Water Pollution:

EPA Needs to Set Priorities for Water Quality Criteria Issues

RCED-94-117: Published: Jun 17, 1994. Publicly Released: Jul 20, 1994.

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GAO reviewed the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) regulation of toxic water pollution, focusing on EPA: (1) progress in issuing water quality criteria; and (2) efforts to broaden the scope of its criteria development.

GAO found that: (1) EPA has issued water quality criteria for most of its priority pollutants and it plans to develop other criteria for protecting water ecosystems; (2) most of the water quality criteria are based on scientific studies and other technical documents that are more than 13 years old; (3) EPA does not plan to develop criteria for all of the priority pollutants, since it has issued human health criteria for the most serious pollutants; (4) EPA plans to develop ambient water quality criteria for some nonpriority pollutants, but states and other interested parties believe more criteria are needed to protect human health and the environment; (5) EPA needs to set priorities in developing habitat and wildlife criteria, since limited resources and competing priorities will restrict its efforts; (6) EPA has not developed specific criteria development priorities or established a timetable for completing criteria development; (7) states, the regulated community, and other interested parties fault EPA for not including them more in the priority-setting process; and (8) EPA development of an implementation plan for water quality criteria would guide EPA efforts and inform interested parties of the dimensions of the EPA task and the reasons for EPA criteria development decisions.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In June 1998, EPA's Office of Water released an interim final report, "Water Quality Criteria and Standards Plan--Priorities for the Future." The report identifies criteria development priorities, the bases for the priorities, key implementation tasks, and an implementation timetable. The public comment period closed at the end of August 1998 and the report will be published in final in late 1998.

    Recommendation: To ensure that EPA is focusing its limited resources on the most important elements of water quality criteria development, the Administrator, EPA, should prepare an implementation plan for criteria development issues that identifies EPA top priorities and the bases for them and establishes a timetable for addressing these activities.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Office of Water regularly solicited input from affected parties when developing its plan for water quality criteria development and solicits comment when regulatory actions are being considered.

    Recommendation: To ensure that EPA is focusing its limited resources on the most important elements of water quality criteria development, the Administrator, EPA, should regularly solicit input from affected parties when the implementation plan is being developed and when specific regulatory actions are being considered.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

 

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