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The Clean Water program is responsible for monitoring and protecting our precious water resources. We use science, policy and education to reduce pollution and toxics in the Salish Sea and its uplands and address water quality and quantity issues in rural Whatcom communities. Read more.

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Urge better review of massive quarry near North Cascades National Park!

posted May 7, 2019, 1:19 PM by Simon Bakke   [ updated May 8, 2019, 4:37 PM ]

Thank you for taking action and asking Skagit County to better review this risky mining project proposal! Comments must be
submitted online by 4:00 PM on Monday, May 13th. Read more here about the project and its potential impacts on salmon in the Skagit River, air and water quality, and nearby communities.

Please submit comments using the form on Skagit County Planning and Development Services website here (scroll to the bottom) 
  • Enter your information per the form instructions.
  •  For “Proposal Name or Permit Number”, enter: Kiewit Infrastructure Proposed Marblemount Quarry (PL19-0032, PL19-0033, PL19-0047, and BP19-0070)
  • For “Comments”, enter the below comment. If you are able, please also note how this project would impact you personally — if you fish, recreate, or live in the area.

Dear Skagit County Planning & Development Services,

Thank you for accepting public comments on the Kiewit Infrastructure Marblemount Quarry that is being proposed in the heart of critical areas, at the gateway to the North Cascades National Park, nearby wilderness lands, and on parcels that are not all fully zoned for mining. 

I am concerned that Kiewit’s application for permits is out of order and misleading. At this stage, Kiewit’s application for a Mining Special Use Permit (BP19-0070) includes areas that are not currently zoned for mining (MRO). The applicant must have all areas within their application be designated MRO through the Skagit County Comprehensive Plan including for forest conversion and road construction. It is out of order to approve these permits even if they may not be MRO at this time; however, the intent is to extract rock in these areas in the future.

Please do not approve permits for this project before moving forward with a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). What will the impacts of mining and rock blasting be to nearby property owners, wildlife, and cultural resources for the Upper Skagit Tribe? What will the impacts be from 260 vehicle trips six days per week up to 100 years be on carbon and air emissions, water quality in the Skagit River for salmon and the cities that depend on it as a drinking water source, and transportation from Marblemount to Bellingham? All of these questions and more must be studied and their impacts mitigated before this project moves forward.

Thank you for considering my comment.

[First and last name]

Our truly unique Aquatic Reserves system: Safeguarding key shorelines in Washington

posted May 7, 2019, 11:56 AM by Simon Bakke   [ updated May 7, 2019, 5:15 PM ]

 By Lilya Jaeren, Aquatic Reserves Monitoring and Stewardship Coordinator

On my very first day as the Aquatic Reserves AmeriCorps member at RE Sources, I was a bit in over my head.

I attended the biannual Fidalgo Bay Management Plan Stakeholder meeting in Anacortes, where 25 people representing local and state governments, NGOs, tribal nations, refineries, citizen groups, and schools met to talk about how to best manage the Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve — one of eight such reserves statewide. 

Without background information or context, I didn't understand everything that was discussed. But I was so impressed by how many different stakeholders were invited to the table. FBAR brought together a diverse group of people to collaboratively discuss management and protection of the reserve. 

This approach, as well as the reserves themselves, is something special. Washington protects its particularly important waterways with a system called the Aquatic Reserves, which is the only system of its kind in the United States. Here’s a bit about why these protected areas matter, and how you can be a part of keeping Washington’s waters a haven for important species, our economy, and cultural heritage.

Educational, economic, cultural, and ecological benefits

Established in 2004, the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) now has eight Aquatic Reserves throughout the state that support an abundance of diverse wildlife. These Aquatic Reserves have been selected for their ecological, educational, and scientific importance within our state’s aquatic ecosystems. They hold cultural significance for many communities, especially Indigenous nations.

The unique purpose of an aquatic reserve is not only to protect and restore its species and native habitat, but also to inspire stewardship and create education and outreach opportunities within the communities and stakeholder groups they involve. The reserves face many environmental challenges — derelict fishing gear which continues to kill fish, vessel traffic, water pollution, habitat destruction and shoreline modification. Monitoring and learning about these aquatic ecosystems and the species they support is key to better understanding how we can protect our state’s waters through legislation and management actions. Just visiting an aquatic reserve deepens your understanding of the environments we are fighting to protect and creates a greater sense of connection and purpose.  

The reserves are not only important to wildlife, but offer scenic beauty, traditional uses like shellfish harvesting, education and outreach opportunities, and economic benefits (recreational fishing, shellfishing, and waterfowl hunting are allowed in some reserves).

I have been fortunate to work with the Cherry Point and Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserves and the dedicated volunteers who monitor them throughout the year. Volunteers are at the core of environmental stewardship, truly driving community involvement at these reserves. It has been inspiring to me how passionately our volunteers work to conserve and protect these vital aquatic habitats. Seasonal annual monitoring at these two reserves includes intertidal, avian, and forage fish surveying. There’s also valuable data collected on ocean acidification, sea stars, and oysters. This produces immensely important information that help scientists analyze and track species and ecosystem health, which helps influence policy decisions and restoration efforts.

