Watershed Advisory Groups (WAGs)

Overview

Watershed Advisory Groups (WAGs) are being formed in Idaho to assist in developing practical plans to restore "impaired" water bodies to their designated "beneficial uses." The State of Idaho and the EPA have a legal, court-ordered responsibility to ensure that impaired waters in Idaho be dealt with in a timely manner. Legally, this means that a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) must be developed for each impaired waterbody.

The WAG provides an opportunity for a group of concerned and involved citizens to see the process through from start to finish. The WAG, though advisory in nature, has the potential to shape the final outcome of a TMDL in ways that go beyond the public hearing process. Citizens not involved in the WAG can get involved in the TMDL process, but this involvement tends to be limited to formal public comment periods and public hearings.

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What is the role of the WAG in developing a TMDL?

The legal/technical aspects of a TMDL are largely the responsibility of technical experts from state and federal agencies, who will write the bulk of the document. It is their job to assess and quantify water quality problems, specify the amount of pollution reduction necessary in order to meet water quality standards and develop options to allocate the necessary pollutant limits among the various sources in the watershed. Technical/legal issues are largely outside of the WAG's influence.

The policy/implementation aspects of a TMDL are often directly affected by the advice of a WAG. Watershed Advisory Groups help identify contributing pollution sources, assist in arriving at equitable pollution reduction allocations and recommend specific actions needed to effectively control sources of pollution. Watershed Advisory Groups are critical to the successful restoration and protection of the health of our waters.

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Who serves on a "typical" WAG?

Because pollution reduction is often associated with economic, social and/or cultural impacts, it is important that the membership of each WAG reflect a balanced representation of the interests in the watershed. Representatives may include agriculture, mining, industrial or municipal point source discharge permittees, forest products firms, members of local government, Indian Tribes, water-based recreation or environmental groups. The issues vary from watershed to watershed; the size of a WAG varies depending on the level of interest and the complexity of the issues. Typically, WAGs range in size from 6 to 20 people.

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What is the time commitment?

TMDLs generally take from 1 to 3 years to develop. During certain periods the focus may be on data collection, and the WAG may meet for an evening only once every few months. However, when critical policy decisions are being made on issues such as load allocations and waste load allocations, some WAGs have met twice a week for several months. Other WAGs have formed subcommittees to make presentations to the whole group on specific issues.

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Do I need to be an expert to participate?

You already are an expert on your community. The WAG is not formed for its technical and regulatory expertise, but as the source of local information which can play a significant role in shaping the TMDL, making allocations equitable and coming up with practical solutions.

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What are Technical Advisory Groups (TAGs)?

Technical Advisory Groups assist the WAG in evaluating issues. Technical Advisory Groups comprise experts from groups like the Division of Environmental Quality, Fish and Wildlife, Agriculture, Parks and Recreation, the Forest Service, Tribes, EPA, and knowledgeable citizens. The mix varies depending on the issues at hand.

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What are the key responsibilities of the WAG?

The WAG is an advisory group and its authority is largely derived from its ability to express the needs of the community within the constraints of the law. Its key responsibilities are to:

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How can we be assured that the advice of the WAG will make a difference?

To the degree possible, regulatory agencies try to incorporate the recommendations of the WAG into the TMDL. Experience has shown that a TMDL which is supported by the community is far more likely to succeed. In some cases, however, WAG recommendations conflict with regulatory or statutory requirements. If recommendations are not incorporated into the TMDL, they may be included as a minority opinion so that the concerns or ideas are not lost.

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Who writes the TMDL? Who does the work?

TMDLs are written by technical experts in water quality and related fields. They are generally members of the Technical Advisory Group. The role of this group is to:

Typically, Idaho Idaho Department of Environmental Quality does the bulk of the writing. Members of the WAG do not do the writing. The WAG's role is advisory in nature. EPA has the responsibility to approve or disapprove all TMDLs. If EPA disapproves a TMDL, it is obligated under the Clean Water Act to issue a TMDL within 30 days.

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Where are the existing Wags?

Contact the DEQ TMDL program manager or the sub-basin contacts for more information.

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