Arizona abandons controversial effort to manage Clean Water Act permit program

Fossil Creek in the Coconino National Forest in Arizona. /U.S. Forest Service via Flickr

By Elizabeth Whitman | Phoenix New Times

In a major reversal, the state of Arizona halted its efforts to take over a Clean Water Act program regulating dumping into streams, rivers, and other waterways, the Department of Environmental Quality announced December 3.

The department’s sparse explanation of its decision to abandon a goal it spent a year and a half pursuing cited support from stakeholders — cities and industries, including agriculture, home-building, and mining — for “retaining the current process.”

Comments to ADEQ from tribes, counties, utilities, flood control districts, and others show staunch opposition to its proposal, for myriad reasons. Few voiced support.

The reversal comes roughly 18 months after ADEQ first began the process of attempting to take over permits that are granted under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. Cities, developers, mining companies, and others must obtain such permits in order to discharge dredged or fill materials into federal waterways, including streams and rivers. The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers currently administer the program.

The change also comes a few months before the Trump administration is expected to drastically curtail the number of waterways that qualify for federal protection — a looming change that spelled uncertainty for Arizona’s would-be permitting program.

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