As longtime Dateline Earth readers will know, Lisa and I worked together on a bunch of stories over the past decade highlighting the need to protect Puget Sound. And the biggest threat to the Sound’s water quality is unquestionably the foul mix of oil and heavy metals and God-knows-what-else that gurgles into storm drains on its way to the Sound and its tributaries.
Stiffler’s report for the Sightline Institute, co-authored by Sightline’s Eric de Place, provides a good summary of the problem and outlines two opportunities to improve the situation on Dateline Earth’s home turf.
First the Washington Legislature is meeting, and could pass legislation that would tax petroleum products to help pay what looks to be a steep bill for controlling stormwater in the already-settled parts of the state.
Later in the year, around early summer from what we hear, the Washington Department of Ecology is supposed to adopt regulations putting into effect a Washington Pollution Control Hearings Board decision. It was the first ruling by a quasi-judicial board anywhere in the United States that laid down the law.
That would be the Clean Water Act, and specifically how it affects stormwater and builders. The way Washington’s board interpreted it, the big cities have to start right away to mandate “low-impact development” techniques that reduce — and in some cases eliminate — stormwater pollution.
Now, keep in mind that Ecology was first ordered to write the LID regs on the big cities in 2008. This is your cue to look at your watch. Yep. It’ll be at least two years from the time of the ruling on the big cities until those rules are imposed on future development. In big cities. Which are mostly built out. Meanwhile, the development that we’re looking at over the next few years will no doubt be most prolific in the areas outside big cities — areas that aren’t covered by this set of rules.
But what about all those fast-developing towns outside the likes of Seattle and Tacoma? A later ruling by the pollution board gave them what promises to be at least a five-year reprieve. And the way regulations wend their way through our cumbersome processes, it’ll probably be longer. Perhaps much longer.
If that’s as good as it gets in the only state in the nation that has mandated stormwater cleanup through its root cause — building practices — you have to wonder: How urgent we consider this nation’s biggest water-pollution problem?
— Robert McClure
— Robert McClure