Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Cleaning Up: Sunnyside port cleans up site of old milk plant, winery

By Seth Preston, communications manager, Toxics Cleanup Program

The Port of Sunnyside has finished cleanup work at an industrial site that started as a milk plant and later became a winery.

The port, which owns the site, dug up soil contaminated by fuel and dry-cleaning solvents that flowed from a separate uphill site to the plant property.

This 2013 news release describes how Ecology teamed with the port and provided a grant to assess the plant site's environmental conditions before the port bought the site.

Ecology also provided a $300,000 grant to help pay for the port's cleanup work. The port now plans to market the site for redevelopment.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Protecting Spokane River flow provides for the future

By Brook Beeler, Communications, Eastern Region

The heart of the Spokane region is the river that runs directly through our community. It provides us a gathering place where we play, fish, paddle and enjoy the scenic views. This working river also helps provide power to our homes and manage wastewater from our cities and industry.

All 114 miles that begin at Lake Coeur d’ Alene — dissecting cities, towns and tribal grounds until it reaches Lake Roosevelt — are significant to us. We know it is intimately connected to the Spokane Valley Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer, which provides drinking water to more than 500,000 people.

Keeping the Spokane River healthy and flowing is important to us. A new rule will help preserve and protect its flow while balancing the needs of all water uses for future generations.
Large gravely soils in Spokane Valley contribute to the continuity of the river and aquifer. Much of the river
flow is lost to the aquifer in summer months which contribute to low flows.Photo credit: Bruce Andre Photography.

Instream flow rules
The water resources of Washington are owned in common by the people of the state including the water in lakes, rivers and groundwater.

In Washington, the Legislature gave the Department of Ecology the responsibility to protect rivers and streams with an allocation of water set by establishing instream flow rules.

A rule allows Ecology to set specific levels of stream flows for a particular watershed and limit future surface and groundwater withdrawals accordingly — to ensure there is enough water in those rivers and streams to meet the current and future needs of people, fish and wildlife. 

Protecting Spokane River flow
The hydrograph shows a median historical, seasonal flow. The adopted instream flow
numbers based on studies that protect fish habitat during these flows are overlaid in red.
More than a decade of work has contributed to the recent adoption of the rule that protects flow in the Spokane River. State and local governments, environmental advocates, local businesses and the community have provided valuable input to help build our knowledge of the river.

The river is a complex system and its flow is dependent on a variety of factors. They include seasonal weather, groundwater use, and operation of hydropower facilities on the river.

Scientific studies detailing these factors, along with community feedback, informed the development of the Spokane River rule. That includes studies that outlined recreational and navigational flows. The adopted numbers are primarily based on studies that protect fish habitat, which is a different method than basing a number on historical, seasonal flow. 

It is important to note that instream flow rules do not add water to the river — they are a regulatory threshold to determine whether there is water available for new uses.

Water availability and new uses
With the rule in place, Ecology can make decisions on applications that request new permits to use groundwater from the Spokane Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer, which is in direct continuity with the river.

We currently have 22 applications requesting new water in the rule area. Each will be individually evaluated against the “four part test” to determine if a permit to use water can be issued. In order to issue new water rights in Washington we must verify:

    1. Water is legally and physically available.
    2. Water is used for beneficial purposes in a specified amount.
    3. The water use does not interfere or degrade existing water users’ ability to perfect their rights.
    4. The water use upholds the public’s interest including preservation of environmental, public health and navigational values.
The rule applies to the main stem of the Spokane River in Washington within the Spokane Valley Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer boundary.
The majority of water users in this area are served by existing water providers with enough water rights to meet future demand.

Individual wells for domestic use have been the source of contention for instream flow rules in other parts of the state. We are fortunate in the Spokane River rule area because the majority of the region is served by existing water providers. Ecology believes these providers have adequate water rights to meet demand well into the future. 

