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Clean Water Blog

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.

  • Sorting It Out: How we're learning about trash to combat pollution By Beau Seydel, Clean Water Program internAmong the beautiful bays and public parks of Whatcom County and beyond, I find something hidden (sometimes not so hidden) that seems to ...
    Posted Oct 12, 2018, 9:21 AM by Simon Bakke
  • Bellingham’s waterfront: New public spaces, new hope for orcas By Eleanor Hines, North Sound Baykeeper and Lead ScientistA few weeks into Orca Month (also known as “June” to many of you), we got some sad news – we lost ...
    Posted Aug 10, 2018, 10:39 AM by Simon Bakke
  • June is Orca Month: A time to reflect on the Salish Sea and its threatened whales (Content for this blog is courtesy of the Orca Month website. Visit their page for more!)Working together from all corners of the Salish Sea, we can restore the habitat ...
    Posted Jun 15, 2018, 1:45 PM by Simon Bakke
  • Bidding farewell to a brave leader by Charlie MaliszewskiThis week marks the end of an era in our community.: the leader of an important institution has retired from her post after a two-decade career ...
    Posted Jun 12, 2018, 12:30 PM by Hannah Coughlin
  • #ProtectTheInlet: Thousands marched against Kinder Morgan's oil pipeline expansion in B.C, and I joined them. By Krista Rome, Clean Water OrganizerOn March 10, under clear blue skies, my neighbor and I arrived at Lake City SkyTrain station, in Burnaby, B.C. Thousands of others ...
    Posted Apr 5, 2018, 5:20 PM by Simon Bakke
Showing posts 1 - 5 of 50. View more »

Sorting It Out: How we're learning about trash to combat pollution

posted Oct 12, 2018, 9:21 AM by Simon Bakke   [ updated Oct 12, 2018, 9:21 AM ]

By Beau Seydel, Clean Water Program intern

Among the beautiful bays and public parks of Whatcom County and beyond, I find something hidden (sometimes not so hidden) that seems to reemerge every time I look.

Unfortunately, that hidden something is... garbage.

During my ventures collecting and sorting trash, I’ve found there’s an astonishing amount of garbage that’s invisible if you’re not paying attention. It’s only when you’re actively searching for trash do you find the cigarette butt wedged in the parking block, the bottle under some driftwood, or bag precariously hanging from the limb of a bush. 

Each year, over 14 million tons of plastic makes its way into our oceans, costing the world economy an estimated $13 billion. How can we even begin to give communities tools to tackle such a global problem?

That’s why people around the world are taking it upon themselves to find, clean up, and identify what exactly is being littered and where. RE Sources and partners, along with some intrepid volunteers, are at the forefront of testing out effective, easy-to-use methods of better understanding what types of trash are polluting which oceans and beaches, to better inform our local efforts to curb plastic pollution.

We’re finally starting to develop systems that allow us to scientifically categorize trash in different types of landscapes. And it’s not well-funded companies or research groups doing the heavy lifting, either; people in local communities are stepping up to test and improve these new systems to understand plastic, metal, and glass pollutants and how we can reduce their impact.

That’s what makes this so exciting and is why I got involved. Anyone can step in and make a difference in this field, whether they’re collecting data from a clean-up or simply helping to reduce litter on a beach.

In our community, I’ve worked primarily with RE Sources, helping the Environmental Protection Agency do trial runs on their own trash data collection system, the Escaped Trash Assessment Protocol (ETAP), with the goal of helping them refine it. We’ve been going through the tedious efforts of gathering trash in a specific plot of ground, sorting all the trash into 45 specific categories, then weighing, counting, and taking pictures. The process is time-consuming, but it does yield important data; data that can, for instance, make strides in providing more trash receptacles and informational signage relevant to the most abundant litter. The most interesting part of this work has been seeing what types and quantity of litter we find in areas across Whatcom County.

People are coming together worldwide to combat coastal pollution everywhere. The annual International Coastal Cleanup is a great example of how widespread this work is. Ocean Conservancy hosts this event as a whole, but it’s up to individual community groups and organizations, like RE Sources and the Northwest Straits Surfrider chapter, to gather people together and clean thousands of pounds of trash from our beaches. Programs like ETAP can improve the efficacy of these cleanups and help us get more out of them.

I must say, I’m impressed by the amount of people willing to spend their weekend afternoons collecting trash on the shore. The stewardship community members exhibit at these events fills me with hope for our ability to make a change. People are willing to bring supplies and properly dispose of trash and recyclables gathered. It’s not always easy putting a wet bag of trash in your car!

If you want to be part of the solution, meet other awesome folks in the community making change, and be on the cutting edge of citizen science, contact Eleanor Hines at eleanorh@re-sources.org, or apply to be a North Sound Steward today.

Bellingham’s waterfront: New public spaces, new hope for orcas

posted Aug 10, 2018, 10:39 AM by Simon Bakke   [ updated Aug 10, 2018, 10:39 AM ]

By Eleanor Hines, North Sound Baykeeper and Lead Scientist

A few weeks into Orca Month (also known as “June” to many of you), we got some sad news – we lost one of our iconic Southern Resident Orcas, bringing their population down to just 75 – the fewest orcas alive in the Salish Sea since the early 1980s. And then we saw the haunting display of love and loss when a mother orca carried her dead newborn calf on a “tour of grief” that lasted more than two weeks.

