New water-quality rules will impact construction

Governor Inslee will soon make a determination regarding fish consumption in Washington State. This seemingly innocuous determination though could have a big effect on utility rates future development and construction.

The figure that the state adopts for “fish consumption” – basically the amount per month that the state’s highest fish-eating populations consume – combined with an incremental risk rate will drive a raft of environmental water quality regulation. All indications are that the state will adopt a figure so high that it will increase water-cleanliness standards 25-fold. That will push water-pollution regulations to the infinitesimal level beyond the point where contaminants can be measured and where no cleanup technology currently exists.

The elementary math is this: The more fish that people are assumed to eat the stricter that water quality standards should be. Few people argue that the current fish-consumption standard created in the 1970s that assume people eat roughly 6.5 grams of fish per day is too low particularly when compared to the fish-consumption rates of certain Native American populations in the state. 

Governor Inslee seems to be ready to follow Oregon’s lead and announce a fish consumption rate – 175 grams per day or 12 pounds a month. There is a second calculation in play – the incremental excess cancer risk.  The Governor is considering water quality standards based on a one-in-a-million incremental cancer risk rather than a one-in-100000-incremental risk. A much higher fish consumption rate and a one-case-in-a-million incremental risk combine to make the standards unattainable and unmeasurable with current technology.

Municipal wastewater permits renewed after implementation of new quality water quality standards could mean higher utility bills. The City of Bellingham estimates that the monthly sewer bill for city residents could jump from the current $35 to $200 or more per month.

Although the impact is hard to determine at this point industrial and construction stormwater permits upon their renewal would also reflect any new strict standards which could have a dampening effect on future economic growth. AGC and members of a coalition that includes business local governments and the aerospace union have been contacting the Governor to express concerns. The coalition is not concerned so much with the higher fish consumption rate as it is with the incremental risk rate.

“We support efforts to calibrate these water-quality standards to the consumption practices of high fish-consuming members of our community” the group told Gov. Inslee in a letter cosigned by AGC Executive Vice President David D’Hondt. “Numeric criteria derived based on a fish-consumption rate of 175 gr/day acknowledges these population groups and directly addresses the environmental justice issue. However coupling this fish consumption rate with an incremental excess cancer risk of 10e-6 (one in a million) is not acceptable. Selection of an incremental excess cancer risk of 10e-5 (one in 100000) or greater is consistent with EPA guidance and is fundamentally health protective. This outcome will generally yield numeric criteria that are two-and-half times more stringent than the current National Toxic Rule criteria and would better fit the administrative procedures act requirement for adoption of the ‘least burdensome’ rule that achieves the objectives of the Clean Water Act.”

The Governor’s water quality determinations are expected to be announced soon. For additional information contact Jerry VanderWood AGC Communications Director and Lobbyist 206.284.0061.