Friday, October 21, 2016

On the road to a better Ecology website

Help us improve our website!

This study has closed. Our next web usability study will be in January when we'll be testing a draft layout (wireframe) of our new site!
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 SECOND draft 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 October 17 - 21.

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 @

Thursday, October 20, 2016

WCC disaster response: Looking back on Louisiana

In August, 72 Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) AmeriCorps members and crew supervisors deployed to the Baton Rouge area to assist communities affected by devastating flooding. Below, five recently-returned WCC AmeriCorps members reflect on their disaster response experience in Louisiana.

A dispatched WCC member guts walls and floors rotted by floodwaters in Louisiana. Photo by: FEMA/J.T. Blatty

WCC supervisor Ernie Farmer served as Incident Commander for the first month of AmeriCorps Disaster Response Team efforts, with WCC supervisors Rob Crawford, Phill VanKessel and other supervisors also holding key leadership roles. WCC AmeriCorps members organized volunteer reception centers, helped muck and gut homes, cleared debris from homes and much more.

The initial group of WCC staff and AmeriCorps members returned to Washington on Sept. 20. WCC supervisor Adam Hein and five WCC AmeriCorps members returned Oct. 14 from the second wave of response efforts. Thank you to all who have served and supported this response!

Andrew Hacker, WCC AmeriCorps City of Bellingham crew member 

Having the opportunity to participate in a Washington Conservation Corps disaster response has been something that I had wanted to do since I started my year of service. Finishing off my first year as a WCC AmeriCorps member aiding survivors of flooding in Louisiana for a month has been a unique and enriching experience that I will never forget. I entered the state expecting to see a community full of misery, hopelessness and sorrow but what I saw was completely different. Instead, I found a community full of hope, graciousness and hospitality.

Throughout the houses that I aided in mucking and gutting, there is not a single person that I will not remember. From the cheerful pleasantries of Jimmy to the hilarious joviality of Benny, each person had a positive outlook on life and a unique perspective of the flood that frankly surprised me. Looking past themselves, almost all of the people we assisted were genuinely interested in our Louisiana experience. Most days we had meals supplied to us by these community members in an effort to make us more comfortable and satisfied. This was something I wouldn’t have expected. Each day might have been long, smelly and arduous but there is not one moment in this experience that I would take back.

Maia Gurol, WCC AmeriCorps City of Bellingham crew member 2015-2016 

Louisiana is an amazing place full of culture, delicious food and warm-hearted people. It is also full of guns, churches and lots and lots of bugs. Mold grows quickly in the humidity. Rural poverty is hard to grasp without seeing it in person. I have seen people at their absolute worst, sitting in a shelter with only the possessions under their cots to remind them of what they lost. The few days I spent hearing people’s stories of survival and loss while visiting shelters were some of the hardest, most emotional days of my life. I have also seen people at their best, persevering with a smile on their face and laughing with people who—only hours before—were strangers. Every day was a different challenge, plans changed every few hours and quickly we all learned to expect the unexpected.

Overall I am extremely grateful for having been given the opportunity to be part of this disaster deployment. This experience has been long, hot, sticky, overwhelming, delicious, disgusting, exciting, sad, interesting and heartwarming. I have learned far more than I ever expected about myself, about my crewmates, about construction and so much more. It is hard to put into one paragraph, but to sum it up I think I have become a better, more informed and empathetic person because of this opportunity. I have laughed a lot and bonded with both my crewmates and homeowners. I have also cried, knowing that we can only help so much. I am glad to being going home, but I will remember this month for the rest of my life. Also, our supervisor Lyle is an amazing human being.

Riley Thorpe, WCC AmeriCorps City of Bellingham crew member 2015-2016 

Louisiana is great. The people are warm and welcoming, there are crazy animals and bugs everywhere, and I’ve never had so much good food in such a short of time. Southern Hospitality is real, and it is delicious. It’s also really, really hot out here. Come lunchtime, we usually have already sweated through the clothes and Tyvek suits we wear to protect us from the mold and muck. It’s not as bad as it sounds though. As gross as the cleanup can be, this whole trip has been immensely rewarding. All the homeowners are so grateful and loving towards us that it gives tasks an immediate feeling of purpose. There’s a mutual feeling of appreciation between us and the homeowners, and I think that’s what makes the whole thing worthwhile.

