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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Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA).
MTCA is a voter-approved law dedicated to cleaning up toxic waste sites, preventing harmful chemicals in manufacturing and products, controlling pollution to protect water quality, and supporting communities heavily impacted by toxic pollution threats.
In early April, the House released a capital budget proposal that includes much-needed funding for MTCA (HB 2182). On Friday, April 7th, the House capital budget committee is having an executive session on the MTCA funding bill. A key member of the House capital budget committee represents the 40th legislative district —which includes San Juan County and portions of Whatcom and Skagit counties.
Even if you don't live in the 40th legislative district, please contact Representative Jeff Morris TODAY and tell him to support the MTCA funding bill.
A Western Washington University student’s experience lobbying on behalf of WWU and RE Sources for Sustainable Communities at the Washington State Legislature on environmental priorities.
By Kinsey Anuta, Clean Water Policy Intern (January-March 2017)
I’ve always had a love for the study of public policy and politics, and I’ve always been passionate about trying to protect the environment. My time as an undergrad at Western Washington University (WWU) has let me explore my interests in public policy making. My time spent working as a policy intern for RE Sources has shown me the role that public policy can play in protecting the environment. Participating in WWU's Associated Students 2017 Environmental Lobby Day from February 19-20 allowed me to bring these two areas together.
Environmental Lobby Day is an annual opportunity at WWU where students can voluntarily sign up to meet and lobby legislators on several environmental priorities before the Washington State Legislature. Environmental issues were identified beforehand by the WWU Office of Environmental & Sustainability Programs, with some guidance from RE Sources, and then approved by the WWU Associated Students Legislative Action Committee.
On Sunday, February 19, we spent the afternoon preparing for Monday’s meetings with legislators by participating in two workshops hosted by RE Sources and the Washington Student Association (WSA) Legislative Liaison Program, respectively. They gave us helpful tips and strategies on how to effectively conduct our meetings and organize what we wanted to say.
We were split into groups of four to five students based on location of our home voting address and Legislative District. I was put in the 40th district representing south Bellingham (my home address is in Portland, OR). Each of our groups got to meet with four legislators — two senators and two representatives and/or their staff. I really liked having the group structure because it assured that everyone got a chance to speak while having other students there to help give support and back up our points.
I was very nervous about meeting the legislators or their respective aids. But they were all very gracious and took the time to listen to us and what we had to say. Our last meeting was the best because we met directly with one of the representatives — all of the previous meetings were with legislative aids. Representative Monica Stonier from the 17th Legislative District in Vancouver was very kind and showed a strong interest in what we had to say. It turns out she was a proud Western alum, too. (Go Vikings!)
We lobbied on five key environmental priorities, many of which are still pending in legislature:
Thankfully, Rep. Strom Peterson (21st District) introduced House Bill 1663 to stabilize a critical funding source paid by polluters. The bill has strong support from environmental justice organizations, local governments, and business. Here are the bill's key points:
Without stable funding, some cleanup projects like the Bellingham waterfront and the Lower Duwamish River will be stalled — which means pollution will continue to pose a threat and economic development will be delayed. Failure to pass HB 1663 also puts state environmental programs at risk of unnecessary funding cuts and likely eliminates funding for local community support grants.
Please contact your legislators and tell them that this is a key piece of legislation they should support.
Contacting your legislators by phone is by far the most productive and impactful form of communication. Read more in the New York Times article "Here's why you should call, not email, your legislators."
It’s time to take a stand: Ecology must hold all industry equally accountable for the pollution they produce
By Lee First, RE Sources North Sound Baykeeper
For over thirty years, RE Sources has served this community by protecting the natural resources we share, and ensuring citizens have a voice in advocating for their values.
Over the past several years, RE Sources has taken a strong stand to protect our shared water resources statewide from an industry that has been polluting water with little accountability: large-scale livestock farming.
Large-scale livestock farming is one of the leading causes of pollution to waterways nationwide, and a major cause of shellfish bed and beach closures in Washington state. Disease-causing bacteria and nitrates found in livestock manure have contaminated well water in Sumas and polluted the Nooksack River, Portage Bay, and other water bodies we depend on for food, drinking water, and our livelihoods.
