A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to promulgate strict standards to maintain and improve clean water in Idaho.
U.S. District Judge William Dwyer in Seattle on Monday gave the EPA 60 days to respond to the order by writing those water quality standards for the state, said Mike Medberry, Idaho Conservation League state issues director.
“This ruling will have immediate and positive impacts on Idaho waters, especially lakes and rivers with bull trout and other native fish,” he said. The Kootenai River sturgeon is on the endangered species list and the bull trout is being considered for a designation.
Dwyer earlier demanded the state clean up 962 polluted stream segments. Gov. Phil Batt suggested moving the state Soil Conservation Commission from the Department of Lands to the Agriculture Department to more efficiently comply.
The Conservation League, Inland Empire Public Lands Council and Idaho Sporting Congress sued the EPA last year, saying it had a duty to act after the state filed to adopt those limits to protect the water and fish.
“Because Idaho bases water pollution prevention and cleanup on these standards, the standards themselves must meet minimum national requirements that protect human health and aquatic wildlife,” said Laird Lucas, an attorney with the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies who represented two of the groups.
Under the federal act, the state has the authority to set and enforce those standards. The EPA, however, retains oversight to ensure minimum ones are met.
Although the EPA reported problems in Idaho’s water criteria to the state Division of Environmental Quality, neither agency did anything to correct them, the plaintiffs said.
They argued the state’s temperature standards for the bull trout were perilously lax, while not protecting 92 percent of the streams for fish and wildlife violated the Clean Water Act’s goals.
In an Oct. 25, 1995, letter to Environmental Quality, Philip Millam of the EPA in Seattle said his agency had serious concerns about Idaho’s designated use of unclassified waters, anadromous fish spawning, water temperatures, and pollution.
“Their stalling tactics are costing taxpayers in lost lawsuits and lost revenues from fisheries that could otherwise be turning huge profits,” said Ron Mitche, Sporting Congress executive director.
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