New stormwater regulations could put Pullman in a bind.
Pullman residents soon may see a new fee on their water and sewer bills because of a new set of stormwater regulations being adopted by the Washington State Department of Ecology.
The department will issue a new stormwater permit on Dec. 6 that is designed to manage the quantity and quality of runoff water from development. The new regulations include more stringent stormwater-management standards and reporting requirements that city officials say are going to cost Pullman and its residents substantial amounts of money
Pullman Public Works Director Mark Workman expects he’ll have to hire more staff to manage stormwater and to review development applications. The city also will have to create a stormwater utility, with a corresponding tax to pay for the costs of complying with the new standards.
The net effect is that the city either will have to raise taxes or make cuts, Councilman Keith Bloom said Tuesday night following a presentation by David Duncan, a Department of Ecology representative.
An additional problem is no one — not even the Department of Ecology — knows whether the city will be able to comply with the new standards for how turbid water can be in the South Fork of the Palouse River.
Turbidity refers to the amount of suspended material, such as clay or silt washed from fields, that can be seen when light passes through water, Kevin Gardes, the city’s deputy public works director, said in a telephone interview today.
“Basically, the dirtier or muddier the water, the higher the turbidity number,” Gardes said.
Pullman is surrounded by about 1 million acres of farmland and has uniquely loose soil, which means there’s a lot of dirt in the South Fork of the Palouse River, Bloom said. The costs to clean all of that dirt out of the river could be astronomical.
“Developers don’t pick up the cost. Consumers pick up the cost,” Bloom said. “This is an opportunity to stifle economic growth.”
Bloom foresees developers flocking across the border to Idaho if they have to meet the Ecology’s new standards in Pullman and Whitman County.
There are other impacts the average citizen wouldn’t expect, Councilman Barney Waldrop said. The way the regulations are written, Pullman residents wouldn’t be allowed to wash their cars in their driveways, or let water fall from their lawn sprinklers onto pavement because that water would run off into the city’s creeks and rivers.
The city tried to be excluded from the regulations, but was denied by the Department of Ecology with no rationale given for why it should be included.
The regulations are designed to apply to cities with a population of 10,000 or more, and construction activities on one- to five-acre plots of land. Without Washington State University included in Pullman’s population count, Pullman met the criteria, Duncan said.
Duncan acknowledged Pullman is in a tight spot.
“I believe Pullman has probably the most difficult situation in the state with regard to soils,”Duncan said.
Nonetheless, he thinks Pullman needs to do a better job managing its stormwater runoff.
The Department of Ecology offered the city a $75,000 grant to start planning its stormwater utility, but the City Council delayed making a decision on whether or not to take the money until it gets more information from the department. The council didn’t want to lose its chance to appeal its being included in the new standards by taking the money.
Officials from the city and WSU will talk with Ecology representatives on Oct. 4 to ask why Pullman was included in the new standards. The council again will consider accepting the $75,000 grant at its Oct. 10 meeting. If the state can do this to the City of Pullman, imagine what they could to you and your property.
I wonder if cities will be able to sue the state for damages under I-933? Maybe the citizens of Pullman can sue.
Pullman and Whitman County's economic growth is being drowned in a sea of water regulations, not only from Moscow, but from Olympia as well.