2014 Water Quality Assessment and 303(d) List for
Using Freshwater Data
Washington Submits 2014 Water Quality Assessment to EPA
View the 2014 Assessment:
Frequently Asked Questions on the Assessment
(click each question for more information)
Why do we do the Water Quality Assessment?
Why does Washington do a Water Quality Assessment and 303(d) List?
The Washington Water Quality Assessment is a program mandated by the Clean Water Act to meet sections 303(d) and 305(b) of the Act (also called the “Integrated Report”). The program assesses water quality data from sample locations and places the waterbody segment into one of five categories according to water quality status, ranging from “meets tested standards” to “polluted.” Category 5 is the list of polluted waters, also called the 303(d) list that is required by the Clean Water Act.
What happens if Washington does not do the 303(d) list?
The federal Clean Water Act requires that states produce an Integrated Report that includes a 303(d) list of polluted waters every two years. The current Assessment is overdue to EPA by over two years. If Washington does not produce a timely Assessment and 303(d) list, EPA has a mandate to produce one on behalf of the state. This would take away the state’s discretion on how waters are placed on the 303(d) list.
The delay in getting the Assessment out means the results already appear outdated. Many stakeholders have expressed frustration with the slow pace and have new data that they want reflected in this assessment. Further delays will exacerbate the frustration.
Why has this Assessment been delayed?
The Clean Water Act envisioned that states would provide Assessments every two years. Ecology is overdue on the 2012 Water Quality Assessment. The data to develop the assessment was collected up through 2010 and we only finished the analysis of that data in November 2014. Reasons why this assessment has taken longer include:
More data has been analyzed than ever before. We estimate that there is about 31% more listings from data than was in the 2012 Assessment.
Ecology is working on a project to automate the Assessment. As we looked to automate the technical assessment of the data, time was spent capturing the numerous steps and requirements that go into assessing various parameters. While this has taken more time out of actual assessment of the data, we hope that the payoff will come in future Assessments as we are able to automate parts that currently are time consuming and complicated.
A major change in this Assessment was the transition of our segmentation system to the National Hydrography dataset, or NHD. This new system required merging water segment listings from the old system into the new NHD system based on hydrologic features.
How does this Assessment relate to the Human Health Criteria rulemaking currently underway?
Data reviewed for developing the Water Quality Assessment are compared with the currently EPA-approved water quality standards. Washington is currently under the federal National Toxics Rule (NTR) for human health criteria, therefore the NTR criteria were used as a basis for determining exceedances of toxics chemicals.
When the state adopts new human health criteria, anticipated to happen in Summer 2015, the new state standards will be used as a basis for determining exceedances of toxic chemicals in the next Assessment cycle. The next Assessment cycle will begin as soon as EPA takes an approval action on the current draft Water Quality Assessment, expected to be submitted to EPA in June 2015.
If we wait and do not file the Assessment before the new state human health criteria are adopted and approved by EPA, EPA has indicated that we will likely have to redo the Assessment using the new human health criteria standards. This will unduly delay the Assessment.
How was the Draft Freshwater Assessment Developed?
What are the Assessment results based on?
This updated Water Quality Assessment is based on the most recent state water quality standards approved by EPA (Chapter 175-201A WAC, 2012 version, and Chapter 173-204 WAC, 1995 version). The Water Quality Program also has two chapters of Water Quality Policy 1-11 that describe how the Assessment is conducted and the use of credible data:
What data did Ecology use to conduct this Assessment?
Ecology conducted a public “call for data” to encourage submittals of fresh water data that was collected up through 2010. The deadline for data submittals was August 31, 2011. Ecology gathered and analyzed all fresh water quality monitoring data (e.g., streams, rivers, and lakes) that had been collected through December 2010 (end of the calendar year).
What will happen to any new data that was collected after December 2010 and submitted during this public review?
In order to be able to have timely Assessment submittals to EPA, a deadline for data submittals is established for each Assessment. The cutoff date for this Assessment was data collected through the end of December 2010. New data collected after the December 2010 cutoff date will not be used for this Assessment, but will be used when the next Assessment occurs. We expect to begin the next Water Quality Assessment as soon as EPA approves this Assessment submittal (expected in the Fall of 2015).
Exceptions to Ecology’s use of data submitted after the cutoff date include:
If a TMDL was approved by EPA after December 2010, all appropriate Category 5 listings will move to Category 4A, regardless of when data was collected.
If data that were used to make a listing decision is questionable and the entity wants to ensure that Ecology is using the correct data for that location, Ecology will consider the data on a case specific basis.
How can I review the Assessment Results?
The proposed Water Quality Assessment is presented as an internet-based search tool and a mapping application that allow the user to investigate surface water quality in an area of interest through a customized search that is based on features such as county, waterbody name, and pollutant. Each potential pollutant for a water body segment is assigned to one of five major water quality categories in accordance with: the amount of available data; whether the pollutant is a problem; and the status of clean-up efforts. The map tool also enables a user to compare the extent of waterbody segments in the previous Water Quality Assessment to the extent of segments in this proposed Assessment.
What are these latest Assessment results telling us?
What percent of Washington’s Waters have been monitored?
Water Quality has been assessed for one or more parameters in roughly 10-13% of Washington’s freshwaters.
In Washington State there are approximately 74,000 miles of rivers and streams, over 4,000 lakes, and almost 3,000 square miles of marine estuaries. As of 2015, water quality has been monitored for one or more parameters in 5,520 stream and river segments. The cumulative length of the segments in which one or more parameters has been assessed (approximately 9,273 miles) equates to about 13% of the total stream/river mileage in Washington State. Additionally, water quality has been monitored for one or more parameters in 435 individual lakes, which equates to about 10% of the lakes in the state.
Can you tell us how many miles of stream are polluted?
