Our Blogs‎ > ‎

Clean Water Blog

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

  • Learning from voters: RE Sources Takes to the Streets with Whatcom Votes! 2017 by Krista Rome, Clean Water OrganizerOne of the most important things I learned this past election is this: the best way to truly learn from (and about) the general ...
    Posted Dec 6, 2017, 3:39 PM by Simon Bakke
  • This is Worth Protecting. Happy 45th Anniversary to our Nation's Clean Water Act. There are few things more fundamental to our health and well-being than clean water.October 18 marked the 45th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. This landmark law was ...
    Posted Nov 3, 2017, 1:30 PM by Hannah Coughlin
  • The Central Waterfront in the midst of a cleanup process by Lee First, North Sound BaykeeperThe Central Waterfront Cleanup Site (site) is a 51-acre property that’s in the middle of a cleanup process. The site is being ...
    Posted Oct 11, 2017, 2:11 PM by Hannah Coughlin
  • A Tour of Padilla Bay Watershed in an EPA process by Lee First, North Sound Baykeeper   The Padilla Bay watershed is comprised of four freshwater sloughs: Joe Leary Slough No Name Slough Little Indian SloughBig Indian SloughThese waterways ...
    Posted Sep 14, 2017, 12:27 PM by RE Sources for Sustainable Communities
  • Whatcom Water Week events with RE Sources for Sustainable Communities RE Sources is hosting three events as part of Whatcom Water Week, September 16-23, 2017. Get the full schedule: whatcomwaterweeks.org.International Coastal Cleanup Day: Locust BeachSaturday, September ...
    Posted Aug 31, 2017, 3:37 PM by Lee First
Showing posts 1 - 5 of 33. View more »

Learning from voters: RE Sources Takes to the Streets with Whatcom Votes! 2017

posted Dec 6, 2017, 3:34 PM by Simon Bakke   [ updated Dec 6, 2017, 3:39 PM ]

by Krista Rome, Clean Water Organizer

One of the most important things I learned this past election is this: the best way to truly learn from (and about) the general public is to get out there and have conversations with strangers.

I believe the major problems facing Whatcom County, the community I have called my own since birth, can only be solved when we face them head-on, together, and with respect and awareness of the differing viewpoints our friends and neighbors hold dear. The loudest voices in the community don’t always represent the majority opinion.

Building Community, One Door at a Time

When you listen respectfully to another person’s opinion, and refrain from invalidating it, you build trust.

Fortunately, I got to spend the first four months of my job doing just that — executing RE Sources’ voter outreach campaign, Whatcom Votes!. Staff and a slew of amazing volunteers hit the streets day after day, knocking on doors all over the County to increase voter turnout by connecting local environmental issues to the importance of voting in local elections. And of course, reminders about voter registration and ballot due dates.

We talked about proposed fossil fuel pipelines that would bisect our county. We talked about the crude oil export moratorium at Cherry Point. We talked about the pollution of our drinking water source in Bellingham — Lake Whatcom — and how to approach funding pollution prevention equitably. 

Halloween doorbelling!
Considering our unexpected intrusion into their daily life, people were surprisingly engaged, and grateful for us taking the time to talk to the community. Naturally, some were busy or refused to talk, but most people softened once we assured them we weren’t there to promote politicians or a political party. The majority were simply not aware of the details surrounding the issues.

We made an important discovery in Ferndale and Blaine — neighborhoods with a lot of refinery workers, their friends, and families. “Save Cherry Point Jobs” signs sat in dozens of yards. But very few people we spoke with knew the details about the signs or the moratorium. After chatting, many of these residents agreed that it’s not a “jobs versus environment” issue. It taught me that clearly communicating our messages to the general public is far more important than expending energy countering a tiny, very vocal opposition.

I ran into marginalized people of all types, who politely chatted with me even though they’re surely facing other, more pressing hardships. I utilized my rusty Spanish talking about drinking water pollution with a farmworker community. We ran into a woman who thought she would never be able to vote again with a felony on her record. She was delighted and grateful when we informed her that Washington State restores voting rights after one’s sentence is served, saving one more willing, enthusiastic voter from falling through the cracks! 