Despite this impact, Washington state's Department of Ecology is not doing enough to regulate large-scale livestock facilities, called concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). The agency responsible “to protect, preserve and enhance Washington's land, air and water for current and future generations” is not protecting the people of the state when it comes to regulating this particular industry (other industries are subject to stringent environmental regulations).
Make no mistake — we value our local farmers. We wholeheartedly support our local food system and understand that increased regulation may mean increased costs for farmers. At the same time, RE Sources believes all industry must be responsible for the pollution they produce — no matter how powerful or valuable the industry.
filed an appeal with the Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board (PCHB) challenging the Department of Ecology’s recently issued final CAFO permits.
Nearly 5,000 residents across the state submitted letters to the Department of Ecology as they were drafting an updated CAFO permit in August. The vast majority of those citizens urged Ecology to produce a strong permit that ensured the protection of safe drinking water and uncontaminated shellfish beds using best available science, technology, and appropriate oversight.
Instead of listening, the Department of Ecology produced a weak permit that does not safeguard against livestock manure pollution running off of large farm operations into local waterways or seeping into groundwater. The permit is not science based, and even disregards the findings of Ecology’s own scientists and the research intended to inform the permit design.
The permit authorizes CAFOs to discharge into groundwater — where more than 725,000 citizens in Washington get their drinking water — by not requiring manure lagoons to be lined with a barrier to prevent leakage (an occurrence that is proven by Ecology’s own scientists). This action foregoes critical accountability, transparency, monitoring, and enforcement mechanisms. It also and puts rural communities and shellfish in the Puget Sound at undue risk of nitrate and fecal coliform contamination.
The way the permit is designed also prevents citizens from taking action under the Clean Water Act, a federal law that grants power to citizens to defend their right to clean water if dangerous pollution threatens water quality. The state-only permit denies that right to citizens.
Despite petitions, scientific recommendations, and letters from thousands of concerned citizens, the Department of Ecology failed to do their duty to protect our shared water resources.
We want farmers to be successful, and we fully realize the value farming brings to our communities, families, and local economies. We acknowledge the challenges farmers face to stay in business, and we’re grateful for the steps several exemplary dairy farmers in Whatcom County have taken to make reparations through the Portage Bay Partnership. We are not in a battle against farmers. We simply want the pollution from livestock operations to be contained, treated appropriately and eliminated as a threat to clean water.
We strongly believe, and will continue to fight for, a system that is fair and works efficiently. As has been proven in the past, good livestock and farming practices CAN coexist with safe, clean water — it just takes determination and cooperation.
Stay tuned for updates from the Clean Water program about our progress with the appeal by signing up for Clean Water news. We’ll let you know when the next opportunities open for you to make your voice heard.
Notice of Appeal). Water quality monitoring could include: drilling wells and testing water at a deep enough depth (three feet instead of one foot) to determine if nitrates from manure are getting into groundwater. (RE Sources comment letter to Ecology)
All licensed Grade A milk producers in the state are required to have Dairy Nutrient Management Plans within six months, and certified plans within two years. These plans are not public information. Once a year, a post-harvest soil test for nitrates is required, at 1 foot of depth. Every three years, a more complete test is required. Producers are also required to sample manure (usually from lagoons) once a year for nutrients. Water quality monitoring is not required by the Department of Agriculture.
According to the Department of Ecology, the Sumas-Blaine Aquifer in Whatcom County has nitrate concentrations that have exceeded the limit for safe drinking water for at least 24 years. Ecology itself has stated that manure lagoons NOT synthetically lined are known to leak (Notice of Appeal). The permits illegally authorize discharges without requiring implementation of all available technology (Notice of Appeal).
Notice of Appeal).
Ecology has explicitly acknowledged that nitrates discharged to groundwater can have direct surface water impacts due to hydraulic connectivity of Washington’s surface and groundwaters (Notice of Appeal). The state-only permit removes the power granted to citizens under federal law to defend their clean water rights if pollution from CAFOs threatens water quality.
Read the Notice of Appeal (February 21, 2017)
RE Sources comment letter to Ecology (August 18, 2016)
Environmental groups challenge Ecology’s new permits for industrial dairies (February 21, 2017)
Ecology's CAFO Water Quality Permit Sacrifices Public Health, Drinking Water, Shellfish Beds (January 19, 2017)
Washington State Dairy Federation and the Washington Farm Bureau also have issued an appeal. Read more in the Yakima Herald article or Capital Press.
