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News / Clark County News

Ecology awards Clark County grant to pursue water pollution source control efforts

Over $450K to be used for water pollution control

By Lauren Ellenbecker, Columbian staff writer
Published: August 29, 2023, 6:08am

Clark County officials are working to prevent pollution in a small way, beginning with businesses’ waste management.

The Washington Department of Ecology entered into an agreement with Clark County, awarding its Clean Water Division $458,629 to pursue pollution source control efforts for two years. This is a continuation of the county’s program involvement, which began in 2015.

According to Rod Swanson, a program manager for the county’s Public Works Clean Water Division, it dovetails with its efforts to tackle a major culprit in water pollution: stormwater runoff.

Under the state’s Pollution Prevention Assistance Program, Clark County Public Works and Public Health, as well as the city of Vancouver, help businesses develop practices that minimize their stormwater contamination.

Businesses, parking lots and lawns — even a leaky dumpster — may hold hazardous materials, such as oil, gas and fertilizers. Rainfall can pick up these pollutants as water rushes on stretches of impervious surfaces, rather than soak into the soil, and waterways. As urbanization persists and the population grows, so does the coverage of impervious areas.

“Anything that’s on the pavement ends up in most drains,” Swanson said. “Once it gets to that system, it’s pretty much impossible (to get out).”

By addressing pollution at its source, contamination is less likely to leak into the Columbia River Basin’s rivers, creeks and lakes. It’s a pointed approach that yields promising results, Swanson said.

Through the program, officials visit a business and provide management recommendations, usually related to properly storing and disposing of hazardous waste or being mindful of outdoor activities that pollute groundwater. Auto repair shops, landscaping companies and laundry services are just a few examples of industries whose waste could dirty waterways.

Ecology has historically partnered with jurisdictions in three critical areas: the Puget Sound, Columbia River Basin and Spokane River Basin.

Stormwater pollution can degrade habitat for endangered aquatic species, such as salmon and steelhead, according to Washington State University’s College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences. Other impacts include increased blue-green algae blooms resulting from an uptick of nutrients.

Keeping water clean by reducing runoff contaminations isn’t unique to Clark County, as evidenced by the alliance of groups in Stormwater Partners of Southwest Washington, which the county takes part in. The coalition helps local municipalities collaborate and stay up-to-date with an ever-growing body of science and technology surrounding stormwater pollution, much of which didn’t exist until the early 1990s.

“It’s a very complex topic,” Swanson said. “And it’s an evolving topic.”

Community Funded Journalism logo

This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

Columbian staff writer