A view of Spokane River falls and the Salmon King from Huntington Park in 
downtown Spokane. These scenic falls are a valuable asset to the community 

and a reminder of  historical tradition for local tribes who gathered here 

before modern dams to fish annual salmon runs.
The best news is individual domestic wells will be allowed if a landowner cannot obtain water from an existing water provider.  With the help of Washington Water Trust we have acquired and placed into trust a senior water right that will be used to support river flows and offset any new domestic well uses that could impact the river in the rule area.

Keeping water in the Spokane River is a priority for all of us. A healthy flowing river that provides fish habitat, hydropower and recreational uses is core to the community’s well being. Ecology’s rule to protect flow will help ensure there is enough clean water to sustain people and the environment well into the future.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Clean water on agricultural lands: Staff in eastern Washington take to the field this spring

By Brook Beeler, Communications, Eastern Region

Ecology staff will return to the field in March to assess the health of streams in several eastern Washington watersheds.

This is the same survey work we have done in the past to identify water quality problems and then follow-up with landowners to offer options and funding to help them fix water pollution problems. What’s new this time is that we are improving our outreach to landowners.

A farm nestled in the Palouse region of eastern Washington.
Photo credit: Ellery Samuels.
Agriculture is important to our way of life in Washington.  Clean water and a strong agricultural community can go hand-in-hand. To strengthen our commitment to the agricultural community Director Maia Bellon reached out to expand upon and improve our working relationships with landowners and livestock producers by creating the Agriculture and Water Quality Advisory Committee.

The advisory committee provides an open forum for dialogue ensuring both water quality protection and a healthy agricultural industry. Recently, the group reviewed the watershed assessment process and recommended key changes.

Our improved process this field season includes partnering with local producer groups to provide additional outreach. We will include more specific information in letters to landowners about water quality concerns. We will offer follow-up site visits, and give a clear explanation of our process and timeline for actions.

We will be focusing on five areas in eastern Washington including: Blue Mountain streams, Hangman Creek, the north and south fork Palouse River, Snake River tributaries in Whitman County, and the Walla Walla River.

Cattle are fenced away from the stream to protect
streamside trees and shrubs and water quality. 
We are partnering with conservation districts and WSU Extension to host workshops so landowners can learn about the current health of their watershed, the watershed assessment process and resources available to promote a healthy operation and protect clean water.

Three workshops are currently scheduled. Each starts at 6 p.m.:

Clean water and a healthy agriculture industry are compatible. Our eastern Washington watershed assessment is a tool to provide the technical and financial assistance that can support that outcome. We are dedicated to working with Washington’s agricultural community to achieve the shared value of healthy agriculture and clean water.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Fecal Matters: Swim Advisory issued for Lowman Park Beach, King County

BEACH Program Update

On January 22, 2015, King County issued a swim advisory for Lowman Park beach.  A small volume of wastewater overflowed to Puget Sound near the beach.  The County sampled Lowman beach today, and results will be available tomorrow afternoon.  The advisory is in effect until water samples show water is clean.

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 Facebook, checking beach status on Coastal Atlas, or joining our listserv. Debby Sargeant is the BEACH Program Manager and is available at for questions.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

How to find low-copper brake pads

Fish can start breathing a little easier today as automotive industry manufacturers, states and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency signed an agreement to reduce copper in brake pads modeled on Washington's 2010 Better Brakes Law.

Copper is highly toxic to fish and other aquatic species. It interferes with their sense of smell, making them more vulnerable to predators or unable to return to their spawning streams. Young salmon are especially susceptible to the effects of copper.

Vehicle brakes are a major source of copper in the environment, especially in urban areas. An estimated 250,000 pounds of copper enters Washington's waters each year from brake pads, 130,000 pounds of that going into Puget Sound.

Under the Better Brakes Law, manufacturers will reduce copper levels below 5 percent by 2021 and cut copper below 0.5 percent by 2025. Manufacturers report that they expect to beat those dates, without compromising on performance or quality. Results Washington is tracking our progress toward reducing copper in brake pads. 

John Stark, director of the Washington Stormwater Center, said cutting that source of copper will make a difference for salmon.

