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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.

Proposed bill would alter important state water laws, threaten our children’s future

posted Jun 9, 2017, 3:49 PM by RE Sources for Sustainable Communities   [ updated Jun 12, 2017, 2:56 PM by Hannah Coughlin ]

In March, Republican State Senator Judy Warnick proposed a dangerous bill in the Washington State Legislature that would change state law — laws present to protect existing water rights and ensure water resources are being shared. Proponents of Senate Bill 5239 want to pass legislation allowing developers to drill new wells that will take away water from someone else with an existing water right — including tribes, farms, and homeowners with wells.

SB 5239 is a back-door fix to get around a State Supreme Court ruling that determined Whatcom County needed to get its act together and figure out how much water is being used and how much water is available, before granting carte blanche permission to dig private wells for rural development. The court ruled that counties are required to ensure water is available before approving permits for new rural development — a reasonable and perhaps obvious conclusion. 

What would SB 5239 do?

We need a balanced solution that works for all, and takes into consideration the complexity of the problem. SB 5239 is an all-or-nothing bill that does not actually solve any of Whatcom County's water shortage issues, and will exacerbate the problem. If SB 5239 becomes law:
  • The state will move the burden of this work away from counties to an underfunded, understaffed, and overburdened Department of Ecology — a sure way to sweep the problem under the carpet. 
  • Counties approving permits for new development would not need to consider whether granting the permit would reduce water supply and impair existing water rights.
  • The door would be flung open to urban sprawl, with little review of impacts on existing water right holders — including tribes, farms, existing wells, and water in streams for fish.

Tell your legislators we need a balanced, long-lasting solution

Currently, SB 5239 is being used as a bargaining chip. Proponents of the bill are holding funding for education and toxic cleanups hostage, and threatening not to come to a compromise if SB 5239 is not passed. This would all but ensure a government shutdown.

Your senator and representatives need to hear from you. They need to hear that you don’t support SB 5239 being used as an all-or-nothing bargaining chip — we need a balanced, compromised solution that supports property owners, tribes, farmers, and salmon.

Tell your legislators to vote no on SB 5239 and to instead work toward a middle-of-the-road solution requiring the Department of Ecology to provide expertise to counties to help them focus on cost-effective ways to offset the impacts of water use from rural wells through a process called mitigation. Mitigation options could include:
  • Increasing water-use efficiency;
  • Limiting outdoor water use in the summer;
  • Creating water banks and markets;
  • Extending water service from existing water associations and districts; and many more.
Lastly, the Department of Ecology must have adequate funding in order to help counties craft and implement mitigation options. The legislature must allocate sufficient funding.

Water laws must be scaled to our water problems

It may not always seem like it, especially after the abundance of wet weather we experienced this winter and spring — but Whatcom County faces serious challenges with the availability of water. Here are just some of the challenges:
  • There is not enough water in streams to support salmon spawning — which in turn support our Pacific Northwest food chain. Salmon returns have been steadily declining year after year.
  • In 2015, we experienced a serious statewide drought. The severity and frequency of drought is likely to increase as a result of climate change, and we currently have no plans in place for dealing with these changes. 

  • With Whatcom County’s population expected to grow by 75,000 in the next 20 years, it is critically important that we develop a plan to ensure our children have enough water for a healthy future — instead of a future of water shortages, failing crops, and county-wide water rights battles.

How you can help

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."

Sample script

Hi, my name is [insert name] and I live in [insert city], which is in the [insert legislative district].

I'm calling to urge Senator/Representative [insert name] to find a middle-ground solution to the Washington State Supreme Court's decision on rural wells. We CAN have new single-family homes in rural areas using wells without impacting senior water rights and salmon. This isn't an either-or issue.

Any solution must require the Department of Ecology and counties to offset water use by new rural wells through mitigation. The Department of Ecology also must have sufficient funding to support this work.

Thank you for considering my views on this important topic.

It's time to speak out on a middle-ground solution to our state's water issues

posted Jun 9, 2017, 10:45 AM by Hannah Coughlin

This spring, water is on everyone's minds. From planning a garden watering schedule and dreaming of lazy days on the river to worrying about a potential summer drought: Water is the thread that connects all Washington communities. This spring, it is imperative that our local and state government begins planning to ensure that in the future, all of us can enjoy enough clean and plentiful water — for people, farms, and fish.

