Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

State to Lay Out Options for Clean Water, Fish Consumption Updates

What does the amount of fish people eat have to do with whether big employers thrive in Washington state?

Fish consumption is at the heart of the state Department of Ecology's quest for compliance with the federal Clean Water Act, which aims to protect human health. Fish absorb toxins from polluted water. So when people eat it, their health might be at risk. That risk increases with more fish in their diet. 

Right now, the state Department of Ecology officially assumes that people eat only about one meal of fish per month—a standard that’s known to be outdated and insufficient to protect human health.

As a result, the state is working on proposals that would better reflect reality and force tougher limits on the amount of toxins industries and cities or water districts are allowed to discharge. The state will lay out its options for the first time at a public meeting on Wednesday.

“Under all scenarios that I’m aware of, we’re likely to have more protective standards. So the standard is going to be lower and harder to achieve, ” said Kelly Susewind, who manages water quality for the state Department of Ecology.

Susewind says Wednesday's meeting is meant to help businesses and governments better understand what might be coming. Options include different levels of stringency based on different amounts of fish people eat, as well as varying timelines and other aspects of compliance and enforcement.

A draft rule will be ready early next year, Ecology has said, after Oregon recently adopted a much tougher standard. Oregon assumes about 27 times more fish is eaten in their new regulations. Washington is thought to have people who eat even more.

“And folks like to look what Oregon did,” Susewind said. “If we did what Oregon did, it would be about a 30-fold decrease in standards. And that has a lot of business [and other dischargers] concerned. And I think they have a valid concern. These are going to be really difficult numbers to achieve.”

Susewind said there has to be a balance between improving the standard and a goal that can actually be met. Water discharge permits allow businesses to operate, and cities and towns to add development and grow, Ecology said.

Washington state has been delaying new standards as a result of resistance from industrial polluters and opponents concerned the change could do more harm than good. For example, they say it could prompt lawsuits that could detract from ongoing clean up efforts, or cause employers to move their manufacturing elsewhere.

New Standard Won't Discourage Boeing, Inslee Says

Gov. Jay Inslee said he’s working with Boeing to ensure that a new water quality standard won’t drive the aerospace employer to move manufacturing elsewhere. He made the statement during his announcement of a special session to keep manufacturing for the 777X in Washington.

With Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Ray Conner nearby, Inslee on Tuesday said the needs of the environment and aerospace can both be met, “which is to have a rule that respects the science in this, that complies with the federal Clean Water Act and assures that we can continue aerospace work in our state.”

“And Boeing is appreciative of that effort, and I believe knows we’re on the right track,” Inslee said.

Inslee says he spent two hours at Boeing’s Renton plant touring operations to better understand their concerns, and he’s convinced compliance won’t be a problem.

Boeing’s concern has been one of the biggest obstacles to a new fish consumption rate.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to