U.S. Water News Online
BOISE, Idaho -- The Idaho Conservation League has sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in federal court for failing to ensure the state's waterways meet minimum water quality standards.
"We want to make sure that Idaho's lakes and rivers remain clean enough for drinking, fishing, swimming, and recreation," said Mike Medberry, league water-quality specialist.
According to the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, the government has taken no decisive action to protect the water. "Dozens of Idaho rivers and lakes face serious pollution risks because environmental laws are being weakened and development pressures are on the rise," Medberry said.
Although the EPA identified problems in Idaho's water standards and communicated them to the state Division of Environmental Quality, neither agency has done anything to correct them, the league said.
"EPA has not met its legal obligation to review state water-quality standards every three years," said Land and Water Fund attorney Laird Lucas, who represents the league. "In fact, EPA hasn't done a comprehensive review since passage of the Clean Water Act 24 years ago. It's a shame a citizen's group has to step in to get EPA and the state to do their jobs."
As a result of this neglect, bull trout and cut-throat trout in dozens of rivers are faced with extinction, white sturgeon are threatened in the Kootenai River, and anadromous spawning habitat is degraded, Medberry said.
This is the second lawsuit the Idaho Conservation League has filed against the EPA, Medberry explained. The league also filed against EPA last year for failure to schedule cleanup for the 962 streams in Idaho identified as polluted.
Judge Dwyer gave EPA one year to submit a cleanup schedule, said Medberry, but the cleanup plan EPA recently submitted was "not satisfactory" to the league, he said, because the plan proposed cleanup of only 41 out of almost 1000 streams that were in violation of the Clean Water Act.
"That means more than 900 polluted streams are not yet scheduled for cleanup," Dwyer said, adding that the state is under pressure from the timber, mining, and agricultural industries to delay or weaken compliance with the Clean Water Act. And EPA has been reluctant to apply any pressure to the state, he added.
The most recent lawsuit against EPA, Dwyer noted, is necessary to bring state water quality standards into compliance with federal water standards mandated by the Clean Water Act. "We have to figure out where we are," said Medberry. "How can you identify problems if you don't have standards? Once you have the standards, you can begin to deal with pollution problems systematically."
Adrian Allen, lead attorney for the EPA in the case, declined comment, explaining that both cases are still pending. "It's against comment on a case while it's in litigation," Allen said.
Return to the U.S. Water News Archives page
Return to the U.S. Water News Homepage