[Federal Register Volume 59, Number 1 (Monday, January 3, 1994)]
[Unknown Section]
[Page 0]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 93-32035]


[[Page Unknown]]

[Federal Register: January 3, 1994]


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Part V





Environmental Protection Agency





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Sole Source Aquifer Designation; Pierce County, WA; Notice
ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

[FRL-4821-4]

 

Sole Source Aquifer Designation of the Central Pierce County 
Aquifer System, Pierce County, WA

AGENCY: Environmental Protection Agency.

ACTION: Final determination.

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SUMMARY: Pursuant to section 1424(e) of the Safe Drinking Water Act, 
the Region 10 Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 
(EPA) has determined that the Central Pierce County Aquifer System is 
the principal source of drinking water for the designated area, and 
that the aquifer system, if contaminated, would create a significant 
hazard to public health. As a result of this determination, all federal 
financially-assisted projects proposed in the designated area will be 
subject to EPA review to ensure that they do not create a significant 
hazard to public health.

EFFECTIVE DATE: This determination shall be promulgated for purposes of 
judicial review at 1 Eastern time on January 18, 1994.

ADDRESSES: The information upon which this determination is based is 
available to the public and may be inspected during normal business 
hours at the main and satellite branches of the Pierce County Library 
System, and at the EPA Library, 10th Floor, Park Place Building, 1200 
Sixth Avenue, Seattle, Washington 98101.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Scott E. Downey, Environmental 
Protection Specialist, Ground Water Section, WD-133, U.S. Environmental 
Protection Agency, Region 10, 1200 Sixth Avenue, Seattle, Washington 
98101, 206-553-0682.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Notice is hereby given that pursuant to 
Section 1424(e) of the Safe Drinking Water Act (42 United States Code, 
300f, 300h-3(e), Pub. L. 93-523), the Region 10 Administrator of U.S. 
Environmental Protection Agency has determined that the Central Pierce 
County Aquifer System is the principal source of drinking water for the 
designated area, and that the aquifer system, if contaminated, would 
create a significant hazard to public health. As a result of this 
determination, federal financially-assisted projects proposed in the 
designated area will be subject to EPA review to ensure that they do 
not create a significant hazard to public health.
    The information upon which EPA is issuing this final determination 
has been summarized in the ``Support Document for Sole Source Aquifer 
Designation of the Central Pierce County Aquifer System'', EPA 910/R-
93-001, prepared by the EPA Region 10 Ground Water Section.

I. Background

    Section 1424(e) of the Safe Drinking Water Act states:

    If the Administrator determines, on his own initiative or upon 
petition, that an area has an aquifer which is the sole or principal 
drinking water source for the area and which, if contaminated, would 
create a significant hazard to public health, he shall publish 
notice of that determination in the Federal Register. After the 
publication of any such notice, no commitment for federal financial 
assistance (through a grant, contract, loan guarantee, or otherwise) 
may be entered into for any project which the Administrator 
determines may contaminate such aquifer through a recharge zone so 
as to create a significant hazard to public health, but a commitment 
for federal assistance may, if authorized under another provision of 
law, be entered into to plan or design the project to assure that it 
will not so contaminate the aquifer.

