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What Are Utah's Water Quality Rules and Regulations?

How to stay within the law when it comes to groundwater

Water is our most precious natural resource—especially in a place like Utah where drinking water is important, where much of the state has a semi-arid climate. The Clean Water Act (CWA) is the primary federal law that governs water pollution. The top federal environmental regulator, the EPA, delegates much of its authority under the CWA to state agencies, including to the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

Businesses and organizations operating in Utah must comply with the Utah Division of Water Quality rules and regulations. Failure to do so could result in serious legal problems, including large financial penalties. Below, you will find three key things you need to know about Utah’s water quality standards and regulations.

Know the Law: Utah Administrative Code Rule R317-2

As of January 1st, 2020, Utah Administrative Code Rule R317-2 sets the basic standards for ground water quality in the state. Rule R317-2 is extremely complicated. As a starting point, it is important to understand the purpose and scope of the regulation. Among other things, Utah’s water clarifies the following:

  • Water pollution is a “menace” to human health and welfare, aquatic life and wildlife
  • Official public policy in in the State of Utah is to protect, maintain, and improve the quality public water supplies for beneficial uses
  • The DEQ should ensure that no waste or pollutants are discharged into state surface waters, groundwater and waste water systems without first being treated to the extent practicable

In other words, Utah law requires businesses and organizations to avoid unapproved water contamination. Recognizing that level of discharge into public waters is inevitable in certain circumstances, state law requires businesses to obtain approval.

A Business May Need a Permit for Activities Affecting Surface Water or Groundwater

As noted previously, the EPA has delegated its authority to Utah to administer its own state-level water regulation standards. In doing so, the DEQ requires many businesses and organizations to obtain a permit for activities that affect surface water supplies, runoff or groundwater supplies. Businesses must obtain the proper permit before engaging in certain activities. Under Utah law, there are several different types of water permits, including:

  • Wastewater and remediation certification
  • Wastewater discharge permits
  • Storm water permits
  • Groundwater permits

As there are strict application requirements, companies seeking a water permit from Utah’s environmental regulatory agencies should initiate the process as early as possible.

Water Quality is Often a Case-By-Case Issue

The Clean Water Act is a complex federal law. The state-level water quality regulations in Utah are not much easier to understand. Ultimately, every water quality and water degradation case involves its own unique set of facts and circumstances. You should always be ready to seek professional guidance. If you have any specific questions about Utah’s water quality management practices and your rights/responsibilities, reach out to an experienced Utah environmental law attorney for immediate assistance.

For more information on this area of law, see our overviews of environmental law and business litigation.

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