We also dipped our toes into the world of “deep canvassing”, a method of talking about the issues that encourages the voter to reflect upon and share their opinions. The power of deep canvassing is beautifully summarized by Dave Fleischer, the Project Director at the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Leadership LAB: 

“The key to changing people’s minds is to be curious about what other people think. Think back to the last time you changed your mind about something important. It likely wasn’t because someone berated you. The biggest gift you can give someone whose mind you want to change is a supportive environment that lets them think about their experiences and how those experiences affect their opinions on issues. We’re just beginning to learn how to do this well, but it’s important. And the data shows it works.” 

The Numbers and the Lessons

To put our efforts in context, take a look at the numbers.

We knocked on doors of over 10,000 infrequent voters, called nearly 10,000 more, and had 2,066 one-on-one conversations at the door and a similar amount by phone. Our 40 amazing volunteers and interns were essential to making these connections. And there was a dizzying amount of complementary work from our Communications staff to help increase voter turnout — from targeted Facebook posts and emails to mailing voter registration postcards to every rental address in town without a registered voter…

But the lessons are more important than the numbers. 

A huge percentage of those we spoke to were grateful for the education we provided on the issues, and for the opportunity to share their thoughts with us. We need to continue this type of outreach. I believe it’s the best, most honest, and most humble way for those of us in the environmental community to proceed. It takes time, but when our strategies are rooted in community input, we can be more confident in the work we do and the approaches we take. 

In the Peace Corps, before they sent us out into the deep African Bush, they instructed us:

“Spend the first 3-6 months just listening, learning, and asking questions. Learn what the community wants and needs before deciding upon your approach. Do not go into the village thinking you have the answers. Look for ways to apply your skills to the challenges they want to address.” 

This is Worth Protecting. Happy 45th Anniversary to our Nation's Clean Water Act.

posted Nov 3, 2017, 1:20 PM by Hannah Coughlin   [ updated Nov 3, 2017, 1:30 PM ]

There are few things more fundamental to our health and well-being than clean water.

October 18 marked the 45th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. This landmark law was designed to protect all of our waters – from the smallest streams to the mightiest rivers – from pollution and destruction.

Forty-five years ago our rivers and lakes were fouled by decades of pollution. The Cuyahoga River was so polluted it caught on fire. The Clean Water Act helped turn the page, ushering in a new era of healthier waters for fishing, swimming and boating nationwide.

The Act represented a huge step forward by requiring states to set clean water standards to protect uses such as swimming, fishing, and drinking, and for the regulation of pollution discharges.

Thanks to the Clean Water Act:

  • Billions of pounds of pollution have been kept out of our rivers. 
  • The number of waters that meet clean water goals nationwide has doubled – with direct benefits for drinking water, public health, recreation, and wildlife. 
  • Healthier rivers support an outdoor recreation industry worth billions, delivering jobs and economic benefits to our communities.
  • Our families have safer places to enjoy the outdoors, from urban riverfront parks to fishing and boating in lakes and bays.

A safety net for citizens.

Especially in the case of large, industrial pollution with little accountability, the Clean Water Act provides a safety net for citizens to stand up to those compromising public waters — no matter how big the polluter. When education, cooperation, and policy enforcement fail to protect our water resources, the North Sound Baykeeper turns to the Clean Water Act. And when we win a Clean Water Act suit against a polluter, we never see any money from that case. All the fines pay for restoration projects agreed upon by all litigants.

Read more about what happens to Clean Water Act settlement funds.

Under attack.

Sadly, so much of the progress we’ve made over the past 45 years is in danger of being wiped out. The Trump Administration and members of Congress are pushing to gut clean water protections, taking us back to the days of polluted rivers, fish kills and health risks.

Congress must oppose any attempt to sneak rollbacks to clean water protections into a budget deal. We need our elected representatives to stand up for people, not corporate polluters.

We need to be doing more, not less, to protect clean water by reining in harmful polluting industries like industrial agriculture, oil and gas operations, and mining. Republican leaders in Congress want major cuts to EPA's budget. That would give polluters a free pass to cause direct harm to public health and the environment -- all while raking in huge profits.

EPA efforts to protect public health and drinking water is based in sound research and science. Ensuring that EPA has the funding to protect drinking water is vital. Cuts to EPA's budget will harm this vital research and impact EPA's ability to make sound decisions to protect health and water.

Congress has a moral obligation to stand up for the health of our children. This includes protecting our clean drinking water and the rivers that flow through our communities for future generations.

America has spoken. 

Families will not accept a future of more polluted rivers and more dirty water flowing through our taps, our communities, and our bodies. Millions of Americans have spoken loudly and will continue to insist that we protect clean water, not polluter profits.

