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EPA Completes Major Initiative to Help Recover Threatened and Endangered Salmon & Trout in the Pacific Northwest
Release Date: 4/29/2003
Contact Information: John Palmer
April 29, 2003
Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released its water temperature guidance to protect Pacific Northwest salmon and trout. The guidance is intended to assist the states of Idaho, Oregon, and Washington and Pacific Northwest tribes to develop temperature water quality standards that will meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Development and population growth have contributed to the warming of northwest rivers over the last hundred-plus years. Elevated water temperature is the most wide-spread water quality problem in the Pacific Northwest and the NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service have identified elevated water temperature as a factor in the decline of threatened and endangered pacific salmon and bull trout. Nearly 1,500 rivers and streams in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington have been identified as “temperature impaired.”
If a river is too hot, it can kill cold-water fish directly. More typically, however, warm waters stunt fish growth, increase disease, and provide advantages to warm-water fish. High water temperature that fostered disease was a major cause of last years massive fish kill that killed over 30,000 adult fall chinook in the lower Klamath River.
The Clean Water Act requires states and authorized tribes to adopt water quality standards and requires the EPA to approve or disapprove the standards. The Endangered Species Act requires EPA to consult with NOAA Fisheries and the USFWS to ensure state standards do not jeopardize the continued existence of ESA-listed salmon and trout.
If a state or tribe follows EPA’s guidance it can expect approval from EPA, NOAA, and USFWS. “(S)tate and tribal water quality standards consistent with this guidance are likely to be able to satisfy the requirements of both the ESA and the EFH (Essential Fish Habitat),” NOAA Fisheries Regional Administrator Bob Lohn said in a letter to the EPA.
“(W)e strongly encourage States and Tribes in the Pacific Northwest to adopt the recommendations in EPA’s guidance to protect and aid in the recovery of the Bull Trout and other threatened and endangered salmonids,” said USFWS Regional Director David Allen.
State and tribal water temperature standards that differ from EPA’s guidance may also be acceptable as long as EPA determines they meet CWA requirements and they don’t jeopardize the fish in accordance with the ESA.
The states of Idaho, Oregon, and Washington and several tribes are in the process of adopting new temperature water quality standards. On March 31, Judge Ancer Haggerty, of the U.S. District Court of Oregon, overturned EPA’s approval of Oregon’s current water temperature standards and ordered the EPA to revise the Oregon standards to meet the CWA and ESA. The EPA and the State of Oregon will use the guidance as a tool to develop the new Oregon standards.
“The guidance clarifies federal expectations for water quality criteria and will be useful as Oregon now considers revisions to our existing criteria,” said Mike Llewelyn, Water Quality Administrator for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. “There has been a very beneficial dialogue among the federal, state and tribal interests during this process. It has led to a much better understanding of the science and relationship between water temperatures and the needs of salmonids,”
The state of Washington proposed its standards earlier this year and expects to finalize them this summer.“We think the guidance will help set the stage for the states to revise their water quality standards to protect threatened and endangered fish," said Dave Peeler of the Washington Department of Ecology.
“The guidance recognizes that temperature standards can not be based solely on the physical needs of the fish as we have in the past,” said Dave Mabe, Water Quality Manager at the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality. “It allows for consideration of other factors like elevation and geographic location to develop protective standards that can be achieved on the ground.”
The guidance also includes recommendations to protect salmon and trout from excessive hot water in the vicinity of industrial and municipal discharges and should be helpful in issuing NPDES permits to these sources, e.g. the Potlatch facility in Lewiston, Idaho.
“This guidance helps states and tribes ensure that their standards meet both Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act requirements,” said L. John Iani, EPA’s Regional Administrator in Seattle. “With the endorsement of the federal fish agencies,” he continued, “this guidance will help the states and tribes set standards and get them into place much more quickly than would otherwise be possible.
“Ultimately that means better protection for fish – and sooner.”