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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.

  • #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
  • Students take the Capitol: Environmental Lobby Day 2018 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 ...
    Posted Mar 12, 2018, 3:27 PM by Simon Bakke
  • The State Legislative session is over: Wins, losses, and more. 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 ...
    Posted Mar 9, 2018, 3:58 PM by Simon Bakke
  • Legislative session 2018, updated 2/26/18: What we're watching, what you can do 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 ...
    Posted Feb 26, 2018, 1:52 PM by Simon Bakke
  • Op-ed: Fecal Matters: Ecology is writing rules for agricultural pollution 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 ...
    Posted Jan 26, 2018, 11:23 AM by Simon Bakke
Showing posts 1 - 5 of 46. View more »

#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.

Letter from Board of Directors to Whatcom Family Farmers

posted Jan 24, 2018, 9:14 AM by Simon Bakke   [ updated Jan 24, 2018, 3:09 PM by Hannah Coughlin ]

April 7, 2017

Dear Whatcom Family Farmers, Mr. Rader, and Mr. Likkel:

The Board of Directors at RE Sources for Sustainable Communities received your recent letter in response to our
decision to join an appeal of the Department of Ecology Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) permit. We welcome the opportunity to explain why we made this decision to strengthen the permit and protect water quality across the entire State of Washington.

To begin with, your letter characterized RE Sources as “anti-farm activists,” yet our supporters are decidedly PRO- farm. They are the people who seek out farmers’ markets to purchase local produce and local artisan cheeses, choose to purchase local milk even if it’s more expensive, consume shellfish from our local harbors, and take pride serving local grass-fed beef. RE Sources supporters also include fishermen and hunters, practical conservationists who value knowing that the fish and game they harvest is from lands and waters that are free of toxics and pathogens. To label these local citizens “anti-farm” is simply inaccurate.

At the program level, RE Sources directly supports local farms and farm families by encouraging the purchase and consumption of local produce, eggs, livestock, and more. Our educational programs in schools and the community highlight the innovative efforts of Whatcom farm families to increase organic crop production, reduce the use of chemicals, protect streams and woodlots, create biofuels, and master the difficult work of responsible manure management.

At the public policy level, RE Sources has long been a champion of local agriculture and family farms, advocating for stronger agricultural lands protection in the County Comprehensive plan. We and our supporters have participated in collaborative processes with members of the agricultural community, from WRIA-1 to nitrate pollution monitoring, from preventing urban sprawl into ag zones to enhancing lowland agricultural streams and riverbanks for wildlife, people, and water quality. We have also been involved in regional cooperative efforts to preserve and enhance ag lands and rural communities, and to identify threats to those values and the quality of life in our state.

In keeping with our decades-long commitment to the health of our community, and working collaboratively with our friends of the traditional territory, it is incumbent on RE Sources to advocate for the health, safety and recovery of Puget Sound and its tributaries through use of the best available science. Such science points to numerous threats to Puget Sound and its many tributaries throughout Western Washington. We do not believe that the recently released statewide CAFO permits rely on best available science, or on an adequately rigorous oversight process. These deficiencies will place public health, our environment, and the sustainability of our local farms at continued risk.

Members and supporters of many organizations statewide, including our own, submitted upwards of 4,500 comments on the recent CAFO proposal. Nearly 90% of those comments called for stronger oversight of waste management in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. Our position should surprise no one; it has been consistent for over 20 years. Along with thousands of concerned citizens and groups statewide, RE Sources advocates for strengthening NPDES permits (including those covering construction, boatyards, industrial sites, municipal treatment plants, etc.) to protect air, soil, and water quality.

Our work is not confined to the farming community, the dairy community, or Whatcom County. Because water and air pollution respect no boundaries, the Department of Ecology CAFO permit is a statewide permit. Appealing a weak statewide permit is actually a vote of confidence in Whatcom farmers and those in agriculture across the state who take water quality very seriously; in fact, RE Sources is confident that family farmers in Whatcom County are committed to protecting and improving water and air quality for us, our children, and generations to come. Sadly, that is not the case for many CAFOs across the state, and thus the need exists for a strong and consistent permit process to protect public health and the environment.

We all demand high standards when so much is at stake. High standards for CAFOs, which often create the same daily animal waste as a small city, make sense given the potential for harm to human and environmental health from poor management. We cannot accept a low standard here when mistakes threaten the public, and when the track record of the industry is not particularly good.