It all seems disheartening. But there are many ways our little length of shoreline in Bellingham Bay can play a key role in restoring our orca population, even though orcas are rarely seen here. To start a conversation about it, Moondance Sea Kayak Adventures and RE Sources took eight interested paddlers out on a kayak tour of Bellingham’s waterfront to celebrate Orca Month. We launched our tandem kayaks from Zuanich Park into the choppy water for a close-up look at seven spots along the waterfront — including some sites the public hasn’t had access to for decades.

Industrial activities in the 1900s followed by a legacy of pollutants left in the ground — like mercury, nickel, petroleum byproducts, and more — made most of the waterfront area off-limits to the public for about 100 years. The shoreline has also been physically altered by armoring, dredging up sediment, and filling in parts of the natural shoreline to build on. These changes make the waterfront hazardous to young Chinook salmon, which need clean, protected nearshore habitat to grow and make it to the open ocean. And Chinook salmon make up 80% of our resident orcas’ food source.

The decline of these salmon is a huge reason orca numbers have dropped and aren’t rising; Puget Sound Chinook are hovering around 10% of their historical numbers. Combined, the resident orca pods eat roughly half a million salmon per year. To give some perspective, the entire Skagit River can feed our orcas for about one month out of the year with its current salmon runs. Juvenile Nooksack Chinook, who rely on the habitat in Bellingham Bay, also face considerably smaller numbers of salmon returning. The spring Nooksack Chinook runs are listed as “Threatened” under the US Endangered Species Act.

It’s impossible to restore healthy orca populations without talking about helping salmon, and it’s impossible to help salmon without making Bellingham Bay hospitable to their young.

From Pollution to Public Parks

We were lucky enough to be one of the first-ever groups leading a visit to sites that demonstrate a successful and collaborative cleanup effort. Waypoint Park – home of the 400,000 pound, eye-catching acid ball – is a brand-new example of what the City of Bellingham and others hope can become of some of our old industrial sites. The public can access the area for the first time since pre-industrial times, now free of legacy pollutants left behind from the pulp and tissue mill operations at Georgia Pacific West. It’s been carefully constructed with rocks and a tiny pocket beach, creating perfect habitat for young Chinook, fresh out of their riverine hatching grounds to grow accustomed to the salty sea where they’ll become adults. In fact, the city added pocket beach to the design of Waypoint Park after getting input from the public. The City, the Port, the Department of Ecology, and others are also removing shoreline armoring, to prevent good habitat from eroding away.

All these teams turning swaths of polluted sediment into parks and salmon habitat is something unique and worth appreciating. Several of those kayaking with us had recently come to Bellingham from all over the place: North Carolina, Utah, a recently graduated college student and her aunt. One person hailed from Chicago, and he noted how toxic sites around his hometown haven’t been cleaned up, let alone considered for public use. Seeing a community actively trying to clean up – and provide access to the cleaned-up spaces – felt impressive and new.

Making sure the redevelopment suits our community’s needs, as well as those of the salmon that humans and orcas rely on, is a big priority. The good news is, like with Waypoint Park, we can build a thriving waterfront with interconnected parks and business without sacrificing plentiful habitat for orcas’ most critical food source. The City and Port of Bellingham have a dream of making a trail connecting some of these sites, incorporating parks and valuable habitat, making it a draw for people from downtown to the waterfront.

As your North Sound Baykeeper, it feels good to be on the forefront of reconnecting people with natural spaces around their home. We aim to have even more people come paddle on the water with us in the future. This is YOUR waterfront, and I hope you’ll join me to make it healthier for all.

What can YOU do?

Ecology will be releasing several public comment periods this fall on other cleanup sites, such as South State Street Manufactured Gas Plant at Boulevard Park and the I&J Waterway this September, so stay tuned for more tours and ways to participate in the public process of cleaning up and redeveloping our waterfront. Sign up for our e-news to get updates or check our permits website for updates on public comment periods.

If you want to attend a public meeting of Gov. Inslee’s Orca Task Force, check out schedules and agendas here. This is a unique opportunity to press the Task Force to take bold action to protect our orcas. The time for business-as-usual is over; the orcas, salmon, and people who rely on them deserve better.

June is Orca Month: A time to reflect on the Salish Sea and its threatened whales

posted Jun 15, 2018, 1:29 PM by Simon Bakke   [ updated Jun 15, 2018, 1:45 PM ]

(Content for this blog is courtesy of the Orca Month website. Visit their page for more!)

Working together from all corners of the Salish Sea, we can restore the habitat orcas – and humans – call home. Join us for a month of educational and celebratory events to raise awareness of the threats facing our Southern Resident orca population and what we can do to protect them.

The survival of the remaining 76 Southern Resident killer whales and the Chinook salmon runs that they depend upon are tied directly to the health of the Salish Sea.  This should be a wake-up call to our region that our own health, economy, and culture are at risk if the Salish Sea isn’t thriving. The single greatest threat to survival of the Southern Resident orca population is depletion of their preferred prey, Chinook salmon. And persistent organic pollutants, including banned toxics like DDT and PCBs, are present in alarmingly high concentration in Southern Resident orcas, making them one of the most contaminated marine mammals in the world. Additionally, vessel traffic increases underwater ambient noise, which may impact orcas' hunting, navigation, and communication efforts.

Orca Awareness Month, started by long-time orca education and advocacy group Orca Network, was created to bring together researchers, advocates, and orca lovers everywhere to raise the awareness of the threats facing these magnificent animals and provide a community to celebrate orca of the Salish Sea. 
For 12 years, June has been proclaimed Orca Awareness Month by the Governor of Washington, and for the first time in 2016, Orca Awareness Month was being celebrated in Oregon and in British Columbia.

