Austin – Massive fish kills, outbreaks of lesioned and diseased fish and deteriorating water quality are threatening the health of Lake Sam Rayburn, one of the top bass fisheries in the country, according to documents released today by Texas Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (Texas PEER). The Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC), the state’s environmental regulatory agency, is lowering water quality standards rather than force polluters to reduce the flow of effluents.

Lake Sam Rayburn covers 114,500 acres and 560 miles of shoreline on the Angelina River in the Piney Woods of east Texas. Although the lake is partially situated in the Angelina National Forest, Texas state authorities have permitted nearly 50 wastewater dischargers in the watershed. As a consequence, toxicity, odor problems, and other water quality problems in the lake have increased drastically.

TNRCC recently was forced to include Lake Sam Rayburn on its list of waterways that are polluted as defined by the Clean Water Act. Contrary to the recommendations of its own staff and despite objections from the US Forest Service, Texas Department of Water Resources and the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife, the TNRCC is proposing weaker water standards rather than pollution abatement.

A prime example is the case of the Donohoe Industries paper mill facility. The standards were proposed to be weakened after discharge data showed that the facility, in violation of its permit, exceeded the maximum allowed aluminum discharge by several hundred pounds per day. The Donohue plant flushes 20 million gallons per day of waste water into Lake Sam Rayburn, accounting for nearly three quarters of all discharges into the lake. Rather than enforce the law, TNRCC simply wants to adjust water quality standards to fit the current level of pollution.

On July 12, 2000 the three Bush appointed Commissioners of the TNRCC will vote on final approval of the proposed changes in water quality standards.

“When Lake Sam Rayburn is defined as polluted, Texas simply changes the definition so that the crime no longer fits the law” commented Texas PEER Coordinator Erin Rogers. “The Governor is turning one of the best recreational spots in the state into an open sewer.”

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