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End of Public Comment Period Marks New Phase in State’s Clean Water Action

Diversity of interests express support for strong permits

The public comment period is officially over for Department of Ecology’s draft stormwater permits.

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Feb 15, 2012

These permits represent the biggest opportunity to address the single largest source of toxic pollution to Puget Sound. Feb. 3 marked the end of a period of workshops, hearings, comments and letter submissions. Next, Department of Ecology will be reviewing and internally debating the desired changes proposed, before issuing final permits in July, 2012.

Comments in support of strengthening the draft stormwater permits were submitted by a broad, diverse set of interests, including tribes, shellfish growers, green builders, fishing guides, business owners, scuba divers, Girl Scouts, community and conservation organizations.

“Getting this right from the start is hugely important to restoring and cleaning up Puget Sound,” said Tom Bancroft, executive director of nonprofit group People For Puget Sound. “State officials need to know that a huge number of people care about the Sound and want to stop the runoff that is responsible for degrading salmon runs, closing commercial shellfish beds and swimming beaches and causing sewage overflows.”

The permit process is an opportunity to give the green light to green building solutions already available and proven cost-effective. “Green infrastructure” or Low Impact Development (LID) uses techniques such as rain gardens, porous pavement and green roofs, which mimic the earth’s natural ability to absorb water and filter toxins out runoff, while preventing flooding and increasing community green space. EPA studies show that preventing toxic runoff at the source can be far cheaper and more effective than cleaning up pollution after it enters our lakes, rivers and Puget Sound.

“In its current form, the draft stormwater permits are a good start, but need significant changes in order to be truly effective,” said Chris Wilke, executive director of Puget Soundkeeper Alliance. “We hope the Department of Ecology will be responsive to the robust public feedback process and make changes reflective of the broad support for a strong permit.”

At the same time, as Department of Ecology conducts their permit update process, there have been several efforts by outside interests to weaken the permit. Specifically, numerous pieces of legislation aimed at delaying or undermining core environmental protections were introduced in the state legislature. The weakening of these protections would allow new development to skirt toxic stormwater pollution regulations, and eliminate key tools that promote low impact development and clean water.

The following were among the parties who submitted public comment in favor of strengthening the draft municipal stormwater permits:

"Protecting water quality from polluted runoff goes hand in hand with protecting salmon and their habitats, and is a key part of the overall salmon recovery effort. It also is essential to keeping our shellfish beds clean and safe to harvest. Municipal stormwater permits are important tools to address polluted runoff from urban areas. Without these important protections, salmon, shellfish and tribal treaty-reserved rights are placed at risk".  - Billy Frank, Jr.  Chairman Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission (link to full letter)

“Stormwater regulations should not shy away from challenging the creativity of design teams. Good stormwater policy will challenge the design and building community to reach for solutions that provide greater resiliency, environmental protections, and smarter use of human spaces.” –Joel Sisolak, Cascadia Green Building Council (link to full letter)

“The rest of the nation is already moving towards mandatory LID standards, which have been found necessary to meet the Clean Water Act’s goals. While this permit requires the development of such programs at the local level, we believe the approach outlined has serious flaws.” –Zsofia Pastor, landscape designer, president of Sustainable Development Task Force of Snohomish County (link to full letter)

“Divers in the Northwest have seen firsthand the pipes as they spew forth the noxious pollutants into our underwater world to wreak havoc on the aquatic ecosystem with chemicals that do not belong there and are affecting the sea life that tries to thrive and survive there. The majority of divers here regard themselves as stewards of our watery playground and will always support efforts to preserve our most precious resource and inform the state government of any negative changes to it. That is why Washington SCUBA Alliance strongly supports strengthening the municipal stormwater permits.” –Jim Trask, Washington SCUBA Alliance

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