Approximately 3,170 stream and river segments (with a cumulative length of about 5,000 miles) have one or more pollutants not meeting water quality standards at some point along the segment. 1,364 of these segments (cumulative length of 3,720 miles) already have EPA-approved water quality restoration plans and/or programs in place (Category 4A/4B) to reduce one or more pollutants.
Additionally, there are 148 lakes in which one or more pollutants do not meet water quality standards; 14 of these lakes have EPA-approved water quality restoration plans/programs in place for one or more pollutants.
For the two large rivers in the state, the Snake and Columbia Rivers, 61 of the 133 segments have one or more pollutants that do not meet water quality standards at some point along the segment; 45 of these segments have EPA-approved water quality restoration plans and/or programs in place (Category 4A/4B) to reduce one or more pollutants.
How do the proposed listings compare with the 2012 Assessment?
Here are some statistics on the Assessment results for freshwaters:
# of Proposed Listings
% Change from 2012 Listings
What are the reasons for the increased number of the proposed listings compared with the 2012 Assessment?
The reasons for a change in the number of listings of a given Category from one Assessment to the next are the cumulative result of:
Updates to water quality standards or criteria
Assessment policy revisions
The effectiveness of pollution control programs.
Many new listings been added to the proposed Assessment and many have changed Categories since the 2012 Assessment. It is important to note that because the Assessment is not designed to measure trends, the percent change in listings from the 2012 Assessment does not provide information about whether water quality at the statewide scale is getting better or worse. Instead, the Assessment only identifies waterbody segments with data showing that water quality standards are or are not being met, or have insufficient data to determine either way.
How has an increase in data affected the change in categories?
A primary reason for the change in the number of listings in all Categories in the proposed Assessment is the large increase in the amount of available data (in terms of both the number of monitored parameters and number of samples of a given parameter):
Nearly 80% of the increase in Category 5 listings is accounted for by improved temperature, dissolved oxygen, and pH monitoring in stream and river segments that previously had insufficient data to assess.
The large increase in Category 1 listings is mostly the result of an increase in the number of fish tissue samples and number of toxic chemicals measured therein; in general, most of the chemicals investigated in any given fish tissue sample were below levels considered unsafe.
How has the change in segment systems affected the change in categories?
Another primary reason for the change in the number of listings is that the method by which freshwaters are divided into assessment units for the proposed Assessment has changed. For example, although the number of 4A/4B listings increased by only 9%, the number of miles with 4A/4B designation increased by 93% (approximately 1,923 miles in 2012 Assessment vs. 3,720 miles in the proposed Assessment). The primary reason is that in many cases, short stream segments with Category 4A/4B listings on the 2012 Assessment were merged together into longer stream segments for the proposed Assessment.
What are the number of 303(d) (Category 5) listings by pollutant?
Elevated temperatures, low dissolved oxygen, high fecal bacteria levels, and pH changes continue to be the leading causes of water quality impairment in Washington.
Proposed Freshwater Category 5 Listings
Total Proposed Category 5 Listings
% of Proposed Category 5 Listing
All Other Conventional Parameters (including Bioassessment, fine sediment, turbidity, etc)
Tissue. Toxics (HHC)
Toxics, Water (Aquatic Life)
Key notes on parameter listings:
Temperature accounts for the greatest number of proposed Category 5 Listings and also has had the greatest increase in the number of listings since the 2012 Assessment. There are two main reasons for this occurrence:
As mentioned previously, there has been a large increase in temperature monitoring data in the last several years, which was likely prompted by amplified efforts to protect the habitat of coldwater fishes such as salmon.
The analysis of temperature data for the proposed Assessment has used numeric temperature criteria that are more protective of aquatic life than the criteria used in previous Assessments.
Bioassessment listings increased significantly from the 2012 Assessment because Ecology partially funded (via EPA funding) the Puget Sound Stream Benthos project which is a statewide macroinvertebrate database where counties and other entities can store their macroinvertebrate data. These datasets were not previously submitted to Ecology but now that they have been entered into an Ecology funded database, we were able to access the data and assess it. Previous assessments only included data from Ecology and a few other counties.
How does the Assessment affect regulated dischargers to 303(d)-Listed waters?
How does the 303(d) list of polluted waters affect regulated dischargers?
The 303(d) list is a list of waters that have been sampled and shown not to meet water quality standards. Waters on the 303(d) list require a total maximum daily load (TMDL) or alternate water cleanup program to be completed on the water body. The TMDL identifies the sources of the pollution and determines how much to reduce pollution from the various sources (both permitted and nonpoint sources) to ensure that the water quality standard is met and the health of the waterway is restored. For point sources, the TMDL will define the waste load that will result in effluent limits for the permitee.
How is permitting done when a facility is discharging to water that is 303(d) listed?
The NPDES permit process that is used in Washington when a waterbody segment is 303(d) listed but a TMDL is not completed, contains the following three components:
Confirm water quality impairment at the point of discharge.
Impose interim effluent limits where the water quality at the point of discharge is not meeting standards to prevent an increase in pollutant loading (this will likely result in performance-based limits).
The facility is required to develop and implement a pollutant minimization plan.
How will new discharges to a 303(d) listed waterbody segment be affected?
Federal law is very clear regarding new discharges to a polluted water body: no new discharge can be authorized if it causes or contributes to the pollution problem of a specific pollutant. The options available for new discharges that are discharging the pollutant for which the waterbody is listed for are:
Seasonal discharge with wastewater reuse during the part of the year when the pollution occurs (this applies only to water bodies where the pollution problem is seasonal);
Effluent trading; and
High levels of treatment to meet the water quality standard in the facility’s discharge. Ecology will work with communities and companies that propose new discharges to identify options at the proposed discharge site.