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SPEECH President's Message

by Janine Gates

It's the Water! This old tribute to the purity and delicious taste of water in our area was well known for generations. We all depend on it for survival, and mostly we take it for granted.

As part of the larger global community we must also remember that access to clean water is a human right. According to the United Nations International Children's Fund (UNICEF) research published in 2005, 400 million children (one in five from the developing world) have no access to safe water, and 1.4 million children will die each year from lack of access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation. In that light, we are truly fortunate here in the South Sound, but is our water situation here without challenges?

No. As our population continues to increase we will experience serious problems with both drinking water supplies and stormwater management.

Stormwater is the biggest source of pollution for our local waterways and Puget Sound. An estimated 150,000 pounds of toxicants enter Puget Sound each day as a result of stormwater runoff. The Department of Ecology estimates that stormwater from roads, parking lots and elsewhere carries between 6.3 million and 8 million gallons of petroleum into the Sound every year. In comparison, the 1989 Valdez travesty in Alaska dumped 11 million gallons.

And in spite of these facts, local governments appear unable to stop stormwater runoff. Trees, wetlands and native vegetation are the best ways to prevent stormwater runoff from occurring. Yet, clearing forests, filling wetlands, stripping topsoil, and paving the landscape continues all around us. There are even massive developments approved by our current city council in areas classified as having a high ground water hazard, such as in the Chambers Lake basin. This basin is shared by Thurston County, Lacey and Olympia.

I attended the public information session on the adoption of the revised stormwater manual to learn about this critical issue. The discussion was enlightening. As local governments begin to consider the adoption of Ecology's revised manual, one is tempted to ask, 'What is the point?' As long as local governments bow to developer interests and provide permits for environmentally inappropriate projects, the manual remains virtually meaningless.

Another issue facing our region is our public drinking water supplies. We're in the midst of a record-setting dry summer, and the South Sound relies primarily on groundwater sources for its drinking water. During dry spells, the groundwater is not recharged, which eventually leads to declining drinking water supplies. The excessive number of wells being placed for new development also jeopardizes groundwater supplies.

Take into consideration that we don't have a comprehensive inventory of how much groundwater is available, how quickly it is recharged, and how long it is projected to last given current rates of use and development. We are also facing seawater intrusion into our aquifers, as both the aquifers are drawn down and the sea level rises. Although I am an optimist, it appears to me that the water picture for the South Sound is murky at best. We certainly have our work cut out for us.

Janine Gates is president of SPEECH and can be reached through her website at http://www.janinegatesphotography.com or her new Olympia news blog at http://www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com

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Updated 2015/01/07 21:14:22