Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Public can weigh in on Clark County’s shoreline program changes

A map of Clark County and the surrounding area. Clark County is outlined in red.
There are 300 miles of lake and river shorelines in Clark County. The
management of them is guided by a Shoreline Master Plan. The county
recently made small changes to the Master Plan, which the public is now
invited to review and comment on.
From Yale Lake in the north to the Columbia River in the south, Clark County’s shorelines play host
to recreation, homes, industry and many other uses. The program that guides the development and protection of those shorelines has been updated and public has until March 22 to comment on the changes.

The Washington Department of Ecology is now reviewing Clark County’s updated shoreline management proposal. Comments on the program will help Ecology decide whether to approve the updates or to request changes from the county.

Clark County’s shoreline management program addresses 300 miles of lake and river shorelines. The proposed amendment adopts legislative changes made to the state’s Shoreline Management Act and updates the composition of the county’s Shoreline Management Committee.

Local shoreline programs protect natural resources for future generations, provide for public access to public waters and shores, and plan for shoreline uses and development. Once they are approved by Ecology, amendments like the one being proposed in Clark County become part of the state’s overall Shoreline Master Program.

Clark County’s amended Shoreline Master Program can be found online. Paper copies are available to view at Ecology’s Southwest Regional Office in Lacey, or at Clark County’s Community Planning office.

Comments can be submitted online, through email, or by mail, and will be accepted until 5 p.m. March 22.

Mail: Kim Van Zwalenburg, Southwest Regional Office, PO Box 47775, Olympia, WA 98504-7775
Email: kim.vanzwalenburg@ecy.wa.gov
Online: Comment form

Ecology will compare Clark County’s amendment to the requirements of the state’s Shoreline Management Act and Shoreline Master Program guidelines after the comment period closes and decide whether to approve the amendment as is, approve it with changes, or send it back for required changes.

by Dave Bennett

Friday, March 9, 2018

Ecology opposes federal proposal to allow offshore drilling on Washington’s coast

This week, Ecology Director Maia Bellon submitted an official letter to the U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke strongly opposing a federal proposal to allow offshore oil and natural gas leasing on Washington’s outer continental shelf for the first time in 30 years.

Director Bellon told Zinke there was “no reasonable, rational justification” to open our coast to petroleum exploration, development and production.

“I am committed to protecting and managing our irreplaceable marine ecosystems now and for future generations,” Bellon said. “Our coastal communities and thousands of residents depend on having a healthy and productive coastal environment to maintain their livelihoods, homes, families, and quality of life.”

Ecology joins Gov. Jay Inslee, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson and state Lands Commissioner Hillary Franz in opposing the draft federal plan.

Proposed federal program conflicts with state laws and policies

Bellon said the proposed changes to the federal leasing program conflict with current Washington laws, policies, and goals to protect our environment – including current ocean uses and resources such as fishing, shellfish aquaculture, recreation and tourism, international maritime shipping, and military training.

“Washington’s coast encompasses significant tribal cultural, environmental, and economic treaty-protected resources,” Bellon said. “Protecting tribal treaty rights is paramount.”

“We all depend on having an abundant, highly productive marine ecosystem that supports a wide range of sensitive marine species and habitats,” Bellon said.

U.S. Interior’s proposed leasing plan indicates the federal government would offer a lease sale to allow companies to exploit potential petroleum resources along Washington’s outer continental shelf. A lease would allow companies to engage in oil and gas exploration, development, and production activities.

Potential oil and gas leasing activities increase marine pollution risks

Oil spills and hazardous chemical releases associated with extracting and transporting petroleum products put Washington’s environment, economy and cultural resources at risk.

The state draft Marine Spatial Plan includes data on the economic value and use patterns off Washington’s coast. The plan shows the commercial and recreational fisheries that would be displaced and adversely effected by potential oil and gas activities, including oil spills.

In addition, the state currently has no existing oil or gas leases anywhere off the coast. “Our state has such low potential for oil and gas production that new development would not significantly add to the nation’s energy supply,” Bellon said.

Climate change, earthquakes and coastal marine sanctuary

Besides oil spills and chemical releases, Bellon said the proposed federal program has not considered other risks including negative climate change consequences, potential catastrophic offshore earthquakes and tsunamis along the Cascadia fault line, and severe weather and storm events on the Pacific Ocean.

Since the federal proposal would also include the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, Bellon said the Interior Department lacks the legal authority to issue oil and gas leases in the sanctuary.

Bellon told Zinke offshore oil and gas leasing, exploration, and development activities have a high potential to damage our environment, cause irreversible harm to our coastal communities and resources, and disrupt current ocean uses on Washington’s coast.

“Offshore leasing activities are completely at odds with our state’s vision for a sustainable and prosperous future,” Bellon said.

