Bad River Band’s Bad Water No Problem for EPA

Federal environmental regulators are prepared to issue new permits to the Bad River Band of Chippewa for their wastewater treatment plant in northern Wisconsin despite the fact that the tribal facility has repeatedly violated the Clean Water Act. Data from the Environmental Protection Agency uncovered earlier this year by Media Trackers shows that the Bad River Band’s wastewater plant routinely discharges polluted water into the Bad River, which flows into Lake Superior.

When asked, an EPA official told Media Trackers that the Bad River Band will not be required to bring their plant into compliance – and stop the pollution – before the new permit is finally issued.

The tribal facility has been operating under an expired EPA permit for some time now. EPA officials in Chicago recently released, in a series of public notice documents, the details of the new permit they plan to issue the Bad River Band. According to the Clean Water Act, facilities that discharge water into regulated bodies of water must comply with pollution limits set forth in permits issued by either the EPA or state environmental regulators.

Limits for e. coli, suspended solids, and phosphates have been exceeded by the Bad River Band’s wastewater plant, according to federal records. A Media Trackers report in February found that E. coli levels were either exceeded or just not reported 42 times in a 57-month period that ended in mid-2012. Some e. coli levels were has high as 5,400% over the EPA-set limit.

Since February, more data has been added to the EPA’s website showing that E. coli levels in the water released from the facility exceeded federal limits in the months of July, August, September, October and December of 2012. A provision in the new draft permit says that the E. coli limitation levels will only apply from May through September.

Even while the Bad River Band was violating the terms of its now-expired EPA permit and the Clean Water Act, the EPA gave the tribe permission to set its own water quality standards. This meant that instead of the tribe having to abide by rules imposed by the EPA, the EPA would simply require the tribe to write their own rules and then live by the rules they created. The only major stipulation was that the new rules could not be more lenient than the minimums established by the Clean Water Act formulas.

The proposed permit now getting ready to be issued contains pollution discharge limits established in accordance with the Bad River Band’s self-written water regulations.

Even under their rules, though, the Bad River Band’s wastewater plant has been releasing excessive amounts of some pollutants in their discharged water.

During the debate earlier this year over legislation that would potentially allow a new iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin, members of the Bad River Band spoke of their tribe’s high regard for clean water. Tribal Chairman Mike Wiggins opposed the mine legislation because he felt that it could lead to reduced water quality. “We view this as an act of genocide,” Wiggins declared.

Any new mine would have to abide by stringent state and federal water quality standards.

A public comment period soliciting input on the renewal of the Bad River Band’s permit runs until May 6th. No public hears appear to be scheduled about this permit.

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