Friday, October 18, 2019

El Estado va a tomar pruebas del agua de pozo en el valle bajo de Yakima

Agua potable es particularmente de interés en el valle bajo de Yakima adonde mucha de la población depende de agua de pozo privado. Recientemente, un grupo de abogacía independiente compartió un estudio que identificó varios químicos de preocupación en el agua subterránea que llamó nuestra atención.
En todo, siete pozos privados dispersados a lo largo del corredor interestatal 82 entre Toppenish y Prosser en el condado de Yakima mostraron niveles altos de algunos químicos, incluyendo tres pozos cerca del rio de Yakima que resultaron positivos para dioxinas.

Aunque concentraciones de dioxinas típicamente son bajas en el agua, las dioxinas y otros químicos pueden presentar riesgos para la salud de las personas.
A luz de esta información, nuestro Programa de Evaluación Ambiental está haciendo equipo con el distrito de salud de Yakima este otoño y durante el año que viene, para ayudar a los propietarios de viviendas evaluar el agua de pozo.  
“Creemos que es importante trabajar con la comunidad y ayudar a verificar contaminación potencial en estos pozos,” dijo Sage Park, la directora de la Región Central de Ecología. “Tomando pruebas del agua del pozo es la mejor manera de proporcionar a las personas la información que necesitan para asegurar que su agua potable sea segura.”
A partir de la semana del 4 de noviembre, vamos a ofrecer muestras de agua subterránea para detectar la presencia de dioxinas, nitrato, plomo, y arsénico en 15 pozos en el área de interés. Hasta entonces, estamos hablando con las personas que viven en el área del estudio para animarlos que participen para que podamos asegurar que el agua sea segura. 
Cuando las pruebas están completas, vamos a mandar los resultados a los propietarios de viviendas y explicar lo que significan. Si las pruebas indican que hay químicos nocivos en los pozos, los residentes en el área afectado pueden trabajar con el Distrito de Salud de Yakima y usar recursos alternativos de agua potable. 
Planeamos volver a tomar muestras la próxima primavera y otoño para tener en cuenta las variaciones estacionales.
Puede aprender de los efectos de los contaminantes del agua potable en la salud, y las recomendaciones de pruebas visitando los sitios de web del Departamento de Salud de Washington y la Agencia de Protección Ambiental.  
Para obtener más información sobre el estudio, pueden comunicarse con La Oficina Regional Central del Departamento de Ecología al (509) 757-2490 y pedir un intérprete.


Partnering on safe well water in the Lower Yakima Valley

Safe drinking water is of particular interest in the Lower Yakima Valley, where much of the population relies on private wells for water. Recently, an independent advocacy group shared with us a study identifying several chemicals in groundwater that caught our attention.

In all, seven private drinking water wells scattered along the Interstate 82 corridor between Toppenish and Prosser showed higher levels of some chemicals, including three wells near the Yakima River that tested positive for dioxins.

Although concentrations of dioxins are typically low in water, they and other chemicals can pose health risks to people.

In light of this information, our Environmental Assessment Program is teaming with Yakima County Health District to evaluate well water in the area of concern.

“We think it’s important to work with the community and investigate the potential contamination in these wells,” said Sage Park, Ecology’s Central Region director. “Over the next week we will be reaching out to people in the study area and encouraging them to participate in this well-testing effort. Taking water samples is the best way for us to provide people with the information they need to assure their drinking water is safe."

Free sampling begins this fall

Beginning Nov. 4, we will sample groundwater for the presence of dioxins, nitrate, lead and arsenic from 15 wells in the study area. We plan to sample again next spring and fall to account for seasonal variations and to assure we obtain a good data set over several seasons.

Once sampling is complete, we will share results with well owners and explain what they mean. If testing indicates there are harmful chemicals in any of the wells, residents in the immediate area may consult with Yakima Health District for advice and may be advised to rely on alternate drinking water resources.

You can learn about the health effects of contaminants in drinking water and testing recommendations by visiting the Washington Department of Health and Environmental Protection Agency websites.

For more information on the study, residents may contact our Central Regional Office at 509-575-2490.

