With deadline nearing, groundwater committee member asks what happens if plan isn’t completed

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YAKIMA, Wash. — With the deadline for the Lower Valley’s nitrate pollution plan approaching, an environmental group is asking the state what happens if the committee tasked with solving the problem doesn’t produce a plan.

Led by Yakima County, the Groundwater Management Area effort has had five years and $2.3 million in state funds to study the nitrate problem in the Lower Valley and develop a plan to improve water quality so that it meets safe drinking water standards.

A variety of studies have shown 10 to 20 percent of wells in the Lower Valley exceed federal limits for nitrates in the water. Exposure to elevated nitrate levels can have serious health consequences, especially for infants and pregnant women.

According to a 2015 contract between the county and the State Department of Ecology, the water improvement plan is supposed to be completed, presented to the public, and approved by a state environmental review by the end of 2017.

Knowing that the committee is still finalizing studies needed to develop the plan, committee member Jean Mendoza, who represents the environmental group Friends of Toppenish Creek, is worried a plan won’t be ready in time.

In a letter sent to Ecology Water Quality Program Manager David Bowen on Monday, Mendoza asks: “What will happen if we do nothing?” and “Will anyone be held responsible for using millions of dollars of public tax funds if no plan is developed?”

Bowen said on Wednesday that he needs to do some research with other Ecology staffers to develop an answer to Mendoza’s questions because the legislation authorizing the GWMA process did not set any deadline penalties.

“There’s a range of things that could happen,” Bowen said. “If it’s going to need crossing some more T’s and dotting some more I’s and it will be done in January, that’s one thing, but if they just throw up their hands and give up, there would be a different response.”

A month ago, Bowen and several other committee members told the Herald-Republic that they thought the group was finally on track to have a plan developed by the end of next year. Bowen said he still feels that way.

The concerns raised in Mendoza’s letter are issues the group is actively working on, he said.

“Right now, the goal is to get the plan done and get it implemented,” he said. “Like everybody, I wish parts of it were going faster, but they are what they are and we are getting them done.”


Picture: Yakima-Herald Republic