The public comment period closes March 9 and Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will review the information and feedback it has received. The federal agency is expected to issue an updated offshore oil and gas leasing proposal and a related draft Environmental Impact Statement.

Review changes to how Olympia manages its shorelines

Public has 14 days to weigh in on city’s revised protection plan 

Docks glow under lamp-light at a marina in Olympia Washington. The Olympic Mountains are barely visible under in the disappearing sunlight.
Olympia's shorelines are cherished by a variety of users. Local marinas dotting Budd Inlet provide fishermen and adventure-seekers, alike, access to the bay and the rest of Puget Sound. Parks and other marine access points service beach combers, sun seekers, and other land-bound creatures.
The plan for how to protect 30 miles of Olympia’s lake, river, and marine shorelines – an invaluable community asset and a cornerstone of city’s high quality of life – is getting a minor update. The public can review and comment on the plan until March 22.

The city modified its shoreline plan and has submitted it to the Washington Department of Ecology for approval. Before approving or requesting changes to the amendment, Ecology is making it available for public review and comment. Comments will help Ecology decide next steps.
During King Tide, visitors to Olympia's Port Plaza gaze at the abundance of water flowing in from Puget Sound.
Port Plaza is a popular year-round park for Olympians and
visitors to the south-sound community.

The updated shoreline plan incorporates critical area regulation changes passed by the city council last year, makes minor corrections that delete provisions no longer necessary, and corrects the shoreline map to include an unused railway berm.
An abandoned railroad berm on the west side of Budd Inlet.
One of the changes the amendment incorporates is including
an unused railway berm in the shoreline management plan.

Local shoreline programs protect natural resources for future generations, provide for public access to public waters and shores, and plan for shoreline uses and development. Amendments to them become part of the state’s overall Shoreline Master Program after they are approved by Ecology.

Olympia’s amended plan can be found online. Paper copies are available to view at Ecology’s Southwest Regional Office in Lacey, or at the City of Olympia’s Planning and Development office.

Comments can be submitted online, through email, or by mail, and will be accepted until 5 p.m. March 22.

   Mail:  Kim Van Zwalenburg
             Southwest Regional Office
             PO Box 47775
             Olympia, WA  98504-7775
   Email: kim.vanzwalenburg@ecy.wa.gov
   Online: Comment form

After the comment period closes, Ecology will compare Olympia’s amendment to the requirements of the Shoreline Management Act and Shoreline Master Program guidelines and decide whether or not to approve the amendment as is, approve it with changes, or send it back for required changes.

By Dave Bennett, Ecology communications

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Even tiny pollution makes a big problem for water quality

The term parts per quadrillion describes a way to measure small amounts. Really small amounts. Miniscule.

Lay a penny on the ground and compare it – by area – to the entire state of Washington. That is equal to one part per quadrillion.

Why do we care about such tiny measurements?

We care because these tiny measurements make a big difference in Washington’s water quality standards. These standards are developed to protect people, the environment, and the state’s water.

Many toxic chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) remain in the environment and build up over time in fish, animals and people. They can cause adverse health effects, including cancer and harm to immune, nervous, and reproductive systems. So finding and removing even the smallest amount of PCBs can make a big difference in water quality.

Addressing this big challenge in Spokane

In the Spokane River, small measurements have always been a big challenge. Clean water requirements include strict limitations on pollutants like phosphorus and PCBs.

In 2016, new requirements from the Environmental Protection Agency made the challenge bigger by making the standard smaller. The water quality standard changed from 170 parts per quadrillion to seven parts per quadrillion.

New clean water permits for Spokane River

We need to review and reissue permits for five wastewater treatment facilities that discharge into the Spokane River to include the new clean water requirements for PCBs.

This is complicated because small amounts of PCBs difficult to measure and wastewater discharges aren’t the only source of PCBs to the river. Other sources appear to impact the river, including those from cleanup sites regulated by the Model Toxics Control Act and other nonpoint sources that aren’t covered by clean water permits.

We also have new tools in our water quality rules for issuing clean water permits – tools that we’ve never used before. Recognizing that it will take more than new clean water permits to achieve a clean Spokane River, we took a step back to evaluate any and all potential options.

The task was to develop a strategy that will ultimately get us to our goal of meeting the water quality standard.

Tackling the challenge by looking at the whole problem

The Spokane River community has a long history of adopting a collaborative approach to solving water quality problems. They haven’t backed away from this challenge.

We’ve been working together with those across the watershed as one a river community since 2012 to find and reduce sources of PCBs to the river. This has taken place through the work of the Spokane River Regional Toxics Task Force, and the group has made real progress.

We want to keep the momentum going and develop practical, protective permits.

