Majority blocks Abbarno’s amendment to protect rivers, drinking water and fish habitat from human wastewater discharges

Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, is trying to provide alternative options so homeless people living in tents, vehicles and RVs have facilities in emergency encampments and prevent wastewater discharges into storm drains and other bodies of water. He sponsored legislation to provide solutions and protect public health. During floor debate Wednesday, Abbarno offered Amendment 268 to House Bill 1220, a bill that updates the Growth Management Act to mandate local government compliance with new housing requirements.

“This amendment protects the environment, our drinking water, fish habitat, and people staying in these emergency shelters. I've seen RVs in my community and along I-5 dumping in stormwater drains, and witnessed wastewater and human waste along the banks of the Chehalis River. I've also seen groundwater tests that have shown increases in nitrates and other contaminants that directly relate to these activities,” Abbarno told lawmakers during debate on the virtual House floor. “The current system is not fair to the people living in tents and RVs with no facilities, and it isn't fair to our communities.”

Abbarno's amendment would have allowed cities to adopt ordinances to control or provide alternative options for wastewater discharge from emergency shelters, including tent encampments and vehicles, to prevent pollution.

“In Centralia, like a lot of areas, we live over a critical aquifer. We have clean water and I want to keep it that way. When emergency encampments are created and allowed without proper sanitation, they become health safety and ecological hazards; not only for the community, but the people who are staying there. It's unsafe,” said Abbarno. “This amendment would give local governments the ability and flexibility to provide options for shelters to safely dispose of that wastewater.”

The amendment would have also prohibited such emergency shelters if adequate onsite provisions have not been made.

“If emergency shelters are established without a way for them to safely and properly dispose of human waste without concern for our environment and drinking water, then they should be prohibited until proper facilities are on site,” Abbarno added.

Despite Abbarno's explanation of the need for wastewater disposal alternatives, the amendment was turned down, 41-55, largely on a party-line vote, with most majority Democrats voting no.

On Feb. 16, the 20th District lawmaker introduced House Bill 1540. The measure would direct cities subject to stormwater permits to establish a program, as part of the permit process, to identify and prevent illicit discharges from vehicles. The bill also provides for stormwater funds to be used to coordinate low-cost and no-cost wastewater disposal services for vehicles used as residences, and creates an enforcement mechanism in areas near drinking water sources and critical aquifers.

The bill has been referred to the House Environmental and Energy Committee. However, because it was introduced after the Legislature's self-imposed Feb. 15 house-of-origin policy cutoff, a hearing has not been scheduled.

“With this amendment, we had an opportunity to take this small, but important step during this legislative session, to protect our waterways and the safety and health of citizens in areas where homeless camps are becoming commonplace. I'm disappointed in the vote, but I will continue working to ensure we can provide better options that prevent contamination of drinking water,” noted Abbarno.


Washington State House Republican Communications