Washington State: Vancouver adopts law for water protection

Tuesday, November 5, 2002
By JEFFREY MIZE, Columbian staff writer

After more than four years of work and false starts, Vancouver has a water protection law that attempts to strike a balance between business and environmental concerns.

The city council voted 7-0 Monday night in favor of a law intended to protect the groundwater from which the city draws every drop of its drinking water.

The law, once it takes effect in early February, designates the entire city as an aquifer recharge area and regulates all businesses in the city, both new and existing ones.

It also tries to take a realistic approach by not layering on redundant, burdensome requirements that would hamper Vancouver's efforts to attract companies offering good-paying jobs.

"It's kind of a fragile balance there," Brian Carlson, the city's public works director, told the city council in introducing the issue.

Council members generally praised the water law.

"I think it does do what we want it to do, which is to protect our water resources," Councilman Jim Moeller said. "There's probably nothing more precious in our community."

Councilwoman Jeanne Stewart took issue with comments that the ordinance represents a balance.

"I will be so bold and direct as to say that there is no balance to be achieved except for protecting the water, which is in the best interest of the citizens and which is in the best interest of every business," she said.

"There isn't a struggle," she added. "There's one goal."

The water protection law has provisions for protecting stormwater and surface water, but the focus always has been on groundwater.

The law provides some level of protection from pollution within 1,900 feet of municipal wells, the area where fuels, solvents and other poisonous chemicals will enter groundwater within one year after being dumped into the soil.

The law requires all new businesses handling any amount of hazardous materials to follow "best management practices," which generally are the most effective ways to prevent or reduce pollution.

The law prohibits some businesses, such as gas stations, from starting up within 1,900 feet of city wells, but it also contains numerous exemptions.

For example, existing gas stations within the protection zones would be prohibited from expanding or rebuilding unless they already have taken steps to meet all provisions of the water law.

A business handling more than 2,200 pounds of dangerous chemicals a year could move into an existing building between 1,000 and 1,900 feet of a well if it meets provisions of the law and provides an engineering-operating report "to the city's satisfaction."

The new law permanently prohibits the startup or expansion of the "dirty seven": hard chrome plating, outdoor wood preserving, chemical lagoons and pits, sewage cesspools, hazardous waste disposal, radioactive materials disposal, and municipal waste disposal.

Business support

Scott Patterson, acting president of the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber's executive committee agreed last Thursday to support the water protection law.

"I think both sides gave in quite a bit, to be honest with you," Patterson said. "What we have before you this evening represents a good faith effort on the part of many, many entities."

Patterson said regular reviews will provide an opportunity to "ground truth" the ordinance.

Jim Jakubiak, environmental administrator for the 220-acre Columbia Business Center, said the cost and time for businesses to comply with the water law will be significant.

"It's not perfect, but we can live with it," he said.

John Karpinski, a Vancouver attorney who champions environmental causes, also reluctantly supported the ordinance.

"It has been a difficult process to get here today," he said. "There have been some blood baths along the way.

"It's a good first step," he added. "I don't think we can say this is forever going to take care of all our water quality problems. It's light years better than what we have now."


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