Bidding farewell to a brave leader

posted Jun 12, 2018, 12:30 PM by Hannah Coughlin

by Charlie Maliszewski

This week marks the end of an era in our community.: the leader of an important institution has retired from her post after a two-decade career. Crina Hoyer, former Executive Director of RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, has left us very big shoes to fill.

In her departing, I find myself wondering how we judge the value of an exceptional leader’s contribution to society? If we consider the scope of impact and the the ripple effect of her decisions, Crina will surely be remembered as an essential figure in preserving what we love about this region — its spectacular natural bounty, clean air and water, and cultural heritage.

During her tenure, RE Sources identified and alerted the community to the staggering threat posed by the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal. If built, it would have been the nation’s largest coal export facility, certain to devastate salmon and orca populations, individual livelihoods, and the culture and traditions of indigenous Salish Sea peoples. Instead, under Crina’s leadership, RE Sources raised substantial dollars, hired new staff, partnered with key organizations across the region, cut its teeth on grassroots organizing, and helped build one of the largest environmental movements in our region’s history. It took courage to stand up to Goldman Sachs, to Peabody Coal, to Pacific International Terminals, and to the monied backers and lobbyists vested in an increasingly desperate coal industry.

But her contributions to RE Sources, our community, and the environment are not limited to one Goliath undertaking. If the value of leadership is to be evidenced by vision, inspiration, and action, Crina’s influence cannot be overstated. From her initiation as RE Sources’ Education Manager — from which thousands of adults today received their earliest environmental lessons (frequently from a young Crina cloaked as Ricky the Recycling Raccoon) — she has naturally emerged as a leader who rallies everyone around her to strive for greatness. As Program Director, then Executive Director, Crina’s command has led the environmental community into greater influence, and greater success. She is responsible for casting the vision to widen the scope of, reconfigure, reinvent, and streamline RE Sources’ programs. More importantly, her leadership helped revive a healthy, thriving, sustainable workplace culture. Today, RE Sources is known as a place of integrity, humanity, compassion, and fun. Perhaps most importantly, she built strategic partnerships with non-traditional allies, pulling focus away from our differences and placing it on shared values and shared humanity.

If a leader’s significance to society is to be measured according to lives touched, many reading this have knowingly or unknowingly been impacted by Crina’s coaching, encouragement, and wisdom.  The seeds she planted in each individual relationship will continue to cultivate great potential, produce invaluable fruit, and reseed to new ground. The long list of leaders she helped enrich and inspire, watched blossom, then said goodbye to have embarked on careers to create a thriving, sustainable future for us all. I hear time and time again how much others have been impacted by her unique leadership qualities from those  within the organization or community leaders who’ve partnered with RE Sources. And keep your eyes peeled — you may soon see a book authored by a former RE Sources board member, inspired by Crina’s leadership.

As a RE Sources board member since 2005, it has been my honor and privilege to work closely with Crina and watch her develop into one of our community’s most respected non-profit leaders. Her style relies on a foundation of integrity, self-confidence, intelligence, passion, and the ability to connect with people, regardless of circumstances.  She balances the rigors of her professional life with a loving family (husband Barry and sons Spencer and Baxter), a posse of good friends, and a taste for adventure. I look forward to more greatness from Crina as she entertains possibilities for the next step in an already-acclaimed career.

In the wake of her departure, this community can expect RE Sources to continue delivering on its promise to protect, activate, innovate, and thrive. To that end, the board has hired Duane Jager to serve as Interim Executive Director until a permanent E.D. is on board  by the end of 2018. Duane brings more than 35 years of non-profit leadership experience, a strong connection to RE Sources’ mission, and a firm intention to maintain the tremendous momentum and fearless determination that Crina fostered. For the next several months, Duane is seeking input from stakeholders and community members on the next chapter in RE Sources’ life as a trustworthy, committed champion and protector of our air, water, and remarkable natural bounty. Please join us in this new era of visionary growth as we navigate the options of “what’s next” for RE Sources. We want to hear from you. Thank you to our community, and thank you to Crina Hoyer, an exceptional leader and local hero.

#ProtectTheInlet: Thousands marched against Kinder Morgan's oil pipeline expansion in B.C, and I joined them.

