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Water Quality Standards

Water Quality Standards – Protecting and Managing West Virginia’s Stream, Rivers, and Lakes 

Clean water is essential to all living things. In West Virginia and Jefferson County, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is responsible for adopting water quality standards and protecting the state’s streams, rivers, and lakes from pollution. Water pollution occurs when substances build up in a river, steam, or lake to a level that the water becomes unsuitable for its designated uses. For example, pollution can kill fish in a stream or create unpleasant odors around a lake. Pollution can also include certain bacteria which could cause people to become sick who drink or swim in the water.

Water quality is affected by the quantity and concentration of material discharged and the size of the receiving body of water. A small quantity of a certain pollutant may cause little harm to an ocean; however, the same amount of pollutant in a small lake could kill all the fish in the lake.

Clean Water Act

The U.S. Congress passed the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, also known as the Clean Water Act (CWA), in 1972 to keep our water clean for recreational uses. The CWA requires states to develop water quality standards to protect all water uses and to designate uses for each waterway. This legislation also mandates that waste water treatment plants and industrial facilities obtain permits outlining the restrictions on the discharge of specific pollutants into our waterways. These National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits are designed to ensure the protection of a stream’s designated uses. All municipal facilities and industrial facilities that discharge wastewater into the nation’s waterways must have a NPDES permit.

Water Quality Standards

Water quality standards are measurements used to protect waters from pollution. Before standards become effective in West Virginia, they must be approved by the State Legislature and the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Water quality standards must be reviewed every three years and revised as needed.

These standards are designed to ensure a body of water remains clean enough to support its designated uses. Designated uses can include such things as aquatic life, public drinking supply, agriculture, industrial, navigation, and recreation such as swimming and boating. Some of the most common standards include:

  • dissolved oxygen
  • pH
  • temperature
  • ammonia
  • turbidity
  • bacteria (fecal coliform)
  • toxic metals (including mercury, cadmium, and lead)
  • organic chemicals (carbon-based, man-made chemicals found in solvents, industrial chemicals, and agricultural pesticides)

The WVDEP’s Division of Water and Waste Management establishes water quality guidelines and provides assistance for the manufacturing industry, wastewater treatment plants, landowners and the general public to maintain reasonable standards of purity and quality of waters of West Virginia. The office guards water quality by administering permits, providing financial assistance for the construction of wastewater treatment facilities, and ensuring dam safety.