Getting involved

Getting involved at the aquatic reserves is easier than you might think! The volunteer bodies that help state agencies maintain and study the reserves, Citizen Stewardship Committees, meet once a month and work to protect and implement management actions at each reserve through environmental monitoring, citizen education, and collaboration with governmental and non-governmental organizations.

Monitoring events also occur year round, and you don’t need previous scientific experience to be a great volunteer! Contact lilyaj@re-sources.org if you are interested in getting outside and helping at Cherry Point or Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve or if you are interested in attending a Citizen Stewardship Committee meeting. Visit https://www.aquaticreserves.org/ for more information about each Aquatic Reserve and the state-wide DNR program. 

A quick look at our Aquatic Reserves

Press Release: Labor and environmental groups host public forum on improving oil refinery safety standards

posted Apr 26, 2019, 12:57 PM by Simon Bakke


MEDIA CONTACTS: Eleanor Hines, North Sound Baykeeper at RE Sources for Sustainable Communities: eleanorh@re-sources.org, (360) 733-8307 ext. 213
Eric Steen, BlueGreen Alliance: erics@bluegreenalliance.org, (612) 466-4488

Labor and environmental groups host public forum on improving oil refinery safety standards to protect workers, communities, air and water quality.

Thursday, May 2: Nearly 10 years after a fatal disaster at the Anacortes Refinery, refinery workers, safety experts, and community members will discuss Washington’s groundbreaking effort to adopt new safety standards.

— Almost 10 years after an explosion at the Tesoro Anacortes refinery took the lives of seven workers, local labor and environmental groups will offer a chance for the public to learn about Washington’s ongoing efforts to adopt comprehensive and enforceable oil refinery safety rules — despite fierce resistance from refinery lobbyists — on May 2, from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. at the Burlington Community Center, 1011 Greenleaf Ave, Burlington. This free presentation is hosted by United Steelworkers, the BlueGreen Alliance, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities and Evergreen Islands.

Safety rules under consideration by the state Department of Labor and Industries would protect workers and communities of the four Whatcom and Skagit refineries from similar tragedies, while keeping preventable accidents from releasing toxic materials into the air and the Salish Sea. The Department of Labor and Industry will soon seek public input on these rules, called Process Safety Management (PSM).

“These new rules are quite literally a matter of life or death for workers. The conditions they work under are inherently dangerous, and they deserve protections commensurate with the risk they face every day on the job,” said Steve Garey, retired oil refinery worker and member of Washington BlueGreen Alliance Executive Committee.

Attendees on May 2 will learn about the need for public input into the state’s rulemaking process, and about investigations into past incidents, refinery safety regulations, and more. Speakers include United Steelworker members, a member of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, a former chief scientist overseeing California’s refinery safety campaign, and from staff at RE Sources and Evergreen Islands.

“Refinery accidents endanger workers and people living near refineries, and often release toxic materials into the air and waters. That’s why for years, RE Sources has taken part in supporting refinery workers in their efforts to keep themselves — and their communities, water, and air — safe,” said Eleanor Hines, North Sound Baykeeper and Lead Scientist at RE Sources for Sustainable Communities.

An oil industry lobbying group, Western States Petroleum Association, has sought to weaken the standards needed by Washington’s five refineries, which are the only ones in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, handling 10 billion gallons of crude oil every year. In 2017, California approved groundbreaking safety rules, and Washington has an opportunity to follow suit.

For details, visit www.bluegreenalliance.org/saferefineries. Light refreshments will be provided.

WHAT: Oil Refinery and Community Safety Forum
WHERE: Burlington Community Center, 1011 Greenleaf Ave, Burlington WA.
WHEN: Thursday, May 2, 6:30 - 8:00 p.m.
MORE INFO: www.bluegreenalliance.org/saferefineries, and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/events/391281298266565/

# # #

RE Sources for Sustainable Communities is a local nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the health of Northwest Washington’s people and ecosystems through the application of science, education, advocacy, and action. For more information, visit re-sources.org.

Photo courtesy of Scott Butner, KUOW

Equitable funding for protecting drinking water: Lake Whatcom Stormwater District Frequently Asked Questions

posted Apr 23, 2019, 4:33 PM by Simon Bakke   [ updated May 8, 2019, 11:43 AM ]

Lake Whatcom, the drinking water source for over 100,000 Whatcom County residents, faces an onslaught of threats — from logging and development, to pesticides and invasive mussels hitching rides on uninspected boats. Pollution of Lake Whatcom is on the rise, making drinking water treatment more costly, and the byproducts unhealthy for people to consume. And water treatment and lake restoration will only get more costly the longer we wait.

Lake Whatcom’s annual health check-up released by the WWU Institute for Watershed Studies indicates that phosphorus levels in the lake, as well as other indicators of water quality, are not improving. We need to pick up the pace and exceed our phosphorus reduction targets.

The best, most immediate way to protect this drinking water source is for Whatcom County to approve a fair, appropriate Lake Whatcom stormwater utility fee for the recently-formed Lake Whatcom Stormwater Utility area (or "stormwater district"), for unincorporated property owners within the watershed to help fund desperately needed services (City of Bellingham residents in the watershed already pay this). Without the help of residents around the lake pitching in, there is not enough funding to adequately service your drinking water. This way, everyone who boats, drives, landscapes, and lives in the watershed will be a part of keeping drinking water in Lake Whatcom safe.

