Public Hearing - Triennial Review of Water Quality Standards

The Environmental Management Commission (EMC) will conduct public hearings to consider proposed permanent amendments to various rules that establish the surface water quality standards for North Carolina. These proposed amendments comprise the State’s Triennial Review of Surface Water Quality Standards, which is mandated by the federal Water Pollution Control Act (Clean Water Act or CWA).

It is important that all interested and potentially affected persons or parties make their views known to the EMC whether in favor of, or opposed to, any and all of the proposed amendments and current regulations. As the state and US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) have a strong interest in assuring that the decisions are legally defensible, are based on the best scientific information available, and are subject to full and meaningful public comment and participation, clear records are critical to the administrative review by the EMC and the US EPA.

The public hearing will be recorded. It will consist of a presentation by DWR staff, followed by an open comment period. The EMC appointed hearing officer may limit the length of time that you may speak, if necessary, so that all those who wish to speak will have an opportunity. You may attend the public hearing to make verbal comments and/or submit written comments. You may present conceptual ideas, technical justifications, or specific language you believe is necessary and relevant to 15A NCAC 02B surface water quality classifications and standards regulations. No items will be voted on and no decisions will be made at this hearing.

All written comments, data or relevant information received by 5:00 PM, Friday, August 22, 2014 will be considered and included in this Triennial Review hearing record. Please submit to: Connie Brower

DENR/Division of Water Resources/Water Planning Section

1611 Mail Service Center

Raleigh, NC[masked]

By fax: (919)[masked]

Or e-mail to:


What is in the triennial review proposal?

• Toxic heavy metals. North Carolina is the only state in the southeast that has not adopted toxic metals criteria recommended by EPA two decades ago. The current proposal would upgrade our water quality standards for metals – cadmium, chromium III, copper, lead, nickel, silver, and zinc - to match EPA’s national recommendations and protect wildlife and human health. The proposed upgrade is a step in the right direction, but could do better. The toxicity of metals depends on the ‘hardness’ of water. In the mountains particularly, water hardness can be low, making metals more toxic, but the proposal does not address these conditions. We recommend: the state should tighten the metals standards as proposed, but should also tighten them further than proposed in vulnerable mountain streams with an especially low hardness.

• Biological trump. While the state has proposed to tighten and improve the standards for toxic metals, it has also proposed to let polluting industries routinely violate the standards as long as stream life appears to survive. This violates the Clean Water Act, as it only identifies damage after pollution has gone too far. We recommend: the state must abandon the ‘biological trump.’ Polluters should be held accountable when they violate water quality standards.

• 2,4-D (chlorophenoxy herbicide). This herbicide is already widely applied, and genetic engineering of crops is predicted to significantly expand its use. When consumed by humans, 2,4-D can damage the liver, kidney, and adrenal glands. We recommend: the state has proposed to tighten its standard for 2,4-D in waters used as sources for drinking water and food-processing purposes; that change should be adopted into the final set of water quality standards.

What is missing from the triennial review proposal?

• Fracking chemicals. As a result of recent legislation, the state is on track to begin issuing permits for extraction of natural gas via fracking in 2015. The fracking process generates massive volumes of contaminated wastewater. North Carolina lacks water quality standards for hundreds of contaminants that can be in fracking wastewater; without such standards, the state has no effective way to limit pollutants in fracking wastewater discharged to rivers, lakes, and streams. The proper vehicle for adopting such standards is the triennial review, but the state has not proposed any standards for fracking contaminants. We recommend: the Environmental Management Commission should prohibit discharges of fracking contaminants for which safe levels have not yet been scientifically determined.

• Nutrients. Excess nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous) cause algal blooms (thick green muck that fouls clear water) and fish kills. EPA recently approved a multi-year state plan to study whether to adopt limits on nitrogen and phosphorus, but this process will not yield a limit for most of the state’s water bodies for more than a decade, if at all. We recommend: North Carolina needs to address nutrient pollution, now, at the source, by adopting statewide nitrogen and phosphorus limits, if not in this triennial review then in the next.

• Ammonia. Released by wastewater treatment plants and other polluters, ammonia is sharply toxic to aquatic life, especially mussels. North Carolina has no water quality standard for ammonia, and the current package does not propose one. We recommend: the state should adopt EPA’s nationally recommended standards for ammonia – formulas that take account of local temperature and water acidity (pH) – to protect life in North Carolina’s streams and rivers.

• Mercury. Especially in the form of methylmercury, mercury is highly toxic to humans, interfering with fetal, infant, and childhood development, and placing adults at risk, too. However, North Carolina does not directly regulate methylmercury, although that is the form in which mercury accumulates in fish and most directly threatens wildlife and people who eat the fish. We recommend: North Carolina should adopt a methylmercury limit that meets or exceeds the national recommendation of 0.3 mg/kg of fish tissue to protect human health, while retaining its standard for inorganic mercury.

• Flow. If withdrawals leave too little water in a river or lake, that waterbody will not sustain healthy fish and wildlife. Worse, pollution discharged into a depleted river remains more concentrated, increasing the risks to people who use it downstream. Currently, North Carolina lacks explicit protections for flow in its water quality standards, and the state uses a weak method to set permit limits. We recommend: North Carolina should add adopt strong protections for water flow.

• Variances. When the state reviews its water quality standards, it must also review variances –permissions given to specific facilities to violate the standards. These include two chloride variances for pickle companies, Mt. Olive Pickle Company in Wayne County and Bay Valley Foods in Duplin County; a color variance for Evergreen Paper Products in Haywood County; and thermal variances for the cooling systems at a long list of electric power generating plants. We recommend: DENR should insist on all possible progress being made toward meeting water quality standards as a condition to granting continued variances for these permits.

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  • Clay

    Hi all, I won't make the in-person hearing on July 15, but I will submit comments electronically....public comments accepted thru August 22.

    July 13

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