State seeks response on water

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

   The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) is seeking public comment on proposed revisions to water quality standards for surface waters such as streams, rivers, lakes and wetlands statewide.
   A series of 13 public hearings have been scheduled across the state during the next two months to provide the public an opportunity to comment in person. Locally, hearings are set April 1 in Elizabethton and Kingsport. The meeting in Elizabethton will be held at 7 p.m. in the Conference Room at Sycamore Shoals State Park. In Kingsport, the meeting is set for 2 p.m. at Warriors Path State Park.
   Water quality standards classify surface waters for one or more of seven designated uses: domestic water supply, industrial water supply, fish and aquatic life, recreation, irrigation, livestock watering and wildlife, and navigation. Criteria must be established that will protect water quality for each use.
   "Our clean water goals are the tools we use to protect and improve Tennessee's water resource. We need citizen input on how best to set and achieve these goals to ensure that Tennessee's streams, rivers, lakes and wetlands are protected and available for all citizens," said Betsy Child, TDEC Commissioner.
   The water quality revisions include a recommendation to establish regional goals for certain pollutants, according to Paul Davis, director of the Division of Water Pollution Control.
   "Many of the goals used in Tennessee historically have been statewide," Davis said. "This 'one-size-fits-all' approach did not take into account Tennessee's tremendous natural and regional diversity. The new goals recognize natural variability and conditions to better establish strategies for protection and recovery."
   Greg Denton of the Division of Water Pollution Control in Nashville said Thursday that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has revised its national criteria for some toxic materials, and TDEC has proposed adopting the EPA criteria for those materials with revised criteria.
   "It's particularly things like toxic metals for protection of fish and aquatic life," Denton said. For fish and aquatic life, the toxic criteria is either acute or chronic.
   "Acute criteria would be the level of a toxic material that would kill aquatic life in a fairly short amount of time. That's called acute toxicity," he said.
   Chronic toxicity can be lethal over a period of time. "It doesn't necessarily kill the aquatic life in a stream, but it alters their behavior or alters their reproduction and can have a more long-term effect," Denton said.
   Revisions also have been made for some organic substances which could affect recreational uses.
   There are multiple reasons why the state is revising water quality criteria. Denton said that by statute, the state is required to review and revise its water quality criteria every three years. Also, the criteria are designed to be changed over time as science advances.
   "We can incorporate the latest science into our criteria, so that's the legal basis for doing this. The practical basis, I would say, is it gives us a chance on a regular basis to improve our water quality criteria and also on a regular basis gives people an opportunity to participate in that process," he said.
   About 10 years ago, division staff began a study of water quality in the highest quality streams in various regions of the state and published a series of reports about these findings. The current proposal is based on those conclusions.
   Denton said that while the proposed standards aren't necessarily more stringent than EPA guidelines, his office has researched and proposed a set of regional clean water goals for some of the substances for which the EPA has not created national criteria.
   "Nutrients is an example of that. (The) EPA is in the process of developing some national criteria for nutrients, but we're ahead of that curve. We were doing research on this before EPA was, and so we are publishing -- ahead of EPA making us do it -- a set of nutrient criteria simply because we think it's the best way for us to establish goals that will help make our water cleaner," he said. "People might characterize that as being more stringent simply because we're not waiting until the absolute last minute and having (the) EPA make us do this."
   Tennessee also publishes a 303(d) list of streams which violate water quality standards. Once the revised standards are approved, the state will use the new water quality criteria to evaluate whether a stream meets its designated uses.
   "The 303(d) is designed to be revisited, and one of the reasons streams can either go on the list or come off the list is on the basis of revisions to water quality standards," Denton said.
   Following the public hearing process and any changes made by TDEC as a result of the public hearings, the revised standards must be approved by the EPA.
   The proposed revisions can be reviewed at TDEC's Web site: The public may comment by attending one of the public meetings or by providing written comments to: Division of Water Pollution Control, Planning and Standards Section, 6th Floor, L&C Annex, 401 Church St., Nashville, TN 37243-1534. Comments also may be sent by facsimile transmission to (615) 532-0046, or by e-mail to: