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A New Year's Resolution: Cleaner Water for Clark County

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PHOTO: Debris and chemical residue end up in storm drains and are carried into local waterways, affecting fish and drinking water. After three years, Clark County has agreed to comply with the federal Clean Water Act to minimize storm-water runoff. Photo credit: iStockphoto.
PHOTO: Debris and chemical residue end up in storm drains and are carried into local waterways, affecting fish and drinking water. After three years, Clark County has agreed to comply with the federal Clean Water Act to minimize storm-water runoff. Photo credit: iStockphoto.
 By Chris ThomasContact
December 20, 2013

VANCOUVER, Wash. – The year's end also marks the end of a three-year court battle over water quality standards for Clark County – and all sides are calling it a win.

This week, Clark County commissioners settled the penalty phase of a lawsuit to bring the county into compliance with the Clean Water Act.

In 2010, the Rosemere Neighborhood Association challenged the county for letting some developers build without regard to potential storm-water runoff problems, and for focusing on cleaning up pollution instead of preventing it.

Neighborhood Association chair John Felton says the negotiations went well.

"When it had concluded, everyone was very pleased at the collaborative effort that everyone put forward, and the success that resulted out of it,” he says. “So, it was a very positive experience."

In the settlement, Clark County commissioners agreed to give $3 million to the Lower Columbia Fish Recovery Board, an independent group that is working to clean up the area's major water pollution problems. Salmon populations, clean drinking water and preventing erosion all are affected by storm-water runoff.

The case has been closely followed by the Ecology Department and other counties around the state that could have adopted less stringent water quality standards of their own if the decision had gone the other way.

Jannette Brimmer, an attorney with Earthjustice who represented the neighborhood group and environmental organizations, says now, that isn't likely to happen.

"And in fact in the new permit, we see Ecology building on not just retaining this flow control standard, but moving to low-impact development and other concepts throughout western Washington, that are the next critical step in addressing the storm water pollution," she says.

Since the case was about federal Clean Water Act standards, the settlement still needs to be approved by the federal court where it began, as well as the U.S. Justice Department.

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