Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Forum seeks ideas on rules for permit-exempt wells

By Dan Partridge, Communication Manager, Water Resources

This week’s question on the Water Smart Washington Online Forum (Question No. 5) concerns one of the most controversial issues in water resources management in Washington state — regulation of water wells that do not require water right permits.

Back in 1945 when the state’s Groundwater Code was approved, legislators wanted to ensure that farmers and ranchers and other rural residents had adequate water supplies for their homes, lawns, gardens, and livestock.

That’s why they created the “homestead exemption” allowing rural homeowners to a dig a water well for personal use without obtaining a water right permit, provided that water use does not exceed 5,000 gallons per day (gpd) for in-house use and a sufficient amount for a half acre lawn and garden.

For decades, groundwater has played a critical role in Washington’s economy and support of a quality environment. It is the source of drinking water for more than 60 percent of Washington residents and irrigates more than 385,000 acres in our state.

Since the 1940s, permit-exempt wells have supported rural development and housing. But with rapid population growth that has only recently slowed with the current recession, these wells have contributed to a depletion of groundwater in those watersheds where significant development is occurring. In some counties the wells also represent a threat to the water supply of senior water right holders. In times of drought, owners of permit-exempt wells are also at risk of being among the first to be cut off from their water supply because their right to water is subordinate to senior rights.

Ecology estimates we have at least 400,000 of these wells in Washington state but currently we have only one tool to curb their proliferation in water-short areas. Even though a typical rural household only needs from 200 to 500 gpd for in-house use, Ecology has no authority to reduce the 5,000 gpd limit. Our only option to reduce the amount of groundwater being withdrawn by permit-exempt wells in a water-short basin is to close the entire basin to new groundwater withdrawals. Hence, Question 5 of the Water Smart Washington Online Forum asks:
“Should Ecology have rule-making authority through amendment to the Groundwater Code to reduce the volume of water that can be withdrawn under the permit exemption in those watersheds where available waters are close to exhaustion?”

To participate in the forum go to Ecology’s home page and click on the Water Smart Washington logo.

We also invite you to visit our site for more information on the groundwater permit exemption.

The comments and discussions on the Water Smart Forum are helping us prepare for the upcoming Legislative session. We’re working to reform Ecology’s water management practices to meet increasing demands for water in a time of limited new water supplies.

The permit exemption is one of many water management issues in our recently released: 2010 Report to the Legislature and Governor: Water Resources Program Functions and Funding Structure: Recommendations for a Sustainable and Efficient Program.

The report identifies a number of efficiency improvements and makes specific recommendations for making the Water Resources Program more self–sustaining and less dependent upon State General Fund dollars.

We’re asking for your feedback on this report as well and will be taking comments

Monday, September 27, 2010

Waste Mixing Issues in Hanford’s Waste Treatment Plant

By Suzanne Dahl, Tank Waste Treatment Manager, Nuclear Waste Program

The M3 mixing issue at Hanford’s Waste Treatment Plant (WTP) has been in the news lately, and I want to explain the issue and our position. Many of the vessels in WTP use pulse jet mixers (PJMs), air-driven devices with no moving parts that will be used to suspend solids in the liquid waste. This waste is from the 177 underground storage tanks at Hanford. The concern surrounding the PJMs is that they will not produce enough energy to keep the waste properly mixed.

As early as 2006, we were aware of the mixing challenges. Since then, the project has received many reviews. Project managers and engineers at our office have been closely monitoring the WTP’s design and construction and studying the mixing concerns. In addition, the External Flowsheet Review Team (EFRT), composed of 50 independent experts, reviewed this project’s flowsheet — a description of the sequence of operations in the WTP — and provided a list of concerns. We also attended these EFRT briefings.

Due to the EFRT concerns, an extensive, ongoing testing program was launched to determine the adequacy of the mixing components in WTP vessels. That program included building a scaled-down test platform with a small open-top vessel, evaluating different PJM configurations, and analyzing the mixing capabilities. The United States Department of Energy (USDOE) provided test results and initial analyses to Ecology from late June through August 2010. Those results revealed a need to change the way many vessels perform, vessel configuration, mixing velocity, and the number of PJMs needed for each vessel. Results also showed that sediment could potentially accumulate in the bottoms of some vessels.

Ecology, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB), Bechtel, USDOE, and stakeholder groups are aware of these technical challenges. We expect the problems to be resolved in a way that ensures WTP construction and operation will proceed safely and efficiently, resulting in a fully capable WTP. To this end, we review permit submissions for the scope of changes and must approve those changes before construction can continue in the WTP.

