State Prepares to Adopt Water Quality Standards So High They Can’t Be Met

July 7, 2014

Today Fox News aired a story discussing the dramatically increased fish consumption rate that will soon be adopted by the Washington state Department of Ecology (DOE).  The story included comments from the Washington Policy Center, which began researching and commenting on the fish consumption issue in 2012.

WPC told Fox News the increase in the fish consumption rate will trigger more restrictive water quality regulations that will impact every business, local government and taxpayer in the state.  The higher the fish consumption number, the more stringent the regulations and the greater the impact.

Currently, the state estimates the average person in Washington eats around half a pound of fish each month.  Governor Inslee and DOE are proposing to increase the estimate to around 12 pounds of fish a month.  The corresponding increase in water quality standards would be so high that DOE admits they are impossible to measure or meet with today’s technology.   The treated water would have to be cleaner than the waterways into which it flows.

The battle is over how clean the water discharged from storm water runoff, municipal wastewater treatment plants and industrial activity must be before reaching waterways.  The higher fish consumption rate would force businesses and local governments to spend millions on equipment to comply with the new water quality rules.  And the investment would not even enable them to fully comply, since the technology does not currently exist to measure or meet such a high standard. 

The Fox News story questioned the impact of the new standards on businesses, the need for more restrictive rules and their efficacy.  The Fox correspondent specifically focused on the impact on Boeing, which recently warned that the proposed increase "will have unintended consequences for continued Boeing production in the state."  WPC pointed out to the Fox News correspondent that another unintended consequence will be on local governments and the sewer fees charged to city residents.  The city of Bellingham estimates the monthly sewer bill for city residents could increase from the current $35 per month to a whopping $200 or more per month.

Oregon adopted an increased fish consumption rate of 12 pounds per month in 2011, and the unintended consequences there are just beginning.  Three municipal wastewater treatment operations have come up for permit renewals, and environmentalists are calling for those permits to be denied unless the treatment plants meet the new standards; which are impossible (not to mention unaffordable) to comply with using current technology.  If Oregon regulators approve the permits, environmental groups are threatening to file third party lawsuits.

Despite the problems with Oregon's high fish consumption rate, it appears Governor Inslee and DOE are poised to follow in our southern neighbor's footsteps.  All signs indicate a fish consumption rate matching Oregon's will likely be adopted by the end of the year.