Written comment to the Washington State Environmental Justice Council meeting, May 24th.

Submitted by John Lovie, Whidbey Island Water Systems Association.

I would like to highlight rural Washingtonians’ lack of access to safe drinking water as an Environmental Health Disparity and an environmental justice concern.

As the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act celebrate their 50th anniversaries, they are failing rural Americans.

The Safe Drinking Water Act web page states that “Over 92 percent of the population supplied by community water systems receives drinking water that meets all health-based standards all of the time.” That excludes the 13% of Americans served by private wells or Group B water systems. In Washington, this leaves around 1.7 million primarily rural Washingtonians unprotected by the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The Washington Tracking Network clearly shows the environmental and other health disparities, social vulnerability indices, and other criteria that define these rural communities as disadvantaged. And that without yet taking into account the disproportionate impacts of climate change and industrial agriculture on these communities and their groundwater. And now PFAS is found contaminating that groundwater, in some cases from firefighting foam from the local fire station, where their friends and neighbors work to save lives and then go home to drink the same water.

Just as private wells are excluded from the Safe Drinking Water Act, the groundwater on which they rely is excluded from the Clean Water Act. The CAFOs and dairies responsible for nitrates and more are inspected not by the Department of Ecology but by the Department of Agriculture.  With PFAS, Ecology can’t pursue cleanup under the Model Toxics Control Act without a designated polluter to pay, the military sites refuse to recognize the State’s cleanup limits, and private well owners and small water systems cannot afford the treatment systems being installed in urban areas. Many rural Washingtonians continue to drink water that does not meet safe drinking water standards or are forced to buy bottled water.

Access to clean drinking water for rural Washingtonians is an Environmental Health Disparity and an environmental justice concern.

Thank you for the work you are doing and for hearing my comment today.