The RE Sources community and the farming community share many values. We all believe in clean air, water, and soil for our communities. We believe in citizens working together to build stronger, more resilient communities. We believe that short term profit is beneath our dignity if it impairs the quality of life for future generations. RE Sources supporters, staff, and board view the typical owners of a family dairy farm as some of the most hardworking and honest people in our community. We pledge to honor that respect for our neighbors, and trust that your membership will do likewise. No one gains when political spin governs public discourse.

We will focus on these goals that we share with you. There will always be specific issues on which we do not agree. But if we can work together on those we hold in common, we can make progress. RE Sources is committed to supporting the Tenmile Clean Water Project, and working closely with the Laurel WID on water quality improvements. We use every media opportunity we have to praise and support the work of the Portage Bay Partnership. RE Sources will continue to adhere to our mission, the science behind it, and the vision of our
directors. We have faith that we will find ourselves with you on the same side of another fruitful project before long.

In solidarity for a cleaner, healthier Salish Sea, and for a strong and resilient community.


Charlie Maliszewski, Board President

on behalf of:
Rodd Pemble, Board Vice President
Darcy Carlson, Board Treasurer
Blanche Bybee, Board Secretary
Jill Clark, Board Member
Andy Clay, Board Member
Jan Dank, Board Member
Rick Dubrow, Board Member
Joe Hougen, Board Member
Candice Wilson, Board Member
Amy Mower, Board Emeritus Member

CC: Crina Hoyer, Executive Director
        Janet Marino, Program Director

Op-ed: Pollution or Profit? The true cost of doing business

posted Jan 24, 2018, 9:04 AM by Simon Bakke   [ updated Apr 13, 2018, 12:28 PM ]

By Lee First. Published in Whatcom Watch, April 2017.

When the pressure is on, we have to increase our resolve to work together to share the land, air, and water we depend on. Industry and environment can and must find a way to thrive simultaneously. One cannot flourish at the expense of the other. Those of us who feel passionately have to collaborate with those we don’t agree with to develop a balance of priorities. We need fair and appropriate regulations to work on behalf of the environment, and we need open-minded business owners who are willing to find a way of doing business that’s a win-win for all.

RE Sources for Sustainable Communities has served this community for over thirty years by protecting the natural resources we share, and ensuring citizens have a voice in advocating for their values. Our Clean Water team is made up of scientists, analysts, mediators and researchers. We care about facts that are supported by science, and we care about working with stakeholders representing differing interests to come to a common solution.

Over the past several years, RE Sources’ team 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 surface water in the Nooksack River, Portage Bay, and countless other water bodies we depend on for food, drinking water and our livelihoods — and that’s just in Whatcom County. It’s happening all over the state.

Despite this impact, Washington state’s Department of Ecology is not doing enough to regulate large-scale livestock facilities, called “concentrated animal feeding operations,” or CAFOs. Ecology, 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 one particular industry. Other industries in the state, however, are subject to stringent regulations to protect water quality. Why not CAFOs?

Make no mistake. We really value our local farmers. Our staff and board at RE Sources regularly buy local food and purchase CSA shares (Community Supported Agriculture). We support a local food system in heart and in practice. And we understand that increased regulation may mean increased costs for farmers right here in Whatcom County. Some of us have had farm businesses in the past, and many of us have lived and worked on farms. We understand the challenges.

And still, RE Sources believes no industry should compromise the availability or cleanliness of the land, air, and water we all depend on to live. We believe all industry must be held to the same standards, and responsible for the pollution they produce — no matter how powerful or valuable the industry. It is possible to maintain a healthy, viable business without polluting the water we all must share. It’s been proven by willing farmers for decades. We must find a way.

Are State Agencies Listening?

Because we believe in a balance between thriving business and a healthy environment, RE Sources and partners across the state filed an appeal last month with the Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board (PCHB) challenging the Department of Ecology’s recently issued CAFO permits. The permits provide manure handling requirements and best management practices for certain farms. These requirements and practices are essential for protecting groundwater, streams, rivers and marine waters from manure pollution.

As you may know, 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, the Department of Ecology produced two weak permits — a state-only permit for CAFOs that discharge to groundwater only, and a federal/state permit for CAFOs that discharge to groundwater and surface water — neither of which actually prevent livestock manure pollution running off of large farm operations into local waterways or seeping into groundwater. The permits are not science based. In fact, they even disregard the findings of Ecology’s own scientists and the research intended to inform the permit design.

The state-only permit authorizing CAFOs to discharge into groundwater — from which more than 725,000 citizens in Washington get their drinking water — does not require manure lagoons to be lined with a barrier to prevent leakage (an occurrence that has been proven by Ecology’s own scientists). This action puts rural communities at undue risk of nitrates contaminating their drinking water, as seen in Yakima County. Exposure to nitrates, which accumulate in the body over time, can result in blue-baby syndrome, and some studies correlate long-term exposure to nitrates in drinking water to cancer risk and reproductive issues.

