Yesterday, following quickly on the heels of Governor Inslee’s withdrawal of Washington’s version of the fish consumption rule, EPA released draft water quality standards for toxics for Washington. These standards, if adopted, are significantly more stringent than those Ecology had proposed.

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I have written extensively on the efforts by the Washington Department of Ecology to revise Washington’s Water Quality Standards to account for a higher fish consumption rate. This summer was when we were supposed to see the final rule be submitted to EPA for review and possible approval. In a nutshell, the controversy around this rule has to do with the upward revision in the fish consumption rate used to calculate Washington’s Water Quality Standards. That revision (from 6.5 grams per day to 175 grams per day) would result in more stringent WQS for many toxics—with the fear among dischargers being that those new criteria would be unattainable. Governor Inslee’s proposed solution—now over a year old—was to revise the excess cancer risk rate used in the WQS calculation from one in a million to one in one hundred thousand, and then couple the revised WQS with a package of regulatory efforts designed to address toxics from diffuse sources.

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This is another in the series of guest posts authored by the consultants we work with and trust. Owen Reese is a Water Resources Engineer at Aspect Consulting approached us and offered to provide Aspect’s perspective on Ecology’s efforts to update its Water Quality Assessment for freshwater. We eagerly took Owen up on the offer because this work by Ecology has the potential to impact a number of dischargers throughout Washington State and fits well into Science Law and the Environment’s editorial goal of analyzing the intersection of science, law, and policy.

-Doug Steding

The Washington State Department of Ecology (“Ecology”) recently proposed updates to Washington’s Water Quality Assessment for freshwater, as required by sections 303(d) and 305(b) of the Clean Water Act. This list is important because it identifies which waters require water cleanup plans and could result in additional requirements for NPDES permit holders discharging to waters identified as impaired.

Ecology is seeking public comment until May 15, and is currently hosting a series of listening sessions to introduce the proposed changes in the Water Quality Assessment. The remaining sessions are: April 15 in Yakima, and April 16 in Spokane Valley. I attended the first session in Edmonds on April 7. This article summarizes my key takeaways from the presentations, with particular attention to potential effects to NPDES permittees.
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In 2013, the Washington Legislature passed SSB 5296, which amended the Model Toxics Control Act in a number of ways. One of those amendments directed Ecology to adopt “model remedies,” defined as “a set of technologies, procedures, and monitoring protocols identified by [Ecology] for use in routine types of clean-up projects at facilities that have common features and lower risk to human health and the environment.” The intent behind this amendment to MTCA was to streamline and accelerate the selection of remedies at “routine” sites. In theory, the use of a model remedy at such sites would allow a party performing a cleanup to avoid preparation of a feasibility study for the site, which could result in lower costs and faster time frames in remediating some sites (if you are interested, the selection process is outlined at WAC 173-340-360). In addition SSB 5296 authorized Ecology to waive its collection of costs associated with providing opinions on model remedy sites, which could result in a modest cost saving for parties performing cleanups by enrolling in the Voluntary Cleanup Program.

Ecology was given a November 1, 2016 deadline to submit a report to the governor and “appropriate legislative committees” on the status of the development of model remedies, including the number and types of model remedies that Ecology has identified, the number of remedies proposed by “qualified individuals,” and the reasons why Ecology accepted or rejected those proposals. Also, perhaps in an overly ambitious way, SSB 5296 directs Ecology to report on the success of model remedies in accelerating cleanups, in terms of jobs created, acres of land restored, and the number of sites successfully remediated.
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