By Eleanor Hines, Lead Scientist
Eleanor Hines is the lead scientist at RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, where she leads citizen science efforts and provides technical support to the Clean Water program.
Although winter full moons mean that the Salish Sea’s extreme low tides occur long after dark, volunteers and scientists spent two chilly nights in January conducting sea star surveys under the full moon at Neptune Beach and Point Whitehorn in Whatcom County.
The volunteers — accompanied by retired biologist Michael Kyte and Multi-Agency Rocky Intertidal Network (MARINe) data manager Melissa Miner — were conducting semi-annual surveys with the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve Citizen Stewardship Committee on the effects of wasting syndrome on local sea star populations.
Sea star wasting syndrome, documented in a never-before-seen magnitude over the past several years along the Pacific Coast, causes lesions that lead to tissue decay, loss of arms, and death. The disease was first noticed as early as the 1970s, but it wasn’t until 2013 and 2014 that scientists began observing large-scale outbreaks.
Because the disease impacted sea stars from California to British Columbia, citizen science surveys have been instrumental in helping to collect data for scientists to analyze. Scientists analyze the data to help them better understand the causes of sea star wasting syndrome — including rising ocean temperature and densovirus — and study long-term trends.
Biologist Michael Kyte has dedicated his retirement to continuing to lead citizen science efforts across Northern Puget Sound, conducting sea star surveys at several sites in addition to Cherry Point.
Citizen science surveys are conducted with specific scientific protocols to ensure the results can be compiled and utilized alongside other research. For this beach, a measuring tape is set out parallel to the tide once it hits -1.5 feet, and volunteers use instruments called “t-bars” to move along the measuring tape, searching for sea stars and documenting the count. Although it may be tempting, volunteers cannot move anything out of the way, other than loose seaweed, or turn over any rocks, meaning that only exposed sea stars are counted.
For nearly three hours, citizen scientists worked under the glow of bright headlamps, scanning the beach for sea stars of every size. When one is found, the species type, size, and health of the sea star is documented. Health is assessed based on presence or absence of tell-tale wasting syndrome signs, like lesions and missing arms.
In all, 159 sea stars (73 Pisaster ochraceus, 21 Evasterias troscheli, 63 Leptasterias hexactis, and 2 Henrecia leviuscula) were counted at Neptune Beach — the highest count at the site in the past three years of surveys. And of all these sea stars, none showed any sign of wasting syndrome. Only one sea star, which was found outside of the survey area, showed signs of the disease. See the trend graph for Neptune Beach
Melissa Miner is a marine ecologist based in Bellingham who works for the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she coordinates programs along the West Coast tracking sea star wasting syndrome. All the data collected during sea star surveys at Neptune Beach and Point Whitehorn goes into the Multi-Agency Rocky Intertidal Network (MARINe) database, a partnership of agencies, universities and private groups committed to documenting the health of the West Coast’s intertidal habitat and providing information to the public.
Melissa Miner presented at the 2017 Cherry Point Forum on sea star wasting syndrome — watch the presentation and download the powerpoint at re-sources.org/cherrypointforum.
The measuring tape was again set out — this time encircling several large boulders — and volunteers spread out to count the sea stars, marking their spot with yellow chalk to avoid double counts. The extreme low tide allowed volunteers to count stars in every crevice, many of which may have been filled with water in the past.
In all, 122 sea stars (55 Pisaster ochraceus, 53 Evasterias troscheli, and 4 Henrecia leviuscula) were counted at Point Whitehorn — the highest count at the site in the past three years of surveys. See the trend graph for Point Whitehorn
It is encouraging to see so many young sea stars at Neptune Beach and Point Whitehorn, after previous sea star surveys indicated that wasting syndrome had devastated many local sea star populations. While it is too early to tell if these results mean populations are recovering, local citizen science efforts will continue to play an important role in collecting data so that scientists can study long-term trends.
Become a citizen scientist and learn how you can contribute to scientific research for Puget Sound health! Citizen science is one of the most important tools used for managing and protecting the intertidal shorelines and plant and animal species at Cherry Point and Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserves.
