Editorials

State was right to tailor water laws for east side

One size does not necessarily fit all when it comes to state regulations in Washington, especially laws that affect the environment.

Those of us living in Eastern Washington know laws made to address environmental issues for the wet, urban west side don't always apply to the east, where there is desert and irrigated farmland.

So, even though new stormwater laws will pose a challenge for Eastern Washington communities, at least state officials recognized there's a difference between the climate east and west of the Cascades and tailored the requirements accordingly.

Stormwater runoff is one of the main contributors to water pollution and it is a particular problem for the highly populated, rainy west side of the state, where urban drainage systems are frequently deluged.

On the east side, the amount of precipitation doesn't come close to matching that on the west side. But that doesn't mean there is no pollution when stormwater does go down the drain.

Department of Ecology Director Ted Sturdevant said, "Regardless of how often it rains, the first storm will flush those pollutants" into rivers and other natural waterways.

Ignoring the problem isn't a viable alternative, but state officials were wise to implement new regulations tailored specifically to the different climates in the state.

The new laws for Eastern Washington are less stringent than the regulations designed for the west side and that's helpful.

Even so, it will take time and money to meet the new restrictions.

The goal of the new stormwater permits is to keep water moving vertically instead of flowing horizontally and absorbing pollutants along the way. Horizontal runoff eventually finds its way to rivers and bays, which damages stream beds and fish habitat.

There are now new "low-impact development techniques" that use vegetation and soil to naturally filter rain water and snow melt. Communities will have a few years to implement the new technology.

Finding the money to pay for the changes is not going to be easy, especially since Richland and Kennewick already have struggled with the state's stormwater runoff rules.

But the fines that await communities that ignore the new regulations are likely to be even more severe.

Those that fail to comply with the new rules by the end of 2017 could face state fines of up to $10,000 per violation per day, plus $37,000 per violation per day in federal penalties.

The new requirements to improve water quality and decrease pollution are required by federal law. While the changes are going to be tough on communities, at least the Tri-Cities isn't expected to meet the same guidelines as Seattle.

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