Since 2014 more than a million Americans have told EPA that protecting clean water should be a national priority. Most recently hundreds of thousands have spoken out against EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's proposal to put drinking water at risk by repealing the Clean Water Rule.

While slashing safeguards for clean water will impact all of Americans, low-income communities and communities of color could bear the brunt of this assault. These communities often suffer the impacts of failing infrastructure and polluted water and air more acutely, casing a variety of health problems. Canceling the protections for clean water could amplify these problems and put families and individuals are even greater risk of poor health outcomes.

RE Sources will be doing everything within our power to protect and uphold Clean Water Act. Please subscribe to our Clean Water monthly e-newsletter to stay up to speed on ways you can help.

“The pollution of our rivers, lakes and streams degrades the quality of American life. Cleaning up the nation’s waterways is a matter of urgent concern to me.” -- President Richard Nixon

“No one has the right to use America’s rivers and America’s waterways that belong to all the people as a sewer. The banks of a river may belong to one man or one industry or one State, but the waters which flow between the banks should belong to all the people.” — President Lyndon B. Johnson

The Central Waterfront in the midst of a cleanup process

posted Oct 10, 2017, 4:42 PM by Hannah Coughlin   [ updated Oct 11, 2017, 2:11 PM ]

by Lee First, North Sound Baykeeper

The Central Waterfront Cleanup Site (site) is a 51-acre property that’s in the middle of a cleanup process. The site is being cleaned up in accordance with the Washington State Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA). MTCA is a citizen-mandated law enacted through a voter’s initiative and is the state counterpart to the federal Superfund law. The Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) is the lead agency responsible for the implementation of MTCA. The Port of Bellingham and the City of Bellingham are also actively engaged in this process. The Port is the major landowner, and since the City owned and operated a large municipal landfill within this site, they’re responsible for part of the cleanup costs.

RE Sources recently offered a public tour of the area, in conjunction with staff from the Department of Ecology and the Port of Bellingham. RE Sources has a long history of working to increase public participation during the MTCA process. We’ve held numerous forums over the years, educating citizens about the importance of getting involved and learning about the major cleanup process that are happening along our waterfront. We always study the cleanup documents, and develop technical comments if we believe that the cleanup plans are not protective enough.

During this most recent tour, we walked around the site, learned about the history of industrial operations along the waterfront, and were able to get our questions about the legacy pollution and cleanup plans answered from the key staff who are involved in this cleanup. Later that evening, most of us returned to attend a public meeting, where we learned even more. Here are the highlights…

Before the passage of the 1972 Clean Water Act, industries all over the country operated without pollution discharge limits, directly into waterways. The result was a lot of pollution that today we call legacy pollution. A lot has changed since then. Today, the industries that pollute operate under strict pollution discharge permits called National Pollution Discharge and Elimination System Permits (NPDES) that are required by the Clean Water Act. These permits allow only a certain amount of pollution to be discharged, steps are required to be taken to prevent pollution, and discharges must be sampled and reported. We’ve learned that preventing pollution is a lot cheaper and easier than cleaning it up.

The first stop on the tour was along Hilton Avenue. This part of our waterfront looked drastically different back in the 1880s, when the first saw mills were built on pilings along the natural shoreline. Before this area was developed, the shoreline was comprised of shallow mudflats and extensive eelgrass beds. These offered a surplus of food and protection to juvenile salmon as they left nearby rivers and adjusted to salt water in preparation for a journey out to sea. In the area that is now Hilton Avenue, a variety of industrial operations started operating in this area once dredging of the I&J Waterway began. The Waterway was dredged for shipping, and the dredge spoils were placed on the land. The industries included log rafting, truck dispatching, boat maintenance, bulk fuel terminals, foundry operations, seafood processing and distribution, underground fuel storage tanks, and rock crushing. The legacy pollution from these activities resulted in soil contaminated with petroleum, volatile organic compounds, metals, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

If you’re like me - the history of development in this area is a hook that makes me interested in the cleanup process. The next part of the tour was of the former Roeder Avenue Landfill area, which was used by the City of Bellingham as a garbage dump between 1965 to 1974. It was very common for all the cities in the Puget Sound Lowlands to dump garbage in and along the shorelines, and often right into the water. Garbage was fill, and the fill enabled more industries to operate. The legacy pollution that remains in this part of the site consists of groundwater contaminated with volatile organic compounds, metals, polycyclic aromatic compounds, and methane gas.

