Car wash runoff put under the microscope

Potential regulations make hosts responsible for runoff.

Potential new regulations in Poulsbo are taking a small part in a big picture effort to restore health to the Puget Sound.

Poulsbo’s city council recently discussed new runoff regulations for sites hosting car wash fundraisers. Grocery stores and gas stations are common places used by clubs and philanthropic groups to raise money by scrubbing grime off vehicles in exchange for a donation.

But the result of these washes can be rough on the environment.

Runoff is a “pronounced source of pollution,” a memo to the council reads. It goes on to say mismanagement can cause violations against the city’s National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit and Illicit Discharge ordinance. The NPDES is a result of the Clean Water Act, the primary federal law in the United States governing water pollution.

Kitsap County has made efforts since 1994 to prevent car wash runoff from entering storm drainage systems. Targeting fundraising groups, county staff discovered, is an inconsistent method. Instead, the Kitsap County Surface and Stormwater Management Program hopes to create regulations for car wash sites, holding the hosts accountable for preventing illicit discharges from entering storm sewer systems.

Runoff contains soaps, metals, oils and grit, pollutants which have the potential to make fish more susceptible to the effects of petroleum and pesticides, according to the county’s situational analysis on the issue.

Each fundraiser car wash generally produces 3,000 to 10,000 gallons of runoff, and summertime monitoring has shown 22 percent of all outfalls are contaminated with surfactants, the document states.

Poulsbo city staff are currently reviewing and gathering more information on the regulations. The focus in part is on avenues of education and other assistance for property owners and managers to come into regulation compliance, instead of refusing to hold fundraisers on their properties, Public Works Director Barry Loveless said.

But the regulation efforts are just a part of work being done to restore Puget Sound’s health.

“We’re looking at addressing all potential pollutants that could enter the storm drainage system and eventually Puget Sound,” said Pat Kirschbaum, Kitsap County Public Works Surface and Stormwater Outreach and Education Coordinator. “Fundraiser car washes are a part of that potential to add pollution to the Sound.”

Kirschbaum explained sending runoff to a vegetated area rather than a storm drain is one alternative to the problem, which is cumulative in nature.

Or, fundraisers can take advantage of a countywide coupon system which allows them to sell coupons to a commercial car wash. Commercial establishments already have the setup to deal with discharges.

The issue of illicit discharge stems simply from the nature of the land.

“Basically, we live in watersheds, in drainage basins,” Kirschbaum said. “When it rains, that water flows to the same point. Any activity going on on the land in that watershed that gets picked up by the rain, pollutants left on the ground, oil, soap, antifreeze, gasoline ... Any of those things that the rain might pick up as it runs across the ground will end up in the same body of water.”

For those interested in the coupon program, contact Mike’s Car Wash at (360) 697-1144.

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