What is a stormwater district?

A stormwater district is an area identified by watershed boundaries — an area where all rainfall eventually drains into a particular water body. This rain carries pollutants, especially phosphorus (see the last 2 questions on this page) from fertilizers, septic systems, land development, pet waste, and more. A stormwater district helps generate revenue from a fee — typically based on the amount of impervious surfaces (roofs, driveways) on someone’s property in the watershed — to pay for projects that will protect or improve water quality— because water that doesn’t get naturally filtered by pervious surfaces (soil, wooded areas, etc) carries more pollutants Stormwater districts are also known as Sub-zones of a Flood Control Zone District. In Whatcom County, there are currently four sub-zones with the intent of stormwater and/or flood protection: Birch Bay, Lynden/Everson, Acme/Van Zandt, and Everson/Nooksack/Sumas.

Why is this important for our drinking water?

Living, driving, and recreating near the lake can affect drinking water quality — even if you’re conscientious about not over-applying fertilizers, cleaning up after pets, and making sure your septic system is in good shape. A stormwater district will generate revenue based on the direct impact people have on water quality by living in the Lake Whatcom watershed. Currently, Whatcom County funds the Lake Whatcom Management Program from a variety of sources including the County-wide Flood Fund, which is close to running out of reserves in case of a major flood.

A stormwater district will provide an appropriate and equitable source of funding for protecting our drinking water. People whose property is nowhere near Lake Whatcom, like Lynden residents, end up paying into improving drinking water they don’t even use, while Lake Whatcom residents outside Bellingham’s limits aren’t currently required to help fund protecting their own drinking water.

When are fees assessed?

If the stormwater fee is approved before the end of June 2019, then fees will be assessed and included in your 2020 tax statement.

Who is in the stormwater district?

Everyone in the County portion of the Lake Whatcom watershed is in the district. The City of Bellingham has their own stormwater district, so residents in city limits are excluded.

I live in the City portion of the Lake Whatcom watershed. Will this affect me?

It will not! City of Bellingham residents already pay a stormwater fee on their annual tax bill and pay a watershed fee on their water bill. 

I live in the County portion of the Lake Whatcom watershed. How much will this cost me?

First, it depends on what the Whatcom County Council decides. The citizen Lake Whatcom Stormwater Utility Committee recommended a rate structure based on the impervious surface footprint of your property. A small footprint is less than 2,500 square feet. A medium footprint is 2,501 to 8,400 square feet — which costs less than $12 per month to protect and restore 100,000 peoples’ drinking water. A large footprint is over 8,400 square feet. See table below.

What if I already made improvements to my property with the Homeowner Incentive Program? Do I get a discount?

It depends on what the Whatcom County Council decides upon for credits or price fee reductions. The Committee did not make a decision on this subject; however, members of the committee were inclined to support a property owner moving down to the small footprint charge if they participated in HIP (see table above).

What will the funding be used for?

Funding will initially be used for the County’s contribution to the Homeowner Incentive Program (HIP) and for projects along roadways and ditches to collect stormwater before it hits the lake (“stormwater capital projects”). HIP provides technical and financial assistance to Lake Whatcom Watershed residents to complete water quality landscape improvements on their property that reduce runoff and pollution entering the lake.

The County currently funds HIP and stormwater capital projects through the County-wide Flood Fund, which means someone living in Blaine contributes to water quality benefits they will not be able to realize.

How did the County pay for programs in the Lake Whatcom watershed before the stormwater district?

The County funds the Lake Whatcom Management program from the Real Estate Excise Tax (REET), the Road Fund, and the Flood Fund. REET and the Road Fund are restricted to capital projects, while the Flood Fund is unrestricted so it funds the Homeowner Incentive Program.

Where does phosphorus come from?

Phosphorus comes from leaky septic systems, yard waste like grass clippings and leaf litter, fertilizers, land clearing and disturbance, some soaps and detergents, and animal and pet waste. When it rains, these sources make their way into water bodies like Lake Whatcom. Stormwater runoff is especially exacerbated when there are significant amounts of impervious surfaces in the watershed like roads, rooftops, and sidewalks allowing the water to rush into the lake without any natural filtration.

Why do we want to reduce phosphorus entering Lake Whatcom?

Excess phosphorus causes algae to grow on the surface of water. There are health impacts and huge costs to people associated with drinking heavily-treated water from a source that has significant algae growth. The treatment process requires a lot of chlorine gas to remove the algae and disinfect the water before it reaches the tap. When chlorine reacts with algae, disinfection byproducts such as chloroform – a known carcinogen – remain in our tap water., Thankfully, the City of Bellingham has a pretreatment facility coming online in 2019 that will reduce the need to use lots of chlorine to treat the water, but this is coming with a $14 million price tag. Another stage of treatment, if pollution continues, would likely cost taxpayers even more.

Too much algae can also create dead zones, where there’s not enough oxygen in the water, which aquatic life relies on to breathe — just like we do! Dead zones are created when a large algae bloom dies and the oxygen is consumed by the decaying matter. This is one of the main reasons Lake Whatcom is on a 50-year plan to reduce the amount of phosphorous entering the lake.