Right now, the Washington State Legislature is in their second special session to pass a budget before July 3 and avoid a government shutdown. A number of priorities for our state are on the line, including fully funding K-12 education, mental health, and toxic cleanups

On top of these priorities, the legislature is also tasked with finding a fix to a State Supreme Court ruling on rural wells and sprawl, which is also holding up the budget negotiation process. The State Supreme Court's decision found that in order to accommodate future growth, counties must make sure water is available, and that there is enough water to be granted to new permits without taking away from people with existing water rights. In turn, counties asked for help from the legislature to come up with solutions that work for all Washington citizens.

It's time to speak out on a middle-ground solution to our state's water issues. Please contact your state senator and representatives TODAY and urge them to reach a middle-ground solution to the State Supreme Court's decision on rural wells.

It's not an either-or decision

Too many people view the legislature's choice as either-or. Either we favor rural property owners and allow salmon and wildlife to suffer. Or we favor the environment and hurt property rights. But neither view is correct.

The legislature should require the state Department of Ecology and counties to focus on cost-effective ways to offset the adverse impacts of water use from rural wells —through a process called mitigation. Mitigation options include: 
  • Increasing water-use efficiency;
  • Limiting outdoor water use in the summer;
  • Creating water banks and markets;
  • Extending pipelines from existing water associations and districts; and many more.
To ensure the Department of Ecology can carefully consider mitigation options and subsequent monitoring plans, the legislature must ensure the department has sufficient funding.

How you can help

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." 
  1. Call your legislators. Let your state representatives know you support this bill. Find your legislators through the Washington State Legislature's District Finder and view the talking points below.

  2. Email your legislators. Find your legislators through the Washington State Legislature's District Finder and view the talking points below.

Sample script

Hi, my name is [insert name] and I live in [insert city], which is in the [insert legislative district].

I'm calling to urge Senator/Representative [insert name] to find a middle-ground solution to the Washington State Supreme Court's decision on rural wells. We CAN have new single-family homes in rural areas using wells without impacting senior water rights and salmon. This isn't an either-or issue.

Any solution must require the Department of Ecology and counties to offset water use by new rural wells through mitigation.

Thank you for considering my views on this important topic.

Herring returning to spawn at Cherry Point, but local population still in trouble

posted Jun 7, 2017, 12:56 PM by RE Sources for Sustainable Communities   [ updated Jun 7, 2017, 12:58 PM ]

By Lee First, North Sound Baykeeper, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities

Cherry Point herring (Clupea pallasi) were once the largest and most prolific herring population in Washington state, spawning from Point Roberts to Bellingham Bay. But in the last three decades, their population has plummeted. The number of spawning fish has declined by more than 90 percent — and shows no signs of recovery. Read more at Sightline Institute.

The Cherry Point herring are incredibly important to the northern Salish Sea ecosystem. Many people in the environmental community are interested in the reasons for their decline, and what steps are needed to save the Cherry Point herring from extinction. So, when Mike McKay, a long-time fish biologist with the Lummi Nation Department of Natural Resources suggested a field trip to look for Cherry Point herring spawning, I jumped at the chance to come along.

Field trip attendees included members of the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve Citizen Stewardship Committee and citizens interested in a variety of environmental causes, from oil transport to water quality and shoreline preservation.

We met Mike at a public access site near Ferndale.
He explained that, in the past, the shoreline where we stood was an important cultural site to the Lummi Nation. Tribal fishers once depended on the herring when other income sources were not available, and the site was also used for reef net fishing for salmon. Both are things of the past.

Before we started our search for herring eggs, Mike gave us the basics. Before spawning, huge schools of herring congregate at Alden Bank, an offshore area located between Birch Point and Sucia Island. Beginning in late April, the fish leave Alden Bank for their spawning grounds along northern Whatcom County shoreline.

Next, a short talk about eelgrass. Most of us have seen this grassy looking stuff growing along the marine shoreline, but what did it have to do with herring? Eleanor Hines, the Lead Scientist at RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, had this to say about it:

Eelgrass is a nursery school for many Salish Sea species, providing safety and refuge. It also slows wave action, which is critical for newly spawned fish. Eelgrass is important for herring, who deposit their eggs on eelgrass beds from the shoreline to 40 feet offshore. Ongoing scientific studies show eelgrass beds provide a buffer area for creatures in acidic waters — especially shellfish larvae, which are extremely vulnerable to ocean acidification. Other studies show eelgrass can help decrease CO2 in the atmosphere. 