By Joye Redfield-Wilder, Central Region communications

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Yakima River receives ‘water quality’ check-up

We're measuring success of efforts to improve watershed health

We have been tackling water quality challenges throughout the Yakima River Basin for nearly 20 years. Then, the river ran muddy from topsoil that washed off fields and remained suspended in the water column, carrying legacy pesticides in the sediments and creating cloudy turbid waters. Now our scientists are conducting a water quality checkup of the river to see how things are doing.

“We have seen tremendous water quality improvements over the years, thanks to the efforts of the watershed community to prevent topsoil from running off into the river,” said Mark Peterschmidt, a supervisor for water quality in our Central Region. “This project will help determine how far we have come and how much further there is to go to meet water quality goals.”

The sampling effort also gives us a chance to gather new data to study new ways to improve dissolved oxygen and temperature levels in the river.

Warm and still water slows fish passage, hampering their spawning chances on the Yakima River
(Photo by Anchor Associates)

High water temperatures and low dissolved oxygen harm salmon, trout, and other aquatic life. We see river temperatures block fish passage in the summer and fall, due to drought and low flows. We want to learn why and find remedies.

Fluorescent dye helps track heat and oxygen 

In October, we are conducting studies along several miles of the river above Selah Gap to establish how streamflow and water velocity affect temperature and dissolved oxygen levels. To do this, we will release small amounts of a tracer dye at eight points in the river to determine how fast water travels down the river (aka water velocity).

Our work will be in the evening to minimize disruptions to activities on the river and to enhance detection by Ecology’s instruments.
Ecology hydrogeologist Kevin Royse uses a
flow meter to capture data.

Rhodamine Water Tracer is a fluorescent dye commonly used for this type of water study. The amount of dye released is not harmful to animals, fish, plants or people, and will only be visible briefly at the release sites.

“We want to reassure river users, that the concentration of dye we use is very low and is safe to humans and aquatic life," explained Jim Carroll, water quality scientist for Ecology. After the dye completely mixes with the river downstream of the release sites, people won’t see the dye in the river.”

Scientists will track the invisible dye with fluorometers, which detect small amounts of dye in the river even after it is no longer visible to humans.

Data used to find water quality solutions

Determining the water velocity in the Yakima River will help Ecology understand how fast substances like sediment and heat move through the water column and downstream. Ecology will use that data in water quality models, which help us identify approaches to improving water temperature and dissolved oxygen levels in the river.

“It’s especially important during the summer to improve streamflow temperatures and oxygen levels in the river, when salmon struggle to migrate, and oxygen is low,” explained water quality specialist Jane Creech.

Our dye study is just one facet of an overall checkup of the Yakima River.

Over the years, farmers have introduced better irrigation practices – turning to sprinklers and drip methods to reduce runoff once created by flood irrigation. We saw impressive improvements in the lower river, as reported in 2008. Results showed the water was clearer and fewer pesticides were in the river. Improved conditions led to the lifting of a fish advisory limiting the consumption of white fish on the river.

Now we are conducting a checkup on the upper reaches of the basin, to see if we have successfully met similar targets set there back in 2001. Scientists at Ecology’s central regional office are monitoring the Upper Yakima River to prepare a sort of final report card on our efforts to reduce the amount of sediment and turbidity in that section of the river.

Turbidity sensors in the Yakima River transmit real time readings to our website. That information helps us to analyze when and where problems are occurring, and how to reduce sediment in the river.

So heads up! If you happen to see something fluorescent or our staff out monitoring along the river – it is for a good cause. Good for fish and the Yakima River’s overall health.

By Joye Redfield-Wilder, Central Region Communications

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Slime on river rocks is a forensics tool for environmental scientists

Rock slime: What is it good for?

We’ve all been there. You’re having a nice day playing in the water at your local lake or river, and all of the sudden you slip on a slimy rock! That slick, brownish goop squelches between your toes, and next thing you know, you’re falling backwards into the water.