Contact Karlee Deatherage at karleed@re-sources.org

How we can keep drinking water in Lake Whatcom safe and clean

posted Apr 11, 2019, 5:02 PM by Simon Bakke   [ updated Apr 16, 2019, 12:59 PM ]

 By Karlee Deatherage, Clean Water Policy Analyst

Our drinking water is at a tipping point. 

The drinking water source for over 100,000 Whatcom County residents, Lake Whatcom, faces an onslaught of threats — from logging and development to pesticides and invasive mussels hitching rides on uninspected boats.

Logging and other activities that disturb land or soil let excess phosphorus into the lake. This excess phosphorus can jeopardize the health of our drinking water, especially for children, older people, and sensitive groups due to the reliance of chlorine to treat the water to remove algae (a byproduct of excessive phosphorus) before it reaches our tap. Keeping phosphorus, pesticides, and more out of the water in the first place will be cheaper now than building more expensive treatment technologies to make our water safe to drink in the future.

Phosphorus levels in the lake are not improving, according to Lake Whatcom’s annual health check-up released by the WWU Institute for Watershed Studies and discussed at the March 27th Annual State of the Lake meeting. This is also the case for other key water quality indicators like dissolved oxygen. We need to pick up the pace and exceed our phosphorus reduction targets.

The biggest nearterm step we can take for the health of our drinking water is to support an equitable stormwater utility fee in the Whatcom County portion of the Lake Whatcom watershed. Establishing a stormwater utility district will make it so watershed residents – who have a direct impact on the health of lake – help fund protection and restoration at a faster pace. The City of Bellingham already has a stormwater utility district and a watershed fee on water bills to generate revenue to protect and restore Lake Whatcom. It is time the rest of Whatcom County does the same. The Whatcom County Council will consider the stormwater utility fee this spring.

Stay tuned for how you can get involved in keeping Bellingham’s drinking water safe. If you have questions, email Clean Water Policy Analyst Karlee Deatherage, KarleeD@re-sources.org.

Orca Survival: Status Quo No Longer an Option

posted Apr 9, 2019, 10:13 AM by Simon Bakke   [ updated Apr 9, 2019, 10:52 AM ]

 By Eleanor Hines, North Sound Baykeeper. Originally published in Whatcom Watch, April 2019. Photos by Joan Poor.

Imagine you shop at the only grocery store in town, the place you’ve always loaded up on food. Soon, you notice the shelves aren’t being restocked — they just get emptier and emptier. One day, the store replaces its once-quiet background music with blaring death metal. You try to pick up something at the deli, but no one can hear you. As the shelves become emptier and the store more chaotic, you struggle to pick up enough food to live on.

For the Salish Sea’s remaining southern resident orca, this is what they face every day: a declining supply of their primary prey — Chinook, or king salmon — and vessel noise interfering with their ability to locate already-scarce food. Several southern residents exhibit “peanut head syndrome,” a telltale sign of malnourishment, most recently in one of the few remaining females capable of giving birth. It creates an indentation around the blowhole, her skin drawing tight around her bones where more fat tissue should be.

With only 75 remaining southern residents — the lowest the population has been in over 30 years — we are in our last chapter of recovery efforts to prevent their extinction. As with most problems confronting the planet we share with orca, there’s a dizzying mix of factors that contribute to starvation. Consequently, advocates sometimes disagree on which factors to prioritize. And when you add in the powerful interests of businesses and the shifting political landscape across several jurisdictions, you can end up with a gridlock of inaction that maintains the status quo.

Status quo is no longer an option if we want orca and salmon to survive.

The hard truth is there’s simply no way to pick one battle to save southern resident orca. We have to address them all. And if we want our children to experience the recovery and not extinction of this majestic animal — one that Lummi Nation and Coast Salish people consider family — we have to do it all now.

Here in Whatcom and Skagit counties, we may have the greatest opportunity in Washington to influence orca recovery. The most important Chinook salmon populations — the ones designated as a top priority for recovery — are in northern and southern Puget Sound, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

That means the actions we — those reading this article right now — take today to safeguard the waters in our own backyard are critical. Here is a brief look into why orca aren’t getting enough food, and what needs to be done.

Lower Streams, Less Salmon
An international team of scientists reviewed 40 years of data and concluded that orca recovery will require a 30 percent increase in Chinook salmon numbers. Southern residents tend to eat mostly Chinook, the largest and most energy-rich salmon. Why are some key Chinook populations declining, bringing local orca pods down with them?

The loss of river and stream habitat for spawning and juvenile salmon, along with lower water flows in these areas, are a large part of the problem Chinook salmon face in the Nooksack region. The reduced flows in our area are primarily the result of diverting water for competing uses and climate change’s impact on precipitation.

It’s easy to think of water as unlimited in the rainy Pacific Northwest. But over the last 30 years, water levels during our driest months frequently fall below levels salmon need to survive in many streams and rivers in Whatcom County. We’re seeing unpredictable snowpack levels, declining rainfall in the spring and summer, earlier snowmelt some years, and greater demands imposed by a steadily increasing population.