What's causing the Cherry Point herring decline?

There are many theories about what has caused the steep decline of Cherry Point herring. 
            • In 1972, 21,000 gallons of oil spilled from one of the refineries, and evidence suggests the herring population suffered long-term as a result. 
            • Clouds of coal dust are frequently observed blowing from the Westshore Terminal in Delta, BC. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from the coal dust may have had significant impacts on the spawners.
            • Over the last four decades, the natural shoreline used by herring for spawning has decreased by 80 percent due to development of our residences and cities. 
            • There are large discharges of industrial process water and stormwater from the refineries, aluminum smelter, and nearby cities. 
            • River flows could also be a factor: Prior to settlement, the Nooksack River flowed into Lummi Bay, on the south side of Cherry Point. At that time, there was a productive estuary where the Lummi River currently discharges. When the Nooksack River was diverted into Bellingham Bay, the estuary and water chemistry was drastically altered. 
What was the impact of these factors on the herring? Studies show that the Cherry Point herring are smaller, have shorter life spans, spawn at a younger age, and suffer from infections, parasites, and skeletal abnormalities. As a result of the decline, the herring fishery was permanently closed in 1996.

Searching for Cherry Point herring eggs 

The information was dire, but we were ready to get started on our search for the tiny, translucent eggs. We searched on rocks, seaweed, and eelgrass. Some of us waded up to our waists, armed with hand lenses and cameras. We stooped, crawled, and just when we started to give up, Mike announced “I found eggs!”

It was strangely exciting, seeing tiny clumps of eggs on the eelgrass. We put them in a small container and passed it around with the hand lens. Within some of the eggs, we could see eyes and tails. The eggs were about two weeks old, and some of them even hatched while we were looking at them! We passed the container around, spellbound.

As the field trip came to a close, a few of us wandered the beach in small groups, thinking about the relationship between shoreline development, pollution, and the role the Cherry Point herring play in the food web of the Salish Sea. One of reasons this unique species is so important is that the tiny, newly spawned herring hatch at the same time small chinook fry are migrating through the area. The combination of timing, ocean chemistry, eelgrass and fish spawning were intertwined. 

View more photos of the field trip on Facebook

Get involved

If you’d like to get involved with our citizen science efforts, or support the work of the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve Citizens Advisory Committee, here's how:

Citizen scientists hit the classroom and the beach to study Puget Sound's intertidal zones

posted May 5, 2017, 2:44 PM by RE Sources for Sustainable Communities   [ updated May 5, 2017, 2:45 PM ]

By Eleanor Hines, Lead Scientist, Clean Water Program

This spring, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities is gearing up for our fifth year of intertidal surveys in the Cherry Point and Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserves. 

On April 29-30, we hosted two citizen science trainings at Birch Bay State Park and Padilla Bay, each near one of the Aquatic Reserves where we perform our intertidal surveys. 

In all, more than 70 community members participated in these citizen science trainings, from college students to retired volunteers and even 4-year-old twins. These citizen scientists play an important role in protecting our marine species and habitats by contributing to scientific research for the health of the Puget Sound.

Citizen scientists in the classroom

First, the trainings covered the purpose of the intertidal surveys. We collect the data to gather a baseline of information, which can also help detect changes. In the case of a tragic event like an oil spill, this baseline could also help evaluate what is lost. 

Our intertidal surveys are part of a long-term monitoring program, so we don’t expect to be able to identify trends until the ten-year mark. So far, the data looks like it’s showing only natural variations, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Think of your favorite beach: Does it always look the same? 

The trainings also focus on beach elevation profiles to monitor the slope of the beach. This helps us identify if the slope changes, which would help us better understand where we might see changes elsewhere: in the organisms on the beach, sea level rise, or erosion from intense storm surges. We don’t know for sure, so that’s why we collect the information.

The main focus of intertidal survey trainings is how to study the abundance of organisms using quadrats. Citizen scientists learn how to identify groups of organisms and count them as a percentage of coverage or as an individual organism. This helps us understand how the population of organisms might change over time. 

