EPA Finalizes Limits on Toxics in California Waterways

EPA's California Toxics Rule will reinstate water quality criteria for toxic pollutants in the state's rivers, streams, lakes, enclosed bays and estuaries.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Friday finalized a regulation, known as the California Toxics Rule, to reinstate water quality criteria for toxic pollutants in the state''s rivers, streams, lakes, enclosed bays and estuaries.

Specific, numerical criteria are the basis for limits on toxic pollutants specified in hundreds of discharge permits issued by California''s regional water quality control boards.

With these specific criteria in place, the regional boards can more easily issue permits with strict limits on toxic pollutants discharged by industries and municipalities, as well as polluted runoff.

The reinstated criteria will enable the regional boards to process a backlog of permit renewals and continue to issue new permits.

"This rule is good news for California''s waterways," said Felicia Marcus, EPA''s regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest. "Like most other states, many of California''s inland waterways are polluted by toxic substances and controlling them is crucial to protecting public health and the aquatic environment.

Marcus also noted that, "For the past several years, California has been the only state in the nation without water quality criteria for some of the most dangerous toxics. This measure will fill the gap until the state completes its own rulemaking."

The rule restores specific numerical criteria designed to protect human health and aquatic like from 64 priority toxic pollutants, including mercury, dioxin, selenium, PCBs and dissolved metals.

The rule will remain in place until the state adopts new water quality control plans that contain state water quality objectives for these pollutants.

The state adopted a set of plans in 1991, but a 1994 state court decision invalidated them.

The California Toxics Rule is part of a long-established water quality program under the federal Clean Water Act.

Under this law, the states and EPA issue permits to dischargers. These site-specific permits include limits on pollutants that must take into account receiving waterways listed as polluted by the state and EPA, and which pollutants are causing the problem.

California currently has 509 listed waterways, including streams, lakes, bays and portions of rivers.

the final preamble of the rule will be published in the Federal Register in the next two weeks. Meanwhile, a fact sheet on the rule has been posted on EPA''s regional Web site at www.epa.gov/region09/ water/ctr.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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