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EPA approves the Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s water quality standards

Approval is the culmination of a 20-year effort
The Environmental Protection Agency has approved the Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s water quality standards under the federal Clean Water Act. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 8 announced its approval of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s water quality standards under the federal Clean Water Act.

The milestone approval culminates a 20-year effort by the tribe’s Environmental Programs Division. With the EPA’s action, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe becomes only the 47th federally recognized tribe, out of 574 nationally, to have tribal water quality standards approved by the EPA under the Clean Water Act.

The approval allows the tribe to protect the water quality of the lakes and rivers it uses for swimming, boating and fishing. The Southern Ute Indian Reservation includes lands within La Plata, Archuleta and Montezuma counties.

“EPA’s approval of the tribe’s water quality standards is the culmination of years of work by the tribe and its staff,” Melvin J. Baker, the tribe’s chairman, said in a statement from the EPA. “The tribal approval process included consulting with EPA and the State of Colorado and an outreach and engagement process with tribal members and stakeholders..”

The tribe provides drinking water and wastewater treatment for the nearby town of Ignacio, as well.

“We’re excited the Southern Ute Indian Tribe has achieved approval from the EPA on their water quality standards,” said Mark Garcia, the town’s interim manager.

Water quality standards are state, territorial, tribal or federal laws that determine the water quality goals for rivers, streams, lakes and wetlands. Water quality standards serve as the basis for several Clean Water Act programs, including issuing permits for discharges and assessing water quality.

The tribe’s water quality program monitors 23 aquatic sites across the Southern Ute Reservation, according to the tribal website. These sites include rivers, streams, wells, seeps, springs, lakes and ponds.

At each of the monitoring locations, chemical, physical and biological data are collected for three-year periods on a rotating schedule. General water quality monitoring occurs year-round using sonde probe technology and water sampling in all weather conditions. These water probes monitor dissolved oxygen, conductivity, temperature, turbidity and pH at 30 30-minute intervals for up to nine months during the year.

All data collected are uploaded into the EPA database, Water Quality Exchange Portal, which is available at www.waterqualitydata.us.

“EPA congratulates the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, the Tribal Council and Environmental Programs Division for their determination in building programs and expertise to protect valuable Tribal water resources,” said EPA Regional Administrator KC Becker. “We look forward to working together with the tribe as a partner in ensuring clean rivers, streams, lakes and wetlands for tribal members.”

The tribe’s water quality standards apply to many waters within the Southern Ute Indian Reservation, including portions of the La Plata, Animas, Florida, Los Pinos, Piedra, San Juan and Navajo rivers and portions of the Navajo Reservoir. With the approval of the standards, combined with the previous and separate EPA approval of Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe’s water quality standards, all federally recognized American Indian tribes with reservation lands in Colorado now have EPA-approved water quality standards.

In developing its water quality standards, the tribe collaborated with the state of Colorado and surrounding county and municipal governments, as well as other interested parties, to gather input about their proposed water quality standards. The tribe held a water quality standards public comment period from Aug. 23 to Oct. 22, including a public hearing on Oct. 7.

Based on comments received through the public participation process, the tribe revised its water quality standards, adopted the revised water quality standards on Feb. 8 and submitted them to the EPA on Feb. 15. The federal agency approved the tribe’s water quality standards after determining they are consistent with the requirements of the Clean Water Act and EPA’s Water Quality Standards Regulation.

The tribe’s water quality standards and supporting documents will be available on the SUIT Environmental Programs Division website, www.southernute-nsn.gov/justice-and-regulatory/epd.

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