And climate change means summer droughts are becoming more regular and longer-lasting. Low water flows will become the new norm for some of our region’s creeks and rivers.

Is it possible to ensure there is enough water in rivers for salmon and people? We believe the answer is yes — but only if local governments and the communities they serve are willing to be bold and move beyond partial solutions.

The first step is accelerating work being done to identify how much water people, farms and industry use, and how that water use impacts streams and aquifers. It’s critical we prioritize gathering this information in order to establish what interconnections exist, as it underpins so much necessary work going forward.

Next, we need to conserve what water we use and offset the impacts to nearby streams, especially during the drier months. We also need to curb further loss of habitat and wetlands, and start gaining habitat by restoring areas in and around rivers and streams.

This is a critical opportunity for Whatcom County to take a strong leadership role in the region, coordinating watershed management and keeping clean water in our streams when salmon need it most. And we have to be certain mitigation projects for habitat and wetland loss from development are having the desired effect of recovering salmon — if they aren’t, the county must adjust its approach.

The Whatcom County Council’s role in salmon recovery includes ensuring watershed management is a priority and stays adequately funded well into the future. Although it’s far from a silver bullet, the council recently showed its willingness to lead, setting aside $50,000 in the 2019 budget to begin a countywide water conservation program.

As the program starts taking shape, we believe it should include measuring water use countywide and setting guidelines for efficient agricultural, commercial, and residential water use. For the council’s efforts to be successful, it must stay focused on the goal: putting enough water in our streams for salmon to bounce back, and quickly. It will also need broad buy-in and support from across Whatcom County.

Salmon and orca can’t wait. Courageous, immediate and dedicated leadership from all of us, and our elected officials, has to start now.

Noisy Waters
Not only is the orcas’ food scarce, but scientists are indicating the orcas are having more and more trouble locating Chinook salmon in the Salish Sea due to the noise from increasing vessel traffic. To find food, orca communicate with each other and use complex echolocation. In general, sound travels faster and longer distances underwater, and vessel noise and disturbance affect orca behavior immensely — they expend extra energy avoiding boats, and noise makes salmon harder to find.

Thankfully, reducing these impacts is the most immediate and straightforward action Washington can take.

Other problems for orca, like toxics in sediment or habitat improvement, may take decades to notice an improvement. Our Washington state Legislature could put a bill on Governor Inslee’s desk soon to establish “go slow” zones within a half mile of orca, prohibit vessels from getting within 300 yards of an orca, and require permits for commercial whale-watching vessels.

This would go a long way to help orca communicate and make it easier to find Chinook, and might be passed into law by the end of April.

Contaminated Food Chain
Critical habitat in Whatcom and Skagit counties, like Cherry Point and Bellingham Bay, provide healthy rearing habitat for young salmon and forage fish like herring, Chinook’s primary prey. This habitat is in danger on several fronts.

The Canadian federal government is pushing hard for a dangerous expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline into British Columbia and Washington. The pipeline would send 400 tankers carrying impossible-to-clean tar sands bitumen — an even dirtier substitute for crude oil — through the Salish Sea each year. This raises the possibility of a catastrophic oil spill, which could decimate salmon populations enough that orca would almost certainly never recover.

While oil spill threats loom, there is another, perhaps even more immediate threat: existing pollution. Oil leaks, brake dust, and more from our region’s millions of vehicles wash untreated into the Salish Sea every time it rains. This stormwater, along with toxic substances left decades ago by waterfront industries harm forage fish and young salmon, before building up in orcas’ tissue when they eat the salmon.

Persistent toxics like heavy metals and some petroleum byproducts reduce growth, alter protein levels and reduce disease resistance. And these toxics never stay in one place.

A 2016 U.S. Geological Survey study of toxic substances in sand lance, another small fish eaten by Chinook salmon, found that chemicals like PCBs get passed from mothers to their eggs. Every single egg sample contained PCBs, including samples from Clayton Beach and Lopez Island.

The chemicals also pass from mother orca to calves, who grow up eating the same contaminated salmon, leaving southern resident orca among the most contaminated animals on the planet.

As they make their transition from the freshwater systems of their birth to the ocean of their adulthood, young salmon spend time in Bellingham Bay, and Bellingham’s waterfront was an industrial epicenter for over 100 years. That activity left PCBs, heavy metals petroleum byproducts, and more.

The good news is that we can make a difference for orca right now. Washington has plenty of tools at its disposal to remove contaminants and reduce the risk of future contamination.

The 1989 Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA) provides funding and standards for cleanup sites like the 12 in Bellingham Bay, and thousands of others across Washington. We have to ensure MTCA stays funded by the state Legislature, which — so far — has happened.

Bills moving through the state Legislature as you read this article, like the Pollution Prevention for Healthy People and Puget Sound Act (SB 5135), could make a real difference by better managing consumer products containing harmful, long-lasting substances, and keeping them out of Puget Sound.

Other bills have been introduced to prevent oil spills and increase funding for volunteer citizen scientists to expand monitoring for forage fish populations in Whatcom and Skagit. These volunteers help establish baseline data to assist natural resource agencies make better policies to protect the food that salmon and orca rely on.