Facts — Proven by Science

In 2015, a CAFO in Yakima County was ordered by a federal district court to install synthetic liners for the facility’s manure storage lagoons to prevent ongoing leakage of contaminants to groundwater. The judge found that manure lagoons were contributing to groundwater nitrate pollution, posing an imminent threat to public health for those dependent on well water.

This federal case required scientific studies to be conducted on the impacts of manure pollution to groundwater and surface water. These findings are now on the public record. Despite the facts revealed in these studies — that earthen lagoons do in fact leak into groundwater — Ecology’s CAFO permits still do not require synthetically lined manure lagoons. There are hundreds of unlined manure lagoons throughout Washington State — many of which are next to streams and rivers that feed into Puget Sound.

What’s worse, the new state-only CAFO permit is designed in such a way as to prevent 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. Ecology’s new state-only CAFO permit denies that right to citizens. Without cases like the above mentioned in Yakima County, citizens have no power to protect themselves from CAFOs polluting their drinking water.

Despite petitions, scientific recommendations and letters from thousands of concerned citizens, the Department of Ecology failed to do its duty to protect our shared water resources. That’s why RE Sources is appealing the permit. And we’ll continue to take every course necessary until our shared water resources are being adequately protected by the agencies charged to do just that.

We want farmers to be successful, and we fully realize the value local farming brings to our communities, families and economy. We acknowledge the claim that some farmers have made that abiding by regulations (regulations that ensure we have access to clean and safe water) is not cost-effective. We recognize the burden of cost, but also encourage our fellow Washingtonians to take into consideration the other costs involved. Profit is not the only loss.

Only Profitability Considered

If we consider only profitability, then let’s consider the tremendous cost to taxpayers for environmental cleanups. Bellingham Bay, for example, is still undergoing environmental cleanups to eradicate pollution left by an industry that only concerned itself with its profit margins. When complete, the cost of that cleanup is estimated to be in the hundreds of millions.

Let’s also consider the cost to taxpayers for cleaning up nitrate-contaminated drinking water in the lower Yakima Valley, where 12 percent of drinking water wells are contaminated with unsafe levels of nitrate. Groundwater pollution is extremely expensive, and sometimes impossible to clean up. Many of the poorest people in Yakima County must now rely on bottled water for drinking because their wells are contaminated. Just the study of the contamination alone is expected to cost $2.3 million.

And then there’s the cost to other industries. Lummi shellfish harvesters lost an estimated $8 million in revenue over ten years of shellfish bed closures in Portage Bay — home to Lummi Nation’s commercial, ceremonial and subsistence shellfish beds. Manure discharged directly or indirectly into the Nooksack River flowed into Portage Bay, causing hundreds of acres to be closed over the years, because fecal coliform levels exceeded National Shellfish Sanitation Program standards.

Aside from monetary costs, RE Sources is concerned about the long-term costs to public health, tribal treaty rights and the survival of the iconic species that give the Pacific Northwest its identity. We are concerned about retaining our right to drinkable, fishable, swimmable water. Without proper protection from government agencies — through regulations like the CAFO permits — none of these “rights” are guaranteed.

We acknowledge the challenges farmers face to stay in business, and we’re especially grateful for the steps several exemplary dairy farmers in Whatcom County have taken to make reparations through the Portage Bay Partnership. Seven farms voluntarily agreed to take steps to prevent manure pollution in Portage Bay and to compensate the tribe $450,000 for the loss of shellfish income, because fecal coliform pollution prevented safe harvesting. Currently, about 800 acres are now closed six months out of the year because of fecal pollution in the Nooksack River and streams that empty into it.

We want Lummi Nation’s shellfish beds to thrive. We want salmon spawning grounds like the Nooksack River to thrive. And we want local farms to thrive. We strongly believe, and will continue to fight for, a system that is fair and works efficiently for all interests. As has been proven in the past, responsible farmers want a level playing field. Good livestock and farming practices CAN coexist with safe, clean water — it just takes determination and cooperation.

Op-ed: Fecal matters: It's time to bring balance and fairness to how we protect our water resources

posted Jan 24, 2018, 8:58 AM by Simon Bakke   [ updated Jan 26, 2018, 11:12 AM ]

By Lee First. Published in Cascadia Weekly, April 12th, 2017.

