YAKIMA, WA, Nov. 21, 2011-- Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) Director Ted Sturdevant has issued an order authorizing Yakima County to develop a groundwater management program to address nitrate contamination in groundwater and drinking water in the lower Yakima Valley.
In a letter to county commissioners, Sturdevant also announced that Ecology is earmarking approximately $300,000 in start-up funding for the Lower Valley Groundwater Management Area (GWMA) and is working to identify staff resources to make available to the project.
"In spite of these tight budgetary times, it's important that we make this investment to assure residents have access to safe, clean water," Sturdevant said. "We're encouraged that in partnership with others, real on-the-ground solutions will be the outcome."
Ecology will send letters inviting interested parties to participate on a Groundwater Advisory Committee to help direct identified program goals. In addition, Ecology will finalize contract details with Yakima County.
In 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found 21 percent of 337 wells sampled for nitrate were at levels greater than federal drinking water standards. Infants under six months of age, pregnant women, and other vulnerable populations may suffer ill health affects due to nitrate contaminated water.
A public hearing on the proposal was held in August in Sunnyside to gather input on Yakima County's proposed actions to reduce nitrate contamination in an area from Union Gap to Benton City, not including the Yakama Reservation. This area comprises approximately 512 square miles.
Yakima County is a highly developed agricultural basin where land-application of nitrogen rich fertilizers, manure and leaking septic systems may be contributing to the elevated nitrate problem. The proposal to create a management area to address the pollution resulted from Yakima County's collaboration with EPA, the state departments of Ecology, Agriculture and Health.
More information on this effort is available online at: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wq/grndwtr/LowerYak-gw.html.
A copy of the GWMA proposal may be found at: http://www.yakimacounty.us/NitrateProgram/
Chapter 173-100 of the Washington Administrative Code provides criteria and procedures for designating geographic areas and developing programs where groundwater quality is threatened or degraded as a result of land use activities. This regulation is available online at: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/biblio/wac173100.html.