About three-quarters of the streams in Wyoming could soon be subject to less stringent environmental standards.
The streams are currently classified as “primary contact” water bodies, meaning that people swim or otherwise recreate in them. Now, the Department of Environmental Quality is proposing to designate them as “secondary contact” streams, meaning human contact is less likely. The change would lower the standards for how much pollution can be discharged into the waterways.
The DEQ’s Lindsay Patterson says the original classification didn’t make sense, because many of the streams have almost no water in them.
“What we’re really talking about is dry draws in the state,” Patterson said. “We’re talking about ephemeral water bodies, intermittent water bodies that have no water.”
So she says it makes sense to relax the environmental rules for those water bodies.
“It’s kind of synonymous with having different speed limits for different roads in the state,” she said. “I think people recognize that a speed limit of 20 miles an hour is appropriate for urban areas, and areas near schools. But it’s not necessary to impose a speed limit of 20 miles an hour on an interstate, even though we know that would be protective of people.”
Similarly, Patterson says, imposing the highest environmental standards on water that people don’t touch is unnecessary regulation.
The DEQ is taking public comments until March 14. After that, they’ll submit their proposal to the Environmental Protection Agency for approval.