Water Quality

On Oct. 17, 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved revisions to Oregon’s water quality standards designed to reduce or prevent toxic pollutants in Oregon waterways. These standards establish goals for Oregon’s surface waters, including protecting sources of drinking water and helping ensure that fish from Oregon’s waters are safe to eat. EPA’s approval makes the revised state standards, including new NPDES permitting implementation policies, effective for state and federal Clean Water Act programs.

In conjunction with revisions to the human health standards, DEQ revised certain water quality rules to clarify procedures and create new permitting tools (i.e. intake credits, a site-specific background pollutant criterion, and a revised variance rule) for implementing the standards. For more information about these revisions, please see the fact sheet and internal management directives below. The revisions also addressed DEQ’s coordination with the state Departments of Agriculture and Forestry in carrying out the agencies’ roles related to nonpoint sources of pollution. Visit the Nonpoint Source Program website to access the final Memorandum of Agreement with the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

Final Internal Management Directives

DEQ developed several internal management directives to address additional details regarding the implementation of several of the proposed rule components. DEQ routinely developes these types of documents to provide its staff regarding how the rules should be implemented in its programs. These documents can also provide information that is helpful to interested parties about how the rules will be implemented, including how DEQ intends to make decisions and the data and information DEQ will use in the rules' implementation.
The following IMDs related to the human health toxics rulemaking may be found on the Publications webpage.
  • Arsenic Reduction Policy in Surface Water Drinking Water Source Areas - May 7, 2013
  • Implementation of Methylmercury Criterion in NPDES Permits - Dec. 8, 2013
  • Reasonable Potential Analysis for Toxics Pollutants, Revision 3.1 (includes Intake Credit Rule) - Feb. 13, 2012
  • Site-Specific Background Pollutant Criterion - June 1, 2012
  • Variances for NPDES Permit Holders - Feb. 6, 2012
Please see the following links for information about this rulemaking.
​DEQ revised the state’s water quality standards regulation to address the human health criteria for toxic pollutants. DEQ’s previous human health toxics criteria were based on a fish consumption rate that did not provide adequate protection for the amount of fish and shellfish consumed by Oregonians. DEQ also finalized new and revised water quality standards rules addressing the implementation of water quality standards through various water quality control programs, including National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits and nonpoint source pollution programs.

DEQ’s objective for this rulemaking was to adopt water quality standards for Oregon that protect people from adverse health effects as a result of consuming fish and water from Oregon streams and lakes and to allow DEQ and other agencies to implement the water quality standards in a cost effective manner while achieving meaningful environmental results.

DEQ received approximately 1,075 public comments during the three-month comment period (held December 21, 2010 through March 21, 2011). DEQ revised the proposed rules based on public comment. The Environmental Quality Commission adopted the final rules on June 16, 2011 and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved these rules on Oct. 17, 2011.

Rulemaking Documents

Background Documents

DEQ staff developed the following documents to support this rulemaking. They are intended to help the public understand the various policy and technical issues raised, alternatives discussed, and the DEQ recommendations resulting from discussions with the rulemaking workgroups. 

Rulemaking Issue Papers

EPA Variance Compendium

An EPA contractor developed a variance compendium using information obtained from informal interviews with EPA regions. This compendium contains information related to variances for water quality standards. Information was collected from the internet and short interviews conducted with nine of the ten EPA regional WQS coordinators. Note that this compendium does not represent new information, but rather compiles existing information. The compendium is divided into frequently asked questions, references, case studies and appendices.

Other Supplemental Documents

The Environmental Quality Commission is a five-member citizen panel appointed by the governor for four-year terms to serve as DEQ’s policy and rulemaking board and meets approximately every two months. In addition to adopting rules, the EQC also establishes policies, issues orders, judges appeals of fines or other department actions, and appoints the DEQ director.  As part of this rulemaking, DEQ provided regular updates to the commission related to DEQ’s progress in developing human health criteria for toxics and implementation actions.

On June 16, 2011, the EQC approved new water quality standards designed to reduce or prevent toxic pollutants in Oregon waterways and add health protections for people using state rivers and streams for fishing, drinking water and other purposes. These water quality standards are now effective following EPA’s approval on Oct. 17, 2011.

EQC Direction to DEQ in 2008

Prior to the EQC approval of the new water quality standards for human health, the EQC had unanimously directed DEQ on Oct. 23, 2008 to pursue rule revisions to set new human health water quality standards for toxic pollutants in Oregon based on a higher fish consumption rate of 175 grams/day. The effective human health toxics criteria at that time were based on a fish consumption rate of 17.5 grams/day. As part of this rulemaking, DEQ also reviewed the criteria for three naturally occurring earth metals: arsenic, iron and manganese.

Specifically, the EQC directed DEQ to:

  1. Revise Oregon’s toxics criteria for human health based on a fish consumption rate of 175 grams per person per day;
  2. Propose rule language that will allow DEQ to implement the standards in National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits and other Clean Water Act programs in an environmentally meaningful and cost-effective manner;
  3. Propose rule language or develop other implementation strategies to reduce the adverse impacts of toxic substances in Oregon’s waters that are the result of non-point source (not via a pipe) discharges or other sources not subject to section 402 of the Clean Water Act;
  4. Develop a proposed rule and implementation methods that carefully consider the costs and benefits of the fish consumption rate and the data and scientific analysis already compiled or that is developed as part of the rulemaking proceeding.