    EPA defines a sole or principal source aquifer as one which 
supplies at least 50 percent of the drinking water in the area 
overlying the aquifer. Current EPA guidelines also stipulate that these 
areas can have no alternative drinking water source(s) which could 
physically, legally, and economically supply all those who depend upon 
the aquifer for drinking water. For convenience, all EPA designated 
sole or principal source aquifers are usually referred to simply as 
``sole source aquifers''. Although EPA has the statutory authority to 
initiate sole source aquifer designations, the Agency has a 
longstanding policy of acting only in response to petitions. These 
petitions may be submitted to EPA by any individual or organization and 
must document and meet all designation criteria as outlined in the 
``Sole Source Aquifer Designation Petitioner Guidance'', EPA 440/6-87-
003.
    On June 23, 1987, EPA Region 10 received a sole source aquifer 
petition from the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department (TPCHD). The 
petition requested EPA designation of the ``Clover/Chambers Creek 
Aquifer'', an area of approximately 144 square miles of central Pierce 
County in the State of Washington. On July 29, 1987, EPA requested 
additional information from the TPCHD. A revised petition was submitted 
on February 1, 1988. On February 24, 1988, EPA sent the TPCHD a letter 
which acknowledged that the petition was considered complete, and that 
the technical review phase would begin.
    EPA guidance allows sole source aquifer designations to be 
delineated for an entire aquifer, an aquifer system, or part of an 
aquifer that is hydrogeologically separated from the rest of the 
aquifer. The EPA Region 10 technical review determined that the 
petitioned Clover/Chamber Creek area was not an entire aquifer or a 
hydrogeologically separate unit of an aquifer but was located within a 
larger aquifer system. Thus, the boundaries were extended to those now 
designated. On July 25, 1988, the TPCHD provided EPA with drinking 
water consumption estimates for the larger area.

II. Basis for Determination

    Pursuant to section 1424(e), the EPA Regional Administrator has 
determined that the Central Pierce County Aquifer System is the 
principal drinking water source for the area, and which, if 
contaminated, would create a significant hazard to public health. Based 
on the information available to this Agency, the Regional Administrator 
has made the following findings which are the bases for the 
determination noted above:
    1. The Central Pierce County Aquifer System supplies approximately 
60 percent of the average drinking water demand for the area, and 
approximately 84 percent of the peak drinking water demand for the 
area.
    2. No alternative source or combination of sources can physically, 
legally, and economically supply all those who depend upon the aquifer 
system for drinking water.
    3. Based upon these two findings, contamination of the Central 
Pierce County Aquifer System would create a significant hazard to 
public health.

III. Description of the Central Pierce County Aquifer System

    Note: Some information in this section represents an unfootnoted 
summary from the ``Support Document for Sole Source Aquifer 
Designation of the Central Pierce County Aquifer System'', EPA 910/
R-93-001, prepared by the EPA Region 10 Ground Water Section.

