Opinion

A stormwater crisis can be averted

The Coastal Counties Caucus represents the interests of the 14 counties that border Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean.

Combined, these counties account for nearly 4.5 million residents or almost 70 percent of the entire population of Washington state.

While our counties are varied — from urban King County, to rural Jefferson, to the islands of San Juan — we share much in common.

Nowhere are we more linked than in the health of Puget Sound. Perhaps nowhere do we face a greater challenge than restoring the health of our fragile estuary.

Every year more than 14 million gallons of toxic chemicals enter Puget Sound through stormwater runoff.

Petroleum is the largest contributor to this pollution, whether it is paving asphalt, dripping oil from vehicles, or roofing materials, petroleum related chemicals.

Hydrocarbons, zinc, and arsenic are just some of the harmful pollutants that are mobilized when rainwater flows across impervious surfaces, transporting these contaminants into our waterways.

To reduce stormwater pollution, we need to reduce impervious surfaces that increase runoff, implement low-impact development techniques that mirror natural hydrology and attempt to reduce the use of harmful pollutants where possible.

As part of the solution, local governments have been directed to implement stricter stormwater regulations by the federal Clean Water Act.

While these new stormwater requirements provide stricter standards for new development, our communities are left with a legacy of development — from shopping centers, to industrial parks, to our very own public roadways — that lack effective stormwater protections.

If we’re truly going to reduce stormwater pollution and restore the Sound to health, we need a comprehensive strategy to retrofit roads, parking lots and other contributors to stormwater pollution.

This is where counties, cities and property owners need the state government to become a partner.

Right now, the state Legislature is looking at ideas that would create for the first time a sustainable funding source to reduce stormwater runoff.

A stable funding source would allow the state to offer grants to local governments in order to retrofit public infrastructure such as roads to reduce pollution runoff in our waters.

It would also allow local governments to avoid our least-desired course of raising property and utility rates to fund these legally required projects.

Throughout the region, local governments are testing low-impact development techniques and retrofitting local roadways in order to reduce stormwater runoff.

Yet, we’re limited to local revenues that barely meet the needs of our growing communities, let alone retrofit past infrastructure projects.

At the same time, if we had a stable funding source, local governments would be able to expand programs that work with private property owners and the development communities to retrofit legacy development that doesn’t meet modern requirements.

In Kitsap County, we’ve created a partnership between our stormwater utility, conservation district and Washington State Extension office to provide incentives and resources for property owners to install rain gardens designed to reduce runoff.

The ability to compete for state grants would allow us to significantly expand the impact of this program and implement other incentive based programs as well.

All of these labor-intensive infrastructure projects would help put people in our communities, particularly in the hard hit construction sector, back to work.

Our local governments are primed to be able to put people back to work and invest in infrastructure that will reduce stormwater pollution that is harming Puget Sound.

We strongly encourage the state Legislature to take actions this session to create a stable revenue source to be able to match the assist counties, cites, and private property owners in implementing solutions to this problem.

Josh Brown is a Kitsap County commissioner and chairman of the Coastal Counties Caucus.

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