DENVER, CO – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 8 (EPA) announced its approval of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s water quality standards under the federal Clean Water Act. This milestone approval culminates a 20-year effort by the tribe’s Environmental Programs Division. With EPA’s action, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe becomes only the 47th federally recognized tribe, out of 574 nationally, to have tribal water quality standards approved by EPA under the Clean Water Act. The approval allows the tribe to protect the water quality of the lakes and rivers they use for swimming, boating and fishing. The Southern Ute Indian Reservation is located in southwest Colorado and is comprised of lands within La Plata, Archuleta and Montezuma counties.
Water quality standards are state, territorial, tribal or federal law that determine the water quality goals for rivers, streams, lakes and wetlands. Water quality standards serve as the basis for several Clean Water Act programs, including issuing permits for discharges and assessing water quality.
“EPA congratulates the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, the Tribal Council, and Environmental Programs Division for their determination in building programs and expertise to protect valuable tribal water resources,” said EPA Regional Administrator KC Becker. “We look forward to working together with the tribe as a partner in ensuring clean rivers, streams, lakes and wetlands for tribal members.”
“EPA’s approval of the tribe’s water quality standards is the culmination of years of work by the tribe and its staff,” said Chairman Melvin J. Baker. “The tribal approval process included consulting with EPA and the State of Colorado and an outreach and engagement process with tribal members and stakeholders. The tribe appreciates the EPA’s approval and looks forward to implementing the standards and issuing water quality certifications to protect water resources on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation.”
The Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s water quality standards apply to many waters within the Southern Ute Indian Reservation including portions of the La Plata, Animas, Florida, Los Pinos (or Pine), Piedra, San Juan and Navajo Rivers and portions of the Navajo Reservoir. With the approval of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s water quality standards, combined with the prior and separate EPA approval of Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe’s water quality standards, all federally recognized Indian tribes with reservation lands in Colorado now have EPA-approved water quality standards.
The Clean Water Act has a two-step process to establish tribal water quality standards: 1) tribes acquire Clean Water Act water quality standards program authority from EPA; and 2) tribes submit specific water quality standards to EPA for Clean Water Act review and approval. In 2018, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe received Clean Water Act water quality standards program authority from EPA for waters on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation located on tribal trust lands (as well as one parcel of tribal trust land contiguous to the reservation).
In developing its water quality standards, the tribe collaborated with the State of Colorado and surrounding county and municipal governments, as well as other interested parties, to gather input on their proposed water quality standards. The tribe held a water quality standards public comment period from August 23 to October 22, 2021, including an October 7, 2021, public hearing. Based on comments received through this public participation process, the tribe revised its water quality standards, adopted the revised water quality standards on February 8, 2022, and submitted them to EPA on February 15, 2022. EPA approved the tribe’s water quality standards after determining they are consistent with the requirements of the Clean Water Act and EPA’s Water Quality Standards Regulation.