Friday, September 23, 2016

On the road to a better Ecology website

Help us improve our website!

Using a fun, online tool you simply try out our draft navigation. When you participate, you can enter to win one of four $25 Amazon gift cards. It will only take about 10 minutes.
You may have noticed we’ve been doing a lot of testing on our website.

Ecology is three months into a year-long journey to not just improve our website, but to completely rebuild it. Our goal is to make it easier to use. That’s where YOU come in! We need to keep checking with you, our web users, to be sure we’re on the right track.

What are we testing this time?

We have a draft plan for a simpler web structure and we’d like to know how well it works for you. Can you take 10 minutes to help us?

We’ve come up with a rough outline of how we might organize the content on our new site. It’s still just a sketch and doesn’t include everything yet. Think of it like a map that, so far, only has the major highways penciled in.

We’re using an online tool called Treejack to help us evaluate the grouping and labeling of our content – kind of like the territories and road signs on our map. It will show us which pathways users take to find specific types of information. It’s a quick exercise and fun, too. There are no right or wrong answers — we’re just trying to see how people think about the content on our site. When you try it you can enter to win one of four $25 Amazon gift cards.

Let us help you to help us!

If you’d like to participate in trying out our proposed structure but need some assistance, please schedule an appointment to complete this same exercise verbally through our ADA coordinator, Hanna. You can reach her at (360) 407-7668.

This web usability study will run Sept. 23rd - 30th.

Thank you in advance for your participation! You are helping us reach our destination, a better Ecology website!

If you have questions about our usability testing, contact Cally Whiteside, Ecology Web Team @

Monday, September 19, 2016

Affordable Clean Water Loans are a lifeline when your septic system fails

It’s not even Halloween, but it can be pretty scary finding out that your toilets are backed up and your home’s septic system is failing.

Not only do you not have a place to – you know – go, you’ve got a smelly mess and it can cost you tens of thousands of dollars to fix the problem.

You are not alone. There are about a million privately owned and operated septic systems across Washington and many are at risk of failing due to old age.

Septic systems, or on-site sewage systems as we call them, are the suburban and rural counterpart to urban city sewer systems. Properly functioning systems are vital in protecting our health. They are also vital to protect clean, healthy groundwater and our lakes, rivers, streams and Puget Sound. And they are vital to local industries that depend on clean water to thrive.

Fully functioning septic systems provide sustainable infrastructure so people can live around Puget Sound without polluting it.

When your septic system fails, it’s a public health and an environmental problem

When septic systems are not working properly, untreated sewage can contaminate drinking water with bacteria, viruses, nitrates, and chemicals. Failing systems can pollute shellfish growing areas. They can make water-recreation areas unsafe, and lower oxygen levels in water, harming fish and wildlife.

Whether it’s backing up in the basement, ponding in the backyard, or closing beaches, the bacteria and other contaminants associated with untreated sewage are a major water quality and public health concern.

Affordable loan program 

For several years, the state departments of Health and Ecology partnered with local health jurisdictions and the local nonprofit lender Craft3 to provide financial assistance to help property owners fix failing systems and stay in their homes. They created highly affordable Clean Water Loans to cover the full costs of repairing or replacing failing septic systems, which are a significant burden to most household budgets.

What’s new is that a Puget Sound Regional Septic Program joined the Clean Water Loan program in July, giving Western Washington residents more access to the program.

“This new loan program exemplifies partnerships at their best. It responsibly invests in critical infrastructure, supports Puget Sound recovery, builds family resilience in rural areas, and helps ensure access to clean water that is essential to our communities,” said Polly Zehm, Ecology’s deputy director. “I’m thrilled to see counties, the state and Craft3 come together to strengthen local families and businesses, while making a measurable impact on our region’s water quality.”

The loans allow residential and commercial property owners with failing septic systems to pay for:
Septic system design
Relevant permits
Installation of the new septic system
Ongoing maintenance
Essential safety measures, such as those to prevent children from falling into septic tanks
Or to connect to a municipal sewer system, if required

Are you eligible?

If you live in one of the following counties, you can apply for a Clean Water Loan from Craft3: Clallam, Grays Harbor, Jefferson, King, Kitsap, Mason, Pacific, Pierce, Snohomish, Thurston, Wahkiakum, and Whatcom. We also expect Island County to join the regional loan program soon.
If you live San Juan, Skagit or Spokane counties, funds are available through your local health jurisdiction.

It's SepticSmart Week, so take action by getting your system inspected, and if you need help, learn more about the Clean Water Loans at

Visit our education website or the Environmental Protection Agency to learn more about keeping your septic system healthy.

By Rebecca Brown, Water Quality Program Financial Assistance

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

WCC: Now hiring across the state!

Want to serve your community, improve habitat for fish and wildlife and restore the environment? Want to gain hands-on experience in the environmental field? Are you 18-25 years old or a military veteran? If so, we want to hire you for Washington Conservation Corps (WCC)!

