Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Slow sewage flowing into the Puget Sound while creating jobs

The life-giving, ever-present rain that falls on Western Washington also has a dark side. Every time it rains, the Puget Sound gets an unhealthy drink of oil, fertilizer, pesticides, and animal wastes. Unhealthy levels of water pollution have made our region noncompliant with the federal Clean Water Act, and have caused the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to order local governments to "to reduce the volume and frequency of [sewage] overflows.”

According to the Seattle P-I:
Every year 1.94 billion gallons of untreated sewage and polluted runoff from Seattle and King County are discharged into the Sound and other bodies of water as a result of overflows.
That’s a whole lot of yuck. As you know if you’ve ever walked by a storm drain stenciled with the warning “Drains to stream, lake or bay,” many storm drains funnel rain directly into the nearest body of water. The Seattle Aquarium estimates that more than two million gallons of motor oil washes off our roads and into the Puget Sound every year.

The other scenario is just as gross. Like many older cities, Seattle and King County have sewer pipes that collect storm water from roads and yards, and wastewater from homes and businesses, and shunt it into the same pipe where it travels to a sewage treatment plant. When rainstorms are heavy, these pipes can’t handle the excess load and the sewage overflows into Lake Union, Lake Washington, the Duwamish River, or Puget Sound. This water is contaminated with bacteria which can cause illness. According to the New York Times:
Sometimes, waste has overflowed just upstream from drinking water intake points or near public beaches.

There is no national record-keeping of how many illnesses are caused by sewage spills. But academic research suggests that as many as 20 million people each year become ill from drinking water containing bacteria and other pathogens that are often spread by untreated waste.
Inadequate sewage systems threaten human and environmental health.

Pressure from the EPA has led Democratic lawmakers in Washington to come up with a sensible plan to strengthen the state's water infrastructure in order to keep people and water healthy, and create good-paying jobs in the bargain. The Clean Water Act of 2010 would provide pollution prevention funding to local governments who are already tapping limited budgets in order to clean up and prevent storm water pollution. The funds would be generated through a $1.50 per barrel fee on the petroleum products that contribute to storm water pollution.

This program was known as "Invest in Clean Water” when it was a top legislative priority of the Environmental Priorities Coalition last year. The Invest in Clean Water bills, HB 1614 and SB 5518, weren’t very successful, but this year their future looks brighter. At a recent meeting with local Democrats, Speaker of the House Frank Chopp presented the Clean Water Act as a House Democratic caucus legislative priority. This is the kind of support that moves bills through the Legislature.

Another motive for supporting the bill is the fact that storm water control creates good jobs, a goal at the forefront of lawmaker’s thoughts.

Sewage systems mostly run under our feet, out of sight, out of mind, yet they are another public system funded by tax dollars that makes life in America more safe and comfortable. Let’s not take them or the governments that build and maintain them for granted. To do so would invite more sickness, closed beaches, contaminated shellfish and polluted bodies of water.


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