Response letter from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Drinking Water responding to the five priority issues discussed at the April meeting.

Dear Mr. Norton:

Thank you for the follow-up letter summarizing the issues that the National Tribal Water Council and Office of Water representatives discussed in our meeting on April 23, 2013. We appreciated the depth and scope of our discussions during that meeting and look forward to continuing dialogue and progress in partnership with the NTWC on these topics. In your letter, you listed five priority areas of interest by the NTWC, to which I would like to respond.

Regarding your request for no reductions to the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) Tribal Set-Aside programs, the Office of Water supports investing in drinking water and clean water infrastructure that serves tribes to protect human health and the environment. We will continue to explore options to support funding for such infrastructure to address public health and environmental concerns like those raised in your letter. Recent examples of this support are the successful requests for the increased percentage of the tribal set-asides from the SRFs and the ability to transfer funds between the Clean Water Indian Set Aside (CWISA) and the Drinking Water Infrastructure Grant-Tribal Set Aside (DWIG-TSA) to fund the highest priority projects for public health and environmental protection.

I appreciate the NTWC’s desire for the EPA to develop a tribal funding plan that provides tribes with adequate and consistent 106 funding from year to year. As the EPA and its partners face the likelihood of a future with more limited funding, we need to carefully articulate the guiding principles for the OW Tribal Program, and establish priorities to efficiently guide our funding decisions. We are in the process of developing an OW Tribal Strategy, in consultation with tribes, which we propose to use in considering appropriate changes in Section 106 funding methodologies. The Clean Water Act (CWA) directs the EPA to allocate Section 106 funds based on the extent of pollution problems. We recognize there is often a lack of water quality data regarding pollution problems in Indian country. However, any allocation of Section 106 funds must be consistent with the CWA.

As I mentioned in our meeting, I believe that nutrient pollution is one of the nation’s most widespread, costly and challenging environmental problems, and addressing nutrient pollution is a top priority for the EPA. The agency recently confirmed a commitment to partner and collaborate with states and tribes, and we recognize that tribes are seeking tools to address local water quality needs and ways to reduce nutrient loading. The EPA’s Nutrient Framework is a planning tool that encourages states, tribes and pa11ners to develop and implement effective strategies for managing nitrogen and phosphorus pollution. The EPA can work with tribes to share information, tools, and approaches that are targeted to tribal priorities and needs. For example, the EPA and the NTWC can work together to identify strategy options to help tribes prioritize tribal waters and achieve near and long-term nutrient reductions or antidegradation of those waters. Such strategies  could focus on tribal concerns for nonpoint source pollution and effective  Best Management Practices,  monitoring, partnering on watershed conservation planning, setting  loading  reduction  targets, and working  towards  numeric tribal Water Quality Standards for nutrients.

The NTWC  has expressed  a clear commitment to furthering  tribal participation  in CWA regulatory programs.  The EPA and the Council  have discussed  various options relating to this commitment in terms of challenges  to tribes seeking  Treatment  as a State (TAS) for regulatory authority  under the CWA, as well as non-TAS options using non-TAS pathways. Most recently, the NTWC has expressed  an interest for the EPA to consider using the Clean Air Act authorization process as an alternative procedure  for delegating CWA regulatory  programs  to tribes. We are very interested in working  with the Council to find ways to remove  barriers to tribes becoming eligible  for TAS. As a result of the April 23 meeting, we believe the approach  the Council  suggests has potential and is worth exploring. We welcome the participation of the Council  in our analytic  process over the coming  months.

The EPA welcomes the support of the NTWC in encouraging more tribes to participate in reporting on the SP-l4b measure,  Identify monitoring stations on tribal lands that are showing no degradation in water quality (meaning the waters are meeting uses), which the EPA adopted into the EPA 201 1-2015 Strategic Plan.  The Clean Water Act calls for both restoring and maintaining water quality. The EPA’s long-term goal is to be able to measure  both improvement and maintenance of water quality in all waters of Indian  country. The EPA appreciates your support in identifying  50 or more stations to report on water quality in support of this measure.   We look forward  to working  with you in both identifying  these stations, and in ensuring that we have the right number of stations to effectively evaluate  this measure.

The EPA  recognizes the value of effective  tribal water quality  monitoring  programs. Over the past several years, EPA has provided  data management support  to a number of tribes, either through Exchange Network  grants or through direct support. The EPA will continue  to make this support  a priority. The EPA also recognizes the value of developing local/regional expertise  that can train others on all aspects  of developing a monitoring program. Making use of regional circuit riders is certainly one way to help develop  that local expertise, and we will consider  that approach as we develop  future budget proposals. We look forward  to partnering  with you as we further define effective approaches for building capacity.

OW appreciates the work of the NTWC  to identify tribal priorities  related to water quality and drinking water, and enabling  information  exchange  with tribes and the EPA on these important  topics. We look forward  to continued partnership with the NTWC, including  discussions to increase  understanding of tribal  priority areas in conjunction with our efforts to develop  an Office of Water tribal strategy over the next year.  Please contact  Felicia Wright, OW Tribal Coordinator,  for questions  and continued coordination at (202) 566-1886 (wright.felicia@epa.gov).

Sincerely,

Nancy K. Stoner

Acting Assistant Administrator

Click here to download the original letter.

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