posted Apr 5, 2018, 5:20 PM by Simon Bakke

By Krista Rome, Clean Water Organizer

On March 10, under clear blue skies, my neighbor and I arrived at Lake City SkyTrain station, in Burnaby, B.C. Thousands of others bustled around us, circling up with drums, beautiful signs, and prayers for a better future. People from coast to coast were coming together to defend our land and water against the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, an enormous threat to the Salish Sea, and to communities along its entire path. Looking around, I saw so many orcas and salmon swimming among us, and I knew I had made the right decision to spend my day standing with them, as a voice for the ones who cannot speak.  
Chief Reuben George of North Shore’s Tsleil-Waututh Nation addressed the crowd: “Our spiritual leaders today are going to claim back Burnaby Mountain!”. Burnaby Mountain, which is unceded Coast Salish Territory, is crossed by the existing Trans Mountain pipeline, and it’s headed for a massive $7.3 billion expansion. Hearing Ruben George’s words, I felt our deep, collective purpose: to stand together in defense of everything that is sacred to us, and to fight for a just transition to a clean energy future. 
We marched together on our pilgrimage up the mountain, with indigenous leaders from across the continent showing us the way with their confident steps, regalia, drums, and clear intention. I thought about how so many of us are ready to follow when we recognize leaders like George, who are grounded in integrity and stewardship of our natural resources. From Standing Rock to Burnaby Mountain, these indigenous-led, ally-supported movements exemplify the combined power of social justice and environmental stewardship.
When we arrived, we listened to First Nations leaders from across Canada as they shared their stories. A chief from Quebec, who had travelled to Standing Rock many times, spoke about solidarity. A trio of indigenous women from Alberta told us of the devastation the tar sands operations and associated “man camps” have had on their communities and on their women. These camps of up to 1,000 transient workers (mostly men) have resulted in increases in sexual violence against indigenous women in nearby communities. One speaker said that their own land and water had already been destroyed by fossil fuel extraction and export, and that we here must fight to protect what we still have, while we still have the chance.
Through these speeches, we felt the immensity of the impact the fossil fuel industry has had on indigenous communities, far and wide. By opposing Kinder Morgan’s expansion, we stand not just with our coastal communities and the Salish Sea, but with all people, land, and water from here to the tar sands’ source in Alberta.
Last, we walked down the trail to the existing pipeline's route. There we celebrated the newly constructed traditional Coast Salish “watch house” (Kwekwecnewtxw), on the path of the proposed expansion, which will be a base for water protectors who come to stand guard. Watch houses have been built since time immemorial on Coast Salish territories to watch for enemies and warn communities of imminent danger. Kinder Morgan’s expansion is just that. And we stand ready to defend what we love.

Students take the Capitol: Environmental Lobby Day 2018

posted Mar 12, 2018, 3:27 PM by Simon Bakke

By Kaylin Gentz, Clean Water Intern.

Like many Clean Water interns before me, I had the great privilege of attending Environmental Lobby Day in Olympia last month, where college students met with senators and representatives at the capitol to lobby for change on a wide range of environmental policy issues. Seventeen students and I descended upon the Washington State Capitol full of excitement and jitters; for many of us, this was our first time talking directly with elected officials. 

Prior to the President’s Day event, we all had the opportunity to review Western’s legislative agenda and meet with group members to devise a plan of attack. Students gave personal testimonies of past experiences: the good, the bad and the ugly, in order to prepare us for the following day.  For the 2018 lobby day, we had our eyes on three key pieces of environmental legislation:
  • SB 6203, which works to reduce carbon emissions in ways that mitigate negative externalities that continue to be disproportionately placed on some socioeconomic groups, and move to a clean energy economy. Although this bill did not pass, we’ve filed a ballot initiative as part of the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy. Email Eddy Ury, Clean Energy Program Manager, if you’d like to learn about how you can help get bold climate action passed in 2018 despite inaction in the State Legislature.
  • Support and encourage a tax surcharge to ensure more stable and predictable funding for the Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA), which aids in identifying and cleaning up hazardous waste sites.  
  • HB 1171, which would conduct a study of Ultrafine Particulate matter (UMP) degrading air quality in the SeaTac community, which is disproportionately nonwhite and/or low income. (This bill died before we were able to lobby, but we still expressed support for the importance of a future bill)
Each group was split into three or four students and assigned to several representatives and senators, that may or may not support or agree with our agenda. My group in particular decided to research each of our assigned representatives in order to better understand how they have voted in the past, how each bill or action impacts their district, and their life story, in order to connect with them on a deeper, more personal level. 
Rising bright and early on February 19th, we excitedly made last-minute adjustments to our speeches and presentations. We had only 15 minutes to talk to each representative; we had to make sure everything was perfect.

With each passing meeting, we became more comfortable with our agendas and felt like professional lobbyists by the end of the day.  

I have wanted to attend this event since I decided to minor in environmental policy, but have never had the opportunity to do so until now. After experiencing this exhilarating weekend, I would give anything to go back and do it again. It was so humbling to watch both branches of the government take steps toward passing important legislation that will impact our daily lives, and I’m proud to say I was part of it.

The State Legislative session is over: Wins, losses, and more.

posted Mar 9, 2018, 3:56 PM by Simon Bakke   [ updated Mar 9, 2018, 3:58 PM ]

On the night of March 8th, the Washington State legislature adjourned the 2018 Legislative Session — the first time they adjourned on time in four years! The Legislature stayed busy passing bills to protect the Salish Sea from Atlantic salmon net pen aquaculture, and to improve our state’s oil spill response readiness. Unfortunately, not all of our environmental priorities made it across the finish line. Our 2018 environmental priorities focused on oil transportation safety, phasing out Atlantic salmon operations in marine waters, acting on climate, and sustainable water supply legislation. 

Read on for the lowdown on the 2018 Legislative Session wins, losses, and what’s on the horizon.

The Wins!

Two of our environmental priorities made it through the legislature and are currently awaiting Governor Inslee’s signature to become law.
  • Oil Spill Prevention Act (E2SSB 6269) - This legislation fully funds the state’s Oil Spills program, until now underfunded by $2 million, by extending the state barrel tax to apply to pipelines. It also convenes a summit between British Columbia and Washington state to better coordinate on the increased cross-boundary threats of an oil spill in the Salish Sea.
  • Phasing out Atlantic salmon (EHB 2957) - Cooke Aquaculture’s disastrous net pen collapse at their Cypress Island operation last August, releasing over 200,000 non-native fish into Puget Sound, expanded public awareness of the pollution and threats to our wild salmon that such aquaculture poses. Most people had no idea Atlantic Salmon were being raised this way in the Salish Sea. This legislation discontinues aquatic land leases for the purposes of raising Atlantic Salmon in open-water marine net pens with the final lease expiring in 2025.

