The Clean Water Act and your water

The Clean Water Act’s (CWA) goal is to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waters. The term, TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) will appear throughout this article. Other important Congressional Acts are the SDWA (Safe Drinking Water Act) and the Sole Source Aquifer Program (SSA) of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency).

What they mean is that people deserve to have safe drinking water. There are laws that control the acceptable levels of contaminants in drinking water. When these levels are exceeded in a water system, the consumers may be asked to drink bottled water or to boil water their water before drinking. Wells that serve less than 25 persons are excluded from the SDWA.

This is a link to the map of the SSA’s in the United States. Below is a map of the Central Pierce County Aquifer as well as a few north of here. Sole source aquifer designation provides limited protection (not comprehensive) of ground water resources which serve as drinking water supplies.

If proposed projects for federal financial assistance fall within the area of a designated SSA and have the potential to contaminate the aquifer, they are subject to EPA review.  

EPA may negotiate agreements, called Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs), with federal agencies that offer financial assistance for projects.  The MOUs list criteria and project types to help the financing agency identify projects that may need SSA review. EPA regional offices negotiate these within their region. Agencies covered by these include

  • The U.S. Federal Highway Administration
  • The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture – Rural Development

Local highway, housing and agriculture projects that are accepting Federal funds, must comply with these standards or lose their funding.

Then the Washington Growth Management Act was passed. Counties and cities were required to set urban boundaries and to keep growth restricted outside those boundaries. Pierce County has a very large unincorporated area (not within any city) that is designated as urban. In 2021, the County passed zoning that allows for 5 story buildings housing families around a large portion of the unincorporated urban area.

The next challenge for the county is to find enough water for that area which also sits over a sole source aquifer. Much of the area is currently served by septic tanks, which percolate the water and contaminants back into the ground. As Pierce County extends the sewer system, the contaminants are carried to Chambers Bay for treatment and the gray water exits into Puget Sound, so it does not recharge the aquifer, it is removed from it. Over the past few years, water companies have determined their aquifer levels are dropping. In spite of many developments creating large, seemingly empty ponds to catch stormwater runoff, there is still not enough water reaching the aquifer to fully recharge it.

In the past couple of years, the Lakewood Water District has been building pipelines to the Summit, Spanaway, Steilacoom, Washington Water (formerly Rainier View) and Firgrove areas, to help boost the growth in those areas. Continued growth from the new up-zoning will squeeze the resources even farther.

Since Clover Creek resides in the middle of this unincorporated growth area, the health of the creek may well be a harbinger of the declining health of the ground water resources. Groundwater rising in the Spring typically was the force that flushed out sediments int he creek and helped to restore its freshness. With those groundwater resources depleted, that flushing is not happening and sediment is building up on the creek bottom. This is an issue currently being debated among creek stewards, how to safely get into the creek need and remove the sediment and restore the gravel areas where fish can spawn. The health data on Clover Creek is here.

The issue continues. Some of the debate has been written in other recent articles of the Pierce Prairie Post. There are ways everyone can help. One is to stop littering. Rain on those contaminants rolls back into the creeks and ground water. Use your water carefully, don’t waste it. Another is to purchase household cleaning products that are ecofriendly. And the biggest is to let your public officials know you are about how they are handling your drinking water. The more they hear from us, the more they will care too.

You can find this article on Spotify. The Clean Water Act and your water


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