Our free citizen science trainings will teach you how to identify, count and estimate plant and animal species in the intertidal zone, the area above water at low tide and under water at high tide. Once you've participated in a training, you can join our summer of intertidal surveys taking quantitative measures of plant and animal life and describe the slope and sediment on Whatcom and Skagit beaches.
Contact Eleanor Hines at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-733-8307 for more information about 2017 citizen science trainings in Whatcom and Skagit counties.
Republished with permission from the Western Environmental Law Center. Read the full statement from environmental, public health, and social justice advocates.
issuance of a revised concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) general discharge permit, five years after the former permit expired.
Faced with the opportunity to protect Washingtonians from pollution fro agriculture operations, Ecology failed to address the four major sources of pollution from CAFOs: land application, lagoons, compost areas and animal pens. Instead, Ecology issued a problematic, two-tiered permit scheme that fails to protect our most fundamental natural resource — clean water.
The waste produced by the CAFO industry is vast. The more than 260,000 adult dairy cows in Washington state produce over 26 million pounds of manure each day collectively. Too much of this manure enters Washington’s surface and groundwater, causing significant public health and pollution problems.
The Sumas-Blaine Aquifer in north Whatcom County, home to numerous dairy farms, is the major drinking water source for up to 27,000 residents. This new permit ignores Ecology’s own determination that confirms nitrate loading due to over-application of manure from CAFOs “contributes significantly to groundwater nitrate contamination.”
After being held hostage by the political influence of the agriculture industry during a five-year renewal process, the agency’s new permitting scheme does little to address the four major sources of CAFO pollution. Instead of issuing one permit that prevents discharges of pollution to surface and groundwater in accordance with federal law, Ecology adopted the agriculture industry’s unsuccessful legislative attempt to require a state-only permit that authorizes groundwater discharges. This regulatory regime blocks transparency and prevents citizens from protecting their right to clean water.
Ecology disregarded the recommendations of its own scientific experts and did not require groundwater monitoring as part of the permit, even though that monitoring is routine for agriculture operations that are known to discharge to groundwater. Ecology has previously acknowledged that all CAFOs with manure lagoons discharge to groundwater and has characterized groundwater monitoring as “the best indicator of risk.” But after two decades of knowing about the widespread drinking water contamination, it is still not required in the permit.
Ecology caved to the agriculture industry’s desire to avoid numeric manure application limits, thereby allowing CAFOs to apply manure to the land in a manner that pollutes surface and groundwater. The land application of manure is known to be the largest source of drinking water contamination from CAFOs. Lagoons, compost areas and cow pens have also proven to be significant sources of pollution, yet Ecology fails to include measures in the permit that prevent pollution from these sources.
To protect Washington families, friends, and neighbors from being exposed to dangerous levels of nitrates, fecal coliform, and other pollutants in their drinking water, this coalition advocated for the following provisions in its final permit:
The coalition includes Citizens for a Healthy Bay, Friends of the Earth, Sierra Club, the Center for Food Safety, Snake River Waterkeeper, OneAmerica, the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project, Aqua Permanenté, the Waterkeeper Alliance, the Center for Environmental Law & Policy, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, Spokane Riverkeeper, Planned Parenthood, Puget Soundkeeper, Environment Washington, Safe Food and Fertilizer, and Wendy Harris.
Republished with permission from the Western Environmental Law Center. Read the full statement from environmental, public health, and social justice advocates.
Agricultural Pollution in Puget Sound: Inspiration to Change Washington’s Reliance on Voluntary Incentive Programs to Save Salmon
Puget Sound lagoon distance from nearest water body map: http://bit.ly/1MZnLzz
Whatcom and Skagit counties distance from nearest water body map: http://bit.ly/1SkvfzX
Whatcom and Skagit counties lagoon excavation depth map: http://bit.ly/1feWygS
HB 1611 and SB 5462: Oil transportation bill protects Salish Sea by holding industry accountable for oil spills
In response, Representative Jessyn Farrell (D-Seattle) and Senator Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle) have introduced bills called the Oil Transportation Safety Act in the House and Senate (HB 1611 and SB 5462). Bill highlights include:
The Oil Transportation Safety Act is a key step to holding the oil industry accountable and ensures that Washingtonians are put first. Given the Trump Administration’s support of the oil industry, it is now more important than ever to make sure Washington holds the line. We can do this!