We took some time to listen and heard strong support on the concept of adaptive management. That means achieving clean water by making step-by-step improvements while continuing to find and reduce sources of PCBs to the river.

Our strategy includes steps to keep moving forward on cleaning up the river and address all sources of PCBs – including cleanup sites – while allowing additional time to work through remaining questions about the best way to use the new permit tools.

Learn more

You can learn about the new tools for issuing permits and our approach for meeting clean water requirements for the Spokane River at our upcoming workshop.

Please join us:

Wednesday, March 14, 2018 at 6:00 p.m.
Liberty Lake Sewer and Water District
22510 E. Mission Ave.
Liberty Lake, WA 99019

Learn about our work improving the Spokane River on our website.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Recently passed capital budget unlocks 2018 funds to support clean water

Ecology is offering nearly $220 million in financial assistance for 163 high-priority clean water projects across Washington state. This funding, for the last fiscal year 2018 (July 2017 through June 2018), was held up when the capital budget was not passed during the previous legislative session. Now, these projects can move forward to support jobs and water quality projects in local communities.

Our funding supports local communities by helping them upgrade sewage treatment systems, manage polluted stormwater runoff, and complete a variety of projects to prevent pollution.

We also recently ended a public comment period for this fiscal year’s (2019) funding.

picture of boat in stream
Water quality grants help communities in need of funding protect Washington's waters.

Here are a few project highlights

Nonpoint pollution projects

Thirty-five projects are receiving $16 million in grants and loans to address nonpoint pollution that comes from widespread, hard-to-trace activities. Two projects will also receive $9 million to repair or replace on-site sewage systems.

Examples of these projects include:

  • Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, Pierce County
    We have offered Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department in association with the nonprofit lender, Craft3, and 15 other counties a $1.5 million grant, a $1.5 million forgivable loan (funding that does not need to be paid back), and a $5 million low-interest-rate loan to expand the Regional Septic Program. The program provides affordable loans to homeowners and small businesses to repair failing onsite septic systems.
  • Spokane Conservation District, Spokane County
    Spokane Conservation District will receive a $500,000 grant and a $3.3 million loan to reduce soil erosion through direct-seeding, creating riparian buffers, and implementing the Farmed Smart Sustainable Agriculture certification. Spokane Conservation District will partner with Pacific Northwest Direct Seed Association and Palouse Rock Lake Conservation District for this project.

Wastewater projects 

Thirty wastewater treatment projects are receiving $110 million in funding. Thirteen of the projects qualify for special hardship financial assistance due to their potential impact on residential sewer bills.

High-priority wastewater hardship projects include:

  • Warden, Grant County
    City of Warden will receive a $500,000 grant and a $1 million loan to extend its sewer system to include homes who currently discharge waste to an unlined lagoon. The project will decommission the lagoon which will help protect the city’s drinking water from contamination. 
  • Carbonado, Pierce County
    Town of Carbonado will receive a $4.7 million grant and a $3 million loan to replace its old, failing sewer system that was installed in the early 1900s. This failing system is a threat to public health and the environment. If the system fails, it would risk raw sewage entering the environment and coming into contact with the public. Also, replacing this system will improve the water quality in the upper Carbon River.

Stormwater projects

Ninety-six communities across the state are receiving a total of $45 million in grants and loans to implement projects that focus on reducing stormwater pollution. In addition, 67 stormwater projects from fiscal year 2016 and fiscal year 2017 that were in “delayed” status are offered about $39 million in grants.

The highest-priority stormwater projects include:

  • Tacoma, Pierce County
    City of Tacoma will receive a $5 million grant and a $3.2 million loan to improve water quality in the Flett Creek Watershed. The project will improve water quality by installing permeable pavement, providing basic treatment, and reducing stormwater flows from 17 blocks in the Tacoma Mall Neighborhood
  • Spokane Valley, Spokane County
    City of Spokane Valley will receive a $654,732 grant for a low-impact development project. The project will design and install bio-infiltration swales to treat stormwater runoff along a major street and eliminate three acres of street runoff.

More information

Find out more about clean water financial assistance on our website. See the full funding offer list.

By Daniel Thompson and Stacy Galleher, Water Quality Program

Friday, February 23, 2018

La Niña winter update

Winter Storm Oliver brings February snowpack relief

Skiers and snowboarders had a lot to like about the recent President’s Day weekend weather. Winter Storm Oliver not only was significant nationally, it brought an impressive snowfall to the Washington Cascades. At the same time, the white stuff that closed mountain passes is helping to narrow the level of uncertainty we might have about this summer’s water supply.

When paired with forecasted cooler temperatures, conditions for late winter appear to be improving considerably. The more localized storm this past weekend (Feb. 23-25) appears to be further evidence the season is normalizing, particularly at Snoqualmie Pass.

