Landmark ruling requires Washington State cities and counties to take aggressive action to protect Puget Sound



For Immediate Release:
Aug. 8, 2008

SEATTLE: In a landmark decision, the Washington Pollution Control Hearings Board today issued a ruling requiring that cities and counties around Puget Sound take significantly more aggressive steps to reduce rainwater/ stormwater runoff .

The Board struck down provisions in two region-wide permits as inadequate, and concluded that greater use of 'low impact development' techniques is required to meet the governing legal standards.  The permits are issued by the state Department of Ecology, which must now reissue them.
“This is a great day for Puget Sound,” said Kathy Fletcher, Executive Director of People for Puget Sound. “This ruling gets us one big step closer to the Puget Sound Partnership¹s goal of recovering Puget Sound by 2020.”
Puget Soundkeeper Alliance and People for Puget Sound appealed two permits last year regulating municipal rainwater/stormwater discharges from scores of cities and counties around Puget Sound.  The groups believed that the requirements of the permits were inadequate to protect Puget Sound and its declining populations of salmon, orcas and other marine species.
Rainwater/stormwater runoff from roads and rooftops that is discharged to the rivers, streams and lakes that feed Puget Sound has been cited as the number one threat to the health of Puget Sound. Rainwater/stormwater contains toxic metals, oil and grease, pesticides and herbicides, and bacteria and nutrients. Recent research of rainwater/stormwater runoff from industrial areas and highways indicate that when it rains, toxic metals, particularly copper and zinc, are being discharged in amounts that seriously degrade water quality and kill marine life. Stormwater volumes also erode stream banks, deposit sediment, and widen channels enough to damage fish and wildlife habitat.  Some studies show urban creeks to be so degraded that adult salmon are killed within minutes of entering the stream.
The Board concluded that the permit¹s focus on traditional engineered stormwater management facilities like detention ponds was inadequate to protect Puget Sound and meet the law¹s requirements.  The decision reads,

  • “The Board concludes that the Phase I Permit fails to require that the municipalities control stormwater discharges to the maximum extent practicable and does not require application of all known, available and reasonable methods to prevent and control pollution, because it fails to require more extensive use of low impact development techniques.”

“The question we asked was, Do we want salmon swimming through the Ballard Locks in years to come, or not?” said Sue Joerger of Puget Soundkeeper Alliance. “To our relief, the Pollution Controls Hearing Board said, yes, and here is what we will do.”
The Board also struck down provisions of the permit governing cleanup plans for existing developed areas, finding that they lacked a prioritization scheme that would focus attention on the most serious problems. Additionally, the Board modified the permit¹s adaptive management process for water quality violations to make it more rigorous and accountable.
“With the future of the Sound at stake, we need to do everything we can to stop undermining water quality and begin restoring degraded areas,” said Jan Hasselman the lead attorney for Earthjustice, which represented the environmental appellants. “There are inexpensive and proven ways to stop pollution now, through techniques like low impact development, instead of relying on the old ways of installing expensive treatment systems at the end of the pipe. We are pleased that the Board agreed that with us that greater use of these techniques should become the rule, not the exception.”

Jan Hasselman, Earthjustice, 206-343-7340 ext. 25
Sue Joerger, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance 206-293-0574
Bruce Wishart, People For Puget Sound, 360-223-2033


About the Washington Pollution Control Hearings Board

The Pollution Control Hearings Board hears appeals from orders and decisions made by the Department of Ecology and other agencies as provided by law. The Board's sole function is to provide litigants a full and complete administrative hearing, as promptly as possible, followed by a fair and impartial written decision based on the facts and law. The Board is not affiliated with the Department of Ecology or any other state agency.

The Board consists of three members, who are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the State Senate for staggered six-year terms. One of the three must be an attorney. All are salaried employees of the State, who also serve on the Shorelines Hearings Board.


Related Puget Sound Stories

Washington State scientists call for changes in land use practices in Puget Sound

Fourteen distinguished Washington State scientists have responded to the Puget Sound Partnership plan with a bold outline for action to save the Puget Sound eco-system.  The outline includes recommendations for preserving whole watersheds, implementing restrictive LID development standards, and adopting a policy of no net loss of forest cover. For the complete story, click on this link to end-of-pipe treatment and detention of rainwater/stormwater runoff discredited.


Bill Derry of Washington State issues call for action in Puget Sound

Bill Derry has been working on Pacific Northwest stormwater issues for 25 years, and he says some serious changes need to be made, and made quickly, in the way we live around here. For the complete story, click on this link to stormwater specialist outlines 10 point plan for changing land development practices for the better.