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EPA ISSUES APPROVAL OF OREGON SALMON STANDARDS
Threatened by a lawsuit for failing to act to protect Oregon's endangered salmon, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Seattle issued a decision last Thursday approving Oregon's new water quality standards.
Oregon submitted the new standards to EPA in 1996 but the federal agency failed to approve or to disapprove them within the 90 days allowed by the Clean Water Act. The state had taken four years to develop the standards.
"EPA dragged its feet where it should have taken swift action to save Oregon's salmon," said Nina Bell, Executive Director of the Portland- based Northwest Environmental Advocates (NWEA). "These agencies don't get inspired to meet the law or protect the environment unless citizens sue."
The standards approved last week include temperature, dissolved oxygen, and pH, all of which are related to survival of threatened and endangered cold-water fish such as salmon and bull trout. Water quality standards are the goals for protecting waters that are clean and restoring waters that have unsafe levels of pollution.
"The irony of this decision is that EPA has approved temperature standards that its own scientists believe are too warm to protect Oregon's salmon and steelhead," said Bell. "This is obviously a political deal hatched in the Governor's office between EPA and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)," she added.
EPA's approval confirms that Oregon's temperature standard is 64º F (17.8º C) for salmon-bearing streams, 55º F (12.8º C) for salmon spawning, 68º F (20º C) for the Willamette and Columbia Rivers, and 50º F (10º C) for bull trout.
The temperature standard is the basis for 12,102 miles of streams being listed on the state's list of impaired waters, a list that contains 13,687 total stream miles. NWEA has a lawsuit pending against the EPA for its failure to implement water quality standards in Oregon for these identified streams. The suit is focused on the legal requirement that EPA or the state prepare clean-up plans, called Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs), for waters that violate state standards.
NMFS and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service issued Biological Opinions
on the effect of the standards as part of their responsibility under the
Endangered Species Act.
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