NW Indian Fisheries Commission: Treaty Trib­es Welcome EPA Action on State Water Quality Standards

The 20 treaty Indian tribes in western Washington today praised the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for taking a leadership role to ensure our state’s water quality standards meet requirements of the federal Clean Water Act and protect human health.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy signed a proposed rule Monday that updates the current water quality standards for Washington’s waters to reflect the region’s fish consumption.

The federal Clean Water Act requires that states develop water quality standards to ensure our waters are clean enough to provide healthy fish that are safe for us to eat. But the state has been operating under outdated and inadequate standards developed more than 20 years ago, and has missed every deadline since then for updating them as required by federal law. The state admits that its current water quality standards don’t adequately protect any of us.

A rule proposed recently by Gov. Jay Inslee would have properly increased our fish consumption rate from a nationwide low of 6.5 grams per day (about one bite) to 175 grams per day, the same as Oregon’s. But that improvement would have been canceled out by a tenfold decrease in protection under the current cancer risk rate, from one in one million to one in 100,000.

The treaty tribes and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have consistently called for a fish consumption rate of 175 grams per day and a cancer risk rate of one in a million.

The 175 grams per day fish consumption rate represents a huge compromise by the treaty tribes, whose members routinely eat far more, as do Asian and Pacific Islanders and others, including local anglers who like to eat what they catch. When those who eat the most fish and shellfish are protected, so is everyone else, Loomis said.

“This action by EPA Administrator McCarthy and Regional Administrator Dennis McLerran demonstrates true leadership. They clearly recognize the federal government’s trust responsibility to protect the health and treaty rights of the tribes, which also benefits everyone else who lives here,” said Lorraine Loomis, Chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

“We appreciate EPA’s willingness to protect the integrity of our state’s environment and the water-based resources that are central to human health and treaty rights,” Loomis said. “This is the first positive step forward we’ve seen in our fight to protect human health and the food we’ve always depended on.”

Businesses such as Boeing have stalled progress in updating the standards, claiming it would increase their cost of doing business.

EPA’s proposed rule revises the fish consumption rate based on more recent regional and local data. It also updates the toxicity and exposure parameters used to calculate human health criteria. The proposal further takes into account applicable EPA policies, guidance and legal requirements to protect human health.

EPA expects that the proposed rule will be published in the Federal Register in mid-September. EPA will then accept public comments on its proposal for 60 days.

The agency indicated that it continues to prefer that the state finalize its own water quality criteria to protect fish and shellfish consumers in Washington. If the state does put forth a proposal, EPA would likely pause its federal rulemaking activities to gauge its effectiveness.

Contact: Tony Meyer, NWIFC, 360.438.1180
Cell: 360.951.9341
[email protected]