Stormwater money could be used to balance budget

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OLYMPIA — More than $22 million earmarked in a state Department of Ecology account to help local governments control and treat stormwater would be used instead to balance the state budget under a plan submitted to the Legislature by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

The fund transfer requested by the governor comes just a few months after lawmakers added $30 million to the state local toxics control account to whittle away at a huge backlog of stormwater retrofit projects around the state, including the Puget Sound region.

The governor’s capital budget reduced the account by $22 million, leaving $8 million for stormwater projects in this biennium, said Jim Cahill, a senior budget assistant to the governor.

Stormwater is considered the No. 1 water-quality threat in urban areas of the Puget Sound region, and there is no dedicated funding mechanism in place to tackle the problem.

Many communities have relied on the use of monies in the local toxics-control account from a tax on the wholesale value of hazardous materials to fund stormwater-control projects.

“It’s been a really good program for communities in the Puget Sound region,” said Andy Haub, an Olympia Public Works planning and engineering manager.

The environmental community will lobby legislators to keep the money where it is so it can be used to fund stormwater-retrofit projects, said Bill Robinson, lobbyist for The Nature Conservancy.