Water quality standards are about way more than the end of the pipe

There is a difference between pollution that comes from a factory or a wastewater treatment plant and pollution from streets or a farm:


Here is a good explanation between the two from the EPA.

This is an important distinction because most of our pollution problems today are from persistent non-point sources, like stormwater runoff from roads and parking lots.

But, in the framing of the debate on making our water quality standards better, the governor’s office is only talking about point sources. For example, in a recent story by Chris Dunagan the Kitsap Sun:

Inslee has tied the new water quality standards for point discharges at the end of pipes to his legislation for dealing with stormwater and nonpoint pollution. If the legislation does not pass, he said he would reconsider his overall proposal for combating pollution.

The problem is that the water quality standards the state is proposing under the Clean Water Act (which they say only cover point sources) actually apply to point and non-point sources.

This story is legally incorrect. Dunagan, playing into the governor’s messaging, talks about “water quality standards for point sources” for the purpose of messaging that water quality standards only regulate or apply point source end of pipe discharges. But the reality is that we use water quality standards for much more than just regulating point sources – like for monitoring and listing of waters to determine whether and how polluted they are. They are also used to develop TMDLs (watershed clean up plans) which set pollutant allocations for both point and non point sources. And they are used to develop 401 certifications for federal permit usually dredge and fill or FERC licenses.

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