Other environmental successes:

  • Pesticide Safety Workgroup (E2SSB 6529) - Convenes a work group to identify reasonable strategies to protect people from exposure to harmful pesticides that drift and settle on clothing, skin, fields, playgrounds, lawns, and streams. Pesticide exposure causes illness and impacts farmworkers, nearby communities, and the environment.
  • Healthy Food Packaging Act (ESHB 2658) - Phases out a class of chemicals (PFAS) in paper food packaging (such as fast food and bakery wrappers and popcorn bags) that persist for long periods of time in the environment, and have been shown to contaminate food and ecosystems. Cleaning up PFAS contamination in drinking water and the environment is extremely costly. Preventing contamination saves taxpayers money. 
  • Toxics in Firefighting Foam (ESSB 6413): Phases out PFAS chemicals from firefighting foam, which have been shown to cause cancer, and requires anyone selling firefighting gear containing PFAS to notify the buyer. Firefighting foam containing these extremely long-lasting chemicals has contaminated drinking water in Issaquah, Coupeville, and Airway Heights. Firefighters are also exposed to PFAS chemicals when they use the foam, or wear gear treated with these chemicals. Cancer is the leading cause of death of firefighters.

Please thank your Senator and Representatives if they voted for any of the above legislation (you can check by clicking the above hyperlinks. Scroll down to and click on “View Roll Calls” for the House and Senate floor votes). A little positivity goes a long way!

The Losses

Unfortunately, our other two environmental priorities – sustainable water supply and climate action – did not prevail this session.
  • Sustainable Water Supply
    As was mentioned in our January 26 post, we were not pleased with the passage of the Streamflow Restoration Act (ESSB 6091). This legislation temporarily resumes business as usual before the State Supreme court’s 2016 decision in Whatcom County v. Hirst, et al allowing unchecked water use by new permit-exempt wells. On the bright side, the legislation requires local communities to find solutions for offsetting the impacts of permit-exempt wells. We see this as an opportunity to educate those in our community about our seasonal water shortages in the Nooksack River watershed.
  • Climate Action
    Legislators proposed a slew of climate and clean energy bills, but none of them made it to a final vote this year.
    • Governor Inslee’s climate bill (2SSB 6203).
    • Solar Fairness Act (ESSB 6081).
    • 100% clean energy by 2030 (SHB 2995).
    • Low Carbon Fuel Standard (2SHB 2338).
    • Aligning with goals of the Paris climate accord (HB 2294).
    • Concerning the electrification of transportation (ESSB 6187).
Immediately after the Governor announced that SB6203 definitively lacked enough votes to pass, the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy filed our citizen’s initiative last week. Get in touch with Eddy Ury if you’d like to help with the signature gathering effort this Spring! Help is needed in order to get enough signatures for this to be on the November 2018 statewide ballot. RE Sources is the regional organizing hub for the statewide Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy.

What’s on the horizon

Protecting communities from toxic pollution, orca protections, and sustainable water supply legislation will likely be hot topics in the 2019 legislative session. In the meantime, legislators will be back in district from now until the end of the year. It’s a good time to engage them on issues that are important to you in preparation for next year.

Legislative session 2018, updated 2/26/18: What we're watching, what you can do

posted Jan 26, 2018, 1:45 PM by Simon Bakke   [ updated Feb 26, 2018, 1:52 PM ]

February 26th, 2018: Less than two weeks remain in this whirlwind 60-day legislative session. Friday, February 23rd was another key cutoff for bills to move forward. The critical cutoff is coming on Friday, March 2nd. Bills have to be voted out of the opposite chamber (i.e., if something started in the House and successfully made it into the Senate, it must pass out of the Senate by floor vote before 5:oo PM on March 2nd, unless it's been marked as Necessary to Implement the Budget, or NTIB).

Read below for updates on the status of the environmental priorities! 

We're calling on the legislature to take bold action on climate, protecting the Salish Sea, and keeping our shared water resources clean and plentiful. Here's how you can make sure our elected officials make these priorities:
Oil spill prevention 
(SB 6269)

February 26th, 2018: SB 6269 passed the Senate Ways & Means Committee. It will likely get a Senate floor vote this week. Necessary to implement budget.

Orcas, salmon, and our way of life in the Salish Sea are constantly at risk of a devastating oil spill, whether by vessel in our marine waters or by pipeline crossing our rivers. To make matters worse, the state Department of Ecology’s Oil Spills program is severely underfunded and may not be able to adequately respond to an oil spill, especially a tar sands oil spill containing diluted bitumen. Ecology has no way to adequately contain an oil spill of this type. Our fishing economy, tourism, and quality of life could be devastated if we aren’t prepared.

We stand in support of the Oil Spills Prevention Act (SB 6269) in order to...

Secure stable and reliable funding for oil spill prevention and preparedness work:
- All modes of moving oil must be taxed fairly. Pipelines now provide up to 40% of the overall oil moving in Washington, yet oil arriving by pipelines is not taxed in the same way as oil moving by rail or marine vessel.
- Increase the barrel tax to be more consistent with the level of California, address the current funding gap (over a $2.2M shortfall for the Oil Spills Program) as well as create a strong foundation for future needs.

