SEATTLE — Gov. Jay Inslee’s pick to direct the Washington Department of Ecology is an Olympia insider with appeal on both sides of the aisle.
Maia Bellon has worked at the Department of Ecology since 2010, where she was director of water resources. That meant she was in charge of handling water rights – an often contentious area for the Department.
Jay Manning was the Director of the Department of Ecology from 2005-09 but he met Bellon before that, when he served as assistant attorney general for the state. He hired her straight out of Arizona State University law school when she graduated in 1994. Manning said she excelled.
“She’s very substantive. Very smart. She’s done water law and water policy for a long time so she knows her stuff, first of all,” he said.
And, Manning added, people just like her.
“She’s fun to be around. She’s enthusiastic and optimistic and there’s something about her personality that wins people over.” People like Senator Jim Honeyford, a Republican from Yakima County.
Water is a contentious issue in Honeyford’s home district and he’s no fan of the Department of Ecology, “But Maia has really impressed me,” he says. “She’s willing to look for solutions to problems and working outside the traditional way of doing things so I think she’ll be very good and successful in that job.”
Bellon’s ability to connect with people on both sides of the political aisle was no doubt a big selling point for her nomination to direct the Department of Ecology.
But her solid background in water law and management didn’t hurt either.
Governor Inslee’s first legislative move in office was to throw his support behind what’s called the Yakima Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan. It’s one of the largest ecosystem restoration projects in the West and will require balancing agricultural interests with those of environmental groups, tribes and communities. (Check out EarthFix’s coverage of the water plan here.)
Beyond the Yakima Basin, Bellon will face other challenges as head of the Department of Ecology –- mainly because of the big boss she’s working for.
Inslee has traditionally had a lot of support among conservationists. With that support comes high expectations for him to take action on major environmental issues like climate change, stormwater runoff and the health of Puget Sound.
A lot of that work will fall on Maia Bellon and the Department of Ecology.
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