The Environmental Protection Agency should draft water pollution standards aimed at protecting wildlife refuges and the birds and animals using them, congressional investigators said Monday.
A report from the General Accounting Office also called on Interior Secretary Donald P. Hodel to seek changes in the Clean Water Act if he finds any more refuges contaminated by a single source of agricultural runoff water like the Kesterson refuge in the San Joaquin Valley of California.
Such sources should be required to have discharge permits granted by state authorities under EPA supervision, the report said.
"Unless EPA sets regulatory criteria, as it is required to do by the Clean Water Act, to protect wildlife, the (Fish and Wildlife) Service will have no leverage to compel responsible parties to abate pollution when damage to the refuge is detected," the GAO analysts wrote.
They added, "Without such criteria, the service cannot readily determine what harm the contamination found in a refuge or in its fish or wildlife could cause or whether action is needed to protect the refuges."
EPA sets water pollution standards to protect human health and aquatic life such as fish. Those standards are then used in writing regulations and discharge permits.
"The aquatic life and human health criteria cannot be applied to wildlife because of the many differences between the species," the report said. EPA has no plans to "expand criteria development to include wildlife and other refuge habitat," it added.
The Fish and Wildlife Service, part of the Interior Department, has identified 85 of its 430 refuges that could be contaminated. But most of these identifications were made by observation, not by scientific sampling. In April, the service hired the Energy Department's Idaho National Engineering Laboratory to design a contamination monitoring system.
At the Kesterson refuge, ducks and other waterfowl using it have died because of high concentrations of selenium in the irrigation drain water that formerly was dumped into the refuge.