Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Protecting our great Columbia River

Bulk cargo ships at anchor in Astoria, Oregon. Photo courtesy of  Alex 
Butterfield, CC BY 2.0.
Was the mighty Columbia River created by volcanoes, floods and earthquakes, or was it created by Coyote, who according to tribal legend, realized that there were salmon in the ocean and that people needed to eat them?

Did Coyote stage a large battle with a great beaver, backing the beaver up into the Cascade Mountains, where the beaver tail scraped out the Columbia River Gorge? Is this what opened up a channel from the ocean to bring the salmon to the people?

This tribal legend told in oral tradition, taken from a Northwest Power and Conservation Council Columbia River history report, is just one example of the rich cultural lore associated with the river.

Today, the river is this and a whole lot more. It’s a vital shipping corridor that benefits both Washington and Oregon, and our regional and international economies.

Keeping an eye on vessel traffic


Here at the Department of Ecology, we are watching vessel traffic on the river with an eye to protect it from oil spills.

Each year, hundreds of oil-carrying vessels enter the Columbia River to deliver more than a billion gallons of gasoline, jet fuel, and other petroleum products to ports in Washington and Oregon.

Chemical tanker heading to sea from the mouth of the Columbia River. Photo 
courtesy of Bruce Fingerhood, CC BY 2.0.
The river is a busy corridor. Oil-carrying tankers and barges share space with cargo ships, passenger vessels, recreational boats, and fishing vessels.

A big oil spill could not only harm the river, its shorelines, and the fish and animals that depend on the Columbia’s waters, it could also impact both states’ economies. The river could be closed to vessels that deliver goods and services to communities along the river, interrupting the region’s export of grain and other farm products.

A spill could threaten both Washington’s and Oregon’s rich cultural and historic resources that lie along this vital corridor. Based on 2006 numbers, a large spill could cost Washington $10.8 billion and 165,147 jobs.

Many hands help keep the river safe from vessel mishaps. They include the Lower Columbia Region Harbor Safety committee, the Northwest Area Committee, the Sector Columbia River Area Maritime Security Committee, the Oregon Board of Maritime Pilots, and the U.S Coast Guard.

We recently worked with them all to complete a just-out report on Columbia River vessel traffic safety for the Washington Legislature.

A key finding is an obvious point – while the likelihood of a major oil spill on the Columbia River is low, the consequences are high to both Washington and Oregon.

Why we did the evaluation


As our energy picture changes, new oil-handling projects may come online that would increase the number of oil tankers transiting the river. Concerned about the potential increased risk of spills, the Washington Legislature directed us in 2015 to assess vessel traffic management and safety within and near the mouth of the Columbia River to determine:

The need for tug escorts for vessels transporting oil as cargo
Tug capabilities to ensure safe escort
The highest level of protection that can be attained using technology, staffing, training, operational methods, while considering cost and achievability.

Spill prevention is a collaborative effort


Our evaluation showed us that the river has a robust set of safety standards already in place to reduce the risks of accidents and oil spills, but that more could be done to ensure we’re prepared should worst come to worst. Some of these safety measures are mandated by state and federal laws and regulations, while others are voluntary. For example, all tank vessels operating on the Columbia are required to have double hulls, reducing the likelihood of spills from collisions and groundings, but if tanker traffic increases, tug escorts could provide added protection to reduce oil spill risks.

Many partners participated as we conducted the evaluation, and together we generated a common framework for understanding oil spill risks and identifying potential risk reduction measures. A key recommendation in the report is that existing collaborative maritime safety programs are our best opportunity to prevent oil spills on the river and bar.

Keeping our spill prevention safety net strong


The safety evaluation is a valuable step in protecting both Washington and Oregon against future oil spills. The river is valuable and worthy of our attention. Just ask Coyote, the beaver, the salmon, and the people.

Read the full report online, access a brief focus sheet, and find additional information about our risk assessment work on our website.


By Sandy Howard, Spills Program

Friday, December 1, 2017

Help chart the future of our Pacific coast


Makah Bay on Washington's northwest Pacific Ocean coast.

Are you interested in helping shape the future of Washington’s Pacific Coast?

Ecology is still taking public comment on the state’s proposed Marine Spatial Plan and draft Environmental Impact Statement until Tuesday, Dec. 12.

The science-based guidance would establish a process for reviewing and making decisions about future ocean uses that might be proposed on the state’s Pacific coast.

Marine spatial plan forward looking

There are no new projects currently proposed for our ocean coast. The Marine Spatial Plan, however, is designed to be forward looking by establishing procedures to make sure that local and tribal governments and state and federal agencies coordinate with one another on planning and permitting decisions for any future proposals.

The plan also would help ensure that the public and interest groups have ample opportunity to weigh in on any future proposals.

While most current coastal activities center on recreation, maritime shipping, aquaculture and coastal fishing, Washington could receive requests to locate new types of projects and activities in the ocean such as:

  • Dredge disposal
  • Offshore aquaculture operations
  • Renewable energy

The Marine Spatial Plan would help ensure any future projects avoid causing long-term significant adverse impacts to our environment, fisheries, and other resources.

