County wins water quality grant

Island County is one of only two jurisdictions Washington to receive a $250,000 grant from the state Ecology Department.

The money, also awarded to King County, will go toward achieving better compliance with existing environmental laws to protect watersheds.

Island County has set itself apart with its Water Quality Monitoring Program, going above and beyond what is required of counties.

“Our program is like no other program in the state,” said Island County Planning Director Jeff Tate. “While many jurisdictions are trying to better understand the condition of their streams, wetlands and lakes, our program outlines the exact steps that are to be followed when a water quality problem is discovered.”

The money is part of Gov. Chris Gregoire’s broader effort to help local governments in the region restore and protect Puget Sound. Of the region’s 12 counties contiguous to Puget Sound, 10 counties competed for the compliance grants.

The grants will be used to supply information to individuals and the general public about environmental requirements to protect watersheds, provide technical assistance to get voluntary compliance, and evaluate how and where enforcement action might be necessary.

Island County’s program is sampling water quality in about 48 locations. Directly inline with Ecology’s goal, Tate said the program places a heavy emphasis on education and outreach.

“The Department of Ecology has recognized this program as a good example for other jurisdictions to follow and has provided Island County with technical and financial assistance to help ensure the success of the program,” he added. “Island County is grateful for this assistance which helps offset the cost of the program by paying for a third of the overall program cost.”

Tate called the county’s program a “win-win for property rights advocates and environmentalists alike.” The county has acknowledged that one size does not fit all.

“It ensures that water quality problems are identified and a strategy is enacted to fix a problem,” he said. “It also ensures that regulations and outreach efforts are only applied when and where they are needed rather than affecting everybody.”

The “no strings” funding is a perfect example of the county and state governments forming a financial and working partnership that will result in real, on-the-ground improvements in the community, the planning director said.

“Rather than speculating about what problems might exist, where they exist and what their causes are, we will be able to pinpoint areas of concern with real data,” he continued. “It will allow us to focus our efforts by approaching specific communities where a problem has been identified and work together with that community to develop ways of fixing those problems.

“It also allows us to determine if a water quality problem is a result of septic systems, wildlife, livestock, pets, etc. by requiring that we trace the problem to specific sources. Techniques for tracing sources range from making visual observations to DNA testing.”

Island County Commissioner Phil Bakke, Tate’s predecessor, was elated to learn of the grant funding.

“The grant helps speed up the county’s ability to monitor more watersheds,” he said. “It’s great. I think it really represents a major endorsement on the part of the state.”

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