During summer intertidal surveys, our lead naturalists will also conduct what we call species swaths — they look at a certain location on the beach and check off all the species in that area. This allows us to collect a comprehensive species list, while the quadrats tell us how much of each type of organisms is present.

Simplifying the study method

This year, we simplified the ways our citizen scientists use quadrats — to the great relief of many. After consulting with other scientists who lead citizen science efforts up and down the West Coast, we determined we can lump together certain species to make them easier to study. 

Fear not, this change doesn’t mean we’re losing data, but that we're gaining confidence in our data. In the past, when it a microscope was needed to accurately identify some species, we couldn't confidently say we were accurately IDing organisms without a microscope in the field.  By lumping our species, we have more confidence in our data.

We also mixed up the training this year to have a better balance of field and classroom time, alternating sections to try out in the field what was just learned in the classroom. Citizen scientists got to test out their newly learned skills for taking profile measurements and collecting data from quadrats. Our lead naturalists also got to show off their vast knowledge of the intertidal zone. 

At the end of each training, we gathered for team photos. In Padilla Bay, we gathered just as the rain came rolling in after a fine sunny day. It was perfect timing and perfect end to a great two days of training. 

What's next

This year, our intertidal surveys take place in May, June, July, and August. If you have completed intertidal survey training in past years and would like to volunteer again this summer, email eleanorh@re-sources.org.

Many stellar volunteers who participated in these intertidal survey trainings are part of our new North Sound Stewards program, where volunteers invest 50 hours per year helping scientists study ocean acidification, sea star wasting syndrome, forage fish habitat, and water quality. 

Participation in the program is full, but you can sign up on the waiting list if you want to get involved and we'll keep you in the loop about other citizen science opportunities.

Learn more about citizen science: re-sources.org/north-sound-stewards

Special thanks to our partners: Cherry Point and Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve Citizen Stewardship Committees, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, Northwest Straits Foundation, Skagit Marine Resources Committee, and the Coastal Volunteer Program. 

North Sound Baykeeper tours Hangman Creek, Washington's most polluted stream

posted May 4, 2017, 4:15 PM by RE Sources for Sustainable Communities   [ updated May 4, 2017, 4:16 PM ]

By Lee First, North Sound Baykeeper

My favorite aspect of being a the North Sound Baykeeper is connecting with the Waterkeeper Alliance community, which includes over 315 Waterkeepers around the world. Networking with these water protectors, as well as participating in the Waterkeeper Alliance annual conference, has increased my knowledge and helped me learn how to advocate for water quality in North Puget Sound.

Recently I joined Jerry White and Jule Schultz with Spokane Riverkeeper to take a tour of Hangman Creek and learn more about the watershed they work to protect.

Hangman Creek is a major tributary of the Spokane River and the most polluted creek in Washington state. The pollution is caused by nutrients, warm temperature, sediment, and low dissolved oxygen. Native redband trout and salmon can’t survive this mix — but they used to. The most serious aspect of this pollution is that ongoing discharges from Hangman Creek pollute the Spokane River, where huge sediment loads destroy habitat for trout and other aquatic species downstream.

A chance to paddle the most polluted stream in the state on a multi-day canoe trip winding through Palouse wheat fields? I couldn’t say no.

Beaver restoration at the headwaters

Our first stop was a tour of a beaver restoration site at the Hangman Creek headwaters on the Coeur D’Alene Reservation near Tensed, Idaho. Until a few years ago, this area was a patchwork of winter wheat farms. All the fields were tilled and drained, erosion was commonplace, and the creek was straightened to accelerate drainage. 

Our guide, Gerry Green, is a senior wildlife biologist with the Coeur D’Alene Tribe. Gerry guided us as we walked several miles upstream through an enormous restoration site where the tribe blocked portions of the straightened channel to encourage the stream to meander and access its floodplain. Small wetlands were present near the creek, where tiny tributaries were planted with native shrubs and trees.

As we walked through low stands of sprouting winter wheat, Gerry explained that since the tribe purchased the fields, they were no longer tilled. Instead, no-till methods protected the soil structure and increase the soil’s water holding capacity. Along with no-till, the tribe removed the previously installed drain tiles. The fields now act like a water bank, slowly releasing water to the creek and stabilizing creek flows. Learn more about tile drainage farming.