Modern landfills are totally different than the landfills that were operated along Bellingham’s waterfront. Today, modern landfills are constructed with impermeable liners and leak detection systems to prevent pollution. They contain leachate collection systems, and usually are outfitted with methane gas collection systems that generate electricity. Leachate is polluted water that has percolated through garbage and leached out some of the constituents.

Once landfills are full, there are state laws that require certain steps to be taken to cap the garbage, and to ensure that leachate or methane isn’t escaping. According to the staff on the tour, this landfill was closed in accordance with the appropriate laws that were in place at the time.

Next, we made a brief stop along the Aerated Stabilization Basin (ASB), which is on the waterward part of the site. It’s a large lagoon that was constructed in 1979 to contain liquid waste from the Georgian Pacific site. The ASB is part of the Whatcom Waterway Cleanup Site, an adjacent cleanup site, which is undergoing a separate cleanup process.

The last stop was near the terminus of C Street. In the past, the industries that operated here included bulk fuel storage and loading, tanker truck loading racks, a marine vessel loading dock, gravel-hauling, and coal storage and stockpiling. Legacy pollution from these activities have been identified in soil and groundwater, and include petroleum, metals, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

The good news is that a lot of cleanup work has already been done. About $10 million has already been spent on cleanup work to address contamination in several areas of this site. Previous cleanup projects, also known as interim actions, have included removal of contaminated soil and sediment, construction of an interlocking sheet-pile containment wall, installation of stormwater collection and treatment, and construction of large buildings and impermeable surfaces. These prevent contact with remaining contaminated soil and garbage that remains underground.

A document called a draft Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study (RI/FS) has just been issued for this site. The RI section of this report describes all the steps that have been taken to characterize the site’s contamination. The FS section describes six proposed remedial alternatives for cleanup, and evaluates them in terms of long-term effectiveness, permanence, and cost, and proposes a preferred cleanup option (alternative A).

You can review the cleanup documents at the Bellingham Public Library, the Bellingham Department of Ecology Field Office, or the Bellevue Department of Ecology Office. You can also read the cleanup documents online: https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/gsp/Sitepage.aspx?csid=3418

The proposed cleanup alternative includes installation of impermeable cap (pavement), a physical diversion wall that will ensure that leachate does not migrate off-site, targeted groundwater treatment, engineering controls for vapors and/or landfill gas, removal of highly contaminated soils from a “hotspot” area near C Street, and groundwater monitoring to ensure natural processes continue to reduce levels of contamination.

We urge you to read a fact sheet for this cleanup site, which is located here: https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/gsp/Sitepage.aspx?csid=3418

You, the public, have an important part to play in the cleanup process. The comment period is open, and Ecology is accepting comments on the proposed cleanup alternative until November 1, 2017. The next steps for this site will be finalizing the RI/FS, and selection of a legal agreement for public review. In 2019, site design activities will be completed, and cleanup will begin.

The Site Manager for this site is Brian Sato. His email is brian.sato@ecy.wa.gov. His phone number is (425)-649-7265.

A Tour of Padilla Bay Watershed in an EPA process

posted Sep 14, 2017, 10:02 AM by RE Sources for Sustainable Communities   [ updated Sep 14, 2017, 12:27 PM ]

by Lee First, North Sound Baykeeper   

The Padilla Bay watershed is comprised of four freshwater sloughs: 
                  1. Joe Leary Slough 
                  2. No Name Slough 
                  3. Little Indian Slough
                  4. Big Indian Slough
These waterways are located in Skagit County (west of Burlington, between the freeway and Padilla Bay). 

The geography of this area is expansive and flat, used primarily for agriculture. Huge fields of berries, potatoes, and hay fields predominate. 

Aside from belonging to the same watershed, these freshwater sloughs have a lot in common:
  • Each waterway meanders through an agricultural landscape that has been altered to facilitate drainage. 
  • Each waterway contains high levels of fecal coliform bacteria, which originate in the guts and feces of warm-blooded animals. The bacteria pose a health concern because they are indicators of other pathogens and diseases that make people sick, and cause water to be unsafe for recreation and shellfish harvesting. The sources of the bacteria are likely from non-point sources: septic tanks, agriculture, and wildlife. 
  • The waterways have almost no native streamside vegetation and no shade, so they get overly warm in the summer.
  • They’ve been straightened and dredged in the last 75 years to facilitate drainage for farming, and all have tide gates at or near where they enter Padilla Bay to prevent tidal inflow. 
Joe Leary Slough,  is the largest of the four waterways, and a fascinating example. A historical account notes that 

Joe Leary used to be, “a flowing stream with fish in it.” 

