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EPA Throws Water on DEQ WYO Water Policy

October 12, 2009

LANDER, Wyo. - The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has thrown cold water on Wyoming state water policy - specifically, on the state's regulation of groundwater pumped up during coalbed methane production. The federal agency takes issue with the case-by-case approach used by the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to determine the acceptability of dumping the water on the surface.

Steve Jones, watershed protection program attorney with the Wyoming Outdoor Council, says the bottom line is that because the water can have high salinity levels or other impurities, it can damage any land it touches, whether directly at the point of release or downstream.

"You've got to protect your water for all of these agricultural purposes, including irrigation, but also including native grasses. You can't do it on a case-by-case basis; you've got to protect all of it."

Most coalbed methane operations are in the Powder River Basin. Some landowners there say they welcome the discharged water for their property, and the industry argues that most of the water pumped is potentially beneficial.

Jones urges the state DEQ to go back to the drawing board because it has struggled with writing regulations for the discharged water. A recent set of proposed rules was scrapped after an independent report called them "scientifically indefensible." So now it's back to the old policy, which Jones says still is inconsistent.

"Issuing irrigation waivers or doing a study - in all of these different ways DEQ was going to try to get around the irrigation requirements. EPA is basically saying, 'That is not going to cut it with us.'"

The full EPA comments are available at http://wyomingoutdoorcouncil.org/PDFs/EPAComments-AgUseProtection.pdf.

Deb Courson, Public News Service - WY