Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Monday, June 09, 2008

"Loopholes do little to ensure clean water"

Since you employees at the Department of Ecology are reading this blog, why don't you pass this editorial on to your managers?

From last Saturday's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
No one would consider cutting off their leg to save their foot, but that's the kind of approach the Washington State Department of Ecology has taken in regard to water pollution.

Ecology has thrust costly stormwater permits upon small towns like Pullman in an effort to ensure the quality of downstream waterways yet, it allows billions of gallons of low-concentration pollutants to be poured into Puget Sound every day, according to a report by Seattle-based environmental group People for Puget Sound.

Many of the pollutants are considered harmless in small doses, but collectively amount to significant levels of lead, arsenic, zinc and copper - all of which have the potential to do more damage than anything Pullman lets slip downstream.

The People for Puget Sound-commissioned study indicated that sewage-treatment plants and industrial facilities are routinely allowed by federal and state environmental authorities to violate water-quality standards around pipe outflow areas called "mixing zones."

The study's author, Heather Trim, told The Associated Press that the practice represents a huge loophole in the Clean Water Act.

"The bottom line is, we don't know what harm is being caused, (but) we do know a lot of toxic chemicals are coming out in large amounts," she said.

Most of the mixing zones reviewed in the study are considered too far from shore to harm humans, but there are some notable exceptions, including some discharge points that are upstream from communities' drinking-water intakes.

One of the arguments behind the permitted use of mixing zones is that further diluting pollutants would come at a high expense with little return.

Try telling that to Pullman residents and business owners, who will be expected to pony up more than $1 million per year to comply with a standard of s stormwater permit that fails to consider important factors such as the city's topography and rural nature.

We suggest Ecology and federal environmental authorities take swift action to ensure the quality of the bodies of water it ultimately is trying to protect before it tries to clean up problems that may not exist in other parts of the state.

Perhaps then cities like Pullman will be able to understand why it's so important to make sure their stormwater doesn't stink.

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