Logs were floated down it, and tugs came in to get the booms. Today, there’s a newly refurbished dike and pump system at the confluence of Joe Leary and Padilla Bay, and a row of 12 tide gates. These allow water to flow out, and block any tidal inflow. 

The water is stagnant and orange-colored due to iron-rich soils, and the tide gates prevent any access by migrating fish. 

Because of bacteria pollution in these waterways, this watershed has been listed under Section 303(d) of the federal Clean Water Act. As required by the Act, a Total Maximum Dairy Load process and study is now being conducted by the Washington State Department of Ecology, with assistance from Skagit County and others

What exactly is a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL)? A TMDL is a numerical value representing the highest pollutant load a water body can receive and still meet water quality standards. 

Any amount of pollution over the TMDL level needs to be reduced or eliminated to achieve clean water. 

A TMDL study outlines the steps needed to achieve water quality standards, and provides a timeline. 

The goal of this process is to outline the steps necessary to ensure that these waterways get cleaned up, that Washington State water quality standards for fecal coliform are attained, and that the waters are once again clean enough to support recreation and shellfish harvest downstream.  

And YOU are invited and encouraged to participate in the cleanup process. 

Within the next few years, Ecology will develop the cleanup plan, according to extensive sampling. Your input on what steps are needed to reduce the pollution is important! RE Sources will work closely with community groups and people like you to recommend a fair and realistic plan to reduce bacteria sources. Stay tuned! In the meantime, read more about the project

Whatcom Water Week events with RE Sources for Sustainable Communities

posted Aug 16, 2017, 1:14 PM by Virginia Cleaveland   [ updated Aug 31, 2017, 3:37 PM by Lee First ]

RE Sources is hosting three events as part of Whatcom Water Week, September 16-23, 2017. Get the full schedule: whatcomwaterweeks.org.

International Coastal Cleanup Day: Locust Beach
Saturday, September 16th
10:00 AM - 12:00 PM
Locust Beach, Locust Ave, Bellingham (map
RSVP on Facebook

​​Every year during Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup, hundreds of thousands of volunteers comb lakes, rivers, and beaches around the world for trash. Over the course of nearly three decades, more than 9 million volunteers have collected nearly 164 million pounds of trash.

Join the Northwest Straits Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, the Whatcom Marine Resources Committee, and RE Sources for a local beach cleanup. Trash bags and gloves provided. Please dress appropriately for walking along the beach.

RSVP is encouraged but not required. Contact Eleanor Hines at nws@surfrider.org for more information or to RSVP.

International Coastal Cleanup Day: Swinomish Spit
Saturday, September 16th
10:00 AM - 1:oo PM
Location provided upon registration
Join the North Sound Baykeeper for a beach cleanup as part of International Coastal Cleanup Day, and be part of the hundreds of thousands of people working together internationally to rid our seas of marine debris! Learn how to utilize the CleanSwell App and paper data collection sheets to document debris and submit the data to the Ocean Conservancy. At the last beach cleanup at Swinomish Spit, we collected almost 850 pounds of debris!

Vests, gloves, and trash bags provided. Please dress appropriately for walking along the beach. 

RSVP is required. Driving and carpool instructions will be provided upon registration. Contact srussell@padillabay.gov to RSVP. 

Beavers in the Ecosystem: Benefits and Challenges
Tuesday, September 19th
2:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Throughout Whatcom County
RSVP on Facebook

Join RE Sources' North Sound Baykeeper for a tour to learn how beavers benefit water quality and how their dams help retain water that supplements low stream flows in the summer. Participants will learn how beavers benefit water quantity and quality, and how their dams help retain water that supplements low instream flows in the summer. There will also be experts along who can speak about ways to control beavers, and offer helpful advice about how humans and beavers can coexist. 

Please dress for weather and walking through wetlands. 

RSVP is required. Contact Lee First at leef@re-sources.org or (360) 220-0556 to RSVP.