Fully implement marine protections:
- Direct the state to adopt rules that strengthen Puget Sound protections from situations where oils submerge and sink, which are particularly difficult to clean up.
- Hire new inspectors to conduct specialized reviews of oil transfers and inspect vessels

Strengthen Protection Tools:
- Identify additional safety measures needed, including how to address the ongoing threat of increasing barge traffic and risk of new tanker traffic carrying heavy oil and tar sands (also known as like diluted bitumen).
- Conduct a cross-border summit for Salish Sea protections.

Stopping non-native Atlantic salmon farming

February 26th, 2018: HB 2957  is alive, and will likely have a Senate floor vote this week. If it passes there, it will go to Gov. Inslee's desk, and he has indicated he will sign it into law!

In August 2017, over 160,000 Atlantic Salmon from an open water net-pen operation managed by Cooke Aquaculture escaped due to a structural failure. This was a wake-up call to many in our community about the fact that these non-native salmon are being cultivated in our marine waters. Raising non-native Atlantic Salmon poses a wide range of risks — from water pollution, with the use of antibiotics and concentrated feces, to disease outbreaks that can harm our already-endangered native salmon populations.

Our neighbors in British Columbia have been struggling with these operations on a larger scale. Scientific studies underscore the damage these operations can cause on our native salmon fishing economy and fresh and marine ecosystems such as colonization and establishment, continued undocumented escapes, and more. The science is in and the risks aren’t worth taking

We support a phase out and ban of these operations as specified in SB 6086. The bill would accomplish:
  • Directing the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to prohibit the renewal and approval of new aquatic land leases for the purpose of Atlantic salmon aquaculture.
  • Implementation of the disease inspection and control program for aquaculture.
  • Requiring third-party inspections of the operations every two years during the duration of the lease phase-out. Currently, the state allows for self-inspections without clear timelines for reporting.
  • Directing the Departments of Ecology, Fish & Wildlife, and Natural Resources to resume their rule-making and guidance for aquaculture operations. They are required to use the best available science that has emerged over the last 30 years.
Act on climate (several bills below)

February 26th, 2018: The carbon pricing bill (SB 6203) is headed for a vote in the Senate this week.The Solar Fairness Act (SB 6081) passed the Senate, and is moving to the House! This will ensure that solar owners earn full credit on their electricity bill for the solar electricity they produce themselves. 

2018 is the year for meaningful climate action. Climate impacts have been felt across the state, from longer and more severe droughts impacting farmers, raging wildfires and smoke, to warmer, rising, more acidifying seas threatening coastal communities and livelihoods. Now is the time for our state to show national leadership. 

We can demonstrate what is possible by addressing climate change’s root cause – carbon pollution – and investing in a safer, healthier future for all of us. Climate-driven investments in Washington will create jobs at home and showcase our state’s talent for innovation through globally competitive clean-energy solutions while ensuring our land, air and water are healthy for future generations.

Elements of comprehensive climate action:
  • Effectively reduces carbon pollution 
  • Addressing the needs of impacted communities
  • Mitigates climate impacts by investing in clean water, healthy forests, and sustainable infrastructure
  • Invests in our state’s growing clean energy economy, creating good jobs for Washingtonians and encouraging the Innovation and creativity that we are already known for nationwide 
  • Provides protection for workers and energy-intensive, trade-exposed businesses, ensuring that we do not transfer jobs and emissions to other states
A great deal of legislation regarding climate and clean energy has been introduced. We generally support the following bills, with improvements:
  • SB 6203: Governor’s carbon pricing bill
  • HB 2294 (did not pass): Aligning with goals of the Paris climate accord
  • SB 6081: Net metering for solar power
  • HB 2319: Similar to net metering
  • SB 6187: Concerning the electrification of transportation.
  • SB 6253(did not pass): Carbon-free energy standard for utilities
  • HB 2338(did not pass): Low-carbon fuel standard for vehicles.

Protecting communities from toxic pollution (SB 6422)

February 26th, 2018: SB 6422 did not move forward. The 2018 iteration of last year's HB 2182 is still under consideration. Elements of these bills could end up in Supplemental Budget bills.

The state’s Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA) provides funding to clean up areas polluted by chemicals and toxics from decades of industry that are harmful to human and animal health. This funding is put to use locally for the Bellingham Waterfront and the Blaine Marina cleanups, to name a couple examples. Unfortunately, funding for MTCA is often uncertain due to the volatility of the Hazardous Substance Tax (HST) which is a tax on the importation of oil, pesticides, and other chemicals. As we’ve seen, the price of oil can drop or rise dramatically, making it difficult for budget forecasting.

Last year, we engaged the Legislature in support of HB 2182 which would stabilize MTCA funding through a tiered tax structure. HB 2182 was close to being approved last year; however, after passing the House, it never made it to the floor of the Senate for a vote before session ended. Thankfully, some key phases of toxic cleanup projects in Whatcom and Skagit were just funded with the passage of the state’s capital budget on January 18, 2018; however, many cleanup projects remain on the list and the list continues to grow. This is all the more reason to support stable funding for toxic cleanup sites.

A similar bill to last year’s HB 2182 has been introduced: SB 6422. We will continue to monitor this legislation and alert supporters when the time is right to engage our elected officials! Get updates if you don't already.

Enough water for fish, farms, and people

A growing population and climate change put stresses on our finite water resources in the Northwest: an estimated 1,000 people are moving to the Puget Sound region each week. In 2016, the Washington State Supreme Court issued a decision (known as the Hirst decision) that said counties must consider whether water is available — and not already spoken for by more senior users and salmon — before allowing development.

