Ecology Initiates Conversation on Water Quality Talks

By Paige Browning

Washington’s governor proposed new state water quality standards in early July, and off the bat citizens debated the proposal. The department of ecology acknowledges getting the public on board will be a challenge, so it held info sessions for both reporters and citizens this week.
 
Environmental groups say the standards don’t go far enough, while big industry cautions that strict water standards will drive off business. To explain the ruling, Ecology starts with the basics: that the average fish consumption rate would go up from one fish per month to one per week, and the cancer risk rate from fish would change accordingly. The rates require new limits on toxins in state water bodies.
 
Kelly Susewind at the ecology department it comes down to a mathematical equation, and the state will be at least as strict as today.
 
Susewind: “If our current standard is 10 units of pollution and the new standard would be restricting people to five units of pollution, we’ll use the new standard of five. If the calculated number were to allow 15 units of pollution, we’ll say no that’s more than we allow today, we’ll restrict it to ten.”
 
The exception is arsenic, which will be less regulated because he says most is not coming from dischargers and it’s impossible to enforce.
 
Susewind says the governor was concerned that proposing even tougher regulations would bring complaints from industry groups.
 
Susewind: “And therefore they won’t invest. We’re hearing from businesses, they invest on a 20-30 year time frame. If they are worried that they’ll cease to exist in 15-20 years, they’re not going to invest now, today.”
 
The department and Inslee’s office is starting a roughly two year process of getting the regulations approved by the U-S Environmental Protection Agency. In November, the state legislature will be asked to approve a companion bill that gives ecology more regulatory power.
 
Copyright 2014 Spokane Public Radio
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