United States
                      Environmental Protection
                      Agency
                                 Office of Water
                               EPA820-F-15-004
                                     July 2015
Water  Quality  Standards  Regulatory
Revisions  (Final  Rule)
Summary
  EPA has finalized updates to the federal water
  quality standards (WQS) regulation at 40 CFR Part
  131 that interprets part of the Clean Water Act.
  The updates result in a better-defined pathway for
  states and authorized tribes to improve water
  quality and protect high quality waters through
  enhancements in the regulation's effectiveness,
  WQS transparency, and opportunities for
  meaningful public engagement at the state, tribal
  and local levels. The final rule addresses the
  following key WQS program areas: (1)
  Administrator's determination that new or revised
  WQS for states and tribes are necessary, (2)
  designated uses of waters, (3) triennial reviews of
  state and authorized tribal WQS, (4)
  antidegradation provisions to protect water
  quality, (5) WQS variances, and (6) permit
  compliance schedule authorizing provisions.
Background
  Water quality standards are the foundation of the
  water quality-based pollution control  program
  mandated by the Clean Water Act and serve a dual
  purpose. First, WQS define the goals for a water
  body by designating its uses, setting criteria to
  protect those uses, and establishing
  antidegradation policies to protect water bodies
  from pollutants. Second, WQS serve as the basis
  for water quality-based limits in National Pollutant
  Discharge  Elimination System (NPDES) permits, as
  the measure to assess whether waters are
  impaired, and as the target in a Total Maximum
  Daily Load (TMDL) to restore impaired waters.
The core requirements of the WQS regulation have
been in place for over 30 years. The requirements
have provided a strong foundation for water
quality-based controls, including water quality
assessments, impaired waters lists and TMDLs,
under Clean Water Act section 303(d), as well as
for water quality-based effluent limits (WQBELs) in
NPDES discharge permits under Clean Water Act
section 402. As with the development and
operation of any program, a number of policy and
technical issues have been raised by stakeholders
or identified by EPA in the implementation process
that are most efficiently addressed by revising the
federal WQS regulation.
This action finalizes the WQS regulation revisions
initially proposed by EPA on September 4, 2013.
The final rule enables states and authorized tribes
to more effectively address complex water quality
challenges, protect existing water quality, and
facilitate environmental improvements. It also
leads to better understanding and proper use of
available Clean Water Act tools and promotes
transparent and engaged public participation.

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What This Final Rule Does
  (1) Clarifies what constitutes an Administrator's
  determination that new or revised WQS are
  necessary pursuant to Clean Water Act section
  303(c)(4)(B), supporting EPA's ability to
  communicate openly and effectively with states
  and authorized tribes about WQS concerns.

  (2) Refines how states and authorized tribes assign
  and revise designated uses for individual water
  bodies, ensuring that appropriate WQS are in place
  to help restore and maintain robust aquatic
  ecosystems and promote resilience to the
  anticipated effects of climate change and other
  emerging stressors to  water quality.

  (3) Clarifies the triennial review requirements to
  explain the role of new or updated Clean Water
  Act section 304(a) criteria recommendations in the
  development of WQS  by states and authorized
  tribes, and to describe the applicable WQS that
  must be reviewed triennially, promoting public
  transparency on how states and authorized tribes
  consider such criteria recommendations during
  triennial reviews.

  (4) Establishes stronger antidegradation
  requirements by creating a more structured
  process for identifying high quality waters and
  specifying the type of analysis that is required
  before a state or authorized tribe allows
  degradation of high water quality, resulting in
  enhanced protection of high quality waters and
  promoting public transparency.

  (5) Outlines a comprehensive regulatory structure
  for WQS variances, promoting the appropriate use
  of this Clean Water Act tool and providing
  regulatory certainty to states, authorized tribes,
  the regulated  community, stakeholders, and the
  public in making progress toward attaining
  designated uses.

  (6) Clarifies that a state or authorized tribe must
  adopt, and EPA must approve, a provision
  authorizing the use of permit compliance
  schedules prior to  legally using schedules of
  compliance for WQBELs in NPDES permits.
Affected Entities and Estimated Economic
Costs of the Final Rulemaking
  State and authorized tribal governments
  responsible for administering or overseeing water
  quality programs may be directly affected by this
  rulemaking. As a result of this final rule, states and
  authorized tribes may need to consider and
  implement new provisions, or revise existing
  provisions, in their WQS. Regulated entities such as
  industrial dischargers or publicly owned treatment
  works may be indirectly affected by this
  rulemaking because WQS may be used in
  determining NPDES permit  limits or in
  implementing other Clean Water Act programs.

  Total annual costs of this final rule to states and
  authorized tribes are estimated to be between
  $6.51 million - $24.11 million, which is  well below
  EPA's $100 million threshold for regulatory
  significance. Annual burden to states and
  authorized tribes resulting from this final rule is
  estimated to be between 124,575 - 430,080
  hours/year.

  Benefits of the final rule include improved
  regulatory clarity for states and tribes,
  stakeholders,  and the public in key areas that will
  allow them to better understand and make proper
  use of available Clean Water Act tools and
  flexibilities, while maintaining open and
  transparent public participation. Other potential
  benefits include incremental improvements in
  water quality and a variety of economic benefits
  associated with these improvements, including
  greater recreational opportunities and  protection
  and improvement of public health; water of
  adequate quality for agricultural and industrial use;
  and water quality that supports the commercial
  fishing industry and higher property values.

 Where can I find more information?
  Email us at WQSRegulatoryClarifications@epa.gov
  or visit EPA's Water Quality Standards website at:
  http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/lawsguidance/wqs
   index.cfm.

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