If you are interested in this issue, DNFSB has a public hearing scheduled for October 8, 2010.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Going Solar


By Dan Scavezze, Project Manager, Information Technology

“How did you decide to get solar panels – in Washington?” That sounds like the type of question I’d hear from my friends in the Eastern half of the country. But lately, I’ve been hearing that question from Washington residents. It all started when… [play the going back in time music here].

When we first moved to Olympia about three years ago, my wife Barbara volunteered to do some work for a group called the Thurston Climate Action Team. I’ve dragged her around the country several times when changing jobs and she’s always found ways to jump right into the new community. One day she was organizing a meeting and she asked me to help with the laptop and projector. That happens to IT people, frequently. Anyway, I wound up listening to a talk about “Solar Power in Washington” by a local installer, South Sound Solar.

The talk was very interesting and went a long way in updating my understanding of solar power technology. In between clicking through PowerPoint slides I learned that advances in solar technology now made a system's lifetime energy production far exceed the energy it took to produce it. And that economic payback times on an investment in solar were getting shorter – even in Washington state. Another factoid was that Washington is at approximately the same latitude as Germany, probably the world leader in solar power use.

So it started to seem like solar panels might be in my future, but maybe the far future. Despite working in technology, I’m not an “early adopter.” On the other hand, I didn’t want to be in the “late majority” or one of the “laggards.” Check out the book “Crossing the Chasm” by Geoffrey A. Moore for more detail on that, but you can tell that being late, or a laggard, doesn’t sound good. Also, there was a significant investment required.

I procrastinated and we decided to see if we could save some energy before we thought about generating it. Barb did an “energy audit” on our house. She’s now working for a company Thurston Energy that encourages energy saving measures, including energy audits, but that’s another story. Anyway, our energy audit discovered eight massive wholes in our ceiling. You would think we would have noticed that, but they were disguised with recessed “can” lighting fixtures, and the type that run extremely hot and you can’t put any insulation around them. Your inside air goes almost directly to the outdoors.

Fixing that involved a lot of crawling around in the attic, repairing drywall, and cursing. It was productive, but now I was more receptive to the idea of paying someone else to do the next project. I figured, it’s good for the economy and involves less cursing.

That’s the back story of the solar pergola. If you want to hear from other folks who have done a wide variety of solar projects in the south sound area, check out the Solar Tour on September 25. Maybe solar is for you, or maybe you’ll hear about some other energy saving projects. You can learn about the projects online before you go.

Forecasting the water future of Washington state

By Dan Partridge, Communication Manager, Water Resources Program

This week’s question on the Water Smart Washington Online Forum (Question No. 4) is about forecasting the water needs of the future.

Washington state’s population is expected to grow by about 1.7 million people in the next 20 years. That’s equivalent to three cities the size of Seattle! Where will these people live and how much water will they need?

Collecting and analyzing data about water supply and demand trends is called “supply and demand projecting.”

Question of the Week #4 asks:
“Should Washington state make investments in water supply and demand projecting to not only determine how much water will be needed for population growth but also for economic growth and fish habitat?”

The past three weeks, we’ve focused on watershed planning and also have asked for your opinions on fees for water management services, i.e., who should pay, and how much? The three questions of the week generated more than 6,200 views and 116 comments. We appreciate all the feedback!

For some background information on Question No. 4, read about the Columbia River Basin Water Management Program.

To participate in the forum go to Ecology’s home page and click on the Water Smart Washington logo.

The comments and discussions on the Water Smart Forum are helping us prepare for the upcoming Legislative session. We’re working to reform Ecology’s water management practices to meet increasing demands for water in a time of limited new water supplies.

We recently put our recommendations for improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the Water Resources Program in a report to the Legislature and the Governor: 2010 Report to the Legislature and Governor: Water Resources Program Functions and Funding Structure: Recommendations for a Sustainable and Efficient Program.

The report identifies a number of efficiency improvements and makes specific recommendations for making the Water Resources Program more self–sustaining and less dependent upon State General Fund dollars.

We’re asking for your feedback on this report, as well.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Here come the algae

by Jani Gilbert, communication manager, Eastern Regional Office

It’s that time of year again, when the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) asks residents near local lakes to keep children and animals away from the water because of blooms of toxic blue-green algae.

