State adopts 'fish consumption rule' after years of debate

OLYMPIA, Wash. – The state Department of Ecology on Monday adopted a water quality rule that it says safeguards the health of Washington’s people and its economy.

The department said the "fish consumption rule", as it is known, updates Washington’s water quality standards for toxics and establishes how clean Washington's lakes, rivers and marine waters need to be. The standards set pollution limits for businesses and municipalities that discharge wastewater. They are based, in part, on the amount of toxics contained in the fish that people eat from Washington waters and are required by the federal Clean Water Act.

Last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released its own draft rule for Washington. EPA would be required to adopt its rule if the state failed to complete a rule.

“We believe our new rule is strong, yet reasonable. It sets standards that are protective and achievable,” said Ecology Director Maia Bellon. “With this rule now complete, we will continue to press forward to reduce and eliminate toxics from every-day sources.

“The EPA has indicated its preference for a Washington-led rule and we believe we have developed a rule that EPA can approve,” Bellon added.

On Monday, Ecology sent the new state rule to EPA for approval. Under the federal Clean Water Act, EPA has 60 days to approve, or 90 days to disapprove, the state rule.

Tribes and environmental groups have argued for more stringent rules to reduce water pollution and protect public health, while businesses and others worried it could cost billions with little or no benefit to the environment.

According to the Department of Ecology, here are the facts-at-a-glance about new rule: