Officials ignore vital clean-water issues

The importance of clean water is obvious to the South Sound. It drives commercial enterprises, tourism, recreation, the enjoyment of personal property and generally adds to the quality of life in coastal communities. Clean water has historical and sacred meaning to our tribal neighbors. Having access to clean drinking water is, of course, essential.

The City of Olympia is drilling new wells to replace its main water source at McAllister Springs near the Nisqually Reservation because it fears contamination from the BNSF Railway and possible future saltwater intrusion.

A national beach-pollution report recently ranked Washington’s beaches 10th out of the 30 states with saltwater beach access. Seven percent of Thurston County beaches exceeded the state’s maximum bacteria level. There are permanent advisories against swimming at Priest Point Park and West Bay Park in Budd Inlet.

These types of concerns over large and small bodies of water are common all over the United States. Yet, neither Congress or the White House seem to share our interest in preserving and protecting all bodies of water from damaging development.

Chalk it up to election-year anxiety.

In June, Congress refused to act despite bipartisan support to provide dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, despite that it wouldn’t have used a nickel of taxpayer dollars. The LWCF is funded by a small piece of oil and gas drilling royalties, except that Congress keeps pillaging the pot for other purposes.

The LWCF provision to specify an amount of the oil and gas fees to land and water protections that would have been “handed-off” to Congress was attached to the recently approved Surface Transportation reauthorization bill, but dropped at the last minute.

Over in the White House, there is similar inaction on the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to reaffirm guidelines under the 1972 Clean Water Act. The EPA wants to remind the Army Corps of Engineers that the Clean Water Act applies to small streams and wetlands – which are aquatic ecosystems that connect to municipal drinking water systems like Olympia’s – and not just the major, navigable waterways.

But the administration doesn’t want to get beat up over another regulatory issue during a presidential campaign, and so the EPA guidelines are going nowhere.

While good governance languishes in the other Washington, regional projects close to home are losing needed funding.