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EPA approves Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s application to implement Water Quality Standards program

Denver, Colo. – WEBWIRE

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved the Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s application to assume responsibilities associated with the Clean Water Act’s Water Quality Standards and Certification programs.  These programs will enable the Southern Ute Tribe to establish the regulatory and scientific foundation for protecting water quality, setting water quality goals and also will serve as the regulatory basis for establishing water quality-based treatment controls and strategies for the Tribe’s surface water bodies on tribal trust lands.  The Southern Ute Tribe applied to EPA for Treatment in a Similar Manner as a State (TAS) for the Clean Water Act Section 303(c) Water Quality Standards and 401 Certification programs for all currently held tribal trust lands. EPA’s action does not affect CWA authorities on Reservation fee lands.

“The Southern Ute Indian Tribe demonstrates strong stewardship for its lands and resources through its adoption of environmental programs,” said Doug Benevento, Regional Administrator. “Implementation of the Water Quality Standards program will go far to ensure critical tribal surface waters are protected.”

EPA carefully reviewed the Tribe’s application, and all comments received after holding two 30-day comment opportunities soliciting input from neighboring jurisdictions, local governments and the public. The EPA has determined that the Tribe has met the necessary requirements and approves the Tribe’s application for TAS to administer the water quality standards program.  The Tribe is also eligible to the same extent as a state for the purposes of issuing certifications under the CWA.  The CWA §Section 401 Certification program requires the Tribe to certify that permitted discharges to its waters will comply with its water quality standards whenever entities apply for a discharge permit under the CWA.

Several federal environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act, authorize EPA to treat eligible federally recognized Indian tribes in a similar manner as a state for implementing and managing certain environmental programs. The basic requirements for applying for TAS are that the tribe must be Federally recognized; have a governing body carrying out substantial governmental duties and powers; have appropriate authority, and be capable of carrying out the functions of the program.

EPA’s approval of the Tribe’s application does not constitute an approval (nor disapproval) of the Tribe’s water quality standards. Any water quality standards adopted by the Tribe and submitted to EPA for action under the CWA would need to satisfy all CWA and regulatory requirements, including requirements for public involvement in the adoption process. These requirements will ensure an appropriate opportunity for interested entities to provide input on the Tribe’s proposed water quality standards, and any concerns regarding the Clean Water Act standards being proposed by the Tribe can be appropriately raised and addressed as part of that process.

The Southern Ute Tribe has previously been granted TAS status for: CWA Section 106 (Water Pollution Protection); CWA Section 314 (Clean Lakes); CWA Section 319 (Nonpoint Source Program); and for Clean Air Act (CAA) Section 105. The Tribe also implements the 40 C.F.R. Part 70 Operating Permit Program under the CAA, and the EPA delegated authority to the Southern Ute Indian Tribe to implement and enforce certain provisions of CAA Sections 111 and 112.

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