Washington state to update, strengthen water quality rules

January 2003

U.S. Water News Online

SEATTLE, WA-- The Washington Ecology Department is overhauling and strengthening the state's water quality standards for the first time in a decade and officials want state residents opinions.

The standards limit pollution in Washington's lakes, rivers and marine waters with the goal of protecting people, fish, animals and drinking water. They also form the basis for wastewater permits and water cleanup plans.

The federal Clean Water Act requires the state to review the standards every three years and make changes as needed. The Department of Ecology has been working on the update for 10 years, officials said.

``This proposal reflects the latest science and incorporates new state and federal requirements,'' said Megan White, state water quality program manager. ``We've done our best to protect the environment while balancing sometimes sharply conflicting viewpoints. If anyone has a better proposal, we want to hear it.''

The new rules redefine the criteria for ``clean water'' and strengthen anti-pollution rules.

For example, the proposed new standards would, for the first time, require colder temperatures in rivers and streams that are home to bull trout. Previously, the state water quality standards have been concerned only with the proper temperatures for salmon, which can live in slightly warmer water.

The standards would monitor dissolved oxygen -- a measure of pollution -- differently. Ecology is proposing using a 90-day rolling average measure of dissolved oxygen, in addition to the current daily minimum level, to get a better picture of short-term and long-term health of the water.

The new standards will affect cities, counties, industries and developers, to name a few. Ecology officials expect to get an earful in public meetings.

``We don't expect consensus on something this controversial,'' White said.


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