An illegal construction project in Lewis County caused polluted, muddy water to flow into Klickitat Creek between November 2022 and June 2023. Mudslides from the site created unsafe conditions, damaged nearby county roads and disrupted a neighbor’s drinking water well.
The Washington Department of Ecology has now penalized the landowner, Isaac West, $168,000 for repeated water quality violations. Ecology is penalizing West for polluting state waters by discharging large amounts of sediment and highly turbid water to a tributary of Klickitat Creek and for failing to mitigate damage caused by his construction activities.
Despite technical assistance and warning letters, Ecology inspectors found that West failed to acquire a construction stormwater permit, failed to stabilize soils, and failed to install any pollution prevention controls. Ecology and Lewis County inspectors documented dozens of instances of muddy water flowing from the site into a drainage ditch that leads to Klickitat Creek. Groundwater springs on the property were also polluted.
“Lewis County has worked tirelessly with Mr. West for over a year to assist in stabilizing his massive, un-permitted ground disturbance. His actions have endangered lives, caused significant environmental degradation and placed a large financial burden on the citizens of Lewis County,” said Lewis County Commissioner Scott Brummer. “We support the Department of Ecology’s actions to bring this landowner into compliance and begin mitigation efforts to ensure the safety of the neighbors, the protection of water quality and prevention of further environmental impacts.”
Water samples collected from the site showed extremely high levels of turbidity (cloudiness) that exceeded state limits. Excessive turbidity in waterways from sediment and other pollutants harm aquatic life, such as salmon and trout, and reduce water quality.
“Large construction projects need to be managed properly to protect residents and water quality. Partnering with Lewis County, we repeatedly tried to work with the property owner to ensure he understood his obligation," said Andrew Kolosseus, Ecology's water quality section manager. "Despite those efforts, Mr. West continued to operate in a way that allowed large quantities of mud to run off his property and affect nearby streams."
West has 30 days to pay the penalty or appeal it to the state Pollution Control Hearings Board.
Water quality penalty payments to Ecology are placed into the state’s Coastal Protection Fund, which provides grants to public agencies and Tribes for water quality restoration projects.