RE Sources collaborates with the Department of Ecology, the Port of Bellingham and others by giving technical guidance and educating the community on toxic site cleanups in Bellingham Bay. Government agencies and the people they serve need to have a dialogue and a robust public input process to hopefully rid the bay of contamination, or at least eliminate exposure routes to contamination.

What Can We Do?
The future of the Salish Sea’s orca is uncertain, but there is still time to take action to give them the best chance of survival. We have the roadmap — all we need is people power.

The heartbreaking August 2018 journey of the southern resident orca Tahlequah, as she carried her dead calf for over two weeks, was a wake-up call to everyone who lives by the Salish Sea. The groundswell of empathy and public engagement that followed made one thing clear: our communities won’t sit idly by while the most iconic animal in the Salish Sea perishes from preventable causes.

Stopping orca extinction and restoring salmon would not be possible without the leadership of the Lummi Nation and other Coast Salish tribes’ efforts. Lummi Nation and other Coast Salish tribes set out on boats to feed two matriarch orca, and have been especially steadfast champions for salmon and orca in this pivotal time. Their work to push back against expanded fossil fuel infrastructure, and to protect and restore salmon populations and habitat reminds us that the bold, necessary steps to protect orca and salmon are doable — if we choose to take them.

The outcry from the ailing orca and their human advocates made its way to the capitol steps. Over 500 people from nearly every part of Washington ventured to Olympia in January, including me, talking with lawmakers and urging them to do everything in their power to keep orca from extinction. Some lawmakers are taking bold steps and fighting for all the solutions put forward by Governor Inslee’s Orca Recovery Task Force. A whole suite of bills aimed at alleviating stresses on orca and Chinook salmon is making its way through the state Legislature.

Since political will shifts like the tides, it’s going to take all of us to fight for the southern resident orca so that Tahlequah’s story never happens to another mother orca.

Take action with us. At RE Sources, we have tools to help you pass important laws, find learning opportunities, volunteer, and more. Visit www.re-sources.org to find out how, and to see what bills are moving forward in the final weeks of the 2019 state legislative session. Thank you for showing up when it matters most.

Eleanor Hines is the North Sound Baykeeper and Lead Scientist at RE Sources for Sustainable Communities. She has experience in water quality, citizen science, marine policy, volunteer organization, and citizen engagement and has worked with the Surfrider Foundation, Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association, and the Whatcom County Marine Resources Committee. She has also done risk assessment modeling in South Africa with the Institute of Natural Resources to provide solutions to water issues.

Portage Bay shellfish beds open in spring: Worth celebrating, but not expected to be a permanent fix

posted Mar 22, 2019, 9:38 AM by Simon Bakke


Portage Bay shellfish beds open in spring: Worth celebrating, but not expected to be a permanent fix

The unusual opening for springtime harvest highlights both successes and shortcomings in managing fecal bacteria in our water.

On March 19, Whatcom County announced that shellfish beds in Portage Bay will open for harvest in the spring.

This is great news for shellfish harvesters and for Lummi Nation ceremonial, subsistence and commercial harvests.

“We strive for a healthier Portage Bay, where a harvest closure is a bigger surprise than a harvest reopening,” said Eleanor Hines, North Sound Baykeeper at RE Sources for Sustainable Communities and member of the Portage Bay Shellfish District Advisory Committee. “We applaud the work that has led to this moment. It is critical that we keep a collaborative process to make economically and ecologically damaging harvest closures an extreme case.”

This spring opening is definitely worth celebrating, but is only part of the picture. The pattern of fall shellfish harvest closure is still anticipated due to the rainy season elevating levels of fecal coliform bacteria entering local streams and other waterways. Fecal coliform bacteria is an indicator that there is feces from warm-blooded animals, and likely pathogens, in the water. Dangerous spikes in fecal coliform levels can still occur, particularly after autumn rain events throughout our county, including Portage Bay and in the Nooksack River that flows into it. When harvest was closed for 10 years due to the bacteria levels from 1996-2006, Lummi Nation lost over $8 million in revenue. Portions of the harvest area were closed again in 2014.

Although Whatcom County data from February 2016 to January 2019 shows that average bacteria counts often meet health standards for most of the watershed, 70 percent of test sites also have unacceptably high spikes after rainfall, carrying bacteria into Portage Bay.

We should strive for a level of community engagement and collaboration that led to Drayton Harbor’s successful shellfish bed reopening in 2017, after 22 years of bacteria-related closures. As a member of the Portage Bay Shellfish District Advisory Committee, RE Sources works alongside farmers, tribes and concerned citizens to advise the Whatcom County Council on actions and operations relating to the restoration of water quality in the Portage Bay watershed.

Towards a toxic-free waterfront: Touring a Bellingham Bay cleanup site

posted Mar 12, 2019, 5:44 PM by Simon Bakke   [ updated Mar 13, 2019, 9:41 AM ]

 By Eleanor Hines, North Sound Baykeeper
 Video by Robert B. Clark

Fifty people gathered on a brisk February afternoon (a Saturday, no less) to learn about the past — and discuss the future — of one of 12 toxic cleanup sites in Bellingham Bay: the aptly-named “I & J Waterway” site, located between I and J streets, just south of the Bellwether Hotel.