Riparian Buffers and Wetlands:  A Tour of Fenton Nature Reserve
Friday, September 22nd
10:00 AM - 12:00 PM
Location provided upon registration
RSVP on Facebook

Join RE Sources' North Sound Baykeeper and Whatcom Land Trust for a tour of the riparian buffers and wetlands at the Fenton Nature Reserve and learn about the array of ecological functions that wetlands provide, including habitat, groundwater recharge, and stream flows. 

This Whatcom Land Trust property is home to a gorgeous beaver pond, extensive wetlands, a salmon-bearing stream, and is one of the largest natural areas in the northern part of the county. Found near the headwaters of a tributary of Dakota Creek, is not only stunningly beautiful but it also provides many vital ecological functions- do not miss out on this fascinating educational experience!

Please dress for weather and walking along uneven terrain.

RSVP is required. Address, parking, and carpooling information will be provided upon registration. Attendees will be required to sign a liability waiver. Contact Lee First at leef@re-sources.org or (360) 220-0556 to RSVP.

Citizen scientists wrap up summer of intertidal surveys at Fidalgo Bay, Cherry Point

posted Aug 8, 2017, 2:40 PM by Virginia Cleaveland   [ updated Aug 8, 2017, 3:09 PM ]

By Hannah van Amen, Communications and Public Relations Intern

This July, a dozen RE Sources staff members and volunteers headed to the Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve for our third annual intertidal survey along a beach that was once the site of a mill. Surrounded by industrial facilities and hidden behind a boat yard, the site has a stunning view of Mount Baker and the smaller San Juan Islands.

RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, in partnership with the Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve, began performing intertidal surveys along this specific stretch of beach three years ago, to monitor its restoration after a fire burned down the mill.

This summer, intertidal surveys were also performed at several sites in the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve, which together provide an important baseline of information on the health of the intertidal zone in North Puget Sound. Learn more about the Aquatic Reserves.

The history of Custom Plywood

After the Custom Plywood building was destroyed in a fire in 1992, many of the materials — including the chemicals used to treat the wood — contaminated the water and sediment of Fidalgo Bay.

The Washington State Department of Ecology selected this site and 9 others as part of a long-term project to restore Fidalgo Bay shorelines. Ecology removed thousands of tons of toxic sediment, brought in new sediment, and planted eelgrass plugs to help restore the site.

After just three years, life is already returning to the beach. Once a blank slate, the site is now home to bent-nosed clams, bubble snails, crabs, and more. Learn more about the site in an article from the Skagit Valley Herald.

“The Custom Plywood site is a chance to watch nature in action,” said Eleanor Hines, lead scientist at RE Sources for Sustainable Communities. “It’s fascinating to see how quickly our marine environment can rebound, and it’s so special to be part of the group that’s documenting the transition.”

Our citizen science volunteers

Citizen scientists are integral to support the work that underfunded agencies cannot do themselves, and their vital role helps organizations like RE Sources contribute to scientific research for the health of the Salish Sea.

One citizen science volunteer, Kippy, taught for more than 30 years before retiring. This year is her first year doing surveys, and she said enjoys the opportunity to spend her days outside. “I have been a teacher for a long time, I like being outside and I love learning — so this was a perfect opportunity for me!”

Another volunteer, Margaret, is part of the North Sound Stewards program. Originally from Texas, she has lived all over the world, including Florida and Australia.

With degrees in both biology and chemistry, Margaret enjoys being able to use her education while spending time outdoors. Her biggest shock about Washington beaches is the absence of dangerous creatures. “When I was growing up, if you saw something moving in the water the first thing you did was get out. Here in Washington, it's probably just a crab,” she said with a laugh.

“Our volunteer citizen scientists come from a variety of different backgrounds,” said Natalie Lord, the Aquatic Reserve Coordinator at RE Sources for Sustainable Communities. “The best part is seeing how their collective experiences allow them to learn from one another and come together to perform this important work.”

North Sound Stewards

Some intertidal survey volunteers are part of North Sound Stewards, a new program where participants commit to 50 hours of volunteering in one year. The information these citizen science volunteers collect can help inform policy, restoration efforts, cleanups, and other important projects.

North Sound Stewards participants can get involved in everything from intertidal, sea star, and forage fish surveys to more technical opportunities such as monitoring ocean acidification, tracking bull kelp, and uncovering invasive green crabs. Learn more about North Sound Stewards.

North Sound Stewards has reached the limit for participation this year, but if you're interested in becoming a citizen scientist, you can sign up to be put on the waiting list or explore our full list of citizen science opportunities for other ways to get involved. We're always looking for volunteers!

