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Protectionists Dismayed by Washington's New Industrial Stormwater Permit
SEATTLE, Washington, July 22, 2009 (ENS) - A coalition of three nonprofit water protection groups are jointly requesting that the Washington Department of Ecology "abandon its plans to weaken industrial stormwater protections."

In public comments submitted to the Department of Ecology, the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, Columbia Riverkeeper, and Spokane Riverkeeper expressed their "deep disappointment" with Ecology’s draft Industrial Stormwater General Permit.

They said Ecology’s draft permit fails to regulate critical pollutants and uses dilution factors which allow industry to discharge more pollution than under the current permit.

Industrial stormwater pollution is a leading cause of water quality impairment throughout Washington, contributing heavy metals, toxic contaminants and muddy waters to the state’s rivers, lakes, and sounds.

The stormwater permit at issue regulates industrial facilities that discharge stormwater into surface waters and into storm sewers that lead to Puget Sound, other marine waters, and Washington’s wetlands, creeks, rivers and lakes.

It covers about 1,200 facilities in the lumber, paper, printing, chemicals, petroleum, leather, metals, landfills, transportation, mills and food products industries.

Polluted stormwater warning sign at Manchester Beach on Puget Sound (Photo by Ricardo Vargas)

About 70 percent of industrial stormwater general permit holders discharge stormwater in the 12 counties that border Puget Sound.

In writing the new permit, Ecology collaborated with representatives from industries the permit regulates and environmental groups. A major goal of the revised permit is to streamline and simplify reporting without compromising environmental safeguards.

But the groups say the state agency plans "to turn back the clock on regulating industrial stormwater pollution."

"Instead of strengthening pollution laws, Ecology’s new permit allows even more toxic pollution in stormwater," said Columbia Riverkeeper Executive Director Brett VandenHeuvel.

"At a time when salmon and the people who depend on them are suffering from unsafe levels of toxics, Ecology’s decision flies in the face of common sense," he said. "Every citizen has the right to eat fish without fear of toxic contamination."

There has been a change in the way Ecology measures discharges that violate water quality standards for metals. The current permit includes metals benchmarks based on EPA values in 2006 Multi-sector General Permit, but in the new draft permit, "Copper and zinc benchmarks reflect Washington State stream conditions."

In the current permit, copper and lead sampling was triggered by two zinc exceedances in discharge waters, while in the new draft permit copper and lead sampling are not triggered by zinc exceedances; they are only applied to specific sectors.

"Copper, zinc and other industrial toxics washing into storm drains from industrial and municipal sites account for 70 percent or more of Puget Sound’s pollution," said Puget Soundkeeper Alliance’s interim Executive Director Tom Putnam.

"The National Marine Fisheries Service, the nation’s expert science agency, recognizes these heavy metals as a threat to the longevity and health of our salmon. Protecting our aquatic ecosystems requires limiting the amount of heavy metals scrap yards, logging operations, and other industries can discharge in their stormwater," said Putnam.

The groups' commented that, "While Governor Christine Gregoire, [Ecology] Director Jay Manning, and other politicians and government functionaries talk about commitment to addressing stormwater issues, in drafting general permits Ecology abdicates its proper role, forcing citizens to litigate Ecology’s illegal permits before the [Pollution Control Hearings Board] PCHB over and over again."

"Federal law requires Ecology to ratchet down pollution over time. Here, Ecology is doing just the opposite," said Spokane Riverkeeper and attorney Rick Eichstaedt.

"The Spokane River has alarming amounts of heavy metals, PCBs, phosphorus, and other industrial chemicals," Eichstaedt said. "If we truly want to clean up our river, we need Ecology to hold all polluters, including industrial polluters, accountable for their impacts to river health."

"Unfortunately this continues Ecology’s pattern of writing permits that are far from protecting ecosystem health. We will continue to protest and appeal this backsliding," said Putnam.

But the Department of Ecology says the new permit will be more effective because it requires monthly inspections of discharge monitoring schedules, BMP effectiveness, and adaptive management programs by "qualified personnel" rather than the quarterly inspections required under the current permit.

Ecology says it has found that many permittees lack the knowledge and skills to recognize problems with pollution prevention, monitoring and other permit compliance issues, so the agency has added a new requirement for inspectors to receive training and certification.

Pile of waste wood in Bellingham, Washington (Photo by Yale Wolf)

In addition, Ecology says the new permit requires for the first time that the timber products industry, and the paper and allied products industries sample for discharges that create high biochemical oxygen demand, even far downstream of the discharge site.

The timber and paper industries often have piles of bark, wood, wood debris, wood chips, and sawdust exposed to stormwater. "This exposure is likely to add organic material to the stormwater that can result in the depletion of oxygen in the receiving water. This represents a significant environmental risk and one not addressed by the core parameters." Therefore, the agency says, "the draft permit includes a benchmark and sampling" for high biochemical oxygen demand.

Click here to see the numerous other changes in the draft permit.

Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, Columbia Riverkeeper, and Spokane Riverkeeper are non-profit, membership-based organizations with members, volunteers, and staff throughout the state.

Each of the three groups is a member of the international Waterkeeper Alliance, which empowers citizens to protect their waters from polluters. Seattle-based public interest law firm Smith & Lowney drafted the comments on behalf of all three organizations. The public comment period closed on July 15, 2009.

Ecology re-issued the current permit in August 2008 and it remains in effect until the revised permit is finalized.

The final permit will be issued on October 21, 2009 after Ecology receives and considers all public comments. It will be effective January 1, 2010, and remain in effect for five years.

Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.



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