EPA Approves Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians' Water Quality Standards Program

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in western North Carolina has been granted the authority by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to administer the Water Quality Standards program under the Clean Water Act. With this approval, the tribe is authorized to administer water quality certifications conducted under CWA Section 401. The tribe is the third tribe in Region 4 and 49th in the nation to obtain authority to administer the Water Quality Standards program.

“EPA’s approval reflects the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ effort to build expertise and capacity to protect and restore water quality,” says EPA Regional Administrator Heather McTeer Toney. “Going forward, the tribe will be able to set rules to protect waters within their jurisdiction, which in turn will protect public health, aquatic life and wildlife on the reservation.”

The Clean Water Act’s goals include restoring and protecting the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the nation’s waters. Water quality standards established under the CWA set the tribe’s expectations for reservation water quality, serve as a foundation for pollution control efforts and are a fundamental component of watershed management. Specifically, these standards serve as water quality goals for individual surface waters, guide and inform monitoring and assessment activities, and provide a legal basis for permitting and regulatory pollution controls.

EPA’s approval of the tribe’s Water Quality Standards program application is not an approval or disapproval of the tribe’s standards. EPA review and approval or disapproval of tribe’s water quality standards is a separate agency action.

The tribe is currently revising its tribal water quality standards to include designated uses, narrative and numeric criteria to protect those uses, and an antidegradation policy — all consistent with EPA’s Water Quality Standards Regulation at 40 C.F.R. Part 131. It is anticipated the tribe will request EPA review of its water quality standards in the near future.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, based in Cherokee, North Carolina, includes 56,572 acres and has a population on reservation lands of about 8,092, and about 14,878 enrolled members. The reservation lands have about 200 miles of streams with about 100 square miles of wetlands, and are known for the trout fishery, species diversity, clear mountain streams and scenic views.

The Seminole Indian Tribe and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida are currently the only other tribes in the Southeast with standards in effect under the Clean Water Act.


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