Washington State Legislature funds grants for community education on toxic cleanups, but rest of environmental priorities a mixed bag

posted Jul 13, 2017, 9:12 AM by Virginia Cleaveland   [ updated Nov 2, 2017, 4:35 PM by Hannah Coughlin ]

By Karlee Deatherage, Policy Analyst, Clean Water Program

From funding for toxic cleanups to oil transportation safety and sound policies on water availability, the environmental community had huge goals for the state legislative session.

Our outcomes were a mixed bag this year, but there's some cause to celebrate. Earlier this week, we learned that our legislators fully funded public participation grants (PPG) — grants for organizations like ours to educate the community about projects to clean up toxic sites like the Bellingham waterfront. This success is thanks to dedicated people like you. Thank you for letting your legislators know what Washington residents value. 

The state legislature went into two overtime sessions to approve a two-year operating budget by their June 30th deadline, but the details of a second budget — the capital budget — are still up in the air. The capital would invest in more than 1,400 projects across Washington, including 75 school construction projects and funding for toxic cleanup projects through the Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA).

The state legislature is now in its third special session to try and pass a capital budget, and the deadline is July 20th. We’ll be keeping our eye on the capital budget process and report back soon. 

With your help, we were successful in:

Unfortunately, there were some disappointments:

  • The legislature failed to address a $3.2 million shortfall in the state’s oil spill prevention program, and
  • The operating budget continued to raid MTCA funding to backfill funding for the Department of Ecology and the Department of Natural Resources.

There are two weeks left to get our legislators to act on the capital budget, which would fund three key needs for communities across the state:

  • Stabilizing MTCA funding for cleaning up toxic sites and preventing pollution,
  • Ensuring any new wells are properly mitigated to protect fish and existing water rights, and
  • Advancing projects for the environment and job creation by adopting the $4 billion capital budget.

Read more below to learn how you can take action to call on your legislators to find balanced solutions and pass the capital budget.

Funding for toxic cleanups

Although the legislature approved a two-year operating budget by their June 30th deadline, the details of a second budget — the capital budget — are still up in the air. We won’t know where Model Toxics Cleanup Act (MTCA) funding lands until the final capital budget is approved. 

The House's capital budget included funding for MTCA, but right now, it’s unknown how the Senate might change the House’s capital budget. We’re keeping our eye on the capital budget process and will report back soon.

Oil transportation safety

Oil transportation threatens the safety of our communities and the health of our environment, and this legislative session, we asked you to call on state leaders to prioritize legislation to protect our waterways, improve pipeline safety measures, and ensure funding for oil spill response.

Funding for oil transportation safety and the Department of Ecology’s Spills Program were part of the final negotiation process. But ultimately, the bill that would have secured a reliable funding source and strengthened the tools to address oil spills did not pass. 

This means the Spills Program has a $3.2M shortfall, and we must start looking ahead to the next legislative session to again push for stronger oil transportation safety measures in Washington state.

Enough water for people, farms, and fish

The hot issue during this legislative session surrounded the recent Washington State Supreme Court ruling that counties must make sure there is enough available water before issuing permits for new developments in rural areas. After the ruling, requests were made for a “legislative fix” to allow business as usual. This would have neglected the problem and failed to protect in-stream flows and existing water rights.

Several bills were proposed this legislative session to address the ruling, but legislators couldn't come to a consensus. The House overwhelmingly approved the capital budget, but it is being blocked from a vote by Senate Republicans, who say they’re holding the budget as leverage over a bill to overturn the state Supreme Court ruling on water rights.

Governor Inslee has called on Senate Republicans to pass the $4.2 billion capital budget. Read more in this press release from Gov. Inslee's office.

Take Action

A capital budget is essential for environmental health and creating jobs. There is roughly $340 million in funding at stake for green projects such as cleaning up toxic sites, clean energy, forest restoration, and green stormwater infrastructure. Without a capital budget, these projects will be stalled and possibly defunded.

Please contact your legislator TODAY and urge them to adopt a new, two-year capital budget to invest in creating jobs and protecting our environment.

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 want them to find balanced solutions and pass a capital budget. 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 send them an email asking them to find balanced solutions and pass a capital budget.

