Washington State Water Quality

Salmon Defense is actively advocating for stricter Water Quality Standards in Washington State. Currently our focus is on increasing the fish consumption rate while holding other human health criteria steady within the new rule.

Gov. Jay Inslee wants to change the cancer risk rate used to set state water quality standards from one in one million to one in 100,000. That is unacceptable to the treaty Indian tribes in western Washington. We refuse to accept this tenfold increase in the risk of getting cancer from known cancer-causing toxins, and you should, too.

The cancer risk rate, along with the fish consumption rate, are key factors in determining how clean our waters must be to protect our health. The more fish we eat, the cleaner the waters must be.

Water quality standards are supposed to protect those who need protection the most: children, women of childbearing age, Indians, Asian and Pacific Islanders, sport fishermen, and anyone else who eats local fish and shellfish. When the most vulnerable among us is protected, so is everyone else.

The federal Clean Water Act requires that states develop water quality standards to ensure our waters are clean enough to provide healthy fish that are safe for us to eat. But the state has been operating under outdated and inadequate water quality standards developed more than 20 years ago, and has missed every deadline since then for updating the standards as required by federal law. The state admits that its current water quality standards don’t adequately protect any of us.

Under his plan, Inslee would correctly increase the fish consumption rate from a ridiculously low 6.5 grams per day (about one bite) to 175 grams per day, the same protective rate as Oregon’s. But he would effectively cancel out that improvement by decreasing our protection under the cancer risk rate.

Further complicating matters, Inslee ties development of the new state water quality standards to a $12 million statewide toxics reduction program that will require legislative approval. That is unlikely given the $2 billion state budget shortfall.

Inslee’s proposal would also require the Legislature to grant the Department of Ecology more authority to regulate toxic chemicals. That is also highly unlikely given the Legislature’s historic reluctance to grant Ecology more power to control chemicals in our environment.

The plan also calls for revising standards for 167 chemicals that the Clean Water Act requires states to monitor in our lakes, rivers and marine waters. But standards for 58 of those – including cancer-causing chemicals like dioxins and PCBs – will stay the same.

At its core, Inslee’s plan does more to preserve the status quo than result in any real improvement to our water quality standards. It is a political solution to a human health issue. The concept of a larger toxics reduction program to tackle pollutants at the source is a good one, but it is not an acceptable substitute for strong water quality rules. We should have both.

We know that Inslee and previous governors have struggled with updating the state’s water quality rules for decades because of complaints by industry that new water quality rules could increase their cost of doing business. But an economy built on pollution cannot be sustained.

Fortunately, at the request of the tribes, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said it will step in to develop new standards this year if the state is unable.

EPA Regional Administrator Dennis McLerran announced in December that the agency will keep a close eye on the progress – or lack of progress – of the state’s effort to update our water quality standards. The agency has begun a rulemaking process in parallel with the state effort now under way. If the state develops standards acceptable to EPA, the agency will pause and work with the state to finalize the new standards. If the state is unable, EPA will continue its process and adopt new standards for the state.

This promise by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Regional Administrator McLerran demonstrates true leadership. They clearly recognize the federal government’s Trust responsibility to protect the health and treaty rights of the tribes, which also benefits everyone else who lives here.

We appreciate EPA’s willingness to protect the integrity of our state’s environment and water-based resources that are central to human health and treaty rights. We hope the state will step up before EPA has to step in to make sure our water quality standards protect all of us.

Keep Our Seafood Clean Coalition

Salmon Defense is an active member of the Keep Our Seafood Clean Coalition.

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The Keep Seafood Clean coalition is a broad group of agencies and organizations advocating for protective water quality standards in Washington State.

Book: Where the Salmon Run: The Life and Legacy of Billy Frank Jr.

 Where the Salmon Run: The Life and Legacy of Billy Frank Jr. by Trova Heffernan

Where the Salmon Run: The Life and Legacy of Billy Frank Jr. by Trova Heffernan

Salmon Defense has been included in the book as one of Billy’s favorite nonprofits. For more information on this book or how to get your own copy, visit the Washington State Heritage Center website:

Climate Change Awareness

Salmon Defense supported the First Stewards Climate Change Symposium hosted by the western Washington coastal treaty tribes. The symposium convened leaders at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, D.C., to bear witness to and communicate the impacts of climate change on indigenous peoples and cultures.

The culmination of coastal cultures, place-based knowledge and Western science assembled the “First Stewards” organization. Salmon Defense was honored to be a partner in the First Stewards Symposium and we look forward to future events.

Roslyn Workshop

Salmon Defense added its name as a sponsor of the 2011 Roslyn Workshop organized by The Center for Environmental Law & Policy (CELP). The workshop is a forum for tribal representatives, water activists, lawyers and policy makers to gather, discuss and develop creative solutions to topics such as water conservation, water availability, water resource litigation (past, present and future), and climate impacts on water supply. The Squaxin Island Tribe also provides sponsorship and staff support to the workshop. Salmon Defense supported this event as part of the effort to maintain and restore instream flows for salmon.

Marine Spatial Planning

Salmon Defense facilitated a kickoff conference in December 2010 to promote tribal dialogue about the upcoming creation of regional and national objectives and standards in the realm of Coastal Marine Spatial Planning. The conference took place at the Quinault Beach Resort and Casino and was generously sponsored by The Lazar Foundation and The Harder Foundation as a part of their commitment to the marine ecosystem.

Coastal Marine Spatial Planning (CMSP) is a planning process that analyzes current and projected uses of the coastal areas in order to determine sustainable practices. Goals of CMSP include meeting environmental, economic, security and social objectives by identifying areas most suitable for various levels of each activity. Ultimately the planning process works to reduce conflict among purposes by developing compatible uses while reducing impact to the environment and critical ecosystem services.

The National Ocean Council has been created with top policy representatives from each of the federal agencies and departments with regulatory responsibilities in the ocean.