WCC, an AmeriCorps program housed within Ecology, serves outdoors year-round to protect and enhance Washington’s natural resources. We also deploy, as needed, on local and national disaster response. By joining the WCC, you might find yourself planting native trees or shrubs along rivers and streams, improving forest health or building trails.

WCC projects could take you across the state to construct fencing, maintain backcountry trails or respond to a disaster. We cover food and lodging for our members if overnight travel is involved.

What types of positions do you offer?

WCC is recruiting on all 55 crews across the state through Oct. 3. Joining a crew means serving alongside four other members and a supervisor to complete restoration or trails projects. Some crews travel more than others. Learn more about our crews on our website!

WCC also offers an internship program called the Individual Placement (IP) Program. IPs serve individually with natural resource organizations across the state. These unique positions might monitor streams, survey fish, design restoration projects, map beaches, collect samples, create outreach materials or perform a host of other environmental tasks.

The details...

Interested in joining WCC? Check to see if you qualify:
  • No experience? No problem!
  • You must be a Washington State resident
  • You must pass a background check
  • You must be 18-25 years old, but age restrictions do not apply to Gulf War era II veterans, reservists and dependents
Most importantly, applicants must be willing to serve outdoors in all types of weather and contribute to a positive team atmosphere.

What do you get?

As a WCC member, you will make $9.47/hour. You will also earn an AmeriCorps Education Award of $5,775.00 for education after completing 1700 hours and your 12-month term.

Other benefits include:
  • Basic health insurance for full-time (12-month) members
  • In a new partnership with Walla Walla Community College, WCC members can now earn up to 18 college credits during their time in WCC
  • Two weeks of paid training in career-transferable, environmental courses
Ecology's WCC consists of three subprograms: the core WCC, Veteran Conservation Corps and Puget SoundCorps. Visit our WCC featured projects story map to see examples of how our WCC members serve.

WCC Projects
Click through to see examples of WCC AmeriCorps projects!

Learn more and apply online today to become a member of WCC:

Friday, September 2, 2016

Fecal Matters: 24 hour swim closure issued for Chambers Creek Regional Park beach, Pierce County

BEACH Program Update

On September 2, 2016, Tacoma Pierce County Health Department recommended people keep out of the water at Chambers Creek Regional Park Beach. There was a spill this morning of treated but only partially disinfected sewage. The swim closure is in effect for 24 hours, until September 3, 2016.

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.

Debby Sargeant, our BEACH Program Manager, is available at 360-407-6775 or for questions.

At Hanford, the alphabet soup is a real stew

As the newbie communication manager for Ecology’s Nuclear Waste Program, I’ve been swimming upstream in an alphabet torrent.

For years, I’ve been telling folks that one of my few regrets is failing to learn another language. I realize now that’s not entirely true. In my previous life I was senior writer and vice president for an ad agency that specialized in aviation. And though I’m not a pilot, I did become familiar with much of the aviation lingo. And I thought aviation shorthand was challenging.

To poach a metaphor I’ve heard a lot around NWP (that’s Nuclear Waste Program to the uninitiated), aviation is a lawn sprinkler to hazardous waste cleanup’s firehose.

An excerpt from the list of Hanford acronyms and initialisms. From CEPAC (Center for Process Analytical Chemistry) to CERCLA (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act - Superfund).
Just a small taste of the many initialisms and acronyms that define efforts to clean up Hanford Nuclear Reservation.
Into the stew

Out of an alphabet frying pan into the initialism fire.

First, there’s the DOE-EPA-NWP’s TPA. That’s the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency and NWP (you know that one already), who long ago entered into the Tri-Party Agreement.

Or how about Rev 9, Rev 8c, Site-wide Permit (officially, the Hanford Dangerous Waste Permit). Confusingly, all the same thing. Well, not exactly. Rev 8c is the one currently in effect. Rev 9 has been in the works for … a long time. Rev 9 will go into effect soon. Very soon.

Then there’s RCRA and CERCLA – the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (AKA Superfund). Say Rick-ruh and Ser-cluh if you want to sound like you know what you’re talking about.

The steep slope of Gable Mountain on Hanford nuclear reservation
Gable Mountain in the heart of Hanford Nuclear Reservation. The many programs known mostly by their initials are aimed at protecting this delicate habitat, among many other goals. 

Getting it straight
Let’s see if I can straighten these last two out for you. The TPA (see above – officially the Hanford Federal Facility Agreement and Consent Order) spells out which agency is responsible to regulate specific parts of the ongoing cleanup at Hanford. EPA has ultimate authority over operations governed by the Superfund law, but at Hanford the TPA splits oversight responsibilities more or less evenly between the EPA and our state Ecology Nuclear Waste Program. 

