Real solutions for Washington’s environment: Cooler, cleaner, healthier water

Through the state’s Climate Commitment Act, Low Carbon Fuel Standard, Zero Emission Vehicle Mandate, and Clean Energy Transformation Act, Washington is on a course to reduce its carbon emissions by 95% by 2050. The governor’s focus is consistently on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to combat global climate change — even though Washington has high air quality and has always had a clean electricity grid thanks to its plentiful hydroelectricity. House Republicans believe water pollution is a huge problem for our state that has not received the attention it deserves.

Water quality must be part of the discussion

While air quality is certainly an important factor in the climate change discussion, we believe the governor is failing to address another key component of a sustainable environment — Washington’s water quality.

Washington has about 28,000 miles of shorelines, which is equal to more than the distance around the Earth. Half of Washington stream miles and one-fifth of marine waters in Washington fail national water quality standards for at least one pollutant. (See the Department of Ecology’s Water Quality Focus Sheet.)

Water quality is vital to our state. The water must be cool enough and clean enough to support salmon survival. Our fish and shellfish must be safe for families to eat. Our waters must be safe to swim in. Washington House Republicans believe our citizens deserve much more progress toward cooler, cleaner, and healthier water.

Cooler, cleaner waters will help to preserve, restore salmon

Our state’s salmon population is at risk, not because of the Snake River dams as the governor would have you believe, but due to a combination of other serious circumstances. Puget Sound is home to 59 populations of Chinook salmon, steelhead, and bull trout. These fish require clean and cool water to thrive, but many salmon populations are declining, largely due to poor water quality.

Problem 1: Urban Heat

One of the most serious threats to our salmon population is known as “urban heat island effect.” Urban heat islands occur when cities replace natural land cover with dense concentrations of pavement, buildings, and other surfaces that absorb and retain heat. This is especially a problem in Seattle, Everett, Tacoma, and the cities along the shores of Puget Sound. Seattle can be up to 17 degrees hotter in the summer than rural areas. This heats up storm waters that empty into Puget Sound tributaries and directly into the sound, increasing water temperatures and harming salmon habitat. Warmer temperatures prevent water from mixing, allowing algae growth, which is harmful to fish and human health.

Problem 2: Untreated sewage and storm water

Another serious risk to our state’s salmon population is untreated raw sewage that frequently spills into Puget Sound. Between 2006 and 2019, as much as 23% of Puget Sound failed to meet oxygen standards mandated by the Clean Water Act. Much of this is attributed to inadequately treated human waste. Dumping this sewage causes a chain reaction that exhausts the water’s supply of oxygen, leaving marine creatures essentially breathless.

News story after news story show that millions of gallons of untreated storm water and sewage are being spilled regularly into Puget Sound from wastewater treatment plants that are inadequate to handle the flow volumes. It has become a well-documented problem for aquatic life, in addition to closing beaches to recreation.

Climate resilience goals must address the quality of air AND water!

It is disappointing that while Washington state has become the leader toward reducing carbon emissions, the governor and his majority party continue to ignore and neglect what keeps Washington truly green — water. It is the lifeblood of our state!

REAL SOLUTIONS from Washington House Republicans

Washington House Republicans have a four-point plan to address water quality issues, protect and preserve our salmon, provide for drought resilience, fund flood mitigation and prevention projects, and improve our state’s long-term forest health.

  • Improve Puget Sound water quality — House Bill 1365
  • This legislation requires operators of municipal wastewater systems to report annually on each discharge of untreated sewage, partially treated sewage, or mixtures of untreated stormwater and sewage into the Puget Sound. To bring greater public awareness to the issue and pressure for changes that will increase water quality, the bill requires the Department of Ecology to produce and publicize an annual summary report of these discharges. The bill directs Ecology to continue providing technical and financial assistance to municipal wastewater treatment facilities, and to make annual grants with available appropriated funds to reduce nutrient discharges into the Puget Sound. Passed the House Environment & Energy and Capital Budget committees.
  • Create salmon-safe communities — House Bill 1381
  • This bill directs the Department of Ecology, in collaboration with the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), to conduct an evaluation of the urban heat island effect and water temperatures in urban areas, including a pilot-scale monitoring study assessing a variety of factors related to this issue. The pilot-scale monitoring study will focus on comparing the water temperatures of Puget Sound lowland streams relative to land cover and tree canopy in urban areas draining to those systems. The bill requires that Ecology, in collaboration with the DFW and the DNR, produces a report to the governor and the Legislature by June 30, 2030, regarding the findings of the pilot-scale monitoring study and the factors identified as correlating to changing water temperatures. Passed the House Environment & Energy and Appropriations committees.
  • Authorize water quality trading — House Bill 1166
  • This bill is designed after a very successful project in the Tualatin River watershed near Portland. In that project, Clean Water Services, the public utility district that serves more than 536,000 customers in northwest Oregon’s Washington County, reduced water temperatures by planting trees to cool treated sewage water (effluent). The program, which involves “temperature trading,” has kept utility rates low, saved more than $100 million in avoided costs, and improved the health of the watershed. This bill creates flexibility for both cities and industry to proactively address temperature pollution in our waterways, by incentivizing voluntary cooperative programs to plant tree and vegetative cover upstream in the watershed to cool our waterways. These new programs could generate credits that could be purchased by cities and industry to satisfy permit obligations if they could document that they will have more environmental benefit at less cost than a technology upgrade at a facility. A public hearing was held Jan. 16 in the House Environment and Energy Committee.
  • Enact the ORCA (Outdoor Recreation and Climate Adaptation) Plan — House Bill 1190
  • The ORCA bill would use revenue from the state’s Climate Commitment Act (cap and trade program) to invest in expansion of outdoor recreation facilities, address long-term forest health and reduction of wildfire dangers, provide for drought resilience and preparedness, fund flood mitigation and prevention projects, and improve Puget Sound water quality. It would also address a massive backlog of maintenance in our state parks.  This bill was referred to the House Environment and Energy Committee but did not receive a public hearing.

House Republicans are working to provide real solutions backed by scientific evidence and facts, not emotional rhetoric. These real solutions involve incentives, not tax increases, to achieve the goals of cleaner air and water and a healthier Washington state. We invite you to join us in these efforts!