The algae have spread widely in the Suncrest area of Lake Spokane, and could also be in other parts of the lake. Ecology also has reports of blooms in Newman Lake, east of Spokane.

Samples have been taken in Lake Spokane to determine the toxicity of the algae, but algae can change daily into a toxic or non toxic state.

The results of one water sample collected from Lake Spokane early last week indicate algal toxins (microcystin) are present at 58.3 parts per billion. Above six parts per billion microcystin is considered by the state Department of Health to be a level at which warnings should be issued so that people don’t drink the water, swim in the water or let their pets play in the water.

Microcystin is found most often in the scum that people can see on top of the water. As cells die, toxins are released into surrounding waters. Some toxins, such as microcystins, are very stable and can remain in the water for days or weeks after the bloom has disappeared.

The key is to stay away from it, don’t let kids play in it, and don’t let pets or livestock drink from scummy water. They are most at risk.

This time of year blooms are common in Newman and Spokane lakes as well as at Potholes Reservoir and Liberty Lake.

Algae blooms happen mostly in the summer or fall, but can occur anytime. Blue-green blooms can float to the surface and be several inches thick near the shoreline. Sometimes the blooms can be dispersed. They often look like green paint floating on the water.

Blue-green algae blooms pose a human health concern and have killed animals after exposure in some Washington lakes. No illnesses have been reported from the current blooms in Lake Spokane and Newman Lake.

Although many blue-green blooms are not toxic, some blue-green algae produce nervous system or liver toxins, but it's hard to predict. A single species of algae can have both toxic and non-toxic strains.

See the entire news release.

Nuclear Waste Program “Scene” at Sturgeon Festival 2010

By Erika Holmes, Community Outreach & Environmental Education Specialist, Nuclear Waste Program

On September 18, I had the opportunity to participate in the Sturgeon Festival at the Water Resources Education Center in Vancouver, Wash. This educational, annual family event celebrates the ecosystems of the Columbia River.

Our exhibit featured the Hanford-specific groundwater model that demonstrates how contamination enters the groundwater and soil beneath the nuclear reservation. But it’s also a great tool for showing kids why it’s important to keep our groundwater clean.

For adults, we offered invitations to upcoming public workshops on Hanford’s radioactive solid waste burial grounds and the opportunity to sign up for the Hanford Public Involvement mailing lists.
We also asked attendees to identify which Hanford issues are most important to them. The top three responses were:
  • Protecting the Columbia River from Hanford contaminants
  • Finding a long-term storage solution for high-level nuclear waste now that progress on the Yucca Mountain Project has halted
  • Ensuring that the public is informed and included in the decision-making process.

We also participated in the Water Center’s “Scene a Sturgeon Lately?” photo challenge, entering in the “Sturgeon and You Go Green” category. Our sturgeon sets a clean, green example by recycling and bringing a reusable water bottle!

 



Monday, September 20, 2010

Around the Sound: A few items to start the week

By Seth Preston, Communication Manager, Toxics Cleanup Program

Port Gardner Bay

Something called the Everett WA blog reprints Ecology’s news release on our cleanup work under way in the Port Gardner Bay area in Everett.

Port Gardner Bay is one of Ecology’s high-priority, “early-action” cleanup areas under the Puget Sound Initiative. That’s the effort by local, tribal, state and federal governments, business, agricultural and environmental communities, scientists, and the public to restore and protect the health of the Sound.

At Port Gardner Bay, an Ecology team is working with the Port of Everett, other site owners, area tribes, and others to help shape the cleanups at 10 polluted sites. The blog and news release give a rundown on the status of each site.

Elsewhere...

  • The Bellingham Herald reports on Ecology’s work on cleaning up an old city landfill. Here’s the Herald story, and here’s the original Ecology news release on the subject.

  • And the Kitsap Sun reports on the geoduck harvesting in several areas around Kitsap County, including Hood Canal and north of Port Gamble.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Air Time: Free compost bins still available in some counties

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Air Quality Program

Here’s our news release about several Washington counties that still have some free compost bins to swap for illegal burn barrels.

As the release notes: The Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) and several counties are working together to collect and destroy barrels. They want to reduce the risk of wildfires in the counties, along with the harmful smoke that wildfires produce.

Ecology will have a final count in October on the number of burn barrels that were collected. But as of a couple weeks ago, the participating counties had collected a total of nearly 400 barrels.

We’re confident the number will go up as word gets out that more bins are available.

