Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, April 26, 2007

BREAKING NEWS: Whitman County May Sue Moscow Over Water Pollution

I have received unconfirmed reports that Whitman County officials are contemplating legal action to recover monetary damages from the City of Moscow created by that city's numerous water quality violations that have flowed down Paradise Creek and into the South Fork of the Palouse River.

If you will remember, Moscow recently admitted fault and settled with the EPA for $134,000. The 950 violations of standards for total residual chlorine, fecal coliform, phosphorous and dissolved oxygen between March 2002 and June 2006 could have forced the city to pay as much as $2.5 million in fines.

A story in today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News reported that the Washington Department of Ecology wants to expand the study of the South Fork of the Palouse River to determine the sources of the water pollution (I can tell them right where to start looking):
Department of Ecology to expand Palouse River study

Study intended to identify sources of water pollution

The Washington State Department of Ecology hopes sound science will tell the story of what's polluting the Palouse River.

However, many ranchers worry that answers already have been found, and the study won't provide them with a happy ending.

Ecology researchers Jim Carroll and Elaine Snouwaert made a presentation and fielded questions from landowners Wednesday night on the river's temperature, pH, fecal coliform bacteria and dissolved oxygen. All are at higher levels in the Palouse drainage than currently permitted by state standards.

The upcoming studies will assess the total maximum daily load of each of the pollutants allowed in the stream, with the intent of keeping the river within water-quality limits. Ecology is addressing 700 waterways in the state that are in violation of the Clean Water Act.

Carroll said his studies are designed to be a general screening of the river. More specific diagnostics can be made in the future once points of pollution are specifically identified.

The state has set specific standards for waterways to meet in regard to temperature, pH and dissolved oxygen. Carroll said those goals may not be attainable for the Palouse waterways due to the area's hydrogeologic structure.

Most of the people in attendance came to talk about bacteria levels. The tests will identify where the pollution is coming from, but will not specifically single out the producer. One solution several people mentioned was DNA testing of the fecal coliform to find out where it came from, be it cows, humans or mice.

Carroll said DNA testing would take more time and a lot more money. Several people said Ecology might find that wildlife and dysfunctional septic systems might be the major cause of pollutants, but cattle are easy to identify and ranchers may be forced to change their grazing practices along streams.

Carroll said the river's condition could be a product of land use. The Palouse region used to include marshes and sub-irrigated pasture in lowlands that are now farmed. During the Cold War, the United States grew as much food as possible and the wetlands were drained and plowed.

As a result, Carroll said the land was made to shed water instead of retain it, and the drainage systems could be major contributors to higher temperatures, pH levels and dissolved oxygen.

Carroll said regulations to make the Palouse River drainage fit specific criteria might not be realistic. It is hoped the studies will help determine what pollutant levels are acceptable and what can be achieved.

The total maximum daily load studies are among several ongoing studies and policy discussions in the Palouse drainage, also known as Water Resource Inventory Area 34. Carroll said decisions on each process will be made separately, although a determination of how much water needs to be in the streams could help the river meet its water quality standards. Pollutants can be diluted with more water and therefore meet waste quality standards.


WHAT HAPPENED: Washington State Department of Ecology researchers provided an overview of a new set of studies they will begin this year on the Palouse River.

WHAT IT MEANS: The watershed contains several areas that are considered to be contaminated. The study is intended to identify sources of pollution so they can be removed.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT: Ecology will begin its study and compile data.

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Potential solutions could influence land and water use.


Scotty said...

The nerve of Whitman County to sue the good people of Moscow! They are the ones who care about the water and the run off. They are the ones who are so concerned about it that they want to stop construction along 270 to make sure the stream is not hurt. I think the people of Whitman County need to wake up and take the environmental lead of the likes of Moscow and Al Gore!

April E. Coggins said...

Good. I hope it is true and I hope Pullman will consider joining. It's unfair that Whitman County and Pullman are being held responsible for Moscow's waste. What will it cost us to clean up the Palouse River after Moscow dumps who-knows-what upriver? Who is monitoring the entrance of pollutants to Paradise Creek before it enters Whitman County?

Uncle Bubba said...

I surely hope Whitman Co. is considering this option . Our county is held responsible by the EPA and the State of Washington for this drainage ditch so called creek from the minute it flows across the state line. Moscow's irresponsibility becomes our burden . It's time for Moscow to take care of business at home.