It seemed to make sense in 2009: protect sensitive waters by mandating rigid numerical limits on how much bacteria businesses can discharge into sensitive waters under the rules governing industrial storm-water permits.
The problem is that the Department of Ecology failed to factor in the bacteria that birds and other small animals deposit on industrial properties. Follow-up investigations found that the critters’ deposits were preventing the vast majority of affected industries from meeting the state standard, despite their best management and water-treatment efforts.
“The Department of Ecology asked me to sponsor this fix to the storm-water bacteria problem that will protect our waters without shutting down industries or jobs,” said Rep. Larry Springer (D-Kirkland). “This is the solution our businesses need.”
On Friday, the House of Representatives agreed, voting unanimously (97-0) for Springer’s bill.
Springer’s House Bill 2651 replaces the unworkable numeric limits on bacteria with requirements that industries use best management practices to achieve compliance with water quality standards.
Don Seeberger, testifying for the Department of Ecology, explained the unintended consequences of the 2009 law in a Jan. 26 hearing on the bill.
“At that time we thought that this wouldn’t affect any of the industries, because most of our industries do not generate bacteria as part of their process,” Seeberger said. “What’s happening is that we have a lot of what I call ‘background noise’—birds, rodents, and other small animals that get on facilities that basically deposit bacteria, and it runs off in their storm water.”
As a result, Seeberger added, it is virtually impossible for industries to meet the required targets despite their best efforts.
“The impact of this really is the amount of money that you wind up being required to pay,” added Dave Gering, executive director of Manufacturing Industrial Council of Seattle. “This is not just a good piece of legislation, it’s an important one.”
Association of Washington Business spokesperson Courtney Barnes agreed that the Springer bill will “protect both human health and safety and the environment while also giving the industry the ability to achieve regulatory compliance.”
Today’s House action sends the measure to the Senate for further consideration.
Springer is the Deputy Majority Leader for Jobs and Economic Development in the House of Representatives.