Soap Scum

Banning driveway car washes


The state of Washington has ordered local governments to ban driveway car washing. Most storm drains in the Pacific Northwest are separate from sewers and dump water directly into streams and rivers without processing. Bill Moore, a water quality specialist at the state Department of Ecology, says he's concerned about metal particles from cars, as well as oil and soap runoff, which is toxic to salmon.

Not every town appreciates the mandate. Brian Carlson, public works director for Vancouver, a small city near the Oregon border, says he's happy to conduct a public awareness campaign about where the soap goes when Washingtonians dump their buckets. But he told The Oregonian, "We're not going to be car-washing bureaucrats run amok. We have higher priorities than that." Seattle is planning to institute a ban, however, and more cities may give in to state pressure before August, the state's deadline for enacting the local laws.

The ban is backed, unsurprisingly, by the International Carwash Association, an industry trade group of 25,000 businesses. Professional car washes are likely to be the only option for many home washers if the ban is enforced, and the businesses already dispose of their water in an ecologically acceptable manner.

Another possible consequence: a spike in school bake sales. Roadside car wash fundraisers are likely to fall afoul of the ban.