Our Northwest Water
12:00 am
Thu February 25, 2010

Feds And Washington State Launch Contaminated Ground Water Investigation

RICHLAND, Wash. – The water system is sick in a huge swath of Eastern Washington -- from Union Gap near Yakima to Benton City near the Tri-Cities. State and federal officials announced Thursday that much of the ground water in the lower valley is dangerous to drink. Correspondent Anna King reports. 

The Yakima Valley is like a multi layered cake punched with a network of drinking straws. There are irrigation drainage pipes, farm canals, deep wells, really old shallow wells, aquifers and rivers all coming. Somehow lots of nitrates and bacteria are getting into the ground water.

Now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has launched a project to track contaminates in that intricate web. Government officials say they aren't sure whether those contaminates are coming from failed septic tanks, large dairies or fertilizers. To find out they are going to test private wells throughout the valley. Tom Eaton is with the EPA out of Seattle. He says cleaning up this mess could take decades.

Tom Eaton: “It's an extremely complicated problem when ground water gets polluted. No state, federal or local law is really set up to deal with polluted ground water like this. And it's going to take our concerted, committed effort to get something done here.”

Eaton says many areas of the Northwest have contaminated ground water. The EPA prioritized the Yakima Valley because many of the people that are drinking polluted water there are poor or minority and as Eaton put it may not have as strong of a voice as others. 

Copyright 2010 Northwest Pubic Radio