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Port Angeles Councilmember Brad Collins talks about regional stormwater monitoring

Why do we have to monitor?

Port Angeles was slow to step up to stormwater requlations and put in place what we needed to do. Probably the biggest reason we’ve been slow to act is because we don’t have enough information related to stormwater problems. Monitoring creates a benchmark. It helps explain what we need to do and helps us see what we’ve done both positively and negatively to water quality. With monitoring you can see the situation more clearly, and figure out what actions need to be taken to move things in a positive direction.

How do you believe monitoring is working now?

Monitoring now is isolated. People feel like they don’t have access to what is being done with stormwater management. We don’t have a good system in place to share data.

We don’t have a systemic ways of looking at where we are or where we are going with large public outlays for stormwater infrastructure. Jurisdictions aren’t connected with each other’s stormwater programs. So we don’t have a good perspective of what’s happening with monitoring or how we can make it more relevant. So you have a tendency to keep going slowly because you don’t have the information you need.

A relationship with other jurisdictions would make more sense.

What are consequences of not adopting a regional approach?

The obvious consequence – monitoring in isolation and never looking at the bigger picture. More importantly, it’s always feeling that we don’t have the funding to do this well. If every city has to reinvent the wheel, it costs money.  Why not share the costs?

In Port Angeles, our environmental groups have been active in making sure that we meet state and federal requirements. That’s not a place where the city has a lot of monitoring experience. Sharing liability could go a long way in upping our comfort level as we move down this road.

Water doesn’t respect jurisdictional lines. It’s one of the few places where it’s reasonable to be regional. Not being regional is irresponsible when it comes to water quality.

So you write a check as a jurisdiction. How does the resources pooling work?  How is the money shared? Is there a worry over losing control over how money is used, and whether it addresses your concerns?

Right now we don’t have a good way of estimating monitoring costs. Pooling resources would reduce our share and gives us a sense that all the stakeholders have a similar interest. Our costs, particularly those associated with liability risks, are leveled out.

We do want to know dollars are going in a positive direction. Some cities may worry about handing over a blank check. And we don’t want to lose control to a third party that isn’t a general purpose government. But sending our share of the money to another organization works if it’s going to a state agency like Ecology which has a broad public purpose or a regional government approach.

And Ecology won’t be making the decisions on its own. An oversight group of local government representatives will advise Ecology on how the monitoring is done, how the money is shared, and how the resources are used.

Are you ready to start budgeting for monitoring?

Budgeting is planning. Paying is doing. As we structure stormwater management systems, cities need to understand early on the additional costs we’ll face in the future. Budget correctly now and we won’t have to go back and reinvent our approach. And probably pay a lot more later.

Other advantages to pooling?

I like the idea of multiple stakeholders. Beyond the advantage in sharing costs, it’s sharing what’s happening with the info – how is it collected and exchanged – and what perspectives emerge.

Any concerns with this approach?

In a regional approach, I worry a little that single purpose entities with a single point of view have more time and energy to focus on an issue like stormwater management. We as cities are trying to deal with all aspects of stormwater and a variety of political views. Not easy to balance all this. A regional approach requires a lot of time and effort. Those who advocate the most control the process and as a general purpose local government, we can’t focus all our efforts on this.

However, in this day and age, communities have a broad buy-in to environmental protection. It goes beyond a small group of advocates. Now the general population sees the benefits of improved water quality and if the costs are real, most jurisdictions are ready to pay for public improvements that have been ignored when there wasn’t monitoring.

How would it work in Peninsula?

There’s a difference between what happens in the north and central parts of Puget Sound, between the Olympic Peninsula and the more urbanized areas. When it comes to marine resources, we have a strong history of working across county boundaries, lending out staff to regional efforts.

What do your peers need to know to be comfortable with working with Ecology?

On the Peninsula, Ecology already has dedicated staff and resources to make regional approaches work. We have a comfort level in working with Ecology on issues like salmon recovery. When Ecology is regulator and enforcer, and there is conflict between jurisdictions, it doesn’t work as well. Depending on the process – administration or regulation – Ecology wears white and black hats, and that makes it odd sometimes. But the same person doesn’t wear both hats, and you’re not dealing with the same parts of the agency.

If a jurisdiction isn’t comfortable working with Ecology, then that jurisdiction can choose to take on the liability for monitoring stormwater independently. Over time, cities have worked through painting the agency with a black brush – they realize that Ecology’s resources are necessary to help them. They’ve made the distinction between when Ecology is helping them and punishing them.

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