This is the second consecutive summer that Ecology and DNR have worked together on a burn barrel collection program. Last year, the two state agencies cooperated on collections in Okanogan and Stevens counties.

Four events (two in each county) were held; more than 220 burn barrels were collected.

This year, we expanded to include counties on both sides of the Cascades.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Who should pay for Ecology’s water management services?

By Dan Partridge, Communication Manager, Water Resources Program

The second week of the Water Smart Washington Online Forum, hosted by the Washington Department of Ecology, asked if Washington taxpayers through the state general fund, should pay for water right application processing or should those who want to use the water of the state pay a larger portion of the cost.

Of the 22 respondents to the question as of noon Friday (Sept. 10), half of them believed that water right applicants should pay more or all of the cost of processing their applications. Seven of the respondents didn’t take a position but questioned the efficiency of the process or were skeptical of Ecology’s estimated average cost ($10,000) of processing a water right application.

In our own comment, we explained that the water right application process is not a simple process that can be done by clerical staff. Significant scientific and technical analysis is required for each application by licensed hydrogeologists and other qualified environmental professional.

Under Washington state law, the waters of Washington collectively belong to the public and cannot be owned by any one individual or group. Since much of the water in Washington has already been allocated or claimed, new water rights are increasingly difficult to obtain. This means that any new water right is subject to existing (more senior) rights. Therefore water right applications may be denied, or water use may be regulated or modified, if it adversely affects existing rights. This protects existing water rights against any impairment (harmful effects) by future applicants.

Investigating Water Availability

Ecology is required to conduct an investigation on each application to determine the physical and legal availability of water, if the proposed use will impair existing water rights and if the proposed use is detrimental to the public interest.

Many applications are for groundwater and because groundwater is not readily visible to help determine physical availability, it takes a fair amount of research and staff time in order to determine physical availability and if a new use of groundwater will impair senior uses.

In addition, many stream basins in Washington state are closed to new withdrawals (from both surface water and groundwater in the basin) during all or part of the year. In order to receive a permit, water right applicants may need to provide mitigation in order to ensure that water rights are not impaired.

The results of a water right application investigation are summarized in a Report of Examination (ROE). The ROE contains Ecology's decision on the water right request. Ecology can recommend a denial, an approval, or an approval with conditions. In addition, other (senior) water right holders, cities, water districts, farmers, Indian tribes and environmental interest groups can all appeal Ecology’s decision. All of this takes time and resources.

Question of the Week: Sept. 13-19

The third Question of the Week in Online Forum continues the theme of who should play for the water management services of the Department of Ecology:
“The Water Resources Program at the Department of Ecology provides a host of services in addition to the processing of water right applications such as monitoring surface and groundwater use to ensure water availability, working with water right holders so they remain in compliance with permit conditions, collecting and storing water related information, and regulating water well drilling. About 85 percent of the work of the program is currently funded through taxpayer revenue. Should those who benefit from the water management services provided by the Water Resources Program be required to pay a higher portion of those costs?”

Question of the Week No. 3 will be open for comment by noon Monday, Sept. 13.

The forum is designed to get your ideas and suggestions on how Ecology’s Water Resources Program can become more effective and efficient in protecting and managing Washington’s water supplies for current and future users.

To contribute your ideas and join the discussion in the forum, go to the Ecology homepage and click on the Water Smart Washington logo. Comments and suggestions received in the forum are being cataloged and archived and will help shape the policy initiatives Ecology is considering and the proposed legislation Ecology will be requesting to reform water resource management in Washington state.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Closing 16 Hanford Tanks: Caution, Tough Decisions Ahead!


by Jeff Lyon, Tank Waste Storage Project, Nuclear Waste Program

Hopefully, you read my first blog last month. It was about our efforts to oversee closure of the 177 tanks at Hanford. The next step for closure is getting the first group of tanks, or tank farm, closed. That will be the hardest part of our job.

Waste Management Area C (WMA-C or C-Farm) is scheduled for closure in 2019, and we haven’t even decided what closure will look like. The tanks are underground. Twelve of the tanks have a capacity of about 530,000 gallons each, and four of the tanks are 55,000 gallons each. Some of the tanks may have leaked. In addition, about 10 miles of pipelines running throughout C-Farm may have had a few leaks. Right now, the US Dept. of Energy (USDOE) is doing a “Facility Investigation” (RCRA [Resource Conservation and Recovery Act] Facility Investigation and Corrective Measures Study – RFI/CMS). Ecology has reviewed and approved this Work Plan.

