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A focus group of six people has begun studying how the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality should implement its policy to protect the state's waters from degradation.

The department said in a statement that it will take the group's feedback to a stakeholder group on the Continuing Planning Process, a document that outlines how a state will implement its water-quality programs. The department has not updated it since 2000. It's required under the Clean Water Act, passed in 1975.

Also required under the act is an anti-degradation implementation plan. States write an anti-degradation policy and then must write an implementation plan for that policy. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Arkansas and New Mexico are the only two states without implementation plans.

Some members expressed in phone interviews interest in participating but didn't offer many specific details about what they would or wouldn't like to see in the plan.

"It's pretty simple why we would want to be on it," said Colene Gaston, attorney for the Beaver Water District in Northwest Arkansas. "To protect Beaver Lake."

Shon Simpson, owner of GMBc & Associates environmental and engineering firm, has worked on anti-degradation analyses for clients with water-discharge permits in other central states.

"My interest is that the policy is very clear," Simpson said.

The department asked Simpson to be on the focus group, along with John Bailey, director of environmental regulatory affairs for the Arkansas Farm Bureau.

Bailey said the Farm Bureau doesn't work with entities that would discharge directly into a body of water, but they work with people who apply animal waste to the ground, which could affect water quality. He said his position in the focus group would be to ensure best management practices for land application of waste remain in place for agricultural use but are also factored in for companies or utilities that might apply non-agricultural waste.

Bailey said the department had already put in a lot of work drafting a new anti-degradation policy and an anti-degradation implementation plan.

"It's a matter of getting into the weeds, making sure everything is thought through," he said.

Department officials presented an outline of a plan, including recommendations from the EPA, to the focus group April 5.

To comply with the Clean Water Act, the state must classify its water bodies by quality and significance in a tiered system.

Tier 3 waters, typically thought of as water bodies with exceptional recreational or ecological roles, aren't supposed to degrade at all.

Tier 2 waters are considered "high quality," with economic, public health or ecological value, according to the EPA. That means that when significant degradation -- more than 10 percent, according to the department's presentation -- is expected for such waters, water discharge permit applicants must offer an analysis of alternative discharge methods that would degrade the water body less or explain why economic or social conditions justify a more degrading discharge method.

Simpson said the state should define what it would consider a cost-effective alternative to the applicant's original proposal.

In Missouri, the permit applicant must use the cleaner alternative even if it costs up to 20 percent more.

The department's presentation also included Tier 2.5 waters -- a designation that is not outlined by the EPA but is used by many states and tribes, according to the EPA. The department's presentation described them as "exceptional high quality" waters -- specifically, domestic water supplies. In the presentation, Tier 2.5 waters, unlike Tier 2 waters, would never be allowed to degrade more than 10 percent.

In many states, Tier 2 waters are classified as such based on whether they are exceeding the water quality standards set for them. If they're not, they are Tier 1 waters. Simpson said he preferred this approach.

Tier 1 waters need only to maintain their designated uses, such as being a fishable or swimmable body of water.

The department has classified Tier 3 waters but not Tier 2 waters.

The department presented the plans of seven other states -- Arkansas' six neighbors and New Mexico, which is in the same EPA region -- to the focus group for study.

The group doesn't have a timeline for finishing its review and feedback on anti-degradation implementation, but members plan to meet next month.

The members are:

• Ellen Carpenter, an interested citizen and retired department water division chief.

• Colene Gaston, an attorney for the Beaver Water District.

• John Bailey, director of environmental regulatory affairs for the Arkansas Farm Bureau.

• Shon Simpson, owner of GMBc & Associates environmental and engineering firm.

• Anna Weeks, environmental policy coordinator at the Arkansas Public Policy Panel.

• Jim Malcolm, vice president and policy advisor at FTN Associates environmental and engineering firm.

Metro on 04/23/2018

Print Headline: Group studying ways to protect waters in state

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