EPA Proposes Water Quality Standards for Indian Reservations

May 31, 2023 | Insights

On May 5, 2023, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a Proposed Rule to establish baseline federal water quality standards for Indian reservation waters that currently do not have standards in effect under the Clean Water Act (CWA). EPA says this rule will apply to over 250 tribes. Public Hearings will be held on June 27, 2023, at 2 p.m. ET and July 12, 2023, at 2 p.m. ET. Comments are due August 3, 2023.

EPA will not apply the standards on Indian reservations where:

  • EPA has approved a tribe’s water quality standards,
  • EPA has expressly approved a state’s water quality standards for such waters, or EPA has promulgated other federal water quality standards, and
  • A tribe requests and receives an exclusion. 

EPA has approved water quality standards for about 47 Indian reservations.

Through these standards, EPA says that the core of the CWA’s framework to protect water quality would be in place until the tribe adopts water quality standards. EPA states that the proposed baseline water quality standards would:

  • provide a common set of designated uses (e.g., fishing and swimming),
  • establish pollution limits to advance progress toward clean and safe water, and 
  • include antidegradation policies to protect tribal waters from becoming more polluted.

EPA also says that the Proposed Rule includes built-in flexibility to enable EPA to work with tribes and other stakeholders to tailor the water quality standards where needed to best protect local communities. The Federal Register notice may be found here. A Fact Sheet on the Proposed Rule may be found here.

Patterson Earnhart Real Bird & Wilson LLP is dedicated to the representation of American Indian tribes, tribal entities, and individual Indians across the United States. Our mission is to support and advance the sovereignty, self-sufficiency, and self-governance of our tribal clients. To learn more about how we can assist your tribe, contact our Colorado office at (303) 926-5292.