Also, USDOE is removing waste from the tanks and safely storing it in the double-shell tanks (DSTs). They have finished getting waste out of six of the tanks: the four smaller ones (200-series tanks) and two of the larger ones (C-103 and C-106). All of the remaining tank waste must be retrieved by September 2014. That’s more than a million gallons of radioactive and dangerous waste (mixed waste) that will be moved into the DSTs.

Our first real decision will be whether to close the tank farm as clean closure or to leave waste in place and close the tank farm as landfill closure. Ecology has commented on USDOE's "Draft Tank Closure and Waste Management Environmental Impact Statement" (TC &WM EIS). When the TC & WM EIS is finalized, it will provide some of the information we will use for this decision.

This is where you come in. We are developing a FAQ (Frequently Asked Question) publication for the Tank Farm Closure project at Hanford. We would love to add your question to our list. If we can answer the question in a timely manner, we will answer it on the blog. Regardless, we will consider all of the questions for our FAQ.

So, got questions? Please comment on the blog.

Friday, September 3, 2010

How Much Should Taxpayers Pay?
Week 2: Online discussion of water management reform

By Dan Partridge, Communication Manager, Water Resources Program

The Washington State Department of Ecology’s Water Smart Washington Online Forum enters its second week with a new Question of the Week focused on how much taxpayers pay for the processing of water right applications.

The forum is designed to get your ideas and suggestions on how Ecology’s Water Resources Program can become more effective and efficient in protecting and managing Washington’s water supplies for current and future users.

The Question of the Week for the second week is:
“Should the taxpayers of Washington, through the State General Fund, continue to pay for water right application processing? Should those who want to use the water of Washington pay a larger portion or even the full cost of processing their water right applications?”

The Question of the Week for Week 2 will be posted from today (Sept. 3) through Sunday Sept. 12. The question normally will be changed every Monday but Ecology will be closed Sept. 6 for the Labor Day holiday. The forum will also not be moderated Tuesday, Sept. 7 which is a temporary lay-off day for state employees, required by state law.

The forum received 31 comments on the first question of the week pertaining to additional funding for the implementation of watershed plans in Washington. From Monday Aug. 30 through Friday Sept. 3 the forum received from 163 to more than 750 views each day.

To contribute your ideas and join the discussion in the forum, go to: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/ and click on the Water Smart Washington logo. Comments and suggestions received in the forum are being cataloged and archived and will help shape the policy initiatives Ecology is considering and the proposed legislation Ecology will be requesting to reform water resource management in Washington state.

We welcome your participation, and appreciate your interest!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Around the Sound: Future land use and Rayonier cleanup levels

by Rebecca Lawson, regional Toxics Cleanup Program manager

In my July blog “Questions from Olympic Environmental Council’s forum on Rayonier”, I shared some of the complex questions we heard at that event. Several forum participants had questions related to the future use of the Rayonier property and how it might affect cleanup levels for the Study Area. This same question came up during our comment period for the cleanup agreement with Rayonier.


What are cleanup levels?

Eliminating all risks at a contaminated site often is not possible. “Clean” generally means that a site is cleaned up enough that contamination no longer poses an unacceptable threat to human health and the environment. That point is the cleanup level. Cleanup levels are set for each contaminant at a site, and they are set for each medium (soil, groundwater, surface water).


Pathways of exposure

We’re interested in soil, groundwater, etc. is because they are possible pathways of exposure for both humans and other living things. For example, contamination in soil could be accidentally swallowed or inhaled. Contamination in surface water could impact the fish and shellfish we eat.



Cleanup levels also depend on contamination pathways


It gets even more complicated… Ecology isn’t just concerned about what’s on the soil surface—we’re also looking at what’s in groundwater, how soil might impact groundwater, and how groundwater might contaminate surface water. Often, the most stringent cleanup standard is for protecting surface water.


What does land use have to do with cleanup levels?

In rare cases, Ecology may allow less protective soil cleanup levels to protect only against direct soil contact at industrial sites. This is because vulnerable populations such as children will not have direct exposure to soil at the site. However, any other use—residential, commercial, schools, parks—requires a more stringent cleanup level. You may have heard this called an “unrestricted land use” soil cleanup level. The industrial cleanup level may not be appropriate for the Rayonier cleanup.


The Rayonier site

In our March blog about the three-year cleanup timeline, we posted a diagram showing how contamination in the soil could pollute Port Angeles Harbor. If this is the case, surface water cleanup levels could drive the cleanup, making the choice between industrial and unrestricted land use a moot point.