Trees, shrubs, and grass shade the tiny tributaries that flowed down from the hills. Beavers have arrived — as evidenced by small dams and recently fallen trees. This winning combination has already helped hold water back, restoring even flows and cold water for native redband trout.

Anyone who likes beavers is an instant friend of mine. By building dams and holding back water, the wetlands and ecosystem functions created by beavers support plants, birds, amphibians, mammals, and native fish.

“Water plus aspen plus beavers equal trout,” said Gerry. “Beavers are key. Trout cannot survive downstream because of the sediment load and because of the high water temperatures." With a system of beaver dams in the landscape, enough water will be held back for base flow to increase and stream temperatures to decrease, enabling native trout to re-inhabit the watershed.

Launching the boats

Later that morning, we launched our canoes and kayak downstream from Tensed, Idaho. Here, the creek is small, and the landscape is brutally altered. Huge wheat fields border both sides of the creek, and in most areas, tilled fields extend to the water’s edge and bare sections of soil tumble into the water.

During the first few miles of the trip, we noticed long sections of the creek that had been straightened. These changes, which happened over the last 100 years, were intended to move water off the landscape for more efficient crop production.

We learned the trout downstream of this section disappeared soon after, as water flow increased during high water and caused entrenchment. The fish couldn’t tolerate the sediment-laden water or that the stream dried up in the summer. Trout have not survived in the mainstem of Hangman Creek since 1958, and now only remain in the tiny headwaters of four streams: Mission, Sheep, Nehchen, and Indian Creeks.

Salmon were once plentiful in Hangman Creek, but in recent times, almost no non-tribal residents living in the watershed are aware salmon were once part of the landscape. The Coeur d’Alene Tribe has big hopes that this work enables a productive redband trout fishery, and after that, that the steelhead and salmon will return. 

Impacts of drainage

Not long after launching, we observed steep, incised creek banks in some areas, where 10 or more vertical feet of soil was exposed. This isn’t just any soil: it’s Palouse soil. It’s deep and fertile, capable of holding moisture, and it grows the best winter wheat in the United States. It is tilled in huge fields with gigantic tractors, and the miles of drainage tiles funnel a lot of water directly to the stream. 

This drainage system increases water velocity and stream instability. Stream flows fluctuate wildly and are unnaturally high during large rain events. Valuable soil is carried downstream, where it clogs fish gills and prevents respiration, smothers fish eggs, and covers gravels the fish need for spawning. Sediment is the most widespread pollutant in the United States.

The landscape is captivating: rolling wheat fields, deep incised ditches, abandoned farm buildings, wheat silos, and an occasional bridge. Small crop duster airplanes fly overhead. The smell of chemicals is evident. We paddled through towns and past wastewater treatment facilities and discharge pipes. We saw the stubby ends of hundreds of drain pipes ending at creek banks. The effects of the drainage tile system were everywhere, and it was sobering.

A few areas had healthy buffers and were stunningly beautiful: we saw western painted turtles, native freshwater mussels, owls, and lots of ducks and songbirds. But we also saw tractors with 100-foot-long herbicide spray arms, empty herbicide barrels, old dumpsites, crop duster airplanes, abandoned railroad grades, and an old railroad station.

Lessons learned

While the differences between the Palouse and Western Washington are many, some lessons learned from Hangman Creek apply here. Similar to the Palouse, our lowland streams are primarily polluted with non-point source pollution from agriculture. 

According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Water Quality Assessment, agricultural non-point source pollution is the leading source of water quality impacts on rivers and streams, the third largest source for lakes, the second largest source for wetlands, and a major contributor to contamination of estuaries and ground water.

As part of my job as the North Sound Baykeeper, I patrol many lowland streams in North Puget Sound. I’ve seen many areas near waterways where critical wetlands and streams are not adequately protected. Similar to Hangman Creek, many farm fields next to streams have miles of drain tiles. With decreased access to floodplains and wetlands, our streams also suffer from flash floods and low water levels in the summer.

Miles of our streams are not shaded, have inadequate or no buffers, are colonized with non-native invasive vegetation, have been straightened, and have no contiguous floodplains.