The curious, engaged group of community members (along with a charismatic harbor seal) joined staff from the Port of Bellingham, Department of Ecology, and Bornstein Seafoods, that operates adjacent to the site. RE Sources hosted this tour, complete with a chance to talk with agency staff responsible for the site’s future, in an effort to encourage two-way dialogue and create transparency during the Bellingham Bay cleanup process. After all, the waterfront is being reclaimed for the whole community. Creating a space that benefits everyone requires input from that community, who in turn needs to hear what’s in the works behind the scenes.

Port and Ecology staff, RE Sources’ Pollution Prevention Specialist Kirsten McDade, and I each discussed the contaminants at the site — like carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (cPAHs), phthalates, and nickel —  as well as the proposed plan to clean them up. This site has been used by timber mills, an olivine rock crushing facility, and a seafood processing plant, which left contaminated sediments threatening marine life and our community’s health. 

“Where will these contaminants go?” inquired one participant, “and how will they be removed?” At tours like this, people can get their answers straight from the people involved: The cleanup action plan consists of a large area of the waterway to be dredged, which will remove the most toxic sediments, to be transported to a permitted landfill by truck or train.

The audience was also curious about what type of material will be used to cap one of the areas in the waterway. Lucy McInerney, Ecology’s site manager and lead scientist for the cleanup site, told them that they will consult with the Department of Fish and Wildlife to ensure that the imported material will be clean and fish-friendly. This means that forage fish, which form the foundation of the salmon-orca food web, will have appropriate sediments in which to lay eggs.

The pace of these cleanups can be frustratingly slow. It's not uncommon for them to take more than 20 years from start to finish. During the tour, the attendees realized the complexity of the cleanup process. Funding, of course, is a limiting factor, but the scale of the work alone can slow it down: gathering all the necessary sediment samples, meeting newer (usually stricter) sediment standards, ensuring the public has time to comment, and juggling the other 11 cleanup sites.

We want to extend a thank-you to all the people who joined us on this tour, showing your concern and curiosity about one of our local waterways. Your voice and opinions matter and can influence how Bellingham Bay is cleaned up.

Trump Administration's Clean Water Act slashes: What it means for us

posted Mar 12, 2019, 5:27 PM by Simon Bakke   [ updated Mar 12, 2019, 5:54 PM ]

What just happened?

The 1972 Clean Water Act has proven to be one of the most important federal laws for keeping water clean ever since Ohio’s Cuyahoga River literally caught on fire in 1969 — and upwards of 13 times in decades prior — because of the sheer quantity of pollutants in the water.

But in December 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and US Army Corps of Engineers announced they intend to redefine which water bodies would be protected by the Clean Water Act (CWA) from pollution and development. If adopted, the changes to the CWA would put the quality of drinking water, groundwater, wetlands, and streams in jeopardy nationwide — although in Washington State, we are fortunate to have protective state laws that don’t rely solely on the CWA’s bare minimums. Read below for more details.

This means local work and collaborations with Washington State, as well as with county and city agencies will be more important than ever if the already bare minimum federal standards are weakened under the new proposed regulation.

Making sure we maintain protections at the state and local level is our backstop to ensuring clean water for drinking, salmon habitat, and — by extension — endangered Southern Resident orcas, who rely on having enough salmon to eat.

The CWA has always included, and would still include, “traditionally navigable” waterways, though the language prior to 2015 was ambiguous and left polluters a lot of leeway in many parts of the country. But the recent proposal would outright eliminate protections introduced in 2015 for isolated wetlands, and for certain other water bodies such as streams and ditches not permanently connected to “traditionally navigable waters.”

What it means for Washington and RE Sources’ work

There is some hopeful news for Washington, however. Because our state laws already provide a stronger framework for safeguarding water than the federal Clean Water Act, Washington still has jurisdiction over its state waters. Washington State’s Department of Ecology defines what types of waterways to protect, and creates and enforces standards.

This is why RE Sources’ and others’ work with the Department of Ecology is so important. Now that the national safety net for clean water is being threatened, our local and state agencies are truly on the front lines, without help from the EPA. The work we do as a community and with local agencies matters now more than ever.

RE Sources provides Ecology with scientific comments on permits they grant to ensure they are considering impacts to the environment. We push Ecology to uphold their permits and encourage them to maintain high standards for the water bodies they protect, “traditionally navigable” or not. We work alongside Ecology and others on the Nooksack Watershed (WRIA-1) Planning Unit to ensure proper management of our water supply and enough clean water and habitat to restore salmon populations.

We are fortunate to live in a state that has many good, local protections in place beyond the minimum level the CWA mandates. But we can only protect water inside state lines. Our neighbors, like Idaho and Oregon, rely on the federal guidelines to protect state waters; the CWA changes could leave important salmon-bearing streams open to greater human impact.

Even though Washington has more robust protections than many other states, conflicting rules from the federal government will create confusion and could undermine efforts to stop ecologically and economically valuable wetlands from being polluted or filled in for development.

What Clean Water Act weakening means for clean water in the U.S.?