    The EPA technical review determined that the Central Pierce County 
Aquifer System consists primarily of unconsolidated sediments deposited 
by glaciers and associated meltwater during the Quaternary Period. 
Ground water originates almost entirely as precipitation upon the land 
surface. Recharge to the aquifer system is greatest where the 
precipitation falls on permeable glacial outwash sediments such as sand 
or gravel. The ground water moves regionally toward the Puget Sound and 
river valleys that constitute the aquifer system boundaries. Locally, 
the direction and gradient of ground water movement can vary 
dramatically from the overall regional trend.
    Depth to ground water varies from zero to hundreds of feet. The 
greatest depth to ground water occurs in recharge areas where the 
unsaturated zone is composed of highly permeable glacial outwash 
materials. Ground water occurs at or near the land surface in discharge 
areas and where materials with low permeability, such as glacial till 
(an unsorted assemblage of clay, silt, sand, pebbles, cobbles, and/or 
boulders), restricts recharge during the wet season. Seasonal 
variations in water table elevations of 20 to 30 feet have been 
observed in some parts of the aquifer system.
    Deep wells drilled within the area penetrate multiple productive 
aquifers of permeable glacial outwash separated by relatively 
impermeable aquitards of glacial till or non-glacial sediments. The 
degree of hydrologic connection between individual aquifer units can 
vary greatly. Ground water discharge occurs to surface water bodies and 
wetlands within the area (which can also recharge the ground water 
system), and to surface water bodies which bound the area. Ground water 
from the aquifer system is naturally low in dissolved solids and can be 
used for drinking, irrigation, and most industrial purposes without 
treatment.
    The natural sensitivity of the aquifer system to contamination is 
influenced by the permeability of geologic materials that overlie and 
occur within the aquifer system, the amount of recharge from 
precipitation, and the depth to ground water. The potential for 
contamination is greatest where sediments are permeable, recharge is 
high, and ground water is shallow.
    The relative vulnerability of ground water to contamination also 
increases from various human activities which provide the opportunity 
for anthropogenic sources of contamination to enter the system. 
Subsurface disposal of waste and wastewater is the chief threat to 
ground water quality over much of the aquifer system. The Tacoma-Pierce 
County Health Department has identified individual and community septic 
systems, the subsurface disposal of urban stormwater, and solid waste 
landfills as principal concerns. Although concentrations of nonpoint 
contaminants (such as nitrate and chloride) are still generally below 
drinking water standards, they have increased significantly over time 
throughout parts of the aquifer system. Man-induced contamination which 
has exceeded drinking water standards has been documented is some 
industrial and commercial areas. Several of these areas have been 
selected for clean-up under the federal Superfund program.
    The sole source aquifer boundaries selected by EPA are primarily 
surface water boundaries located in lowland areas that have eroded 
downward through aquifer system glacial materials and which receive 
discharging ground water from the aquifer system. The Puget Sound forms 
the western boundary of the aquifer system. The Puyallup River forms 
the northern boundary and also the eastern boundary as far south as the 
Town of Electron (just northeast of Lake Kapowsin). South of Electron, 
the eastern boundary follows the ancestral Puyallup River Valley which 
is now occupied by Lake Kapowsin, Ohop Lake, and Ohop Creek. The 
Nisqually River forms the southern boundary of the aquifer system from 
its intersection with Ohop Creek downstream to the Puget Sound.
    The petitioner estimates that about 400,000 people live within the 
aquifer system boundaries or in nearby areas which at least partly 
utilize ground water from the system. Ground water generally supplies 
about 60 percent of the drinking water used within the designated area. 
During peak demands, ground water supplies approximately 84 percent of 
the drinking water consumed within the area. The petitioner and EPA 
have determined that although alternative sources of drinking water are 
physically available, they cannot legally and economically serve all 
those who now depend upon the aquifer system.

IV. Project Reviews

    Designation of a sole source aquifer authorizes EPA to review, at 
the Agency's discretion, federal financially-assisted projects proposed 
within the designated area. The principal mechanism used by EPA Region 
10 to identify projects for review are Memorandums of Understanding 
(MOUs) with federal funding agencies. These MOUs stipulate procedures 
for screening and referring projects to EPA in order to ensure that 
only projects which may have a significant impact to ground water 
quality are reviewed. Should the EPA Administrator determine that a 
project may contaminate an aquifer through its recharge zone so as to 
create a significant hazard to public health, no commitment for federal 
financial assistance may be entered into.
    EPA also learns of and coordinates the review of proposed projects 
with other offices within EPA and with various federal, state, local, 
and tribal agencies that have a responsibility for ground water quality 
protection. Information obtained from such sources is given full 
consideration in the sole source aquifer review process. Through such 
coordination, EPA project reviews can complement, support, and 
strengthen existing ground water protection mechanisms.