While Whatcom County’s critical areas ordinance (CAO) requires that in order to use critical areas for farming, the landowner must operate under an approved farm plan. Many farms do have farm plans, but we need to make sure those farm plans are followed and enforced.

If our pollution problems are going to be solved, ALL citizens — whether living in cities or in rural areas — must start caring for our waterways.

More information: If you're interested in following restoration projects in Hangman Creek, sign up to receive q’e’yminn he ‘ulhnsikwe’n, the watershed newsletter of the Coeur d’Alene tribe.

Legislative update on Model Toxics Control Act: Contact House capital budget committee today!

posted Apr 6, 2017, 11:00 AM by RE Sources for Sustainable Communities   [ updated Apr 6, 2017, 2:31 PM ]

This legislative session, Washington must restore and stabilize funding for the 
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.
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." 

MTCA funding bill details

  • Provides stable funding for capital projects like Remedial Action Grants used by local governments for cleaning up toxic sites.

  • Also funds programs for pollution prevention and pollution control for managing hazardous substances like pesticides and waste.

  • Provides a temporary surcharge on the Hazardous Substance Tax (HST) with tiered thresholds to stabilize funding and reduce the tax when those thresholds are met.

  • The bill is not perfect, but a step in the right direct. It could be improved by:
    • Removing the sunset provision for the HST in 2023 and beyond. More toxic cleanups continue to be added.
    • Priority for cleanup and funding from MTCA should be given to overburdened communities which are often communities of color and/or low-income communities.

Talking Points

RE: MTCA funding bill (HB 2182)

Dear Rep. Morris,

My name is [insert your name] and I live in [insert your county]. I am calling to urge you to support HB 2182, a bill that will stabilize funding for pollution prevention and cleaning up toxic sites around the state like the Bellingham Waterfront, which is severely contaminated with mercury and other pollutants. 

HB 2182 is a step in the right direction to address the funding shortfalls of the Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA or “motca”) over the last few years. We need a dedicated fund for toxic cleanups that can withstand drops in the prices of hazardous substances like pesticides and petroleum, especially in light of proposed budget cuts at the federal level for environmental programs. 

Please support healthy communities by voting yes on HB 2181 or support funding solutions that reduce volatility and fully fund MTCA. Thank you.

Speaking up for the environment: An intern reflects on WWU Environmental Lobby Day in Olympia

posted Apr 4, 2017, 4:42 PM by RE Sources for Sustainable Communities   [ updated Apr 4, 2017, 4:42 PM ]

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:
  1. Allocating enough funds to allow for protection of Blanchard Mountain/Oyster Dome from logging and future timber harvesting.
  2. Promoting oil transportation safety and improving oil spill prevention measures through SB 5462 and HB 1611.
  3. Making sure there is adequate funding for toxic waste clean-up projects in Washington by reforming the Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA) through SB 5501 and HB 1663.
  4. Assuring there is enough water for fish, farms, and people by taking the Hirst case into consideration when making state decisions on water use policy. We supported HB 1918 and expressed opposition to SB 5239. 
  5. Supporting a carbon tax that is not revenue neutral and could use said revenue to create clean energy job transition programs for workers currently in the fossil fuel industry. We supported SB 5509 and HB 1646.
Lobbying on environmental issues was both an exciting and educational experience for me. I learned a lot about the legislative process and how to lobby effectively on environmental policies. I also gained a better understanding of some of the major environmental issues that are of concern for both WWU students and the larger Bellingham community. Environmental Lobby Day ultimately taught me the importance of engaging in the political process and having more confidence in my own public speaking abilities. I’m thankful I got to take part in such a meaningful opportunity.

HB 1663: Model Toxics Control Act keeps Washington on track in reducing harmful pollution

posted Mar 2, 2017, 2:18 PM by RE Sources for Sustainable Communities   [ updated Mar 3, 2017, 2:59 PM by Virginia Cleaveland ]

With federal leadership planning to make dramatic cuts to environmental programs, we need state leaders to keep Washington on track in reducing harmful toxic pollution in all communities across the state. Unfortunately, core state programs are already under tremendous pressure and risk continued budget cuts. 

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:
  • Stabilizes funding for cleaning up toxic sites, preventing and controlling pollution, and ensuring communities have a voice in reducing threats from toxic pollution. 

