Featured Professional: Bill Love, Idaho Department of Lands
BAGs, WAGs and CWE
When asked several years ago to list three important issues relating to forestry in Idaho, Department of Lands Director Stan Hamilton quickly responded “water quality, water quality, water quality.” While other’s lists may read a little differently, it is a safe bet that water quality will appear somewhere. Without a doubt, water quality issues play an important role in how we manage Idaho’s forests.
The Idaho Forest Practices Act prescribes the Best Management Practices (BMPs) for forestry activities. In addition, several other water quality issues deserve attention.
In 1996, U.S. District Judge William Dwyer ruled that Idaho did not comply with the federal Clean Water Act Section 303 (d) requirements pertaining to water quality limited streams. In short, Idaho had not designated enough streams as water quality limited. Furthermore, the state’s schedule for taking 25 years to develop TMDLs addressing water quality problems on these streams was not fast enough. The judge made it clear—Idaho must develop TMDLs for an expanded list of 962 water quality limited streams by 2005.
TMDL stands for Total Maximum Daily Load. Simply put, it’s a pollution budget that allocates the amount and sources of pollution a stream can receive and still meet the designated beneficial uses such as fish habitat and drinking water. For forestry, sediment delivery into streams contributes the most significant pollutant.
To meet this daunting task, the Idaho Division of Environmental Quality (DEQ) organized six Basin Area Groups (BAGs) to prioritize streams and oversee water quality strategies. In turn, the BAGs appoint Watershed Advisory Groups (WAGs) to develop TMDLs for a single or, sometimes, a group of water quality limited streams.
If you own or manage forestland within one of these 962 streams, your best opportunity to get involved in the TMDL process is at the WAG level. Some WAGs are already meeting while others will wait until their priority comes up.
On a related issue, the Department of Lands developed a watershed analysis process to determine water quality impacts of multiple forest practices taking place over a period of time. Called the Cumulative Watershed Effects Process (CWE), this analysis will be applied on the forested portions of the 962 water quality limited streams. CWE results will provide a foundation for developing TMDLs and may, in some cases, identify site-specific BMPs to improve water quality.
We, in the forestry community, stand ready to demonstrate that proper forest management practices can protect and improve water quality. Contact a Department of Lands or DEQ office to learn more about BAGs, WAGs and CWE.