State water plan may pose local problems

Jan 9 2003 12:00AM

By Andy Porter of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin

Walla Walla, WA - Mill Creek could be a source of contention as the state prepares its first major overhaul of water quality standards in a decade, local officials say.

The revisions proposed by the state Department of Ecology will change several key aspects of the standards for lakes, streams and other water sources, including rules for water temperature, dissolved oxygen, bacteria and ammonia.

The new temperature standard calls for colder temperatures in rivers and streams that are home to bull trout, a threatened fish species. But that standard may be hard, or impossible, to meet, say officials.

Phil Merrell, Walla Walla County engineer, said that at present the creek often doesn't meet the current temperature standards, particularly in the summer months.

Flood control structures that have been built into the stream to widen the creek and slow down the waterflow work against keeping the water cool, he said.

``Some of the features which are designed to deal with floods are not necessarily the most fish-friendly,'' Merrell said.

Robert Gordon, water system manager for the city of Walla Walla, said the city would also be concerned about the new temperature standards and whether they will affect its ability to divert water to its treatment plant.

Along with the city, Ecology also diverts water from Mill Creek into Yellowhawk Creek, Gordon said. During the summer, portions of the creek often go dry below the Yellowhawk diversion.

``So that makes it somewhat difficult to know how we would continue to maintain certain temperature levels when the fact is there's not very much water to maintain,'' he said.

Another area of concern for the city are standards for storage and recovery of water in aquifers, especially those which may affect how the city's wastewater treatment plant operates, Gordon said.

The city will look at the new standards to make sure it can continue to operate economically and, if changes have to be made, ``we just need to make sure that it's something we can do for a reasonable cost,'' Gordon said.

In the private sector, Ray Lam, environmental manager for the Boise Cascade plant in Wallula, said it was too early in the process for him to say whether the new standards would affect the plant.

``None of the rules they've proposed are final yet, so you don't really know. There's a lot of pros and cons, so we really don't know yet,'' he said.


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