Saturday, February 13, 2010

Lake Whatcom: Fiddling with Phosphorus

As much as I support term limits -either voluntary or mandatory- there are a few drawbacks.
Like continuity of important policies and programs, for example.
Or, ensuring that education and lessons learned about basic public safety, health and welfare are passed along to new officials charged with making important, non-partisan decisions.

But, not all incumbents are bad, just as not all newbies are good - or prepared for the challenges of public office.
Learning curves can be steep, but that difficult trajectory is not necessarily always followed - at least voluntarily.
Making things worse, often experience and knowledge are actually disparaged as undesirable 'elitism'.
That's really too bad, since that is largely an assumption based on political cynicism, but mostly because it blindly substitutes ignorance and inexperience!

Kathy Kershner, a newly elected County Council member, seems to be having her first fish-bowl experience with a controversial public issue - the Lake Whatcom Reservoir.
This Herald article carried the story.

I sincerely hope this will prove to be a positive 'teachable moment' for Ms Kershner and not a reason to solidify the substitution of ideological beliefs for scientifically proven knowledge and established policy.

Kershner is certainly not the only person who has experienced difficulty in understanding the growing problems with our Reservoir.
But, at least she seems to be trying, which is more than you can say for some of her peers, some whom have been in office for years.
The least we can do is to help her learn the best way we can.
In that spirit, the following points are offered, including reference to the 65 blogs labeled 'LAKE' that I have posted since July 2007.

The Clean Water Act [CWA] was enacted in 1972 and amended several times since.
The Safe Drinking Water Act [SDWA] was enacted in 1974 and also amended several times since.
Both Acts are intended to prevent pollution of our valuable water resources.
Both were enacted after serious, harmful pollution had already occurred, and both have been only partially successful in meeting their respective goals.

These are very important points to note, particularly because prevention of water pollution is much more desirable and cost effective than waiting for a problem to occur and then trying to clean it up.

The hope is that we learn from past mistakes and apply those lessons to preventing or at least minimizing future problems with public water supply systems.
That's simply called working smart!

While the CWA and SDWA have different goals, they also are intended to compliment each other, not compete.
One way to understand their respective roles is to see how they are administered here in Washington State:

The Department of Ecology [DOE] administers the CWA.
Pertaining to Lake Whatcom, DOE is charged with keeping that water body 'fishable and swimmable'.
That is also an important factor in maintaining untreated raw water purity, since it represents the first line of defense in a highly recommended 'multiple barrier' system for public water supply sources.

The Department of Health [DOH] administers the SDWA.
Pertaining to Lake Whatcom, DOH is charged with making sure that treated water produced by Public Water Purveyors meets drinking water standards.

Since the 1996 SDWA Amendments, each Public Water Purveyor is required to develop and implement a SOURCE WATER PROTECTION PLAN [SWPP], with updates due to the DOH every 6 years.
Among other things, the SWPP describes existing and projected uses in the surrounding watershed and requires corrective action if reasonable protections are inadequate or threatened.
'Multiple barriers' are therefore strongly recommended to protect the raw water supply.

Hopefully, this brief explanation will help clear up some of the confusion about roles and responsibilities, as well as the interrelated nature of the CWA and SDWA standards and requirements.

Ultimately, it is up to local citizens and elected officials to take timely, wise and effective action to protect our valuable public water supply for future generations.
After all, it is the only one available to us with sufficient quantity and purity to enable optimal and cost effective use of our existing treatment, storage and distribution system.

For those interested in more information about Lake Whatcom, these postings may be of particular interest:

July 28
August 8, 9, 11, 12, 17, 18, 23, 24, 25, 29, 30
September 5, 11, 30
October 2, 8, 9, 12, 19
November 2
December 4

May 11, 24
August 8
November 27

January 19
June 11, 14
July 31