“Reducing copper levels won’t singlehandedly fix the challenges facing salmon in Puget Sound, but it will remove one of the barriers to their recovery,” Stark said.

But why wait until 2025? For many vehicles, brake pads are already available that meet either the 5 percent or 0.5 percent standard.

If you're buying brake pads or shoes for your car or truck, look at the packaging. Newly manufactured brakes will have a leaf illustration indicating which standard they meet - the more leafs filled in, the more environmentally friendly the brakes are:

In the pictures above, the "A" leaf meets standards for toxic chemicals such as asbestos, cadmium, chromium, lead, and mercury. The "B" leaf meets those standards and contains less than 5-percent copper by weight. The "N" leaf meets the toxics standards and contains less than 0.5-percent copper by weight.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Tacoma Smelter Plume: What's all the ruckus in north Tacoma and on Vashon Island?

By Jill Reitz, Cleanup Outreach Coordinator, Toxics Cleanup Program

That's the sound of soil cleanup...

Over the past few months, our work crews completed soil cleanup on 53 residential yards in Tacoma and on Vashon-Maury Island in the Yard Sampling and Cleanup Program (Yard Program). This is part of Ecology's ongoing work to clean up arsenic and lead contamination from the former Asarco smelter in Tacoma.

Ever wonder how soil cleanup works?

Good news! We recently finished a video (below) to show how soil cleanup works in the Yard Program. This three part video describes:
  • The history of Tacoma Smelter Plume.
  • How Ecology designs a yard cleanup plan.
  • The steps of the cleanup process and lawn restoration.
  • Responsibilities of the homeowner.
In 2015, we plan to increase the number of yards for the construction season to 100-plus. With an increase in yards, we anticipate we will get more questions from homeowners. We hope that this video will help answer questions for homeowners who are interested in learning more.

Follow our yard cleanup work...

Questions about soil cleanup?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Semi-truck accident spills biosolids into Swauk Creek

Update 1/22/15: News release from Kittitas County:
Initial Biosolid Spill Testing Results are Available 

Update 1/20/15 4:30 p.m.: News release from King County:
Cleanup of nonhazardous biosolids spill in Kittitas County completed within 24 hours 

Update 1/20/15 1:50 p.m.: NRC Environmental Services was dispatched to the spill on Monday and vacuumed up biosolids that spilled on the ground and into Swauk Creek on Blewett Pass in Kittitas County earlier in the day. The tractor and trailer were extracted and the scene was clear by 3:30 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 20. About half of the trailer’s load of biosolids from King County was spilled (about 30,000 pounds or 15 tons).

Follow-up water quality monitoring is being conducted by King County and Kittitas County health departments. Additional information will be forth coming from Kittitas and King county.

WENATCHEE – Kittitas County Public Health Department, King County, Washington Department of Ecology, and NRC Environmental Services are responding to a biosolids spill on Highway 97 near Blewett Pass in Kittitas County at mile post 157.

The public is advised to keep themselves and any pets away from the area until potential health risks have been determined by the Kittitas County Public Health Department.

Approximately 60,000 pounds King County biosolids  spilled into Swauk Creek when a semi-truck overturned early Monday morning, Jan.19, 2015. The biosolids were en route to a farm in Eastern Washington when the accident occurred. Cleanup began earlier today and is expected to continue over the next several days.

Biosolids are a treated, nutrient-rich, by-product of the wastewater treatment process. It is used as a soil amendment for farming and forestry. Biosolids are regulated by the state and meet high standards in order to be used as a fertilizer for wheat and other crops in Eastern Washington. Some bacteria and other pathogens may be present for a period of several days.

Updates and pictures will be provided on Twitter from @ecologyWA as additional information becomes available. Contact Kittitas County Public Health Department at 509-962-7515 or after hours at 509-201-6331 for questions and information about potential health risks.

Camille St. Onge, Depart of Ecology, 360-584-6501
HollyMyers, Kittitas County Public Health, 509-962-7515
Annie Kolb-Nelson, King County, 206-423-8638

View additional photos of the accident on our Flickr account: