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Ecology on Water Rule:
Let Them Eat Fish

by Don Jenkins
Capital Press, October 1, 2014

Washington's Department of Ecology proposes new water quality standards to ensure you can eat fish everyday
without risking taking in too many toxins. If the rule is adopted, it's unclear whether anything will change.

An aerial applicator makes a pass in this file photo. The Environmental Protection Agency has released an online map that helps farmers and applicators determine where buffer zones are in effect for 12 commonly used pesticides in California, Washington and Oregon. OLYMPIA, Wash. -- The Washington Department of Ecology has proposed new water-quality standards, a step in a broader move by Gov. Jay Inslee to reduce water pollution.

The proposed standards, foreshadowed by Inslee in July and released Sept. 29, are intended to reduce pollution discharged into waterways by cities and businesses that have permits.

The connection between the new standards and agricultural practices are "weak at best," said Kelly Susewind, special assistant to Ecology Director Maia Bellon.

Still, Washington Farm Bureau lobbyist Evan Sheffels said the group is concerned about the move to tighten controls over chemicals, including fertilizers and pesticides.

"We want to make sure we don't lose any of these products," he said.

Inslee has said the wastewater streaming from pipes is less of a problem than the unregulated flow of everyday chemicals.

He's mentioned car brakes and flame retardants in furniture as sources of pollutants that eventually run into waterways.

Inslee said he will present to the 2015 Legislature proposals to keep toxic chemicals from polluting waterways.

The governor has yet to release the package. Sheffels said it's unknown how farmers and ranchers might be effected. He said agriculture representatives have been meeting with DOE officials to talk about potential policies. "The meetings have been productive," he said.

DOE's announcement Sept. 29 fulfilled a promise by Inslee to released a water-quality proposal by the end of the month. DOE plans to officially propose the rule in January, opening up a public-comment period.

The discharge rule would update how the state enforces the federal Clean Water Act. The current rule has been in place since 1992. Inslee said in July that the standards are out of date.

In one key test of water purity, the new standards would increase the amount of fish a person could eat without a theoretic increase in the risk of getting cancer.

Under the current standard, a 154-pound person who eats 6.5 grams, less than a quarter of an ounce, of fish everyday for 70 years would increase his or her risk of cancer by 1 in 1 million.

Under the proposed standard, a 176-pound person could eat 175 grams, 6.1 ounces, of fish every day for 70 years and increase his or her risk of cancer by 1 in 100,000.

DOE officials say that if the state doesn't act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may impose rules to update enforcement of the Clean Water Act.

If the rules are adopted, they apparently won't have any immediate effect.

In a conference call with reporters, Susewind said no agency or business with a discharge permit would be out of compliance with the new standards.

As time went on and testing of water quality improved, the higher standards might have an effect, he said. It's unclear there how far into the future that would be.

Related Sites:
Salmon Mapper Pesticide Use Limitations in California, Oregon and Washington State, by EPA

Don Jenkins
Ecology on Water Rule: Let Them Eat Fish
Capital Press, October 1, 2014

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