Keep in mind…

We won’t be able to set cleanup levels until we have more information about contamination! Rayonier is currently collecting the data needed for these decisions.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Makah Nation Beach Closure - Dakwas Park, Neah Bay


BEACH Program Update

The Makah Nation BEACH Program has posted a closure sign at Dakwas Park in Neah Bay. Water quality monitoring showed elevated bacteria levels. The beach will be resampled today and results will be available tomorrow. The beach may reopen if samples results indicate the beach is safe for swimming.

Increased pathogen and fecal bacteria levels in marine waters can come from both shore and inland sources. Inland sources can consist of stormwater runoff, sewer overflows, failing septic systems and even animal waste from livestock, pets, and wildlife. Shore sources can consist of swimmers, boats, marine mammals, birds, and other wildlife. We often observe high bacteria results following rain events. In general, the BEACH Program recommends avoiding contact with marine waters 48 hours following rainfall.

Contact with fecal contaminated waters can result in gastroenteritis, skin rashes, upper respiratory infections and other illnesses. Children and the elderly may be more vulnerable to waterborne illnesses.

Visit the BEACH Map to see beach closures across the coast and sound. Surf the web before you surf the beach!

Jessica Bennett is the BEACH Data Manager.
She is available at 360-407-6159 or jebe461@ecy.wa.gov for questions.


Columbia Critters Spark Hanford Cleanup Conversations

By Ginger Wireman, Community Outreach & Environmental Education Specialist, Nuclear Waste Program

Late August is fair time in Benton and Franklin Counties. Our fair serves a population of about 300,000 from the Tri-Cities and outlying communities. Many more travel in to compete in the rodeo, perform on a stage, or sell their wares.

That makes it a great opportunity for Ecology’s Nuclear Waste Program
to reach out to new audiences with information about Hanford cleanup.

This year and last, we focused our booth on protecting the Columbia RiverWe featured a tank with crayfish and aquatic insects from the river (pictured right with Ecology employee Madeleine Brown) and brought information about how Hanford contamination has reached groundwater and how that water reaches the river. We share research findings that show—despite contributions from Hanford—the river is still safe for ‘all uses’ and meets Class A water body standards.

We partnered with the Department of Health’s Radiation Protection Division to staff the booth. They brought a fully functional 1950’s Geiger counter in mint condition to raffle! Entry was free, but participants were encouraged to sign up for the Hanford cleanup mailing list . We added 34 new people to the list, and a West Richland resident has a new antique toy!

We also asked fairgoers to identify which Hanford issues are most important to them. The top three responses were:
  • Finding a long-term storage solution for high-level nuclear waste now that progress on the Yucca Mountain Project has halted

  • Protecting the Columbia River from Hanford contaminants

  • Ensuring that future generations are protected and informed about the site’s history and pollution.
If you have questions or concerns about Hanford cleanup, please share them by commenting on this post

Yes, we ARE moving ahead

by Jani Gilbert, communication manager, Eastern Regional Office

Remember that water quality improvement plan (or TMDL) for the Spokane River and Lake Spokane that’s been in the works for years? It was approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in May this year. It’s all speed ahead now and implementation is the name of the game.

Facilities that discharge into the Spokane River are soon to get new water-quality permits. First they’ll be reviewed by the public, the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) will make appropriate changes based on public comments, and then the industries and municipalities will get their permits. Five years later the permits will be reviewed again and a team of wastewater treatment experts and scientists will decide whether or not the facilities are on track to meet water quality standards by 2020. If not, adjustments in requirements may be made.

“All speed ahead” doesn’t necessarily mean smoothly, though. It can mean there are bumps and turns and near misses along the way to a clean, clear, healthy river and lake. For example, Ecology and the EPA are working to come up with a way that facilities can meet part of their requirements to discharge less phosphorus by reducing pollution somewhere else. That process will likely generate lots of discussion along the way.

In addition, Post Falls filed suit against the EPA for approving the water quality improvement plan because city officials feel that the limits that some of the dischargers were given for the amount of phosphorus they can discharge were unfair. Ecology has answered that charge in an editorial published in the Coeur d’Alene Press Sept. 1.

Meanwhile we are propelling ahead to move through the steps outlined in the approved plan. And next, the public will have a chance to review the draft permits that will guide the discharging facilities in their efforts to clean up the river.