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DEQ's Revised Stream Quality Decision Too Similar To Original, Outdoor Groups Say

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Wyoming Outdoor Council
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After public outcry over the 2014 decision by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality to downgrade the status of 75 percent of the state’s streams, allowing for the presence of more bacteria like e. coli, the agency has revised its decision. But outdoor recreation advocates say the new decision looks a lot like the old one.

In a press conference, water quality administrator Kevin Fredrick says the revised decision was based on public comments gathered last year. He says what is different about this version is that it won’t downgrade the classification of streams in Wilderness areas or on a four-mile stretch of federally-protected Wild and Scenic Rivers, the way the last one did.

“That was certainly an item of interest to the public and it’s something that we recognized and adjusted accordingly,” Frederick said. “I think that’s the takeaway here.”

But Wyoming Outdoor Council’s Dan Heilig says when the Forest Service asked that streams in other kinds of pristine areas be treated like recreational waters with greater protections, the DEQ denied those requests. Heilig says people don’t just swim in Wilderness areas.

“Forest Service roadless areas, wilderness study areas, BLM lands and all sorts of other surface waters that are outside designated wilderness are heavily used by members of the public.”

The original controversial 2014 stream quality decision downgraded the status of about 76 percent of the surface water in the state. The new version now only downgrades 72 percent. Heilig says that’s not a big enough change since the downgrade allows five times as much e. coli in the state’s streams and assumes they aren't deep enough for recreational swimming. He says the revised decision still doesn’t truly consider the public comments.

“Teton County conservation district requested that the county be exempted from the downgrade to secondary contact and that request was rejected by the department,” Heilig said.

But Wyoming DEQ’s Lindsay Patterson says the revised decision can accommodate such special requests.

“If the individual conservation district wants to manage waters for primary contact recreation, I think that’s something they can definitely do,” Patterson said in the press conference. “But the state is going to go so far as to what the Clean Water Act Requires us to do at this point.”

Those people who submitted comments during the previous public input period now have 60 days to respond to the revisions.

Melodie Edwards is the host and producer of WPM's award-winning podcast The Modern West. Her Ghost Town(ing) series looks at rural despair and resilience through the lens of her hometown of Walden, Colorado. She has been a radio reporter at WPM since 2013, covering topics from wildlife to Native American issues to agriculture.
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