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DEQ changes, clarifies water quality rules 

By Marit Gookin 
The Ranger
Via- Wyoming News Exchange

RIVERTON — What do “primary contact” and “secondary contact” mean, anyway? It’s a question that’s baffled many Wyomingites as they’ve puzzled over a sign or flier or website warning them that there may be a problem with their local lake or river. 

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality has heard from the public that terms like these are confusing; among a raft of other changes proposed for Chapters 1 and 2 of the DEQ’s Water Quality Rules, it plans to redefine these as “full body contact” and “limited body contact” respectively. 

Every three years, the DEQ must review its rules and regulations to make sure they’re in line with the surface water quality standards set out in the Clean Water Act. 

In recent years, the Wyoming attorney general’s office has also been emphasizing what DEQ Surface Water Quality Standards Coordinator Lindsay Patterson described as “rules clean-up” – that is, streamlining and reorganizing rules to remove redundancies and/or points of confusion. 

In 2018, the DEQ sought public feedback on which of its rules were in need of revising. 

Based on that input and other information it gathered, it decided to take a hard look at Chapter 1 of its Water Quality Rules. Chapter 2 is also undergoing more minor revisions, largely to reflect language changes made to Chapter 1. 

These changes are now in a public comment period leading up to an upcoming meeting of the Water and Waste Advisory Board in Casper this June. 

“It should make it easier for folks to follow the rules,” Patterson explained during a recent webinar regarding the changes. “All that input has been influential in the material we put out for public review.” 

One of the biggest changes coming to Chapter 1 is how the DEQ describes bodies of water. Currently, the Wyoming DEQ uses a classification system, with each classification corresponding to a set of designated uses.

The new system would do away with these classifications, instead simply listing the designated uses of each body of water on relevant permits and documents. 

Although the new system will use a one to four letter code to identify each designated use, the code should be relatively intuitive for those familiar with the designated use options – DW stands for drinking water, for example, and LV stands for livestock. 

There are also refinements being made to the designated use categories, combining some and breaking up others. 

Agricultural use will be broken up into irrigation and livestock, while the various aquatic life categories will be combined into a single category with five subcategories (cold water, warm water, limited, modified and effluent-dependent). 

Still other designations remain essentially the same but will be renamed in the interest of greater clarity, as with the primary and secondary contact subcategories under the recreational use designation. 

The DEQ doesn’t anticipate any changes to current permits as a result of these changes, Patterson clarified; rather, permits will be updated to reflect the changes as they’re applied for and/or renewed. 

Change is also in store for water quality criteria, again largely focused on increasing clarity and aligning with federal standards. 

Wyoming’s antidegradation criteria, for instance, actually currently has stricter requirements for high-quality reviews than is required by federal regulations. The DEQ plans to readjust its requirements to be more in line with those of federal agencies. 

The majority of the water quality criteria changes proposed similarly have to do with relaxing Wyoming’s guidelines where they are stricter than federal ones, or adjusting things such as the timeframes used to measure certain criteria. 

This process has been a lengthy one. 

After the initial scoping in 2018, the DEQ worked with the University of Wyoming’s Ruckelshaus Institute to put together a stakeholder group to provide even more feedback. It sent an early draft of its proposed changes to the Wyoming attorney general’s office, shared drafts with its own internal divisions for their feedback, and by 2023 had a draft it was prepared to send to the Environmental Protection Agency for its input. 

Making revisions throughout each phase, it then had a draft it could send to the attorney general’s office for a second review. 

Only then did it have a version it was prepared to put out for public comment and present to the Water and Waste Advisory Board at its upcoming June 13 meeting. 

Although it’s already put five or six years worth of work into developing its current draft, the process of changing these rules is still in a relatively early phase, Patterson explained. 

After the changes are presented to the advisory board, it will propose further revisions to the DEQ’s director. 

Then another public comment period will open, and the director will present an updated version to the Wyoming Environmental Quality Council. 

After further revisions and more public comment, if the Environmental Quality Council decides to adopt the changes it will then be sent to the legislature. Even though there’s still quite a ways to go before these changes would be finalized and adopted, Patterson advised that for anyone who wants to weigh in on the process, now is a good time to do so. 

“We would certainly encourage people to provide as much feedback as you can early on in the rule-making process,” she said, because it is easier to make changes the earlier in the process it is. 

It’s helpful for the DEQ if public comment is specific about which rule or section someone would propose changing, what the issue with the current wording or rule is and what they would suggest replacing it with. 

Since Chapter 1 is being reorganized as part of this process, the DEQ does not have a version of the old Chapter 1 of the Water Quality Rules with the altered sections struck through and the proposed changes underlined. 

Instead, a clean version of Chapter 1 can be viewed on the Water and Waste Advisory Board’s page on the DEQ website. 

A struck-through and underlined version of Chapter 2, as well as other information and supporting documents relevant to the proposed changes, can also be found at under the “Upcoming Meetings” tab.\\


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