Dungeness pollution plan could include penalties

By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News

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SEQUIM –– Several agencies are starting to develop a plan to identify and clean up sources of pollution in the Clean Water District of the Dungeness Valley.

They’re looking to model their plan on Kitsap County, where landowners who refuse to reduce runoff or other pollution are fined.

What they currently lack, however, are the funds to monitor stream quality and enforce regulation, according to agency workers who spoke in Sequim recently.

The Clean Water District includes the Dungeness Valley, extending from the eastern Clallam County line to Bagley Creek west of Sequim.

“The goal is to try and target places and practices where pollution may be a problem, and then to work with landowners,” Jennifer Bond said at an open house last Thursday.

Bond, with the Clallam Conservation District, said the next step “is to find methods and funding sources to clean up problem areas.”

The Conservation District is working with Clallam County Health and Human Services and the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe to assemble the plan.

Problem areas, officials said at the open house, are aging septic systems, development along watersheds and outdated agricultural practices.

“Most landowners want to make sure they are managing their property in an environmentally friendly way,” Bond said.

“We want, where we can, to show them what they may be able to do better and help find sources of funding to implement those practices.”

Identifying pollution points is a challenge, said Andy Brastad of the Clallam County’s environmental health department.

He displayed a map that showed septic systems in the valley, marked with their last known condition.

Earlier this year, the county undertook a study of how to deal with aging septic systems in the Dungeness and Three Crabs neighborhoods.

Property owners suggested allowing them to upgrade their systems over other options suggested by an environmental engineering firm, one of which was installing a new $25 million waste management plant.

Getting information about the condition of private septic systems is difficult, Brastad said, because the county does not have the resources to compel landowners to test their systems and submit those results.

“And for most people, they don’t think it could be a problem until it begins to back up and flood their yards,” he said.

Ed Chadd, project manager for Clallam County Streamkeepers — a volunteer program that samples streams — said a grant from the state Department of Ecology allowed his volunteers to get in the field and assess the health of streams.

“The identification part of this is huge,” Bond said.

“If we can show the quality of water going through a property and compare it to the water coming out, we can see what needs to be done to improve it.”

Once problems are identified, the conservation district has access to sources of funding to help landowners implement measures to correct pollution, Bond said.

“That’s the great thing about including them in the plan,” Brastad said.

“While we’re not regulatory, we have a lot of funding sources we can turn to to help establish a stable funding source,” Bond said.

The conservation district also has a number of techniques that have been proven to help reduce runoff into the watershed, such as ensuring livestock pasture is vegetated and not grazed bare.

Chadd said the agencies assembling the pollution identification and correction plan met with Kitsap County officials who have long had a similar plan.

Much of the monitoring and cleanup there is funded by a stormwater utility implemented by Kitsap County commissioners, said Joe Holtrop, director of the Clallam Conservation District.

Fees are charged to landowners based on the amount of impervious surface on their properties. Landowners who refuse to take action are penalized.

Chadd said a portion of the stormwater funding is used to pay for a deputy prosecutor who contacts landowners who don’t comply.

“People tend to take action when they get a letter with the prosecutor’s letterhead,” Chadd said.

The Dungeness task force assembling the pollution identification and correction plan will meet monthly over the next year.

For more information and for future meeting dates, contact the conservation district at 360-452-1912, or online at www.clallamcd.org.

Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at jsmillie@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: August 25. 2013 6:12PM
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