While most of us may not appreciate the slime that grows on river rocks, Dr. William Hobbs and his colleagues have found this slime useful for investigating the sources of toxic chemicals in the water. This rock slime, known as biofilm, helps scientists measure where toxic chemicals are the most concentrated along a river. Their recently published paper* in the journal Environmental Science and Technology shares more of the slimy details.

Sleuthing out the slime

“Biofilm is a broader term that refers to both the living communities [like algae] and the dead things that build up on rocks over time,” says Hobbs. As biofilm accumulates on river rocks, it slowly absorbs or takes up chemicals from the water. Hobbs and his team scrape the biofilm off rocks in order to test for various chemicals. They may also install plastic sheets on the bed of the stream, where biofilm can grow and be sampled. Either sampling approach allows them to study the chemicals that are present in a particular area.

A dense biofilm mat moving with the current.
Hobbs says that some chemical mixtures have a “fingerprint.” This fingerprint helps his team identify the source of a contaminant. For example, a chemical mixture with a specific composition may get into the environment. When the team finds the same chemical composition in the biofilm of a nearby river, they may have identified a source!

So far, this source tracking tool has been used to identify the following chemicals in metals.several rivers throughout Washington:
·         Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) — legacy industrial chemicals.
·         Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) — flame retardant chemicals in household products.
·         Metals (copper, zinc, lead, arsenic, and cadmium).

The slime is greener on the other side

Mayfly nymphs like this
one are sensitive to
changes in water quality.
This robust monitoring tool is also useful because biofilms are at the base of the food web in river ecosystems. That means most creatures in the river either consume biofilm or prey on the critters that eat the biofilm. The team’s work shows that toxics in biofilm can affect the organisms that consume it. For example, the research team found that certain metals in the biofilm can affect the types of insects that live in a particular environment. “We use the presence and absence of aquatic insects [as a way to measure] the health of the stream.” If certain insects are missing, there may be a chemical in the water and biofilm deterring them from living there.

In pursuit of cleaner slime

Biofilm on a rock in
the Wenatchee River,
This environmental forensics work marks the beginning of a long process. “It’s the first step in work to remediate or reduce the impacts of toxics,” says Hobbs. His team works in areas that are often classified as “impaired” by Clean Water Act standards. “The hope is that if we can identify the sources of these toxics and implement effective source control, we can remove their classification as impaired.”

Until then, expect to see Hobbs and his team out at local rivers and streams scraping the slime off of rocks … all in the name of science! 

By: Ruth Froese, Environmental Assessment Program Communications

Video by: Ryan Lancaster, Eastern Region Communications

Photos/videos captured by: William Hobbs, PhD

*If you would like to read the full paper, please contact the author:
William Hobbs, PhD

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Ecology removes dozens of Stevens County stoves from use

Dozens of Colville River Valley residents gave up their old, smoky wood stoves over the weekend in exchange for $200 vouchers.

The Washington State Legislature allotted $2.5 million over the next two years for the Department of Ecology's buy-back program, which collects inefficient stoves for recycling a few times a year throughout the state.

The Oct. 6 event, held at the Stevens County Landfill near Kettle Falls, passed along about $13,400 to residents who delivered dilapidated stoves. Residents were limited to two vouchers per household, and eligible exchanges had to be in working order and free of fire brick, ash and debris.

Wood smoke remains one of Washington's main sources of air pollution. In winter, wood stoves, fireplaces, and other wood burning devices for home heating account for more than half of fine particle pollution statewide.

Newer technology has greatly improved and exceeded older wood stoves in efficiency and smoke reduction. The fewer antiquated wood stoves in use, the less air pollution we have. Chalk one up for fresher air.

Learn more about wood stoves and other home heating on our website.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Federal grants go toward repairing two Washington dams

Department of Ecology’s Dam Safety Office regulates 1,055 dams in Washington. Many of those are doing just fine, but 409 pose a potential risk to people living and working below.

Broken pipe underwater at Newcastle dam
Outlet pipe broken and submerged
at Newcastle Railroad Embankment Dam
Unfortunately, there’s no reality tv show that renovates dams, and most owners are left to cover repair costs themselves. So, we were excited to hear this week that Ecology has received $153,007 in grant funding to assist two dam owners in repairing their dams. 

