West Virginia would mostly follow the lead of federal environmental officials under the latest draft of proposed water quality standards setting limits on pollution that enters the state‘s streams and rivers.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports the state Department of Environmental Protection responded to nearly 200 pages of comments following a public hearing in July. The agency-approved rules now go to the Legislative Rule-Making Committee for review, and then to the full Legislature for the 2019 session. The rules can be altered at any time along the process.

The rules are up for review every three years.

The new rules will comply with changes already passed in the 2017 legislative session to the way the state handles overlapping mixing zones and “harmonic mean flow,” both of which would allow increased levels of toxins into the water. Federal regulators suggested using a “geometric mean,” instead of a 30-day average, to assess human health criteria, and the DEP adopted the suggestion.

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Instead of following the federal Environmental Protection Agency‘s recommendations by revising criteria for 94 chemical pollutants, though, the DEP will look into only 56 human health water quality criteria.

“To date, (the) DEP has never revised as many as 56 criteria changes during the same review year. If future needs call for the adoption of the additional nationally-recommended criteria, they can be added during a subsequent triennial review,” the DEP wrote in a response to public comments calling for a review of all 94 pollutants.

The DEP also said it would not make any revisions that could affect the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources‘ general advisories about fish consumption. A 2008 study showed West Virginians ate fish at a lower rate than the rest of the nation.

“What we would like to see is to turn around the quality of our rivers and streams in a way that it‘s safe to eat the fish again, and if we were to do that, the consumption rates would increase again,” said Angie Rosser, executive director of West Virginia Rivers Coalition.

On July 10, about a dozen people went to the DEP in Charleston to speak about the proposed rules.

Sabrina Shrader talked about having to boil water in McDowell County, and how sewage gets into the yard when it rains. She urged the DEP to enforce stricter restrictions on pollution levels.

“I hope you all do the right thing and remember what I said,” she said. “Peoples‘ lives are at stake, and we‘re already struggling hard enough.”

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