The Obama administration added language in 2015 that clarified the Clean Water Act and protected more water bodies like isolated wetlands, but the rule was never fully implemented in most states, and some unclear language remained. So far, only 25 state governments, including Washington, have made the choice to assert their right to maintain more thorough protections than federal minimums.

This 2018 change would make Clean Water Act language unambiguously exclude many more waterways than ever before.

By specifically removing language to protect otherwise-ignored water bodies, this move from the Trump administration adds false credibility to those who devalue the role of science in making decisions — the federal government is ignoring mountains of research that shows how important wetlands and less-connected water bodies are to ecosystems, to drinking water, and to local economies. 

According to the international Waterkeeper Alliance, of which our North Sound Baykeeper is a member, this proposal would “cut Clean Water Act protections for streams and wetlands across 3,000-plus watersheds in the western United States” and “accelerate the extinction of more than 75 endangered species, from steelhead trout to California tiger salamanders.” The changes would be especially dangerous for wetlands, which are often not directly connected to major rivers. American wetlands are key habitat for hundreds of plant and animal species, provide trillions of dollars in economic value, by improving drinking water quality, providing flood control, critical habitat, and can even sequester billions of tons of climate-damaging carbon dioxide.

How you can help

RE Sources hosts the North Sound Baykeeper, Eleanor Hines, who is part of the international Waterkeeper Alliance. They are spearheading the efforts to stop the damaging new Clean Water Act rules. The Trump administration rules are currently open for public comment. Read more here on how to add your voice.

If you aren’t already, make sure you receive our Clean Water emails, where we send you meaningful ways to take action — locally, regionally, and beyond — every month. Follow us on Facebook for the latest news on water issues.

First 2 photos by Brett Baunton. Third photo by Barry Spencer.

Let’s Bag our Plastic Problem: Support the Reusable Bag Bill

posted Feb 14, 2019, 6:19 PM by Simon Bakke   [ updated Mar 1, 2019, 4:27 PM ]

By Eleanor Hines, North Sound Baykeeper

Urge your state senator and representatives to pass the Reusable Bag Bill! An email template is at the bottom of this post.

From the Nooksack River to Locust Beach, thin, single-use plastic bags are consistently one of the top five pieces of trash we find at cleanups in our community, despite Bellingham’s own 2011 reusable bag ordinance. This illustrates one of the amazing qualities of our region’s fresh and saltwater ecosystems; they are dynamic, constantly moving and flowing downstream into our ocean. But that means nothing stays in one place — plastic pollution anywhere becomes plastic pollution everywhere.

Bellingham is the only city in Whatcom County to take action on plastic bags along with La Conner in Skagit County and over 25 other jurisdictions in the state. It is time to make reusable bags a tool for waste reduction across the state, not just through piecemeal, local efforts. We have a chance to do just that this year, joining the ranks of others like Hawaii and California to pass the Reusable Bag Bill (HB 1205 / SB 5323).  

Single-use plastic bags have an estimated useful life of just minutes before beginning their journey to the landfill, to our waterways, or into the stomachs of orcas and other wildlife. Plastic persists in the environment for hundreds of years, just to be used for one grocery trip. And even if the bag is reused once as a trash liner or for dog waste, it still will end up where we don’t want it. Recent studies have also shown that broken-down pieces of plastic not only contain toxic chemicals from the plastic itself, but other chemical contaminants such as carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) can cling to the surface of plastic pieces, making the toxic effect on wildlife an even bigger concern. 

Thankfully, the Reusable Bag Bill is even better than the Bellingham and La Conner ordinances, because it will apply to all retailers (many of whom support the bill, since it will give them more consistency in store operations across the state). It will add a ten-cent pass through fee that retailers keep when providing someone with a paper bag or thicker three-millimeter bag, that can be used again and again. This fee covers the cost for small mom-and-pop retailers. What’s more, the ten-cent fee is waived for people and families on limited incomes who may have forgotten to bring their reusable bag. 

Join the hundreds of businesses, organizations, elected officials, and individuals speaking in support of the Reusable Bag Bill (HB 1205/SB 5323) by writing or calling your State Senator and Representatives today (see sample comment below)! We can move away from single-use plastic one step at a time. Find your legislator's contact information here.

Sample letter to send your Senator and Representatives:

Subject line: Please support the Reusable Bag Bill (SB 5323/HB 1205)
Dear Representative/Senator _______,

Thank you for your public service. I am writing to ask for your support of the Reusable Bag Bill (SB 5323/HB 1205).

As a steward of our waterways, beaches, the Salish Sea, and the Pacific Ocean — and as a constituent in your district — I ask for your leadership in protecting our public land, waters, and communities from the impacts of single-use plastics by supporting the Reusable Bag Bill. Over 25 cities have passed ordinances eliminating single-use plastic bags at grocery and other retail stores. I think it is time for the legislature to act and follow suit. This bill has support from both clean water advocates and the retail sector, from mom-and-pop stores to large stores like Fred Meyer and Safeway.

Nothing we use for a few minutes should be allowed to pollute our oceans and rivers and threaten wildlife for centuries. 

Thank you for your consideration and I hope you will support the Reusable Bag Bill (SB 5323/HB 1205).

[Contact information]

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