New methods of testing water quality have been developed in recent years and the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) proposed updating their testing standards to incorporate these newer methods. Ecology announced the change in procedure in a press release this month. The change would affect the standards used to determine if high enough levels of waterborne diseases are present, which could cause harm to people using the water for recreational activities like boating.
Ecology currently tests for the presence of fecal coliform bacteria to determine if water is safe. The department is looking to switch to a different test, one that detects E. Coli in freshwater and enterococci bacteria in saltwater. This new test of water quality has already been adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and many states. States use water quality standards to determine if sewage treatment standards are being met, and to determine what bodies of water require extra monitoring and possible clean up.
“With new science comes an opportunity to better protect human health and understand the environment,” said Heather Bartlett, manager of Ecology’s Water Quality program. “Switching to these more precise test methods will give us the best available tools to keep people safe.” The change in testing methods was proposed to the Ecology department by a team of technical advisors, made up of representatives from regulated industries, local tribes, and environmental groups.
This proposed change in standards would not affect the tests used by the Washington State Department of Health to determine if shellfish are safe for consumption. Fecal coliform will continue to be tested in saltwater to determine the safety of shellfish harvesting areas, as per the standards set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Ecology is now accepting public comment on the proposed change to the rules. The comment period runs through Sept. 14, 2018. Ecology is hosting five public hearings for this rule proposal, including online webinars and in-person meetings in Tukwila and Spokane. For a complete list of hearings, visit ecology.wa.gov/Regulations-Permits