Restore, strengthen Clean Water Act


Thursday, February 23, 2006


The Bush administration eliminated protections for small streams and wetlands in 2003, weakening the 30-year old Clean Water Act. For the past three years, the buildup of toxins in streams has fed into the major waterways such as Puget Sound and Hood Canal. In the past three years, the levels of arsenic and mercury have risen in our water. Mercury has risen in humans and wildlife, as well as in drinking water. Washington is the No. 1 state and Seattle is the No. 1 U.S. city for having the highest incidence of breast cancer.

Let's make the connection here. The orca whale recently was listed as an endangered species. Salmon and 38 other native species are at risk, as well as marine birds, which have declined by nearly half in Puget Sound since the 1970s. Some of these species have declined by as much as 90 percent. Hood Canal and Puget Sound have growing dead zones because of pollution that robs the water of oxygen, killing marine life. Approximately 30,000 acres, or nearly 20 percent, of commercial shellfish beds have been closed to harvest since 1980. More than 5,700 acres of aquatic lands exceed safe levels of toxic contamination.

On Jan. 22, the P-I published, "Sound: Action Requires Consensus," concerning the 2005-2007 Puget Sound Conservation and Recovery Plan. Gov. Christine Gregoire's bill contains extensive measures to attack water pollution problems on many different fronts.

I agree that we don't need new laws. The laws that we have on the books need to be enforced. It comes down to having the money to enforce them. It seems that if we took back the protections we had from the Clean Water Act before it was changed in 2003, federal funding would be available to the 150-odd jurisdictions.

We need to make up for lost time. Right now, Washington is being developed at an advanced rate. Stormwater needs to be able to get back down into the water table. The stormwater runoff from construction and businesses cause siltation. Siltation is the leading cause of degraded wetland integrity. Silt robs water bodies of sunlight, killing grasses and burying the benthic community, which are groups of shellfish and worms on the bottom of the ocean floor. They work in harmony with algae and ocean grasses to purify the water to protect salmon and other species. Stormwater runoff is the biggest source of pollution we have.

President Bush put language to the 2005 Energy Policy Act, which exempts any construction for the oil and gas industry from the Clean Water Act, no matter how large or small it is. This is another insidious attempt by the administration to sneak breaks into legislation for Bush's buddies and his family. This would affect gas and oil exploration off our coasts. U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, has co-sponsored a bill, HR 4541, which would restore the protections of the Clean Water Act.

It stands to reason that we can't monitor all the runoff into streams, lakes, Hood Canal and the Sound. Improved land use will ensure that we order our priorities over what kinds of development we will allow and how we develop these lands.

Gregoire's bill mentions using new technologies, such as green roofs to capture rainfall and sidewalks made of porous materials to enable runoff water to filter back into the soil, replenishing the water table.

Yes, it takes money and commitment. The governor is to be lauded highly for addressing our water pollution problem and taking the first steps to get the ball rolling.

The P-I says that we have no obvious goal. I believe that the goal is to make immediate impact into cleaning up our dead zones. Restoring all the protections of the Clean Water Act prior to when it was altered in
2003 would have a large impact on the quality of our water right now. The goal is always the same: to get our waterways as clean as possible, but the ways we do this need to be ever changing.

Eli Galla has been a resident of Seattle since 1992. He was a field representative in the United Farm Workers Union from 1983 to 1984.

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