Read the press release: Washington Legislators Address Growing Safety Threat from Oil Transportation
Senate Bill 5171 — sponsored by Sen. Doug Ericksen — would reverse the recent decision by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to uphold tribal treaty rights and protect Cherry Point, ultimately undermining DNR’s ability to manage our state’s aquatic lands.
It probably isn’t a surprise that the fossil fuel industry wants to undo our successes to protect our environment. It is a direct response to DNR’s leadership work on protecting our aquatic lands and putting the public good ahead of any one company.
How bad is bad? In addition to reversing DNR's recent decision to incorporate a 45-acre cutout — originally intended for the Gateway Pacific coal terminal — into the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve, the bill stops DNR’s ability to designate, establish, and/or enlarge any aquatic reserve. The bill also reduces the amount of state money available for protecting clean land and critical habitat. That is unacceptable.
We need to raise our voices now more than ever. Please attend the hearing or contact your legislator and ask them to OPPOSE SB 5171.
Watch the hearing: http://www.tvw.org/watch/?eventID=2017011313
The bill — sponsored by Sen. Doug Ericksen — would reverse the recent decision by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to uphold tribal treaty rights and protect Cherry Point, ultimately undermining DNR’s ability to manage our state’s aquatic lands.
THANK YOU for taking action by making phone calls and attending the hearing, letting our legislators know the public stands with Lummi Nation and supports tribal treaty rights.
RE Sources for Sustainable Communities is part of the Environmental Priorities Coalition, a network of over 20 leading environmental groups in Washington state that influence policy at the state level. Our 2017 legislative priorities include: Water for people, farms, and fish; Oil transportation safety; and Reducing toxic pollution in all communities. Learn more at wecprotects.org/environmental-priorities-coalition.
Neptune Beach, near Ferndale (map)
Thursday, January 12th, 9:00 PM
Point Whitehorn Marine Reserve, near Ferndale (map)
Help local scientists collect data on sea star wasting syndrome during one of two nighttime citizen science surveys on Whatcom County beaches. RSVP.
6:30 to 8:00 PM
Bellewood Acres, Lynden (map)
Hear from a water resources specialist with Lummi Nation about their long-time program monitoring surface and ground water and the status of Portage Bay shellfish beds, during this special presentation at the Tenmile Clean Water Project meeting. Read more.
11:00 AM to 2:00 PM
Semiahmoo Park, near Blaine (map)
Join RE Sources' AmeriCorps-Washington Service Corps member and WWU club Students for the Salish Sea for a beach cleanup along Semiahmoo Spit in honor of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. RSVP.
Regal Cinemas Barkley Village, Bellingham (map)
Join the Whatcom Marine Resources Commitee for this documentary about the impacts of plastic on our oceans and marine mammals. Please purchase tickets by January 17th to ensure the film will be shown. Buy tickets.
On January 9, the Washington State Legislature will convene for a four-month session of lawmaking and budgeting. It’s a big year with many priorities in front of our state officials, ranging from public education to addressing toxic cleanup sites like the Bellingham waterfront.
Environmental Priorities Coalition, the Clean Water program of RE Sources for Sustainable Communities is closely tracking legislative activity, and we will keep you informed about environmental issues that impact Whatcom County and the Salish Sea. Issues we are tracking include:
Washington must restore and stabilize funding for the Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA), the voter-approved law dedicated to cleaning up toxic waste sites, preventing harmful chemicals in manufacturing and products, controlling pollution to protect water quality, and supporting communities heavily impacted by toxic pollution threats. Funding for MTCA was gutted last year, due to the volatile nature of its funding source. This session, legislators must implement a more stable funding source to enact this important law for public health and safety.
The Washington State Supreme Court recently ruled that counties must make sure there is enough available water before issuing permits for new developments in rural areas. After the ruling, requests were made for a “legislative fix” to the court’s ruling to allow business as usual, neglecting the problem and further depleting stream levels during critical times. Any proposed fix needs to protect instream flows and existing water rights.
Oil transportation continues to threaten the safety of our communities and the health of our environment. The urgency is now greater with the increased transport of crude oil to local refineries, the approval of the Kinder Morgan pipeline that would increase tanker traffic through the Salish Sea, and the $4 million funding shortfall for existing protections. Washington state must prioritize legislation to protect our waterways, improve pipeline safety measures, and ensure funding for oil spill response.
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