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Water: Regulatory Information

Water Quality Standards for Puerto Rico (January 2004)

Fact Sheet (EPA-823-F-04-002)


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is promulgating water quality standards that establish a designated use of primary contact recreation (swimming) and bacteria criteria to protect that use for six embayments and an area called the "coastal ring" in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. EPA is promulgating this designated use and bacteria criteria to ensure protection from gastro-intestinal illness resulting from recreation in the water.

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EPA's water quality standards regulations require states to designate uses for all water bodies within their jurisdiction.

  • Designated uses determine what water quality criteria apply to specific water bodies.
  • The Clean Water Act sets a national goal of "... water quality which provides for the protection and propagation of fish, shellfish, and wildlife and recreation in and on the water ..."
  • EPA's regulations interpret that goal requiring that water quality standards provide for "fishable/swimmable" uses unless they have been shown to be unattainable through a use attainability analysis.

Three environmental groups (CORALations, American Littoral Society, and the American Canoe Association) sued EPA in February 2002, alleging, among other things, that EPA actions had triggered a mandatory duty under section 303(c) of the Clean Water Act to prepare and propose regulations setting forth revised water quality standards for any coastal waters that remained classified for secondary contact recreation and did not meet CWA goals of fishable/swimmable.

In August 2003, the court ordered EPA to propose revised water quality standards for those coastal waters which are currently classified as Class SC waters (i.e., secondary contact recreation) within 60 days (by October 14, 2003) and to finalize those standards within 90 days of EPA's proposed rule.

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About this action

EPA's rule establishing a designated use for primary contact recreation in addition to criteria for bacteria, requires that the quality of these waters be protected for primary contact recreation activities (e.g., swimming): Mayaguez Bay, Yabucoa Port, Guayanilla and Tallaboa Bays, Ponce Port, San Juan Port and all coastal waters from 500 meters seaward to a maximum of 3.0 miles seaward (the coastal ring).

Puerto Rico plans to collect data and conduct analyses over the next year to determine whether the primary contact recreation use is attainable in these waters.

If the Commonwealth completes the analyses or designates the waters for primary contact recreation in accordance with EPA's regulations, EPA will review the submission, approve the action, as warranted, and publish a rulemaking withdrawing the federally promulgated standards.

This rule imposes no direct costs. While some facilities discharging to these waters may need to alter their pollution control measures to meet the bacteria criteria limits, EPA does not expect significant impacts to dischargers.

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How to get additional information

For information concerning today's final rule, contact Wayne Jackson at 212-637-3807 (e-mail: jackson.wayne@epa.gov) or Claudia Fabiano at 202-566-0446 (e-mail: fabiano.claudia@epa.gov).

The public record for this action has been established and is located at EPA's Region 2 offices in New York and Puerto Rico: 290 Broadway, New York, New York, 10007, and 1492 Ponce De Leon Avenue, Suite 417, Santurce, Puerto Rico, 00907. It can be viewed between 9:00 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, excluding legal holidays. Ask for Water Quality Standards for Puerto Rico, ID No. OW- 2003-0072. Federal Register Notice.

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