County continues working on storm water drainage program

The issue of storm water in Yakima County may have come one step closer to being solved last week.

Last Friday, members of the Yakima County Storm Water Task Force met with the three Yakima County commissioners and Yakima County staff members to discuss the progress they have made in terms of meeting the requirements of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Systems Permit Program, which is part of the Clean Water Act.

Yakima County Surface Water Manager John Knutson explained that this program is one that is required in the Urban Growth areas that surround the cities of Union Gap, Yakima and Selah. Yakima County Commissioner Jesse Palacios added that cities like Sunnyside and Grandview are watching the county to see which direction they take when it comes to complying with the new regulations. He noted both communities will likely soon find themselves with populations large enough to fall under the permit program.

Knutson explained that the county has been working on figuring out how to comply with the new program for several years. He noted that it was in 2001 that the county started working with Union Gap, Yakima and Selah to try to create a regional approach when it comes to storm water.

He explained the issue with storm water is that it can often times wash pollutants into streams and rivers, as well as make it possible for contaminants to seep into ground water. Knutson said that rainwater can wash road grime and dirt into these other water ways, causing pollution. It's this contamination that the permit program is hoping to curb.

According to Knutson, the federal permit program calls for larger communities to work to educate the public on the problems storm water can cause and how its effects can be negated. He noted that illicit dumping is one thing the county will be looking to curb. He added that the permit program also requires construction site pollution be prevented and that new developments treat their storm water before they discharge it into water ways. He said the county should also practice good housekeeping, looking at ways they can help reduce storm water contamination.

Knutson added that another requirement of the permit program is to include public input in the crafting of the county's approach to storm water. He noted that not only has information been gathered from the public through public hearings, but a Storm Water Task Force was also put together.

Task Force member Larry Matson told Commissioners that during the course of the past few months a subcommittee of the task force had been meeting to put together a presentation on storm water management. Task Force member Neil McClure, a member of the Yakima City Council, voiced concern that he hadn't heard about the presentation before stepping into the meeting last Friday.

He said he appreciated the work done by the subcommittee, but felt that it should have gone before the whole task force before it was presented to the commissioners.

Task Force member Mark Barrett told McClure that one of the reasons the subcommittee branched off was because during the course of the task force's meetings politics began to take center stage. He noted that instead of being caught at a standstill because of mixed political views, the subcommittee met because they wanted to move forward with the storm water program.

"We felt we could present this to everyone and then move forward," Barrett said. "We wanted to keep the politics out of it."

Matson added that the subcommittee also branched off because they felt that there was an important stakeholder group, the agriculture industry, that needed to have some issues addressed. He added that the subcommittee also felt that the more alternatives the commissioners had to choose from, the better.

Matson explained to the commissioners that one thing he would like the group to look at is utilizing other programs the county already has in place, such as the Flood Control District, to take care of the storm water requirements. He added that by looking at these different programs the county could save money and man hours implementing the storm water program.

He said he also suggests the commissioners create a larger task force, made up of the program's strongest supporters and most vocal opposition, to work through how exactly the storm water program should be implemented and paid for in Yakima County.

"There are a host of ways to address this," Matson said.

Palacios noted that at this point the county's only goal when it comes to storm water is to be sure it's in compliance with the new program. He noted that the county wants to keep the new program as minimalistic as possible.

"We're trying to get into compliance and do it in the most cost effective way we can," Palacios said.

Yakima County Commissioner Mike Leita said he knows that the county still has some time to work on its storm water program, but would like to see officials begin to take the different pieces that have been presented to them and begin making it into a workable program that can soon be implemented.

McClure and the other task force members noted that they would like to meet at least one more time to go over the information presented by the subcommittee. He added that after that meeting the group can decide where it will go from there.

The county has until June 2006 to implement a storm water program that complies with the federal permit requirements.


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