Identifying conditions, trends and potential effects

The proposed plan provides data on current ocean conditions and future trends. It also outlines the data and information needed to evaluate new proposed ocean projects, including the potential effects a project could have on people, local communities, and the environment.

While the plan establishes protections for fisheries and ecologically-sensitive areas in state waters, it does not change current management or permit processes for existing marine activities such as fisheries management plans or shellfish aquaculture.
 
Multi-party effort

Ecology developed the draft plan in partnership with the Washington departments of Fish and Wildlife and Natural Resources, Washington Sea Grant, and other agencies.

The state also worked closely with local and tribal governments, other state agencies, the Washington Coastal Marine Advisory Council, environmental and planning groups, the private sector and the public to develop the plan.

Submit comments online or by mail

The Dec. 12 deadline for submitting comments is rapidly approaching. You can submit comments online or by mail to: Jennifer Hennessey, Department of Ecology, PO Box 47600, Olympia, WA 98504-7600.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Fecal Matters: Dakwas Park Beach and Front Street Beach are OPEN to Water Contact Recreation, Clallam County

BEACH Program Update

November 22, 2017, the Makah BEACH Program has re-opened Dakwas Park Beach, Neah Bay and Front Street Beach, East to water contact recreation.  Recent water sampling showed that bacteria levels were low and safe 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.

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.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Fecal Matters: No Swimming Advisory for Dakwas Park Beach, Neah Bay, Makah Beach Program, Clallam County

BEACH Program Update


On November 17, 2017, the Makah Beach Program issued a no-contact advisory for Dakwas Park Beach in Neah Bay due to high bacteria levels in the water. Staff from the Makah Beach Program will be sampling this beach next week to determine if bacteria levels have dropped.

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.



Fecal Matters: Front Street Beach, East is CLOSED to Water Contact Recreation, Clallam County

BEACH Program Update


On November 17, 2017, the Makah Beach Program issued a closure to water contact recreation at Front Street Beach, East. This closure was issued due to high levels of fecal bacteria in the water. This beach will be sampled again next week to determine if bacteria levels have decreased. The public is advised to avoid contact with the water until further notice.

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.

Comment on Skamania County’s updated shoreline program by Nov. 30

The confluence of the Wind and Columbia rivers in Skamania County. 
In the shadow of Mt. St. Helens National Monument, Skamania County reaches from the Columbia River Gorge north to some of the most remote areas in Washington; in the heart of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

Ninety percent of the county’s 1,684 sq. miles is forested. The rest is a mix of small towns, roads, water and shorelines.
Skamania County hosts approximately 581 miles of rivers and creeks, and
166 miles of lake shorelines.

From now through Nov. 30, the Washington Department of Ecology is seeking public comment on proposed changes to Skamania County’s Shoreline Master Program that guides the uses on approximately 581 miles of rivers and creeks, and 166 miles of lake shorelines. In addition to the Columbia River, there are seven other county shorelines of statewide significance, including the Wind, and Little White Salmon Rivers, Spirit Lake, and Swift Reservoir. Additional County shorelines include many tributary streams, creeks, and smaller lakes.

Skamania’s County’s Shoreline Master Program includes updated goals, policies, regulations, environment designations, and administrative provisions that are locally tailored to reflect current conditions and community vision for future shoreline use and development. It hasn’t been revised since 1986.

Spirit Lake is located within the Mount St. Helen's National Volcanic Monument.
The updated master program prioritizes water-oriented uses, habitat protection, public access, and ecological restoration and allows for legal existing uses and structures to continue. Most future shoreline development will occur outside the federal lands that dominate the region, in areas along the SR 14 Evergreen Highway corridor where residential and recreational activities are popular.

The public has until 5 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 30, to comment.

After the public comment period ends, Ecology will compare Skamania County's proposed program to the requirements of the Shoreline Management Act and the Shoreline Master Program Guidelines and decide whether to approve the program as is, with recommended changes, or send it back to Skamania County with required changes to meet statutory and rule requirements.

There are three ways to comment and ask questions by contacting the Ecology Shoreline Planner:

Email: michelle.mcconnell@ecy.wa.gov
Call:    360-407-6349
Write: Washington Department of Ecology
            Southwest Regional Office – SEA Program
            Attn: Michelle McConnell
            PO Box 47775
            Olympia, WA 98504-7775

The electronic documents out for public review and comment can be found online.

Paper copies are available for viewing by appointment, at the following locations:

Washington State Department of Ecology’s Southwest Regional Office
300 Desmond Dr.
Lacey, WA 98503
Staff contact: Michelle McConnell
Phone: 360-407-6349
Email: michelle.mcconnell@ecy.wa.gov

Skamania County Department of Community Development
Courthouse Annex
170 NW Vancouver Ave.
Stevenson, WA 98648
Staff contact: Alan Peters
Phone: 509-427-3900
Email: apeters@co.skamania.wa.us

Friday, November 10, 2017

Fecal Matters: Dakwas Park Beach, Neah Bay is OPEN to Water Contact Recreation, Clallam County

BEACH Program Update

November 10, 2017, the Makah BEACH Program has re-opened Dakwas Park Beach to water contact recreation.  Recent water sampling showed that bacteria levels were low and safe 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.

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.