January 16, 1998 in City

Ecology Agrees To Speed Cleanup State Asks Lawmakers For More Workers For Cleanup, Which Includes Spokane, Snake, Pend Oreille And Colville Rivers, And Moses Lake

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Pushed by a 1991 lawsuit, the Washington Department of Ecology has agreed to accelerate work to clean up nearly 700 polluted parts of lakes, rivers and coastal waters.

Ecology and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials announced the legal settlement Thursday at an Olympia press conference.

Affected Inland Northwest waters include the Spokane, Snake, Pend Oreille and Colville rivers, and Moses Lake.

The agreement is the first of its kind in the nation, officials said. About 30 other states face similar lawsuits.

In the Washington case, Ecology and EPA were sued by two Portland-based groups: Northwest Environmental Advocates, and Northwest Environmental Defense Center, at Lewis and Clark College’s Northwestern School of Law.

The groups accused Ecology of having an inadequate program to evaluate the condition of Washington’s lakes and rivers, and was lagging badly on a key program of the federal Clean Water Act.

That program requires Ecology to develop “total maximum daily loads” (TMDLs) for each body of water - an inventory of pollutants in the water, and an estimate of how much more pollution they can hold and remain healthy.

The federal law calls for the standards to be set and action taken to protect aquatic life and ensure that the water remains suitable for a variety of uses.

“This agreement will put us on track to improve the health of the water for our citizens and the fish,” said Ecology Director Tom Fitzsimmons.

However, Ecology doesn’t have enough staff to complete the work called for in the agreement, Fitzsimmons said.

About 20 employees work on water quality issues now. Ecology has asked the Legislature for 12 more to begin the program.

Litigation has become a common way for various interest groups to force public agencies to follow the nation’s environmental laws.

For instance, a 1994 American Lung Association lawsuit against EPA led to an agreement last year for more stringent federal standards for ozone and tiny dust particles in the air that can aggravate lung disease.

“We are very pleased,” said Nina Bell, executive director of the 1,500-member Northwest Environmental Advocates.

“In making these changes, Ecology has the support of the public who wanted the Clean Water Act in 1972 and, over 25 years later, still want to meet its goals,” Bell said.

The state’s main pollution problems aren’t from industrial discharges in pipes, but from what’s called “non-point source pollution” - widespread human activities, including agricultural runoff, failed septic tanks, clear-cut forests and urban sprawl.

Fecal coliform bacteria from septic systems and farming practices, such as poorly managed dairy farms, cause some of the worst water pollution problems in the state, Ecology officials said.

, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story:

ECOLOGY AGREEMENT

The new water agreement includes:

A 15-year schedule to develop “total maximum daily loads” (TMDLs) for 666 water segments either not meeting or not expected to meet water quality standards.

A process to decide which watersheds should be cleaned up first.

Improved public participation and tribal involvement.

A requirement that EPA takes over the water projects if Ecology fails to meet milestones in the agreement.

This sidebar appeared with the story: ECOLOGY AGREEMENT The new water agreement includes: A 15-year schedule to develop “total maximum daily loads” (TMDLs) for 666 water segments either not meeting or not expected to meet water quality standards. A process to decide which watersheds should be cleaned up first. Improved public participation and tribal involvement. A requirement that EPA takes over the water projects if Ecology fails to meet milestones in the agreement.


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