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3 thoughts on “What comes next under water-quality standards imposed by the EPA?

  1. Respectfully, this article misses the point entirely, and presents the same tired “woe as me” refrain espoused by countless polluters since before the Clean Water Act.

    The Clean Water Act mandates we issue standards based on scientifically-derived environmental and human health outcomes. Not on what is convenient or a “best effort” to comply. The point of this exercise was to decide on water quality standards necessary to protect fish consumers from toxic pollution. If the fish are too toxic to allow unrestricted safe consumption, then we have a big problem, and this is precisely where we find ourselves. Impaired waterways where it is not safe to eat fish should indeed be listed as such, and pollution should be reduced.

    The State’s approach of “We have a better idea” (source control) has already failed in the 2015 legislature. Nothing was advanced in the 2016 Legislature either. Nonetheless, this approach is still available to the State, should they want to pursue it. And, it would be completely compatible with our newly-strengthened standards which are now going to be law. In fact, a “source control approach” would be strongly supported by these new standards. Time and again, since the Clean Water Act went into effect, new standards have allowed and incentivized innovations to produce solutions to protect our waterways.

    Essentially the point being offered by the Department of Ecology and polluting industries is this: This is going to be too hard, so let’s set the standards at a level that doesn’t actually protect people, but at a level that we can achieve. And we will talk about doing other stuff too.

    This not what we are doing here. This is about protecting people, especially ethnic groups and legal entities such as Northwest Tribes that rely heavily on locally caught fish.

    Now, we have finally set standards that reflect the actual impacts of pollution on people in Washington. If there are challenges in treating water to these standards, then we can look at existing tools that allow dischargers to meet standards over time (up to 10 years if needed). And, we can also look at ways to eliminate sources of toxic pollution, which is fact what the Clean Water Act envisioned. In the preamble it states: “It is the national goal that the discharge of pollutants into the navigable waters be eliminated by 1985.”

    Sadly, we already have fish consumption advisories for most major waterways including Puget Sound and the Columbia River and our endangered orca whales are some of the most toxic animals on the planet due to PCB contamination.

    It is unconscionable that the same polluting industries that had such an impact on our waters for decades are now effectively lobbying the State to act in their behalf.

    It’s time we stopped treating our waters as repositories for toxic waste. Setting strong scientifically-based limits is the first step to doing that.

    1. If the standards were truly based on science, there would be no argument. But the standards come from a formula that includes at least five major factors — and every one of them is determined by assumptions involving policy decisions, not science.

      For example, the fish-consumption rate of 175 grams (6 ounces) per day comes from studies about how much salmon and shellfish are eaten by Native Americans, who are fairly large consumers of seafood. But we know that some Native Americans eat up to 450 grams per day. So why don’t we set standards to protect these people as well? That would result in a more stringent standard.

      On the other hand, the assumption in the equation says people eat 175 grams per day of fish contaminated at the upper limit of pollution. Most of this is salmon. And most, but not all, salmon grow to adult size in the ocean, so they don’t have nearly that level of contamination. So if the actual cancer risk were adjusted for fish that are actually eaten, the standard would be less stringent.

      We can do the same for each factor, making the standards higher or lower based on various assumptions. One could make the standards for each chemical 10, 100 or 1,000 times more stringent and it would not make the fish any safer to eat.

      The answer is to clean up the pollution. If the fix is not at the end of a pipe, then the work must be done in the watersheds, where stormwater originates. That work is underway, although much more needs to be done.

      Now that the water-quality standards are in place, lawsuits could be filed against the government for allowing this new level of pollution. That might get the Legislature to bring more money to bear on the problem. It might also lead to confusion and divert money away from other serious pollution problems — perhaps those involving chemicals of emerging concern, which are not even covered by the Clean Water Act.

      I may be missing the point, but I sincerely hope that we don’t come to regret where all this is heading.

  2. When the EPA designates my stormwater ditch which channels water from my road to the bay as a stream, I’m all for gutting this agency. They have gone too far… I love how the tribe dictates these policies but don’t have to abide by them.

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