Treaty Tribes stand up for strong water quality standards

Yesterday, the state Department of Ecology released an updated proposal for water quality standards. The standards would be issued as part of the federal Clean Water Act. The state’s proposal falls short of already proposed standards by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Here’s a statement from Lorraine Loomis, chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission:

Draft water quality standards released today by Gov. Inslee are a step forward but not as protective as those already put forth by EPA.


The treaty Indian tribes in western Washington are encouraging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to stay strong in their oversight of the development of water quality standards that protect everyone who lives in Washington.


The federal agency stepped in last year after the state failed to update water quality standards as required by the Clean Water Act. The state admits that the current 20-year-old standards don’t adequately protect our health. Tribes are especially concerned because tribal members routinely consume far more fish and shellfish than most residents.


EPA’s proposal would more strictly regulate some of the most toxic chemicals such as PCBs, arsenic and mercury. These three chemicals are responsible for many fish consumption health advisories in the state.


EPA’s proposal also uses the best available science and follows the most recently updated federal guidance on those toxins.


Inslee’s proposal is based on outdated science, especially in accounting for all sources of toxins and how they move through the food chain.


If the state adopted EPA’s proposal we would have a rule that protects everyone. Instead, Inslee is proposing a rule that is less protective and allows more pollution.


Given the state’s track record, we are not confident that Inslee will successfully complete this rulemaking effort. That is why it is still important for EPA to complete their rulemaking as soon as possible.

Lynda Mapes in the Seattle Times summarizes the tribes’ position this morning on the governor’s proposal:

Tribes also were critical of the state’s proposed standards. The rule is based on 175 grams of fish consumption — up from the present level of 6 grams — which tribes emphasize is already a big compromise for some communities. Surveys show many Indian people eat far more: At Lummi Nation, some tribal members surveyed in 2013 said they were eating 918 grams — or a little over 2 pounds of fish and shellfish a day.


That makes it even more important that levels of pollutants the state will allow are set lower, tribal leaders said.


“I have to hide the smoked salmon in our house or the kids will eat it all,” said Jim Peters, council member at the Squaxin Island Tribe, near Olympia. Setting tighter pollution levels benefits not only tribal members, but everyone who enjoys harvesting fresh fish from local waters, Peters said.


The state has been working for several years to update the standards — so long the EPA in the meantime moved in 2015 to make federal requirements more strict.


“They have delayed so long the EPA has moved the bar,” said Paul Lumley of the Yakama Nation and executive director of the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission. “They have recommended stricter standards and Washington knows the new rules and that their proposed rule is not good enough for EPA’s updated criteria.”


In a prepared statement issued Wednesday, the EPA’s northwest regional office noted managers are still hopeful the state will draft its own rules that the agency can accept, rather than doing it for them.


Fran Wilshusen, director of habitat services for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, said the state still has a long way to go. “You are talking about eliminating toxics from the environment and that requires that strong regulatory piece,” Wilshusen said. “That is where tribes are, and we have said it over and over again.”

You have the opportunity to tell the state of Washington what you think about their new rules.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016
6:30 p.m.
Georgetown Campus South Seattle Community College
6737 Corson Ave S – Building C
Seattle, WA 98108

Wednesday, April 6, 2016
6:30 p.m.
Spokane Centerplace Regional Events Center
2426 N. Discovery Place
Spokane Valley, WA 99216

Online-only public workshops/hearings
Thursday, April 7, 2016
1:30 – 4:30 p.m.
6:30 p.m. until needed
More information online

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