Many streams and rivers, like the Nooksack River, are not meeting water levels adequate to support salmon spawning in the summer and early fall. We see this happen year after year. Until the Hirst decision, counties were allowed to issue building permits in rural areas that were served by private wells (instead of public water) under the state’s permit-exempt well provision. Since the 1990s, counties and Ecology never examined whether these new exempt wells are negatively impacting water levels in streams or nearby senior water users.

We believe the Supreme Court’s decision was correct. We also believe that counties may not be best suited to make determinations of water availability, especially on a well-by-well basis. Instead, we support legislation that directs the Department of Ecology to assist counties on a watershed by watershed basis to determine how to allow rural development while protecting and enhancing stream levels through water-for-water mitigation.

Unfortunately, the Legislature passed a law (SB 6091) on January 18, 2018 addressing Hirst that we did not fully agree with. Whatcom County can now use this new law to issue rural building permits and subdivisions as it allows exempt wells as a source of water so long as they're below the 3,000 gallon per day limit per household while a watershed restoration plan is worked out locally. No metering is required for the new wells to verify whether they’re under the 3,000 gallon per day limit. We are concerned that this interim allowance will further degrade stream flows in the summer. This interim fix does not solve our water supply problems. We would support an interim fix of 350 gallons per day, and meters.

This effectively ignores the Supreme Court’s decision and further imperils senior water users' access to their water, as well as stream levels needed by salmon.

Finding solutions is back in local hands through the Water Resource Inventory Area 1 (WRIA) watershed management project Planning Unit. This means there will be opportunities to engage our community and local elected officials on what we want to see happen.

One great way to be involved is to join the Planning Unit’s Environmental Caucus. Membership is open to all and we meet locally every month. Contact Karlee to get more information at karleed@re-sources.org. Our next meeting is scheduled for Monday, February 12 at 3pm here at RE Sources.

Op-ed: Fecal Matters: Ecology is writing rules for agricultural pollution

posted Jan 24, 2018, 9:38 AM by Simon Bakke   [ updated Jan 26, 2018, 11:23 AM ]

By Ann Russell, Clean Water Program Manager. Published on p.6 of Cascadia Weekly, July 20th, 2016.

Puget Sound is not just a body of water; it is an iconic seascape that defines our region. It defines who we are as Pacific Northwesterners: how we play, how we travel, how we make a living, how we connect to our surroundings. And though the largest estuarine water body in the nation is sparkling, blue and appears healthy, it is silently suffering. The rate of damage to the Puget Sound—from under-regulated industrial pollution, ocean acidification, and urban stormwater runoff—still outpaces the rate of recovery. 

This is unacceptable. As Puget Sound’s degradation continues, recovery efforts need drastic transformation. A solution scaled to the problem requires an increased commitment from governing agencies to implement, and enforce protective measures—with backbone. The waters of the state are shared by us all, including the salmon, orcas, and other native species, and must be kept clean and healthy for fish, farms, and people to thrive. 

The Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE) is responsible for ensuring that pollution from all industries is regulated to protect water quality. The DOE is now updating an important permit that regulates pollution from industrial agriculture. 

As a community with deep agricultural roots and a growing local food system, this issue hits close to home. While it’s necessary to ensure the health and viability of our local farms, certain operations of an industrial scale should be monitored so that pollution can be addressed. 

The permit that is being updated is critical—it authorizes industrial agriculture operations that confine animals to discharge pollution (manure) into waters of the state — and it sets limits and management practices for those discharges.

Industrial agriculture is currently one of the leading causes of fecal coliform pollution to waterways nationwide, and a major cause of shellfish bed and swimming beach closures in Washington state. Manure is a source of nitrates, fecal coliform, and other pollutants, and industrial agriculture infrastructure is often ill-equipped to handle the waste produced by the animals in a manner that protects waterways. 

The WSDA’s 2015 Quality Assurance Monitoring Plan and other reports have stated that there is a correlation between dairy acreage and concentration of fecal coliform in rivers. Most livestock in Whatcom County are dairy cows, and almost all of our dairies are Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), defined by the EPA as animals confined for more than 45 days per year in an area that does not produce vegetation. According to Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA), a typical dairy cow produces 120 pounds of poop each day, adding up to about 7 million pounds of manure from dairy cows in Whatcom County alone. 

From now through Aug. 17, Washington state residents concerned about the health of the Puget Sound have the opportunity to learn about and provide input on the Department of Ecology’s draft CAFO General Discharge Permit. The CAFO is one of many pollution discharge permits under the federal Clean Water Act that allow discharges of pollutants with conditions that reduce or prevent pollution. Most industries in Washington state, including oil refineries, waste water treatment plants, boatyards, and most construction sites—are required to have discharge permits.

However, our state’s previous CAFO permit expired in 2011, and today, only 11 of 450 dairies in the state operate under a permit. CAFOs should be covered by a permit that ensures they can manage the manure, litter, and process wastewater generated by the operation in a manner that protects water quality. But the draft permit that has been proposed does not adequately enforce federal clean water regulations for industrial agriculture operations or hold them accountable for known violations. Among other things, the CAFO permit should include regular groundwater monitoring and deep soil testing, so agriculture operations can determine whether manure is being applied at appropriate rates for soil uptake, or if fecal coliform bacteria and nitrates from manure are entering our surface and groundwater.