Activist and documentary filmmaker Rick Wood on protecting the Southern Resident orcas

posted Jul 11, 2017, 2:04 PM by RE Sources for Sustainable Communities   [ updated Jul 13, 2017, 4:31 PM by Virginia Cleaveland ]


If you missed our June 25, 2017 event at Boulevard Park celebrating Orca Month, check out the amazing speech from orca activist and documentary filmmaker Rick Wood below. And don't forget to browse the photos from the event on our North Sound Baykeeper Facebook page!

Photo of Southern Resident orcas by Rick Wood via orcaaware.org

Documentary filmmaker Rick Wood on protecting the Southern Resident orcas

By Rick Wood, director of Fragile Waters

Good afternoon. Thank you for being here today and for standing up for our beautiful Salish Sea.

I am a filmmaker and author. I am also deaf, so if you talk to me later — and I nod and smile — it means I didn't hear a word you said.

For the past six years all of my work has centered on marine mammals. Currently, I am a board member and volunteer responder with the Whatcom Marine Mammal Stranding Network. I am very passionate about the Salish Sea and all of the life in it.

When you think of marine mammals here, immediately killer whales stand out. The Salish Sea is home to fish eating and mammal eating orcas. From 2013-2015 I helped put a spotlight on the plight of the Southern Resident orcas through my film, Fragile Waters. In the film, we explored the delicate balance of man and nature, orca and water.

These emerald green waters determine the health of plants and animals — large and small — so directly that to suffer an oil spill here would be nothing short of catastrophic.

By last count, there were only 79 Southern Resident killer whales left in the world. One of those orcas lives in a tiny tank in Miami, Florida. The remaining members of this unique eco type travel many miles, searching mostly for healthy chinook salmon.

Salmon stocks are imperiled. Dams blocks their traditional spawning routes. Toxins, disease and changes in water composition have further reduced chinook salmon to less than 10 percent of their historic numbers.

We chose to call our film Fragile Waters because we know the key to saving them — to saving ourselves — lies in protecting the Salish Sea. Where there is healthy water, there is healthy life.

The southern resident orcas are spiraling towards extinction. Every moment spent removing protections, increasing threats, and not working on pollution issues seals their fate.

Time is not a luxury we can afford.

Petrochemicals are the absolute last thing you want to gamble on in an ecosystem so interdependent that any loss of species degrades the entire sea. Legacy toxins — chemicals banned for decades — remain as prevalent and volatile TODAY as they did when people used them without restriction. Again, there's no "payoff" worth the gamble of our Salish Sea.

Oil doesn't simply show up, either. It has to be transported, which means ship traffic increases. Let me explain something about killer whales. Orcas are acoustic animals. They navigate, communicate, and virtually "see" in sound. The Southern Residents are known to vocalize, in a specific dialect, with pod members. They coordinate hunting through sound, and warn one another of hazards through sound. To increase boat traffic is to further saturate their acoustic world with a cacophony of noise.

In our film, we also looked to history for lessons. More than 25 years ago, the Exxon Valdez oil spill killed thousands of animals in and around Prince William Sound, Alaska. A researcher, Eva Saulitis, a friend of mine now lost to cancer, chronicled the aftermath of the spill on the orca populations there.

The Chucach transient killer whales suffered greatly. Numbering around 22 prior to the spill, their numbers fell by half within a year of the accident. Today, only seven remain — they are doomed to extinction. Those Chugach transients are living ghosts of a time when that sound was healthy. In total, more than 258,000 animals died as a direct result of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

We use that story as a cautionary tale in Fragile Waters — an ecological parable, which warns us of a preventable fate.

I love living here. I've lived along the Salish Sea for 13 years now, and I am still taken aback by the awe and wonder of discover that comes with every trip to the shore. Maybe it's selfish to want to preserve this beauty... maybe it's my duty to try. I have two children, and only one world to leave them.

Our resident orcas need strong voices. They need our hearts and minds to tackle the problems they face. They need us to stand up against the onslaught of outdated agendas, broken promises, and human greed. We must draw the line NOW. We must stay in the fight. We must hold onto hope.

Fossil fuels are yesterday's methods. We have new ways, safer ways, and we are innovating rapidly to reduce our dependence on oil. Maybe in the short run it will take sacrifices, but I believe the future is worth it.

No lives are expendable. If we lose the Southern Resident population, we will have lost a part of ourselves...one we cannot replace.

It's a beautiful thing to see so many folks gathered here today, because that is exactly how we change fate. Many voices united. We do it together, and as ONE, WE protect these Fragile Waters.

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.

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:

1-10 of 33