What a difference the second half of February is shaping up to be.

How much snow did our mountains receive?

Generally, SNOTEL sites across the Cascades received about 10 percent of the annual total during Winter Storm Oliver.

A few exceptional highlights:
  • Snow-measuring sites near Snoqualmie Pass accumulated between 14 and 22 percent of the median annual total snowpack. Meadows Pass, located in the Cedar River watershed, improved dramatically by receiving 22.4 percent of annual snow water equivalent (SWE).
  • In the north Cascades, the Wells Creek site for the north fork of the Nooksack River added 11 percent of the annual total, finishing at 107 percent of annual peak snowpack.
  • The Potato Hill site near the north side of Mount Adams finished the storm at 94.8 percent of the annual peak, adding 16.7 percent of SWE over the long weekend.

Meadows Pass is a SNOTEL station at approximately 3200’ in elevation in the Snoqualmie Pass area. Snow falling at this location drains into the Cedar River, supplying Seattle Public Utilities’ reservoir at Chester Morse Lake.  It is also adjacent to the headwaters of the Yakima River Basin.

Early February was a different story

Just a few weeks ago in this blog, I characterized the winter snowpack as a “fits-and-starts” variety inconsistent with the cold and snowy winters typical of La Niña years. Day and nighttime temperatures well above normal and, in some cases, record-breaking warm, were a concern.

Signs portending an early spring seemed to be ramping up. Seattle had above-normal temperatures for the first nine days of the month of February, on many days 5-to-10 degrees above normal.

Even more startling, Yakima had several days with high temperatures near 70 degrees. The Paradise ranger station on Mount Rainier had nine days with high temperatures, 32 degrees or above, in the first 20 days of the month. On four of those days, the average temperature for the entire 24-hour period was at or greater than freezing.

It is certainly nice for folks to haul out their skis instead of their bikes now that temperatures are cooler and the snow levels are improving. But water managers may suffer headaches if warm winter days return and trigger an early melt-off of the snowpack.

Water distribution systems in the Pacific Northwest rely on the slow but steady runoff of melted mountain snow to replenish our reservoirs and rivers, and provide the water used during our dry summers. An early snowmelt leaves less for rivers, communities, and farms during the dry season.

Cool high-country temperatures late in the snow year, even as few as a couple of weeks of cooler temperatures, can go a long ways toward providing seasonal water security in the region. As it stands right now, the unseasonably warm weather of a few weeks ago appears to be more of a short-term perturbation, rather than a harbinger of a very early spring. This is good news.

Is spring canceled?

“Winter is not over—the story is still being written,” a colleague of mine adroitly put to me. The spring-like temperatures of early February are not something we are contending with for the time being. This doesn’t necessarily mean spring is far away, but we're no longer seeing Arizona-like winter temperatures threatening to drive an early snowmelt.

The return of winter weather also means that basins with below-normal snowpack have less catching up to do before winter begins to glide into its denouement.
  • The Stevens Pass SNOTEL site, for example, currently has 94 percent of peak annual snowpack in inches of SWE.
  • Rainy Pass, a site in the north Cascades at the headwaters of the Skagit and Stehekin rivers, also has 94 percent of the median total annual snowpack.
  • White Pass’ Pigtail Peak SNOTEL—a key indicator for Yakima River Basin water supplies—added 11 percent of the peak annual snowpack during the most recent storm, improving from 64 percent to 75 percent of the median maximum annual SWE.
We’ll need to see continued cold weather to ensure this snow stays in place until it is most needed.

What's next?

The outlook by NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center sees normal precipitation and much-below-normal temperatures for both the six-to-10 day and 8-to-14 day forecasts. Forecasts also indicate near-normal levels of precipitation for late spring and summer.
So, stay tuned – there’s more to come. And this winter remains one to watch!

For more information check out our statewide water conditions page.

By Tyler Roberts
Watermaster for Ecology's Office of Columbia River

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Fecal Matters: A No-Contact Advisory for Port Washington Narrows, Kitsap County

BEACH Program Update

On 2/20/2018, Kitsap Public Health District issued a "no-contact" advisory for Port Washington Narrows due to a combined sewer overflow. The no-contact advisory will be in place through February 23rd. Signs are being posted at public access points including Lions Field, Evergreen Park, and Lents Landing. The public is advised to avoid contact with the water in the affected area.

Contact with fecal contaminated waters can result in gastroenteritis, skin rashes, upper respiratory infections, and other illnesses. Children and the elderly may be more vulnerable to waterborne illnesses.
Stay updated about water quality at your beaches by keeping up with us on our blog Fecal Matters, on Facebook, or join our listserv.

Julianne Ruffner, our BEACH Program Manager, is available at 360-407-6154 or julianne.ruffner@ecy.wa.gov for questions.