Residents who value the Puget Sound and its bounty can educate themselves about fecal coliform contamination and the draft CAFO permit, submit a written comment to Ecology, and attend the public hearing at 6pm Tues., July 26 at Whatcom Community College. The public hearing is a great chance to learn more about the CAFO draft permit and how it could be strengthened to better protect our shared water resources. 

Now is the time for our community to call upon the Department of Ecology to strengthen and enforce regulations that protect the waters of the state.

Op-ed: Poop in Puget Sound is everybody’s problem; still time to tell Ecology what you think

posted Jan 24, 2018, 9:21 AM by Simon Bakke

By Ann Russell, Clean Water Program Manager. Published in the Bellingham Herald, August 14th, 2016.

It may come as a surprise that the sparkling waters of Puget Sound are silently suffering. The rate of damage to the Puget Sound – from under-regulated industrial pollution, ocean acidification and urban stormwater runoff – still outpaces the rate of recovery. This is unacceptable. As Puget Sound’s degradation continues, recovery efforts need drastic transformation. A solution scaled to the problem requires a resolute commitment from state agencies to implement and enforce protective measures.

Wade King Elementary School third graders conduct a clam survey in Mud Bay in 2014 with the help of the Whatcom Marine Resources Committee and the Puget Sound Restoration Fund. Where the Nooksack River meets the Puget Sound, rising fecal coliform levels regularly close hundreds of acres of shellfish beds in Whatcom County. Philip A. Dwyer.

The clean water team at RE Sources for Sustainable Communities is engaging in several campaigns this summer to help protect Puget Sound waters, by drawing attention to sources of pollution – from dog poop to septic systems to manure – and what Whatcom County citizens can do to help stop them.

Through Aug. 31, the state Department of Ecology is accepting comments on the draft concentrated animal feeding operation permit, which authorizes certain agricultural operations to discharge pollution (manure) into waters of the state, and sets limits and management practices for discharges. Ecology is responsible for ensuring that pollution from industries is regulated to protect water quality.

Feeding operations are one of the leading causes of fecal coliform pollution to waterways nationwide, and a major cause of shellfish bed and swimming beach closures in Whatcom County. Washington state’s 200,000 dairy cows produce 20 million pounds of manure a day, which is a major source of nitrates and fecal coliform, and other pollutants. The economic, social and health implications of nitrate and fecal coliform pollution are well documented.

Drinking water

In Whatcom County, 29 percent of private wells sampled in the Sumas-Blaine Aquifer (the drinking water source for 27,000 residents) exceeded safe levels of nitrates. A strong feeding operation permit can help address drinking water contamination by ensuring that the application of manure provides only the amount of nutrients that crops are able to uptake, and no more.

The state Department of Agriculture reports a statewide correlation between dairy acreage and concentration of fecal coliform in rivers. Whatcom County has the most dairy feeding operations in the state; Yakima County is second. (By another comparison, Whatcom County’s largest feeding operations have about 3,500 cows, while Yakima County’s largest have about 11,000 cows.) Both counties report some of the state’s highest fecal coliform levels. A strong permit can help address fecal coliform pollution by monitoring when and how manure is applied to fields.

Shellfish beds

Farther downstream in Whatcom County, where the Nooksack River meets the Puget Sound, rising fecal coliform levels regularly close hundreds of acres of shellfish beds. This causes millions of dollars of lost revenue to local businesses, not to mention the loss of jobs and degradation to Lummi Nation’s traditional shellfish beds. A strong feeding operation permit can help address fecal coliform pollution by requiring regular testing of soil and groundwater.

As a community with deep agricultural roots and a growing local food system, this issue hits close to home. While it’s necessary to ensure local agriculture systems are economically healthy and viable, all feeding operations in Washington state must be monitored so that fecal coliform and nitrate pollution can be addressed.

Sharing the costs

It is a fact that a more environmentally protective feeding operation permit will have implementation costs for farmers. But at the same time, the cost of addressing our poor water quality – some of which is caused by under-regulated manure pollution – currently falls on on taxpayers, shellfish farmers, tribes and agencies. We should all share the costs of protecting our waters.

Most industries in Washington state – including refineries, wastewater treatment plants, boatyards, some construction sites, and cities – have discharge permits. The previous permit expired in 2011, and today, only 11 of 450 dairies operate under a discharge permit. Asking Ecology to create a more environmentally protective feeding operation permit is merely asking that agricultural operations be regulated in the same way as other large industries with similar impacts on water quality.

Working with agriculture

The waters of the state are shared by us all. We depend on them to support our health and our businesses. Whatcom County residents value clean water, the aesthetics of our mountains and rivers, and our rural and community character. At the same time, we want to see job growth in agriculture and a thriving local food economy. These are not either/or decisions. The problems we face are complex, interconnected and vast, but our county is full of savvy, innovative and compassionate citizens with the skills to address these problems.

While advocating for changes to the draft permit to better protect our streams, rivers and drinking water, our clean water team is committed to working with the agriculture community to phase in new technologies and help address the costs of implementation.

If you value the Puget Sound and its bounty, please visit the RE Sources for Sustainable Communities website to learn more about fecal coliform and nitrate pollution and the draft permit, then submit a comment to Ecology by 5 p.m. Aug. 31.

Now is the time for our community to call upon Ecology to strengthen and enforce regulations that protect the waters of the state, which so deeply define each and every one of us.

The Department of Ecology has extended its deadline for comment until August 31. This story was updated August 19.

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