State needs to reclaim responsibility for clean water

While it's disappointing that a series of news articles was required to get the attention of state and local agencies on an issue as serious as drinking water, we appreciate the focus it has brought to the issue and will continue to work to find a solution. The availability of clean drinking water for Yakima Valley residents is essential for our health and our community's future.

We agree that in some areas, relying on shallow wells for domestic water supply has failed. At the same time, we believe public discussions have become distracted and have jeopardized a timely resolution. Groundwater, with a few very specific exceptions, is a state resource and is under the jurisdiction of the state. The Environmental Protection Agency is not free to exercise authority at its own discretion. While the federal agency has jurisdiction within the Yakama Nation and national forests, the authority for addressing groundwater issues for wells on private property rests squarely with our state Department of Ecology.

It may surprise people who recall our numerous criticisms of Ecology in the past that we now support the agency leading the effort to address our current shallow well issue. Discussions with numerous regional and Olympia officials have convinced us that Ecology is the most appropriate and best prepared agency to lead us to a timely, practical solution.

Speaking with several people at the agency about the issue, we are convinced that Ecology is committed to involving local people in finding local solutions. While we appreciate the eagerness of the EPA to facilitate discussions and help the state take action and responsibility, it's time for Ecology to take the lead.

Another distraction in the groundwater well issue has been the tendency to look to dairies as the major cause of water contamination. This only creates a vicious blame game, and does not get us any closer to cleaner water.

Shallow wells have a long history of compromised water quality both in our area and across the state. Such wells are inherently vulnerable to contamination from a wide range of surface sources. High nitrate levels were commonly found in the Valley's shallow wells long before the dairy industry became established here. We don't know for certain that the dairies are the single cause of contamination, or that if additional regulations were put on the dairies, the water would be clean.

We must keep in mind the goal: making sure every family has access to clean drinking water in their homes. Both the Legislature and the industry have taken significant actions to improve water and nutrient management in the past. We remain committed to continuing that aggressive effort, in addition to specifically addressing the contaminated shallow wells in the Yakima Valley. We will make certain sufficient action is taken, and that local agencies are in control.

Whatever solution the community agrees upon, we will back the efforts and monitor the situation closely. The health of our residents and future of our community depend on everyone directly involved having a stake in the outcome."

- Sen. Jim Honeyford of Sunnyside, Rep. Dan Newhouse of Sunnyside and Rep. Bruce Chandler of Granger represent 15th District residents in Olympia.


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