Does your home hurt the nearshore environment?

For the past several years, members of our board have asked — and have been asked — a very important question: Do single-family homes hurt the nearshore environment?

Scientists and engineers who’ve spent their working lives dealing with such issues have pointed us to Clean Water Act requirements and other existing regulations. Under federal law, implementation of the Clean Water Act is delegated to the states.

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If you’re ready to do some detailed research, you might like to follow the following links:

  • The first link is for the Federal water quality criteria which were developed to ensure the waters of the United States are fishable and swimmable.  These criteria are conservative, with built in safety factors to protect a wide range of marine and aquatic species.
  • The second is the Dept. of Ecology web page that describes implementation the federal guidelines.
  • The third is the 303(d) listing of those water segments that do not meet the criteria.
  • The fourth is the Federally required state program to bring out-of-compliance waters into compliance.
  • The fifth site lists the numerous RCWs (Revised Code of Washington) and WACs (Washington Administrative Code) and the programs that are implemented by the Washington State Department of Health and local health departments to monitor and control waste water that could affect the marine and aquatic environments – with an emphasis on preventing shellfish contamination — link here.

It is also worth noting that the Clean Water Act and Department of Health rules aren’t the only regulations that bear on protection of our marine and aquatic environments.  There are also:

  • The Federal Insecticide, Fungacide, and Rodenticide Act controls the sale, distribution and application of pesticides.
  • The Fisheries Conservation and Management Act governs the management and control of U.S. Marine fish populations.
  • The Oil Pollution Act with its requirements to prevent and mitigate oil spills.
  • The National Environmental Policy Act (and the WA State Environmental Policy Act) require a formal assessment of proposed major activities that could adversely affect the environment.
  • The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act sets stringent standards for managing hazardous waste to prevent it from affecting the environment and human health.
  • The Marine Mammal Protction Act
  • The Coastal Zone Management Act
  • And numerous other state and federal laws

Our conclusion?

There are already regulations in-place that adequately protect our nearshore environment — and the monitoring results show that the health of the Puget Sound has been steadily improving since around the mid 1960’s.

The contention that stormwater runoff is a major threat, isn’t generally supported by the 303(d) list — although work by the Navy/EPA/Ecology ENVVEST program show that fecal contamination, the most common 303(d) pollutant, is stormwater-borne.  However, implementing practices such as street sweeping and the regular cleaning of catch basins has proven effective in mitigating this problem.

There is virtually no data to suggest single-family homes pose a measurable risk to the nearshore environment — as loudly claimed by the Puget Sound Partnership and the environmental activist organizations.

The existing regulatory system appears to be doing an adequate job of protecting the nearshore and there is no apparent justification for additional protective controls (buffers, etc.) or for shoreline restoration in the SMP update.

Maybe it’s time for the Legislature to understand and admit that existing laws are working, and remove the burden of revising Shoreline Master Programs every few years.

Bottom line: No, your home doesn’t hurt the nearshore environment.

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