We are incredibly lucky here in Alaska. Over 99% of our water is of exceptional quality, providing for world class salmon runs and a thriving tourism industry.
Critical to keeping our water clean are the policies designed to protect it. Under the Clean Water Act (CWA), the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is required to have an antidegradation policy and implementation plan to assure the continued health of our waters. Included in this is the process for designating Outstanding National Resource Waters (ONRW), also known as Tier 3 waters. Designating a body of water as a Tier 3 water means that it is of such exceptional quality that it must be permanently protected, unlike a Tier 2 designation, which allows for a certain amount of degradation.
The CWA grants all citizens the right to protect their waters by nominating a body of water for Tier 3 status. With so many outstanding bodies of water, one might expect Alaska to have many designated as Tier 3, but to date, there are none.
Despite their adoption of an antidegradation policy in 1997, DEC failed to adopt the implementation methods. This means that although we have regulations for Tier 3 water, there no way to designate a body of water as one. In 2009 DEC began to investigate possible processes, but have yet to take action. Meanwhile, as Alaskans wait for their opportunity to protect our waters, DEC has issued hundreds of permits to industry allowing them to degrade our waters.
Alaska must establish a process to designate Tier 3 waterbodies. As the state’s water quality experts, DEC must stop stalling and give us the right to protect our waters instead of only allowing industry to degrade them. DEC’s failure to adopt a Tier 3 process hurts Alaskans who depend on clean water and healthy fisheries.
DEC must stop the delay and provide citizens with the same opportunities and rights to protect vital waters as industry has the right to degrade them.