To wrap your head around DFLAW – Direct Feed Low-Activity Waste – you have to understand that there is high-level radioactive waste, the material generated in nuclear reactors. And there’s low-activity waste (LAW), which is radioactive, but the concentrations are low enough that they don’t require the same protective measures. Direct feed promises to speed up the processing of LAW materials stored in Hanford’s extensive system of waste storage tanks. And that’s a good thing all around – the sooner these toxic stews are cleaned up, the better for all concerned.

There’s a lot more, believe me. But I’ll spare you for now. FYI – CFIT, TAWS and FADEC are all aviation initialisms. FADEC = Full authority digital engine control. It controls your engine for maximum efficiency. TAWS = Terrain awareness and warning system. It tells you if you’re getting too close to something, such as, you know, the ground. CFIT = Controlled flight into terrain. Also known as a crash.

Translation: Making it real
Of course, all of this encoded jargon translates to real things with serious intent. It helps to know at least a few of them if you’re interested in digging into the complex issues and processes involved in cleaning up nearly five decades worth of hazardous and radioactive materials generated by the plutonium production process. Or, for straightforward, jargon-free news on Washington Ecology’s activities to regulate the clean-up, you can follow us on Facebook – Ecology’s Hanford Education & Outreach Network (@HanfordEducation) – and Twitter – Ecology Hanford (@ecyhanford).

So the next time there’s potential public interest when DOE, NWP and EPA talk about CERCLA’s impact on TPA or Rev 9 and RCRA, or what it means for DFLAW, we’ll be sure to let you know. We don’t want you throwing any CFITs.

Randy Bradbury, Nuclear Waste Program communications manager

Fecal Matters: Silverdale Waterfront Park OPEN for swimming, Kitsap County

BEACH Program Update

September 2, 2016, Silverdale Waterfront Park beach in Kitsap County reopened today for water recreation.  Water samples of the beach were clean and at levels healthy for swimming.

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.

Visit the BEACH webpage to find the latest results for these and other saltwater beaches.

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 is available at 360-488-4868 or for questions.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Watching the water supply

This blog post is part of an ongoing series about water supply conditions. Please click here to read the previous post. If you want to learn more, visit our Washington water supply information page.

Have we seen the last of summer’s high temperatures? The arrival of more moderate weather may feel like fall for many of us across the state. As we begin to transition into the next season, let’s check in on our statewide water supply conditions.

Status of our supplies

Weather impacts | Cooler and wetter weather is on the way. Over the next 10 days, Washington will receive much-needed rain. While the amount may be modest, it will help our rivers and streams rebuild to higher levels while lowering water temperatures.

The Walla Walla River in southeast Washington ran low in
Rivers and streams | This is the time of year when rivers and streams are at their lowest levels. The snowpack is long gone and rain has been infrequent, so rivers and streams are relying on groundwater. Currently, about 48 percent of our streams and rivers are at below-average levels compared to historical flows. Most of these are in the western half the state, though southeast Washington also has a number of low rivers. These dry areas have gone without their usual share of precipitation since early spring.

Last year, we experienced a record-setting drought that resulted in 70 to 80 percent of our rivers being below-average for most of the summer. But in mid- and late August, the weather turned cooler and thunderstorms rolled across the state, dropping the percent of rivers flowing at below-average conditions to 40 percent. Compared to last summer at the end of August, our rivers are actually faring worse because we haven’t had those big storms yet.

Agriculture | Most of Washington’s agricultural areas experienced a dry and hot August. Crops are doing well for the most part, but farm ponds and reservoirs are getting low. The large federal reservoirs used for irrigation in the Yakima River Basin are at about normal levels, which is good for farms and fish. Farmers in the Yakima region holding junior water rights are receiving 94 percent of a full water supply. Senior users have 100 percent.

Bull trout in Bumping Lake, a reservoir in Yakima County,
are heading up tributaries to spawn. Photo: WDFW
Fish | Low flow levels in rivers and streams can be tough for fish, but cooler overnight temperatures are helping. In the Puget Sound area, streams are averaging 1 to 3 degrees Celsius cooler than in 2015. To the north, the South Fork Nooksack River is about the same temperature as last year. The Chehalis River and nearby southwest Washington streams are running very low compared to normal. Good news can be found in the Upper Yakima and Naches river basins, where bull trout have started moving out of Bumping Lake and into streams to spawn. That’s encouraging after what happened last summer, when low lake levels prevented the fish from moving into Deep Creek, an important bull trout stronghold.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife continues to watch for recreational rock dams that might impede upstream adult salmon passage.

Drinking water | Drinking water supplies are doing well. Seattle, Everett and Tacoma report normal or above-average water supplies.

How you can help

We all have a role to play in conserving water. Here are two ways you can make a difference:

  • When washing your hands, turn off the water while you lather up.
  • Don’t use your toilet as a wastebasket. Even better, use a leak-free, high-efficiency toilet. Toilets are by far the main source of water use in our homes – they account for nearly 30 percent of residential indoor water consumption.

For more tips, visit our water conservation page.

By Kristin Johnson-Waggoner, Water Resources Program communications manager