Stormwater on the Palouse — time for a positive vision
What’s really up with the storm-water situation in Pullman? According to the more conservative voices, it’s the fundamental unfairness of the Washington State Department of Ecology’s process for issuing a stormwater permit for the city of Pullman. Hillary Hamm, the Daily News reporter, dutifully states without reference that you won’t be able to wash your car in your driveway if you live in Pullman. Tom Forbes (Opinion, Nov. 15), avid Wal-Mart groupie, says that all this will be “bad for business” — his ultimate “kiss of death” for cleaning up the South Fork of the Palouse River. These regulations are supposed to be applied for the west side of Washington state, which cares about salmon. And since we don’t have salmon, we ought not be concerned with the fact that after every rainfall, we have a creek full of dirt and anti-freeze. Then, finally, we get the “since-the-other-guy-beats-his-wife,-it-should-be-fine-if-we-do,-too” line of reasoning. Moscow isn’t going to have to conform to any new stormwater regulations. Why should we worry?
First, a little background. Both Pullman and Moscow treat their residential and industrial sewage — the stuff that comes from houses and buildings. They conform to whatever the regulations are in their respective state. The treated effluent, which is pretty clean, goes into the creek. Fine.
But neither Pullman nor Moscow treat their stormwater, the water that flows down outside drains and gutters. That’s also typical for small communities. But as communities grow, and their industrial base expands, this also changes. Every city goes through a transition where storm-water becomes an issue and has to be treated. Spokane treats some of its storm- water. Typically, there are two lines into a stormwater treatment facility — one from the industrial base, and one from residential areas. In the case of a storm, the facility first manages the industrial run-off, because there is more bad stuff in it — toxics, motor oil, etc. They devote the remaining capacity to cleaning up the residential run-off.
In our case, it’s important to realize that the stakes involved with the South Fork of the Palouse are pretty high. It runs right through where we live. And we haven’t done a great job on the Palouse of having any creeks that aren’t open sewers at one time or another. Southeastern Washington has only one potential natural river environment — the Palouse River and a couple of tributaries. The fact that we’ve completely wrecked the entire basin is nothing to be proud of. We’ve wrecked it because we’ve allowed the agriculture industry, that employs only 1.6 percent to 3 percent of the population, at a $16,000-per-year wage to plow down to, and over the side creeks.
Instead of defending the status quo, why not engage all the stakeholders up and down the South Fork of the Palouse and its tributaries to clean up their act? Let’s collaborate with our upstream neighbor, Moscow, and get them to manage their stormwater. Let’s lead by building a storm-water facility of our own. Groups like PCEI, as well as agencies like the Soil and Water Conservation Service, have been working on fixing erosion in the upper watershed. Let’s tell our legislators that heavily subsidized agriculture must stop polluting our last local river, and demand larger buffer strips along the branches. As taxpayers, we are already paying out the nose to grow wheat that no one wants.
Finally, let’s dispense with the old canard that having a sewage ditch instead of a river in the middle of our community is somehow “good for business.” It’s not. People who will create the jobs are attracted here because of bike paths, river walks, and shady groves of trees along clean rivers. They aren’t drawn here by Wal-Mart Supercenters, and concrete rivers, and the freedom to dump your radiator fluid down the drain when it rains. And unlike days of old, it’s not a case of “jobs first, then people follow.” As documented heavily in the famous book, “The Rise of the Creative Class,” by Richard Florida, it’s “talented people come, and jobs follow.”
A clean river running through our town also would say a lot about our family values — that we have a vision of our future for our kids that makes things like natural landscapes where we live a priority — not more parking lots. And the cost is not that great. Forbes’ Town Crier column said the cost would run $9/month per household. That’s three bags of potato chips. Aren’t our children’s future, our economic growth, and a more beautiful world worth it? You would think that Pezeshki, a professor of mechanical and materials engineering and chairman of the WSU Faculty Senate, could come up with a more learned argument for stormwater regulations than calling me names and hyperbolic claims that our local waterways are open sewers.
Pezeshki's disdain isn't just reserved for me. He apparently loathes the "$16,000-per-year" farmers who have worked the land long before he and his carefully coiffed facial hair graced the Palouse. The farmers are apparently not members of the "creative class," as the good professor apparently fancies himself to be. Plus, I'm sure he blames those damn clodhoppers for voting Republican as well.
I guess I should be flattered that I annoy the local left-wing intelligentsia so much. I have become their all-purpose bogeyman as of late. But it's not just me that believes that the proposed DOE stormwater regulations are ridiculous. So does Mayor Johnson, the entire Pullman City Council and the director of Environmental Health and Safety at WSU. I'd rather have their approbation than the elitist Pezeshki's.
Pezeshki does not explain where the money to fund his grand vision will come from. It would be a hell of a lot more than a bag of chips, I can tell you that.
Finally, Pezeshki writes of legislative priorities. That's funny, because I didn't see him at the Town Hall meeting last month with our legislators advocating that point. It's easier to pontificate from his ivory tower I guess.