Treaty Tribes continue the fight for clean seafood for everyone

This year marked yet another in the treaty tribe’s fight to improve water quality and the cleanliness of seafood for everyone. Primarily, this struggle came through the effort to update the state’s water quality standards, the fish consumption rate and the cancer risk rate.

At the start of this year, Lorraine Loomis (chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission) wrote a column outlining the tribe’s opposition to the governor’s bad clean water proposal:

Gov. Jay Inslee wants to change the cancer risk rate used to set state water quality standards from one in one million to one in 100,000. That is unacceptable to the treaty Indian tribes in western Washington. We refuse to accept this tenfold increase in the risk of getting cancer from known cancer-causing toxins, and you should, too.


The cancer risk rate, along with the fish consumption rate, are key factors in determining how clean our waters must be to protect our health. The more fish we eat, the cleaner the waters must be.

Russ Hepfer, vice chair of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, followed up with a clear explanation of why a strong rule was better than the cobbled together solution the governor had proposed.

Eventually, the governor was forced to abandon his proposal because of a failure to pass an accompanying legislative package. Even so, the treaty tribes called on the federal government to enforce the federal Clean Water Act and put forward protective standards.

“This action by EPA Administrator McCarthy and Regional Administrator Dennis McLerran demonstrates true leadership. They clearly recognize the federal government’s trust responsibility to protect the health and treaty rights of the tribes, which also benefits everyone else who lives here,” said Lorraine Loomis, Chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

A few weeks later, the governor doubled-back and promised to put forward more protective rules, but details were thin. The treaty tribes (again, explained through a column by Loomis) said we should stay the course and let EPA act.


In the few details the governor provided about his proposed plan, he would leave PCBs and mercury at their current levels and provide a more lenient standard on arsenic. Preserving the status quo for some of the worst pollutants and weakening standards for others will not get us where we need to be. While tribes support Gov. Inslee in his efforts to control pollution at the source, we believe a strong water quality rule should be the cornerstone of any such effort.


It is uncertain when or if the state will complete its rewrite of water quality standards or what those standards will look like. One thing seems to be certain – they won’t be as protective as the federal rule that is ready to be implemented.


That’s why the treaty Indian tribes encourage the EPA to proceed decisively with rulemaking. If the state is able to develop standards acceptable to the EPA, then the agency can rescind its rule in favor of the state standards.