The Washington Department of Ecology is enlisting additional help from more cities and counties in Eastern Washington to tackle what the agency says is the state's largest source of urban water pollution - stormwater runoff.
Polluted storm water from runoff is a major threat to the state's urban waters, say Ecology officials. It carries a toxic stew of pollution into the state's lakes, rivers and streams. Uncontrolled stormwater, they add, can carry muddy water downstream that can suffocate fish and fish egg nests. It can also cause flooding and slope failures that threaten people's homes and the environment.
Starting immediately, the state will begin regulating stormwater in 20 cities and eight counties in Eastern Washington, including Sunnyside, that were not previously regulated for stormwater. The jurisdictions fall under the state's new "Phase II" municipal stormwater permit that the Department of Ecology is now issuing.
"While the east side of Washington is drier, polluted runoff that runs into storm drains is a problem in any urban setting," explained Jay Manning, director of the Department of Ecology. "Even with less precipitation, stormwater pollutes Eastern Washington waters with toxic metals, oil, PCBs and pesticides just as it does in Western Washington."
Manning added, "These permits alone will not fix the pollution problems from urban runoff, but they are a big step in the right direction."
Municipal stormwater permits are required by the federal Clean Water Act and are delegated to states to administer. In December 1999, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published the Phase II municipal stormwater regulations. Washington state's Department of Ecology is only now issuing the permits after years of work with groups and jurisdictions the regulations will affect. The federal regulations went into effect in March 2003.
Stormwater is a problem because it carries oil, fertilizers, pesticides, pet waste, trash and mud into downstream waters. It can contain bacteria, viruses and chemicals that can get into the food chain. Polluted stormwater also triggers toxic algae blooms. Paved surfaces in cities intensify stormwater's pollution effect because surfaces do not allow water to penetrate into the ground.
Stormwater has carried toxic chemical compounds such as persistent flame retardants into the Spokane River. It has also carried pesticides into the Yakima River, and pesticides, PCBs and bacteria into the Palouse, Walla Walla and Colville rivers.
The Eastern Washington cities covered under the Eastern Washington Phase II municipal stormwater permit are Asotin, Clarkston, East Wenatchee, Ellensburg, Kennewick, Liberty Lake, Millwood, Moses Lake, Pasco, Pullman, Richland, Selah, Spokane, Spokane Valley, Sunnyside, Union Gap, Walla Walla, Wenatchee, West Richland and Yakima. The counties are Asotin, Benton, Chelan, Douglas, Franklin, Spokane, Walla Walla and Yakima.
Manning said Gov. Christine Gregoire's proposed budget seeks funding for cities and counties to start implementing stormwater permit requirements. The Governor's budget includes more than $26 million for stormwater, of which $9 million is earmarked specifically to help local governments comply with the new phase II stormwater requirements.
In addition, the Department of Ecology is holding informational workshops across the state in March to help city and county officials begin learning about the permit requirements.
Under the Phase II permits, the state will require cities and counties to develop and use a stormwater management program to control stormwater discharges into their storm sewer systems. The stormwater management program is a plan to reduce the discharge of pollution, reduce harm to receiving waters, and eliminate illegal non-stormwater discharges. The program also includes controls on new development and re-development to ensure stormwater runoff is properly managed to prevent pollution.
The municipal stormwater permits generally cover cities and counties. However other public entities are also subject to these permits. These other entities could include ports, prison complexes, parks and recreation districts, public universities, or diking and drainage districts that own or operate a stormwater sewer system located in a city or county under the permit.
Along with the Eastern Washington permit, the Department of Ecology will simultaneously issue a Phase II stormwater permit for Western Washington. The permit newly covers 81 cities and five counties in Western Washington that were not previously regulated.
Separate permits for Eastern and Western Washington are tailored to match the unique characteristics of each side of the state.