Tiers 1, 2 and 3 Water Quality Standards

What are Tiers 1, 2 and 3 in Alaska’s Water Quality Standards?

Per the Clean Water Act, Alaska’s water quality antidegradation policy creates three classifications, or “tiers,” of waters.

Tier 1 waters are waters for which not all water quality criteria are met. This can be due to naturally occurring constituents in the water, or can be due to pollutants introduced by humans.

Tier 2 waters are high quality waters, which include the vast majority of waters in Alaska. In these waters, all water quality criteria are met.

Tier 3 waters are waters that are required to be preserved in their current status.

40 CFR 131.12(a)(3): “Where high quality waters constitute an outstanding National resource, such as waters of the National and State parks and wildlife refuges and waters of exceptional recreational or ecological significance, that water quality shall be maintained and protected.”

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The State is required by the Clean Water Act and federal regulations to have an “antidegradation” policy to assure that water is only “degraded” – pollutants added from discharges – for good reason and with limits. The federal regulations also require Alaska have a process for the nomination and designation of Tier 3 waters.

Developing a Tier 3 Process for Alaska

Alaska is currently developing the process for the nomination and designation of Tier 3 waters. During the 2016 legislative session, the Governor introduced legislation (SB163 and HB283) to establish this Tier 3 nomination and designation process. The Governor requested the bills be set aside and committed to more dialog with Tribes and stakeholders before offering another proposal.

The process needs to work well for all Alaskans and for all waters of the state, now and in the future. The process should be transparent and allow any Alaskan to submit a nomination. The process should provide opportunity for local input, and for the thorough evaluation and vetting of a nomination using defined criteria.

To start the conversation, we have developed three possible alternative nomination and designation processes. Please note that in providing these three alternative processes we are in no way trying to limit the discussion. The Tier 3 process that Alaska arrives at must answer several distinct questions, including:

  1. Which waters can be Tier 3 waters? What criteria should be applied before a water can be eligible for Tier 3 designation?
  2. Who can nominate a water for Tier 3 designation, and what requirements should exist for the nomination process?
  3. Once the nomination is received, who should evaluate the nomination to determine the eligibility criteria are met, that the water is a valid candidate for Tier 3 designation?
  4. How will this evaluation process be paid for?
  5. What kind of public process should exist so that Alaskan citizens can weigh in on a Tier 3 decision?
  6. Once a nomination is determined to be a valid candidate for Tier 3 designation, who should make the final decision that the water should indeed be a Tier 3 water?

We held 4 workshops the week of March 20, 2017 to further explore the questions listed above. An additional workshop is scheduled for Dillingham on May 2, 2017.


Tell us what you think!

We’d like to hear from you about how Alaska's nomination and designation process for Tier 3 waters should work. The process needs to work well for all Alaskans, for all waters of the state, now and in the future. The process should be transparent, allow all Alaskans and Tribes to submit a nomination, provide ample opportunity for local and public input, provide thorough evaluation of the submitted information and vetting of a nomination, and provide a complete package on which to base a final determination. We would like to receive your input by June 15, 2017.



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