Saturday, February 25, 2012

Myth: We Have a Water Quality Problem

This will be the first of several posts to address some of the apparent myths used as justification for strict new County regulations. One of these apparent myths is the belief that we have a generalized water quality problem and the CAOs and SMP must address it now. However, as the article below from the Island Guardian suggests, we do not have such a problem.  Even if we did, the CAOs/SMP would not be the primary way of fixing that problem.  That is the purpose of the Clean Water Act (CWA).

Another associated apparent myth to be addressed in subsequent posts relates to the water quality data already available for the County. The general public is largely unaware that the CWA requires the collection and reporting of data so that all waters in the U.S. can achieve the CWA goal of being fishable and swimmable. As a result, the State and Federal governments issue biennial water quality reports, including for the San Juans, that identify impaired waterways, if any.  In the event of impairment, the government prepares plans to bring impaired waters up to fishable/swimmable standards. These requirements already exist and will continue to exist regardless of the outcome on the CAOs or SMP.

San Juan County has lost out on over a quarter million dollar grant from the Clean Water Fund because -yup, you guessed it- as the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) has in the past stated, the waters in the county are “pristine.”

Ecology’s water quality specialists “evaluated and scored all project proposals,” and the County got beat out by other jurisdictions that had water pollution problems that needed to be addressed.

The County has applied for, and received, funding in the past from Ecology for use as low interest loans made to property owners to repair or replace septic systems that had the potential to pollute the waters, and in particular waters containing aquaculture projects.

The analysis by Ecology of the applications for funding was based on the awarding of points for various categories. For example up to a 150 points could be awarded if a “ project directly and measurably addresses a water quality problem.” The County was awarded exactly “0” points on that one, because there are no known water quality problems directly related to failing septic systems near or on the shoreline; if there were, the SJC Health Department would already have taken action.

Any historical problems with the downgrading of commercial shellfish growing areas due to pollution have been resolved by the County. There are, for example, no closed shellfish areas, and have not been any closures due to past aggressive actions by the Health Department for the last twenty plus yeas to inspect and enforce the repair or replacement of systems that had the potential to cause water pollution.

In a letter to the County, Kelly Susewind, the Water Quality Program Manager for Ecology, stated she appreciated the County’s “interest in and efforts toward water quality improvements and protection” and “hope you will considered future Ecology funding opportunities.”

All we need now is a problem to solve.

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