Last month, a berm failed at a dairy farm in Yakima Valley. Thousands of gallons of manure-contaminated water flooded nearby homes, rising a foot and a half before receding. In one video, a resident wades in water the color of chocolate milk—water polluted with fecal coliform, E. coli, and nitrates from manure on nearby fields that flooded when the berm failed. For a week, residents couldn’t use their tap water to drink, wash dishes or bathe.

Water pollution like this threatens our drinking water, shellfish beds, rivers, and beaches in communities across our state. This pollution comes from sources like stormwater runoff and industrial facilities, farms with poor manure management practices, leaking septic systems, and dog poop left on the ground.

Fecal coliform bacteria from animal waste is a major concern in Whatcom and Skagit counties. Rivers and beaches polluted with fecal coliform pose a public health risk. Fecal coliform pollution has caused decades of shellfish bed closures in Samish and Portage bays.

Nitrate pollution also poses serious risks across our state. Nitrates comes from animal waste seeping into groundwater—the only source of drinking water for many people in rural communities. When wells become polluted with nitrates, drinking the water can cause significant health conditions. The Sumas-Blaine Aquifer in Whatcom County has some of the highest nitrate pollution levels in the state.

In Yakima County, some of the poorest residents are forced to spend money on bottled water to avoid drinking from wells polluted with nitrates. Water pollution is not just an environmental issue, it’s a social justice issue that impacts poor and rural communities—people who depend on government agencies to protect their access to clean water.

RE Sources for Sustainable Communities has worked to protect water quality for decades, and we are committed to addressing pollution from all sources. Contaminated water impacts everyone, and it will take everyone to work collaboratively on solutions.

That’s why RE Sources and partners across the state recently filed a lawsuit appealing the Washington State Department of Ecology’s new permits for regulating large-scale livestock operations, known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). Whatcom County has the highest number of CAFOs in the state—an estimated 120 such operations. Yakima County has an estimated 60 CAFOs, but with a much higher number of cows.

Unfortunately, Ecology’s permits don’t do enough to protect our water from manure pollution. Despite receiving nearly 5,000 comments to strengthen permit provisions and uphold federal Clean Water Act requirements, Ecology instead ignored their own science, abandoned their mission to protect, preserve and enhance Washington’s waters, and caved to the pressure of Big Ag lobbyists.

In addition to pushing for better environmental regulations for all industries, RE Sources asks citizens to call on local government to do more to address water pollution—by requiring homeowners’ septic systems to be professionally inspected to ensure they don’t leak, by educating pet owners and preventing dog poop from being left in yards, on trails, and in parks, and by using best management practices to protect clean water on farms of all sizes.

We applaud those in our county who are already taking steps toward cleaning up our waters. The Portage Bay Partnership, a coalition of seven dairy farmers and the Lummi Nation, aims to reduce manure pollution from washing down the Nooksack River and contaminating shellfish beds. Thanks to the efforts of a volunteer citizens and farmers group, the Tenmile Watershed is now the county’s first lowland agricultural stream to meet both state water quality standards for fecal coliform. And in Drayton Harbor, more than two decades of dedicated cleanup work resulted in the reopening of 800 acres for winter shellfish harvesting.

We’re on the right track, but we all have to pitch in. We need proactive, science-based policies from state and local agencies that prevent fecal coliform from polluting our rivers and shellfish beds. Strong government action is also needed to stop nitrates from contaminating our drinking water and wells.

Everyone deserves a clean source of water. Viable agriculture and shellfish industries, clean drinking water and rivers—these can co-exist. But not until we have government agencies that do their jobs. As parents, farmers, recreationists and environmentalists, we’ve chosen to look the other way for too long. It’s time to bring balance and fairness to how we protect our shared water resources. Because without clean water, what’s left of our beautiful home?

February 21, 2017: Environmental groups challenge Ecology’s new permits for industrial dairies

posted Jan 24, 2018, 8:49 AM by Simon Bakke

On Feb. 17, 2017, a coalition of environmental groups filed an appeal with the Washington state Pollution Control Hearings Board (PCHB) challenging the Department of Ecology’s waste discharge permits for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). 

The appeal alleges the permits fail to include basic water quality monitoring requirements and fail to require best-available technology for CAFOs such as synthetic manure lagoon liners, which prevent pollution from manure leaking into groundwater. The appeal also alleges the permits lack necessary standards to ensure compliance with state and federal water quality laws: the state-only permit authorizes groundwater discharges and removes the power granted to citizens under federal law to defend their clean water rights if dangerous pollution from CAFOs threatens water quality. 

Uncovered piles of manure at a cattle CAFO in Yakima County, Washington in July 2016.

