CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Federal regulators stepped in this week to revise a biennial report on impaired rivers and streams across West Virginia, after state officials -- citing a legislative mandate -- left more than 1,000 miles of polluted waterways off the list.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials proposed to add 255 waterway segments where it found aquatic life was impaired to the state's so-called "303(d)" list, named for the section of the Clean Water Act that requires it be prepared.
Included in the proposed listings from the EPA were 37 miles of the Gauley River and large segments of streams in the Tug Fork, Monongahela and West Fork watersheds.
EPA officials said Monday that federal law doesn't allow the state to simply ignore evidence that those streams are troubled while the state Department of Environmental Protection works on a legislative mandate to come up with a new way of deciding which of those streams belong on the list.
"You have to have a complete and accurate picture of the health of streams," said Jon Capacasa, director of the EPA's regional water protection division. "If you don't, the whole process lacks integrity from the start."
EPA officials were facing a potential lawsuit by the Sierra Club and other citizen groups if the EPA approved the latest Clean Water Act "impaired" streams list issued by the DEP.
The issue focuses on a simmering controversy over the DEP's not including hundreds of streams on a list of waterways that are overly polluted and need to be cleaned up.
The DEP left many of those streams off in response to a coal-industry-based bill passed during the 2012 legislative session. The bill, signed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, ordered the DEP to abandon its existing methods of measuring stream health and come up with a new set of rules to define when streams are considered biologically impaired.
The DEP has yet to write those rules, and agency officials declined to add to the new cleanup list hundreds of streams that otherwise might have been included under the state's old formula.