The funds are part of a new grant program administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA had $10 million to provide assistance for planning and other pre-construction activities such as data collection, design and permitting. We applied for funds to assist three dam owners, and two of these were accepted. 

The funds will be split evenly between the city of Aberdeen to work on slope stability issues at their Fairview Reservoir #1 and the city of Newcastle to stabilize and remove the Newcastle Railroad Embankment Dam. For the next year, both owners will use dam engineer consultants to collect and analyze data and develop solutions and designs.

“Through our inspection program, we identified both of these projects as being in poor condition and needing engineer assessments and repairs,” said Joe Witczak, Ecology’s Dam Safety Office manager. “This is the first year this grant funding was available and we intend to apply again next year in support of other high hazard dams in need of repair.” 

Two Ecology dam safety inspectors at Fairview
Ecology dam safety inspectors at Fairview Reservoir #1
In addition to the funds that Ecology was awarded, the dam owners must provide a 35 percent match. 

In Washington, a dam owner (such as private, local government or public utilities) is legally responsible to safely maintain, repair and operate their dam. The Dam Safety Office helps to ensure dams are properly designed and constructed. We also inspect existing dams for proper operation and maintenance. 

There are an additional 134 dams in the state that are owned and/or regulated by federal agencies. 

By Keeley Belva, Water Resources Program communications manager

Giving back: WCC Director Bridget Talebi earns national leadership award

On Sept. 19, Bridget Talebi, director for our Washington Conservation Corps (WCC), was named 2019 Outstanding Service Program Staff Member by America’s Service Commissions. The national nonprofit, nonpartisan association represents 52 state service commissions from across the United States and its territories.

For nearly two decades, Bridget has selflessly served the residents of Washington, first as a member of our WCC starting in 2001, then in multiple roles serving the WCC including operations manager and now director of the 350-position strong statewide service program.

Bridget Talebi (WCC Director, pictured center) with Amber Martin-Jahn (Executive Director of the Serve Washington Commission, pictured right) and Jenny Benson (Program Officer for Serve Washington Commission, pictured left).*

Every year, America’s Service Commissions recognizes the leadership and accomplishments of state service commissions and their commissioners, staff, service programs, and legislative champions around the nation.

The organization’s 2019 national leadership award recognizes Bridget for her long-standing commitment to give back to her community while also strengthening the WCC, the national AmeriCorps program, and other programs in Washington providing national service to the public. Bridget is the first recipient for this new award category.

“I’m so proud to see Bridget Talebi of Washington Conservation Corps receive this national honor,” said Amber Martin-Jahn, Executive Director of the Serve Washington Commission, who nominated Talebi for the award. “Bridget is the epitome of a team player and has been a remarkable change agent for AmeriCorps culture in the state of Washington. Most recently, Bridget has done incredible work to make sure AmeriCorps recruitment and staff hiring practices are as inclusive and equitable as possible.”

WCC offers young adults and military veterans hands-on opportunities to gain experience in environmental restoration, monitoring and research, local and national disaster response services, and education projects.

Bridget’s tireless efforts on behalf of the WCC have been instrumental in helping restore and preserve hundreds of acres of riparian habitat as well as improving water quality and salmon habitat across the state.

In words of colleague Gordon White, who oversees our statewide shoreline protection and environmental review activities, “Bridget is WCC at her core. There are countless examples of Bridget digging in through difficult times. Whenever there is difficult work needing done, she is the first to volunteer.”

WCC also responds around the state and across the country to help recovery efforts in communities affected by wildfires, floods, mudslides, hurricanes, tornadoes and other disasters.

Her work has touched the lives of thousands of Washington residents, including hundreds of current and former WCC members—many of whom chose to work in environmental careers after their service.

“We are delighted to recognize Bridget Talebi as this year’s Outstanding Service Program Staff Member,” said Kaira Esgate, CEO of America’s Service Commissions. “This is the first year we have given an award in this category, and we feel that Bridget’s commitment to excellence and innovation at the Washington Conservation Corps is the perfect representation of what a great AmeriCorps program staff member can be.”

*Photo by Laura Schlabach