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Seattle Times: "Follow the law to protect fish and water supplies"

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Nov. 2, 2011 -- A controversial federal appeals court decision shines a light on an exemption to clean-water regulations that can compromise healthy fish runs and water supplies.

Seattle Times Editorial

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/editorials/2016673423_edit03roads.html

FISH in streams and rivers suffering the effects of sediment-laden stormwater from logging roads or construction sites are not impressed by legal arguments or remedial legislation.

Clever wordplay over the source of the runoff does not matter to the fish who struggle to survive and reproduce in degraded conditions, or to the millions of people worried about clean water supplies.

The U.S. Supreme Court is being asked to review a decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that concluded the federal Clean Water Act does not provide any exemption for logging, road building and other forest-management practices that collect and channel stormwater.

Stormwater from silvicultural activities is not exempt from the regulatory scheme, the appeals court said, and those who use and maintain those roads for logging activities must participate via federal permits in oversight and management.

As other states panic, Washington already has improved forest-practice rules adopted in 2001. Local timber interests still worry how our state-based rules might be compromised or challenged.

Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna signed on to a brief written by the state of Arkansas asking the highest court to take a look. Only one of his state clients, the state superintendent of public instruction, seemed particularly concerned, but McKenna's objections go to keeping local prerogatives open.

Fish in streams have no options. They are vulnerable to the sediment collected, channeled and discharged into waterways from logging activities.

Ten years ago, Washington's new forest-practice rules celebrated the role of adaptive management and smarter thinking about fish, forests and resource extraction. Groping for legal relief here or elsewhere goes against those recognized values.

The 9th Circuit balked at a dubious exemption. So Congress has tacked a provision on an appropriations bill to amend the federal water-pollution-control act.

Retreat has consequences for fish, clean water and taxpayer investments.