Triennial Review

A Chance to Speak Up for Stronger Water Quality Protections

How to Comment on the 2018 Triennial Review of Clean Water Rules


The federal Clean Water Act helps protect the waters we love and depend on – and invites public participation. One key moment for public input is happening now, called the ‘triennial review’.

How the triennial review works:

Under the Clean Water Act, states identify uses for waterways. These uses must include supporting fish; and can include swimming, boating, or drinking. Then the state sets water quality standards that limit the amount of pollution that can be in each type of water based on the use of that water. States are supposed to review and update these standards every three years – this is called the ‘triennial’ review.

N.C. has a backlog of water quality standards that need to be updated. This year, the N.C. Environmental Management Commission (EMC) proposed a few changes required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but more updates are needed to protect water quality. This summer you have the opportunity to make the case to the EMC that additional updates are important to the public.

How to ask for stronger water protections: Email comments by July 16, 2018 to:

Or deliver spoken comments at a public hearing:

  • Monday, July 2, 2018, at 6:00 pm: Piedmont Triad Regional Council, 1398 Carrollton Crossing Dr., Kernersville, N.C.
  • Wednesday, July 11, 2018, at 6:00 pm: Ground Floor Hearing Room, Archdale Building, 512 N. Salisbury St., Raleigh, N.C.

Recommended Comments:

  • Update ammonia standard. Ammonia can cause toxic effects on aquatic life like fish. The biggest gap in our state water quality standards is the lack of an updated ammonia standard. Five years ago, the EPA recommended that states adopt a formula that takes into account stream acidity and temperature but N.C. has not done so. Over 30 states have adopted a version of the recommended formula. The EMC should adopt the recommended EPA ammonia formula.
  • Consider infants and children when setting standards. Standards for recreational and drinking waters are designed to protect human health but many of our N.C. standards in this area are outdated. There is increasing evidence that exposure to pollutants in the womb, as an infant or child, or in puberty – can cause harm at low concentrations. The EMC should pay close attention to vulnerable populations when standards to ensure especially vulnerable populations are protected.
  • Set standards to prevent sub-lethal effects on fish. Water standards are designed to protect fish and wildlife, including trout, shellfish, and endangered species but our standards are lagging behind science. When setting aquatic-life standards, the EMC should set them to avoid sub-lethal effects. These are exposures at levels that don’t kill fish, mussels, or insects outright, but that weaken and disrupt them, leading to declining populations and degraded aquatic life over time.
  • Protect the flow of water. When the flow of water in a river is changed – by excessive withdrawals or too much stormwater runoff – river health declines. N.C. water standards overlook this critical relationship between flow and water quality. The EMC should adopt a standard that clearly supports river flows to protect the physical, chemical, and biological integrity of our waters.
  • Adopt standards to protect against algal toxins. Many N.C. rivers and lakes receive too much nitrogen and phosphorus, leading to algal blooms. Some algae produce toxins that can kill fish, harm swimmers, and increase the cost of treating drinking water downstream. The EPA has issued a health advisory level for drinking water and draft criteria for recreational waters; the EMC should adopt surface water quality standards for water supply waters and recreational waters that mirror these.
  • Set standards for pesticides known to be in N.C. waters. Most of the pesticides currently monitored by state regulators aren’t used any more; meanwhile, other pesticides that are widely used go unmonitored and lack water quality standards. Pesticides that harm aquatic life are showing up in N.C. waters. The EMC should tighten water quality standards for atrazine and establish standards for chlorpyrifos, glyphosate, and the neonicotinoid class of insecticides.
  • Adopt standard for the class of chemicals that includes GenX. Residents in the Lower Cape Fear River region have been exposed to GenX in drinking water; likely at levels above the state health goal of 140 parts per trillion (ppt). GenX belongs to a family of perfluorinated compounds, most of which have no health goal or standard, but that take hundreds of years to break down and are generally toxic. Most are not easily removed during treatment of drinking water. There are thousands of different pre- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The EMC should adopt a standard for the whole class of PFAS for Class A waters (drinking water sources).
  • Adopt a standard for the likely carcinogen 1,4-Dioxane. Residents throughout North Carolina are exposed to 1,4-dioxane in drinking water and river recreation; this likely carcinogen does not break down easily and is difficult to remove. DEQ has set a ‘protective value’ for water supply watersheds at 0.35 µg/L; the EMC should adopt this as a water quality standard for all surface waters.


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