoed.

IDEM Making Progress

In northwest Indiana, environmentalists, industry, and municipalities agree that Lake Michigan is an outstanding resource that deserves protection beyond that given to most waters. The difficulty lies in achieving this protection while allowing industry and municipalities the flexibility to grow.

Representatives from these groups have been hard at work on this problem for more than a year. The industry and environmental representatives on the state WPCB are from northwest Indiana and have convened a workgroup of representatives from the various interest groups to come up with a mutually acceptable anti-degradation standard for the lake and other OSRWs in the Great Lakes basin.

IDEM's newly appointed Technical Water Quality Advisory Committee, also with broad representation, is working on the issue statewide. The Water Quality Advisory Committee and the Land and Water Committee of the Environmental Quality Service Council (EQSC) have been working diligently to craft a compromise on the Anti-Degradation Implementation Policy issue.

Environmentalists proposed that the policy could allow additional pollution into an OSRW if a demonstration could be made that the pollution was necessary to reduce other pollution and therefore result in a net water quality improvement.

For example, a municipality would be allowed to build a sewage treatment plant that put additional pollution into an OSRW if it could show that it would eliminate a much greater amount of pollution from failing septic tanks.

There seems to be consensus on this principle with some industry representatives but not all. The main exception is the Eli Lilly Co., which apparently fears that the official state river, the Wabash, might be designated an OSRW and then the company would be forced to abide by the Anti-Degradation Implementation Policy for OSRWs.

Lilly Co. continues to insist that the General Assembly pass a new law that forbids the WPCB from designating any new OSRWs or ONRWs unless they meet excellent chemical and biological criteria on scientifically recognized indexes.

I strenuously opposed that proposal in the EQSC Land and Water Subcommittee, and some compromise language was proposed.

At this time it looks like the EQSC will adopt a recommendation that the excellent criteria requirement can be overcome if the WPCB finds a water body has unique or outstanding characteristics. Eli Lilly Co. will no doubt fight this exception.

Copyright © 2007 Hoosier Chapter Sierra Club, all rights reserved.[7/20/02]efp

Fall 1999