According to the appealing groups, Ecology’s new permits fail to prevent the four major sources of pollution from CAFOs: land application, manure lagoons, compost areas, and animal pens. The permits authorize CAFOs to discharge into groundwater, which threatens the drinking water that many communities depend on. The permits also failed to address the thousands of public comments Ecology received asking for permits that prioritize human health and clean water. 

CAFOs, or large industrial feedlots, generate more than 26 million of pounds of manure each day in Washington state. The manure, which contains nitrates, fecal coliform bacteria, and other pollutants, is often over-applied, untreated, directly to farmland, or is stored in unlined manure lagoons that are known to leak. 

Overapplication of manure and leaking lagoons can release pollution into surface water and groundwater, causing serious public health issues and threatening industries dependent on clean water, like shellfish farmers. Swimming beach closures and shellfish bed closures are frequently the result of water quality problems resulting from high levels of fecal coliform. The over-application of manure has been linked to contamination of drinking water due to high levels of nitrates. In Washington State, more than three-quarters of pollution cleanup funds between 2005 and 2013 were used to clean up waters contaminated by agriculture. 

Ecology’s new permits — a state-only permit for CAFOs that discharge to groundwater, and a combined state/federal permit for CAFOs that discharge to surface water — were issued a full five years after the former permit expired. 

The coalition, represented in the appeal by the Western Environmental Law Center and the Law Offices of Charles M. Tebbutt, includes national organizations Center for Food Safety, Waterkeeper Alliance, and Sierra Club; Yakima Valley organizations Community Association for Restoration of the Environment (CARE) and Friends of Toppenish Creek; and Puget Sound organizations Puget Soundkeeper Alliance and RE Sources for Sustainable Communities. 

“Every resident of Washington has a right to clean water,” said Chris Wilke, Puget Soundkeeper. “By removing the power granted in the Clean Water Act for individuals and communities to defend their waterways, this permit tramples on those rights and sets a precedent that dangerous pollution can occur without consequence. It’s inexcusable to put public health at risk when there are known solutions to the problem.” 

“The courts have been our only bastion of hope and ability to affect positive change,” said Helen Reddout, president of CARE, which has been working to highlight the issue since the 1990s. “It is now time for the state courts to step up to protect our communities.” As a resident of the lower Yakima Valley, Reddout’s own well is contaminated with nitrates from manure pollution. 

“Sixty percent of the wells within a mile of a cluster of Yakima County CAFO dairies are unsafe for drinking,” said Jean Mendoza, executive director at Friends of Toppenish Creek in Yakima County. “The people who use these domestic wells (groundwater) would be unaware of the problem if not for litigation that has been brought under federal laws. Citizen lawsuits are the best way to protect public health from CAFO pollution. The new dual permit eliminates that option.” 

“We applaud a small group of farmers who recently formed the Portage Bay Partnership and are taking necessary steps to help clean up fecal coliform pollution in our local waters,” said Ann Russell, Clean Water Program manager at RE Sources for Sustainable Communities in Whatcom County. “But when a state agency responsible for protecting human health fails to adequately regulate the dangerous impacts from industries, it is our duty to demand stronger permits that protect drinking water and shellfish beds.” 

“Ecology has spent six years drafting a new waste discharge permit for CAFOs and unfortunately the agency has still not written something that protects the waters of Washington," said Andrea Rodgers, attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. “Fortunately, citizens can turn to the courts when agencies don’t comply with their statutory obligations to protect public health and the environment.” 

“The permit is as irresponsible as it is unlawful,” said George Kimbrell, attorney with the Center for Food Safety. “The communities and environments being damaged by these industrial animal factories deserve protection, and we are going to court to get it.” 

“For well over a decade, Ecology has been acutely aware of the dangers manure pollution poses to people and the environment, yet it continues to put profits for the few over the good of the many,” said Charlie Tebbutt, long-time attorney for impacted communities. “Ecology’s continuing refusal to protect people despite the mountain of evidence is truly shameful.” 

“Ecology disregarded the law and issued a permit that actually authorizes untreated animal waste to be discharged into Washington’s waters,” said Kelly Hunter Foster, senior attorney for Waterkeeper Alliance. “This is dangerous, and Ecology knows that, but the agency chose to shield industry instead of protecting public health.” 

Under the administrative appeal process, citizen groups have the right to challenge final agency actions and rules to ensure that regulations adequately protect public resources and comply with the law. The groups seek rewritten permits that comply with the law and protect public waterways and water resources.

Media contact: Simon Bakke, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, (360) 733-8307, ext. 255 , simonb@re-sources.org 

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