Protecting Public Health and the Environment.
Water quality standards are the benchmarks DEQ uses to know if it is doing its job to protect Idaho's surface water—streams, rivers, lakes, and reservoirs. Idaho adopts water quality standards (see IDAPA 58.01.02) to protect public health and welfare, enhance the quality of water, and serve the purposes of the Clean Water Act, which states that water quality standards should:
The Idaho water quality standards program is a joint effort between DEQ and EPA. DEQ is responsible for developing and enforcing water quality standards that protect beneficial uses such as drinking water, cold water fisheries, industrial water supply, recreation, and agricultural water supply. EPA develops regulations, policies, and guidance to help Idaho implement the program and to ensure that Idaho's adopted standards are consistent with the requirements of the Clean Water Act and relevant regulations. EPA has authority to review and approve or disapprove state standards and, where necessary, to promulgate federal water quality rules (such as the Idaho Bull Trout Rule).
A water quality standard defines the designated beneficial uses of a water segment and the water quality criteria necessary to support those uses. Water quality standards are important because they help to protect and restore the quality of the Idaho's surface waters. Associated criteria may be numeric (i.e., not to exceed some concentration) or narrative. Narrative criteria are sometimes referred to as "free from" criteria, as they often state that the water body must be "free from" something (e.g., free from nuisance aquatic growths).
A water quality standard consists of three basic elements (The "ABCs of water quality"):
The state also has the prerogative to create general policies that address implementation issues such as low flows, variances, and mixing zones.
Natural background conditions exist when there is no measurable difference between the quality of water now and the quality of water that would exist if there were no human-caused changes in the watershed. Idaho is among the states that allows water quality to exceed numeric criteria due to natural background conditions of the water body. Learn more.
A mixing zone is a defined area or volume of a receiving water surrounding by or adjacent to a wastewater discharge where the receiving water, as a result of the discharge, may not meet all applicable water quality criteria standards. The use of mixing zones is allowed in Idaho under certain conditions. Learn more.
A variance is a temporary relaxation of water quality standards. Variances are granted by DEQ to facilities for specified pollutants in their wastewater based upon a rationale as to why more time is needed to meet the prevailing criteria. Three variances have been granted in Idaho to date. Learn more.
Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act requires state certification for any permit or license issued by a federal agency for an activity that may result in a discharge into waters of the U.S., thereby ensuring state input into federally approved projects that may affect its waters. Learn more.
Criteria adopted by Idaho for temperature are under review by EPA; certain toxics criteria have been disapproved by EPA. Learn more.
Water Quality Standards CoordinatorDon EssigDEQ State Office1410 N. HiltonBoise, ID 83706(208) firstname.lastname@example.org
Spreadsheets to easily calculate criteria values given hardness, pH, or temperature for:
Idaho's Water Quality Standards (IDAPA 58.01.02)