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 complete details, click on this link to Letter from 14 Scientists.



Puget Sound Partnership Leans on Failed Practices for Protection

In their letter, the fourteen scientists make the point that NPDES (i.e. National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) “offers little hope of protecting streams and Puget Sound” and describe the Stormwater Management Manual for Western Washington as “a set of prescriptions for end-of-pipe engineering hardware”.

After highlighting the weaknesses in the Stormwater Manual, the fourteen scientists conclude that “if the above is the extent of the Partnership recommendations regarding stormwater, little hope should be held for restoration of Puget Sound”.



End-of-Pipe Treatment and Detention Discredited

“End-of-Pipe” management of rainwater/stormwater refers to the practice of treating and detaining runoff from urban land uses before discharging it to surface water. Underlying the employment of end-of-pipe management is the assumption that forested watersheds can be converted to any type of land use (including 100% impervious) and that the impacts of these changes on receiving waters can be negated through the use of engineered stormwater-management hardware.

According to the fourteen scientists, the prescriptions and methods for design of such hardware are found in drainage design manuals in use by every jurisdiction in the basin. A primary example is the Stormwater Management Manual for Western Washington published by the Washington State Department of Ecology.

The fourteen scientists note that “newly written NPDES permits require that jurisdictions use this manual (or its equivalent) in mitigating for urban runoff. However, the DOE manual itself disavows claims to protect aquatic life”; and they identify these specifics:

  • From Volume 1, Section 1.7.5: …land development as practiced today is incompatible with the achievement of sustainable ecosystems.
  • And also from Volume 1, Section 1.7.5: The engineered stormwater … systems advocated by this and other stormwater manuals … cannot replicate … hydrologic functions of the natural watershed that existed before development, nor can they remove sufficient pollutants to replicate the water quality of predevelopment conditions.

The fourteen scientists contrast the foregoing by stating that: “End-of-pipe stormwater management has been and continues to be a failure at adequately protecting streams, wetlands, and Puget Sound. The literature in the past 30 years documents the negative effects of stormwater discharges on receiving waters.”

In their letter, they reinforce the above observation by stating that “…no amount of end-of-pipe mitigation can protect streams from urban runoff. In short, conversion of forests to traditional urban land uses cannot be mitigated by end-of-pipe prescriptions”.



Rainwater Management on Diverging Paths in British Columbia and Washington State

A decade ago, British Columbia and Washington State had the same science and a common understanding of what it meant. We had the same point of departure. A decade later, the two are on diverging paths. British Columbia is changing the way land is developed. Washington State is not. 

The  CWRA-AWRA cross-border conference held in Seattle in October 2007 created a timely opportunity to compare and reflect on what is being accomplished by a Canadian bottom-up educational approach versus an American top-down prescriptive approach.

The integration of rainwater management and land use is the differentiator between British Columbia and Washington State. British Columbia is using the slogan The New Business As Usual to convey the message that, for change to really occur, practices that until now have been viewed as the exception must become the norm moving forward.

To learn more, please click here and/or download a copy of Seattle conference provides timely opportunity to compare experience and directions after a decade. This was also published in the November-December 2007 issue of the AWRA Newsletter (Washington Section).


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Posted August 2008