V. Public Comments

    In order to obtain public comment on the proposed designation, EPA 
issued a public notice that was published in the Morning News Tribune 
on April 22, 1993. The notice was also distributed by mail to various 
federal, state, tribal, and local officials. The notice stated that (1) 
EPA was proposing to designate the Central Pierce County Aquifer System 
as a sole source aquifer based on the petition from the TPCHD and the 
EPA review; (2) a public hearing would be held if sufficient interest 
were expressed to EPA by May 25, 1993; (3) a public comment period 
would remain open until June 15, 1993; and (4) a document that 
summarized the bases for the proposal was available for review. EPA 
also issued a press release with similar information on April 23, 1993.
    EPA did not receive any requests to hold a public hearing before 
the period expired and the hearing was cancelled. Three written 
comments were received by EPA prior to the June 15, 1993 deadline. A 
letter from the Ground Water Quality Unit Supervisor, Washington 
Department of Ecology, expressed support for the designation. A letter 
from the Pacific Northwest Regional Director, U.S. Department of the 
Interior, Bureau of Reclamation, documented the Bureaus's review of the 
support document but offered no additional comment.
    A letter received on June 11, 1993 from the Chair of the Tacoma-
Pierce County Board of Health offered support for the designation, but 
also requested a 30 day extension of the public comment period and EPA 
participation in an informal public meeting to hear concerns from 
interested parties about the impacts of the designation on the 
community. In response to this request, EPA issued a second public 
notice on June 18, 1993 that extended the public comment period until 
July 19, 1993.
    Two additional letters were received during the second public 
comment period. Another member of the Ground Water Quality Unit, 
Washington Department of Ecology, offered support for the designation 
but requested additional information on the hydrogeologic analyses 
which led to the revision of the petitioned boundary. This information 
was provided to the Unit Supervisor by a Region 10 Ground Water Section 
hydrogeologist. A letter from the Water Division Superintendent, Tacoma 
Public Utilities, stated support for the designation citing the 
increase in public awareness on the importance and vulnerability of 
ground water resources.
    In response to the Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health letter of 
June 11, 1993, EPA participated in an informal public meeting in Tacoma 
on July 14, 1993. At the meeting, an EPA representative presented an 
overview of the sole source aquifer program and outlined the Agency's 
technical review process and basis for selecting the boundaries. Some 
participants raised questions regarding EPA's determination of aquifer 
system boundaries. In response, the boundaries selected by EPA are 
primarily surface water boundaries which act as regionally important 
ground water discharge areas for aquifer system materials. A detailed 
description of aquifer system boundaries and the reasons for their 
selection can be found in the ``Support Document for Sole Source 
Aquifer Designation of the Central Pierce County Aquifer System'', EPA 
910/R-93-001.
    A number of persons at the meeting expressed economic concerns 
about the designation, some contending that EPA's review authority 
could hinder economic development by blocking or delaying proposed 
projects. In response, sole source aquifer designations are not based 
on economic criteria other than the potential cost of alternative 
drinking water supplies needed to replace the petitioned aquifer should 
it become contaminated, i.e, economic impacts from post-designation 
project reviews are not relevant in the Agency's designation decision.
    Regardless, based on past experience, EPA considers fears about 
dire economic impacts from sole source aquifer project reviews to be 
largely unfounded. Under the sole source aquifer program, EPA has the 
authority to review only federal financially-assisted projects proposed 
over a designated aquifer area. Of these, only those projects with the 
potential to create a significant hazard to public health have 
typically been referred to EPA for review. The majority of these 
reviews have resulted in an approval of funding without any project 
modification. When EPA has required changes, project proponents seeking 
federal financial assistance have usually been willing and able to 
modify projects in order to protect ground water quality. To date, 
since Region 10's first sole source aquifer designation in 1978, only 
one project proponent has been either unwilling or unable to modify the 
project design in order to receive EPA approval of federal funding.
    EPA acknowledges that ground water quality protection measures may 
increase costs to a project or cause delays if modifications are 
required. Increased project costs or significant delays due to EPA 
reviews are not common because most projects are already designed in 
accordance with existing standards established by federal, state, or 
local entities, and such standards are often adequate. Involving EPA 
early on in the planning and design phases of a project greatly 
facilitates a more timely and efficient review, and increases the 
likelihood of EPA approval without modification. Where EPA requires 
project modifications, the Agency believes that such measures represent 
an investment that will pay for itself many times over. The high cost 
of replacing contaminated drinking water supplies or cleaning up 
polluted ground water (when possible) underscores the wisdom of taking 
steps to prevent or reduce the possibility of contamination from 
occurring in the first place.

VI. Summary

    Today's action affects only the Central Pierce County Aquifer 
System located in the State of Washington. This action provides a 
review process that allows ground water quality protection measures to 
be incorporated into federal financially-assisted projects.
Gerald A. Emison,
Acting Regional Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 
Region 10.
[FR Doc. 93-32035 Filed 12-30-93; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 6560-50-P