Carol Ryan Dumas/Capital Press
SUN VALLEY, Idaho — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will transfer a key water pollution elimination permit program to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality next month.
EPA approved the Idaho Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program that aims to address water pollution by regulating point sources that discharge into surface water from a single, identifiable conveyance. It will replace the EPA-operated National Pollution Discharge Elimination System.
“The agriculture industry feels it is going to be easier and quicker to deal with whatever rules and regulations are at hand,” said Steve Ritter of the Idaho Farm Bureau staff in Boise. “Agriculture prefers local control, not only on this issue, but others.”
The permitting program impacts agriculture broadly, from row crop fields and dairies to aquaculture, feedlots, food processors and canals that use aquatic herbicides. Under the Idaho permitting program, agriculture producers will be able to access specialists close to home and possibly receive permits sooner, he said.
Idaho dairies in the past held EPA’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, but none have had it since it became more complex about a decade ago, Idaho Dairymen’s Association CEO Bob Naerebout said.
“Our hope is that DEQ will be able to get a more workable permit, and that more will apply,” he said.
An operator who gets a permit and continues to comply with its requirements has legal protection in the event of an accidental discharge into waters of U.S., Naerebout said.
Permit authority transfers to Idaho July 1. The Idaho Permit Discharge Elimination System is slated to phase in with municipal permits and pre-treatment programs this year, industrial permits next year, general permits including concentrated animal feeding operations in 2020 and stormwater, federal facility and bio-solids permits in 2021.
DEQ standards must be as high as EPA’s.
Idaho DEQ is hoping its program will be more responsive, streamlined and coordinated and easier to understand, Mary Anne Nelson, IPDES program manager, said June 11 during the Idaho Water Users Association water law conference in Sun Valley.
“As we move forward with this program, we are focused on regional compliance assistance,” she said.
EPA will continue to have oversight, but DEQ’s responsibilities will include issuing individual and general permits, compliance monitoring, reporting, inspections and enforcement.
“We do have this enforcement arm, we will enforce it. But we’re more focused on compliance assistance,” she said.
DEQ is close to fully staffing 29 new full-time positions, she said.
The state agency worked closely with stakeholders to develop a program that is protective, responsive and fits Idaho’s needs, DEQ said in a release. Convenient access to permitting officials who can streamline processes by tapping local knowledge and experience are among the expected benefits, the state agency said. DEQ also plans to debut an electronic application.
The Idaho Legislature in 2014 directed the state agency to request that EPA authorize an Idaho-operated permitting program. Idaho DEQ conducted negotiated rule-making. In 2016, the state Legislature approved the rules and DEQ applied to EPA for program approval.
The change means all Northwest states will administer their own Pollutant Discharge Elimination System programs. Idaho’s full program is expected to operate on an annual budget of about $3 million, the state agency said.
Capital Press reporter Carol Ryan Dumas contributed to this story.