The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently proposed a new rule that would institute federal baseline water quality standards (WQS) for the waters on over 250 Tribal lands throughout the country. Critically, these areas do not currently have water quality standards in effect under the Clean Water Act. If finalized, this rule would establish important water quality protections for Tribal waters similar to the majority of waters across the United States that are protected through EPA-approved water quality standards adopted by every state and 47 Tribal governments.
Water quality standards are the bedrock of the pollution controls required by the Clean Water Act, and are crucial to protecting environmental integrity and human health. For example, water quality standards are used to control pollution discharges through the Act’s permitting systems and to identify and restore polluted waters. Yet today, the United States is home to over 300 Tribes with reservations, but only 47 have EPA-approved water quality standards. That is why EPA must quickly act to extend the same Clean Water Act safeguards that currently exist in the rest of the United States to Tribal waters that currently lack protections.