The Washington Department of Ecology is using new methods to more accurately test for waterborne disease in state waters. The methods will better protect people while they are swimming, boating, or enjoying other recreational activities.
By testing for E. coli in freshwater and enterococci bacteria in saltwater, Ecology is transitioning away from using fecal coliform testing for recreational uses. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and many other states have already made this transition, which current science shows is now a more accurate way to protect against waterborne disease.
“This change is the right move for Washington,” said Heather Bartlett, manager of Ecology’s Water Quality program. “We take our role in protecting public health very seriously and this action will help protect anyone who enjoys our waters.”
A technical advisory group with representation from regulated industries, tribes, and environmental groups provided input on the rule change. Ecology sought public comment in July 2018.
Water quality standards, and the related testing, are used to determine compliance with the state’s wastewater discharge rules, permitting, monitoring, and prioritizing cleanup plans for waterbodies.
The new bacteria testing methods are not related to beach closures, which are managed by local health departments. This action does not change the water quality testing for shellfish used by the Washington State Department of Health to classify shellfish as safe for consumption. Fecal coliform bacteria will continue to be measured in saltwater to protect shellfish harvesting areas, using standards set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Laboratories that test for bacteria and dischargers that monitor releases into waters have until Jan. 1, 2021, to begin using the new testing methods.