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Bill to improve Puget Sound water quality steaming ahead in Olympia

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(The Center Square) – It’s been 17 years since lawmakers formally established the goal of restoring the health of Puget Sound by 2020.

It didn’t happen, and there are many Puget Sound locations listed as having impaired waters that fail to meet federal water quality standards.

The political will may finally be in place to make progress in cleaning up contaminated water and to find ways to lessen water pollution that comes from untreated and partially treated sewage that wastewater treatment systems continue to discharge into Puget Sound, a complex estuarine system of interconnected marine waterways and basins located on the northwestern coast of Washington state.

House Bill 1365 to upgrade sewage treatment facilities along Puget Sound was unanimously approved Friday morning by the House Capital Budget Committee.

“We all know Puget Sound is polluted, and there are roughly 87 sewage treatment plants that release about 38 tons daily of dissolved inorganic nitrogen,” prime sponsor Rep. Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy, told the committee.

She said those high nitrogen levels in the Puget Sound “threaten our sensitive marine environment, particularly fragile Chinook salmon which are deeply threatened by the overflow of nitrogen that is untreated.”

Pomeroy added, “Two-thirds of that comes from the four largest plants.”

Dye cited a December 2023 report from the Department of Ecology that wastewater treatment plants have significant ecological impacts on the waters of the Salish Sea.

“DOE’s report says wastewater treatment plants are the number one source of adding nitrogen to the Salish Sea,” she said.

Dye’s bill directs each operator of a municipal wastewater sewerage system that discharges untreated sewage, partially treated sewage, or mixtures of untreated stormwater and sewage into waters within the Puget Sound watershed to submit a report to DOE by Feb. 1 of each year that summarizes discharges during the previous calendar year.

“So the costs don’t fall on local governments and ratepayers, state lawmakers need to allocate the funds for this,” Dye told The Center Square. “There are also federal grants we can take advantage of to help.”

Dye told the committee, “This is once in a generation money that we need to focus on.”

The bill states that by July 1 of each year, DOE will complete a summary report and provide the summary report to news media outlets in Washington, post the summary report on its website, and submit the report to the appropriate committees of the Legislature.

Dye said she’s aware that a comprehensive approach to addressing the problem would cost billions of dollars.

“But if we just focus on the four biggest treatment plant polluters, we can address 80% of the pollution in the Puget Sound,” she explained.

HB 1365 now heads to the floor a full House vote.

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