  • Applies a modest and temporary surcharge on the state hazardous substance tax, which would generate an estimated $50 million over the next two years and help address a $70 million budget shortfall. 

  • Allows for more predictability in the state budget process and provides reliability for local communities that depend on these dollars to improve public health and the environment.
HB 1663 is critical to stay on track in cleaning up more than 5,500 toxic sites statewide, implement common-sense laws pollution prevention laws like the Children’s Safe Products Act, and provide grants to local communities to give the public a voice in addressing pollution. 

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. 

How you can help

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." 
  1. Call your legislators. Let your state representatives know you support this bill. Find your legislators through the Washington State Legislature's District Finder and view the talking points below.

  2. Email your legislators. Find your legislators through the Washington State Legislature's District Finder and view the talking points below.

  3. Contact your legislators through this form. Visit the Washington Environmental Council website to fill out a quick and easy form that is automatically sent to your legislators.

Email to legislators

RE: Model Toxics Control Act (HB 1663)

Dear [insert name],

The voter-approved Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA) has proven to be an effective means to clean up toxic waste sites, prevent toxic chemical pollution, and support communities to address toxics pollution threats. However, the state has lost an estimated $375 million in MTCA funding over the last three years, and the revenue must be stabilized to keep Washington on track in reducing harmful pollution.

Thankfully, the legislature is considering HB 1663, which would:
    • Stabilize funding for cleaning up toxic sites, preventing and controlling pollution, and ensuring communities have a voice in reducing threats from toxic pollution. 

    • Apply a modest and temporary surcharge on the state hazardous substance tax, which would generate an estimated $50 million over the next two years and help address a $70 million budget shortfall. 

    • Allow for more predictability in the state budget process and provides reliability for local communities that depend on these dollars to improve public health and the environment.
Help maintain funding for critical state environmental programs that benefit all corners of the state. I urge you to support HB 1663/SB 5501 so we can protect our communities from risks we face today and keep us safe for years to come. Thank you for considering my comments, and I look forward to your response.

It’s time to take a stand: Ecology must hold all industry equally accountable for the pollution they produce

posted Mar 2, 2017, 12:51 PM by Hannah Coughlin   [ updated Mar 2, 2017, 3:12 PM by RE Sources for Sustainable Communities ]

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.

RE Sources appeals the CAFO permits

In February, RE Sources and partner groups across the state 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.

Next steps

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. 

What's wrong with the CAFO permits?

  • The permits fail to require basic water quality monitoring — a requirement of the Clean Water Act.

  • The permits fail to require the use of appropriate technology that reflects known, reasonable, and available methods of pollution prevention (such as synthetic manure lagoon liners) — a requirement of federal and state discharge permits.

  • The permits are unlawful. Federal laws grant power to citizens to defend their right to clean water if dangerous pollution threatens water quality. The state-only CAFO permit denies that right to citizens.

  • The permits allow our drinking water to be contaminated by authorizing CAFOs to discharge pollutants into groundwater, where approximately 725,000 citizens in Washington get their drinking water. 

  • The permits failed to address the thousands of public comments Ecology received asking to prioritize human health and clean water. 

Water quality monitoring

The CAFO permits fail to include basic water quality monitoring requirements. The appeal asks Ecology to include water quality monitoring to comply with the Clean Water Act, which mandates monitoring to track compliance (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)

Dairy Nutrient Management Act

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.

Manure lagoons

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).

Combined state/federal and state-only permit

The state-only permit applies to CAFOs that have a discharge to groundwater only, which is “scientific fiction” (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.

Quick links

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.

Volunteers, scientists uncover good news during sea star surveys at Cherry Point

posted Feb 2, 2017, 11:50 AM by RE Sources for Sustainable Communities   [ updated Feb 20, 2017, 4:56 PM ]

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.

Neptune Beach

On Tuesday, December 13th, 11 volunteers joined Michael Kyte for a sea star survey at Neptune Beach, north of Sandy Point at Lummi Nation. 

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

Point Whitehorn

On Wednesday, December 14th, 21 volunteers joined Michael Kyte and Melissa Miner for a sea star survey at Point Whitehorn Park, part of the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve near Blaine.

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.

Get involved

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 eleanorh@re-sources.org or 360-733-8307 for more information about 2017 citizen science trainings in Whatcom and Skagit counties.

Quick links

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