Washington, DC..In its new strategic plan, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has eliminated key water quality standards that have been in place for nearly thirty years, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), an employee watchdog group.

The changes are part of EPA’s new Strategic Plan for the years 2000 through 2005. According to EPA employees working through PEER, this draft plan makes two major changes:

*Eliminates “Healthy Aquatic Communities” as a Goal
The draft plan proposed replacing one of the most important objectives of the Clean Water Act (CWA), “healthy aquatic communities,” with an objective that will ultimately be much less protective. The draft plan instead proposes to increase the proportion of assessed waters that meet water quality standards (generally numerical chemical criteria).

One of the primary goals of the 1972 CWA was “water quality that provides for the protection and propagation of fish, shellfish and wildlife, and recreation in and on the water by 1983.” Protection of fish is attained by healthy aquatic communities. Healthy aquatic communities are determined by conducting biological assessments. Biological assessments are stringent methods of measurement used to supplement simple water chemistry. Significantly, the plan does not contain a single performance measure, or goal, directed at development of biological criteria.

*Waters Down Monitoring
The new plan also removes any further commitment the EPA has to increasing the assessment of water quality. The present strategy reads: “…so that 75% of waters will support healthy aquatic communities by 2005.” The new plan would read: “increase by 175 the number of watersheds meeting water quality standards in 80% of assessed waters.” The current goal includes ALL waters, not just already assessed waters. Thus, the new language allows EPA to assess only a small fraction of water bodies.

Furthermore, very little data is needed in a watershed, or “cataloging unit, ” to be considered in the assessment. This minimal data is used to determine statistically the water chemistry of many miles of streams. Hence more waters are being reported even though no more waters are being assessed.

This plan will be submitted to Congress under the Government Performance and Results Act and is supposed to play a major role in Congress’s determination of agency priorities, as well as in guidance for delegated State action.

“EPA is using their strategic plan to beat a strategic retreat,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “EPA is offering the skeleton but not the flesh of the Clean Water Act.”

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