OLYMPIA – The Washington Department of Ecology is proposing an update to the methods used to assess the quality of state waters. The rule change would update the standards used to protect people from waterborne disease while they are enjoying recreational activities like swimming and boating. The agency is now accepting public comments on proposed changes to the rule.
Current state standards rely on fecal coliform bacteria testing to protect public health, but there are now more precise measures available. Ecology is proposing new standards that will transition to testing for E. coli in freshwater and enterococci bacteria in saltwater. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and many other states, have already moved from fecal coliform testing to these new bacteria standards to ensure waters are safe for recreational use.
Water quality standards are used to determine compliance with the state’s wastewater discharge rules, permitting, monitoring, and prioritizing cleanup plans for waterbodies. The standards are not related to beach closures, which are managed by local health departments.
The proposed update to the standards was recommended by a technical advisory team, made up of members from regulated industries, environmental groups, and tribes.
“With new science comes an opportunity to better protect human health and understand the environment,” said Heather Bartlett, manager of Ecology’s Water Quality program. “Switching to these more precise test methods will give us the best available tools to keep people safe.”
This rule update will not change the water quality testing for shellfish used by the Washington State Department of Health to classify shellfish as safe for consumption. Fecal coliform bacteria will continue to be measured in saltwater to protect shellfish harvesting areas, using standards set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The comment period runs through Sept. 14, 2018. Ecology is hosting five public hearings for this rule proposal, including online webinars and in-person meetings in Tukwila and Spokane. For a complete listing of the hearing dates and details, as well as the proposed language, visit Ecology’s Recreational Use Criteria rulemaking webpage.
Visit the water quality webpage for more on water quality standards and updates to these standards.