I’ve written a fair amount on the issue of fish consumption in Washington, including discussions of the technical issues, speculation about possible impacts of this effort, and the appropriateness of addressing persistent bioaccumulative contaminants within this regulatory framework.

On September 13th, Ecology announced it is commencing the long-anticipated formal process of updating its water quality criteria for toxics. There are two pieces to this process, the first being an adjustment of Washington’s water quality criteria for toxics that will make those criteria much more stringent by significantly raising the fish consumption rates that go into calculating those criteria. Ecology’s ongoing technical efforts to revise fish consumption rates in Washington will heavily inform this process, with the most likely outcome being something like a 20-fold decrease in toxics criteria for surface waters.

The second–and perhaps most critical– part of this effort is promulgation of implementation tools needed to make the new toxics criteria workable. Because of the dramatic reductions in allowable toxic levels in surface waters, these implementation tools may be where the rubber meets the road with this rulemaking effort. For some context, Oregon undertook a similar rulemaking effort a couple years back, and adopted various tools to help dischargers comply with the new rules. These tools included the ability to obtain a variance from the criteria, a couple of approaches to consider “background” toxics, and the ability to grant compliance schedules.

In addition to promulgating a rule that reflects reality and isn’t unnecessarily conservative, Washington needs to carefully consider how it wires up its implementation tools in this current rulemaking. In fact, such tools could be even more important in terms of compliance in Washington–especially given the greater variety of receiving waters in Washington, the presence of Puget Sound (geographically much larger than any water body in Oregon) and the potential for differing site-specific factors such as fish consumption rates, “background” contamination from urban areas, and other factors largely out of the control of a discharger that may hinder¬† compliance with new toxics’ criteria.