Washington state regulators adopted new clean-water rules Monday tied partly to how much fish people eat.

Share story

After years of heated debate, Washington state regulators adopted new clean-water rules Monday tied partly to how much fish people eat.

Now it’s up to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — which stepped in last fall to write its own rules for the state — to decide whether the plan is good enough.

“We believe our new rule is strong, yet reasonable. It sets standards that are protective and achievable,” state Ecology Director Maia Bellon said in a statement.

She noted that the EPA has indicated it prefers states to write their own rules and she believes Washington’s proposal can be approved by the federal agency.

A message to an EPA spokesman in Seattle was not immediately returned Monday.

Federal law requires rivers and other bodies of water to be clean enough so people can safely swim and eat fish from those sources. The rules set limits on pollutants that factories, wastewater-treatment plants and other industrial facilities can discharge into state waters.

The new state rules dramatically raise the current fish-consumption rate to 175 grams a day, which would protect people who eat about a serving of fish a day.

Tribes and environmental groups have pushed for more stringent rules to reduce water pollution and protect the people who eat the most fish. Cities and businesses have said the technology isn’t available to meet stricter rules, and it could cost billions of dollars with little or no benefit to the environment.

The Ecology Department has made several attempts at drafting new rules since 2011 and missed its own deadlines.

Since taking office in 2013, Gov. Jay Inslee has tried to balance the interests of tribes and environmental groups with those of businesses, cities and others as he took on the issue.

A group representing Native American tribes Monday called the state’s rules “deficient” and said it preferred the rules the EPA proposed.

Meanwhile, businesses worry that the EPA may want rules more stringent than businesses can comply with.

“The tribes expect EPA to hold Washington’s proposed standards accountable to the bar they have already established,” said Lorraine Loomis, chairwoman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, which represents 20 tribes in Western Washington.

Brandon Houskeeper, of the Association of Washington Business, said there could be many “additional twists and turns left in the process.”

“The rule going forward to EPA doesn’t come with a guarantee that they’ll accept it,” he said. “They may want something more stringent than we think we can comply with.”

In October, Inslee directed state officials to take another stab at the process after he scrapped clean-water rules just days before the measures would have been adopted. He directed the agency to leave alone the cancer-risk rate, one of many factors in a complicated formula to determine how clean state waters should be. Businesses wanted a less stringent rate.