And I think I speak for all of us when I say that I am extremely impressed by our supervisor Lyle. He keeps his cool through all of the ridiculous jobs he is in charge of, and has always been there for us. I don’t know how he does it, that guy’s unstoppable!

Nicolas Holmquist, WCC AmeriCorps City of Bellingham crew member 2015-2016 

Ending the WCC service year on disaster response was an opportunity I am glad I took. I have wanted to have an experience like this for a while. I plan to join the military. When I do, I intend to choose a career that—to some extent—provides a similar chance to help out with various disasters. Being able to help out the folks in Louisiana has not only opened me up as a person, but has allowed me to truly see how strong and hopeful a community can be when all are united in a similar cause.

Mucking and gutting in no way has been a pleasant task, but the after effect of it has been far more rewarding than I originally thought it was going to be. Seeing how grateful and generous the people are here continually enriches the spirit to do more for them and get the project done. The experience I have had here has been like no other. I am thankful that I was able to be a part of the service that’s going on here. It not only gives further initiative to help communities in the future, it inspires me not to take things for granted.

Kaitlyn Hammond, Whatcom Land Trust WCC AmeriCorps individual placement 2015-2016

If you had told me on Monday that I would be leaving on Saturday for a 30-day deployment to Louisiana to respond to catastrophic flooding, I would have laughed. I never thought I would do anything like this, but I am so grateful to have participated in this deployment, interacted with locals and learned new skills—about other cultures and about myself.

The first thing I learned is that Southern Hospitality is real. Oh, so real. From day one we were greeted with, “Mornin’ darlin’! Can I get ya’ll anythin’ to eat?” Even if we weren’t hungry, we knew better than to say no to these incredibly thoughtful people and miss out on some of the best food in the country. From gumbo to jambalaya to fried chicken, homeowners who had lost everything went out of their way to provide us with hot meals to ensure we got the real Louisiana experience. Our crew spent most of our time mucking and gutting homes. While the worst was over for these people, helping them sort through what was left of their possessions brought us immediately into an intimate relationship with a stranger.

The projects were hard, and I don’t think I’ve ever sweated so much in my life. Our assignments changed like the weather (sometimes with the weather!), and we were able to see a lot of the area around Baton Rouge. I’ve always thought of myself as a flexible person, but I realize now that I really like knowing the plan! Amidst these minor irritations, I was fortunate enough to get to know a lot of incredible WCC AmeriCorps members and supervisors, and feel like I have a greater appreciation for the program as a whole. The resiliency of people—both AmeriCorps members bouncing back from the hard work and heat, and survivors offering us blessings and love despite having lost so much—was overwhelming. This resiliency will continue to give me hope far into the future. I aim to one day be a part of such an important response team again.

WCC’s disaster response program

Four of our WCC crews are designated disaster response crews, though any crew has the potential to deploy. Deployments range from national to local disasters, supporting flood response and prevention, wildfire operations, hurricane assistance and more.

Dispatched WCC members join FEMA to assess flood damage in a Louisiana home. Photo by: FEMA/J.T. Blatty

Twenty-four of our WCC AmeriCorps members and staff deployed to Florida on Sunday, Oct. 16, to assist communities affected by Hurricane Matthew flooding. With several thousand requests for assistance already on file, members and staff will stay busy with Volunteer Reception Center set up and command, debris removal, mucking and gutting homes and more. We're proud that our team is willing to give to those in need after natural disasters.

Join WCC!

Do you want to help the environment, meet great people and make a real difference? The 2016-2017 AmeriCorps year just kicked off, but check back in February to apply for six-month positions with WCC! Ecology's Washington Conservation Corps, an AmeriCorps Program, consists of three subprograms: the original WCC, Veteran Conservation Corps and Puget SoundCorps.

A dispatched WCC member removes wall panels damaged by flooding in Louisiana. Photo by: FEMA/J.T. Blatty
See the types of projects WCC members support during their service in our WCC Projects Flickr set and WCC Featured Projects Story Map.

Story compiled and written by: Laura Schlabach, WCC outreach coordinator

Learn more about WCC at:

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Reynolds Smelter Cleanup/Millennium Bulk Terminals - Longview Update

There’s a lot happening at the former Reynolds smelter site in Cowlitz County’s industrial area this autumn. Some of it will be tangible, boots-on-the-ground work, but there’s also a tremendous amount going on behind the scenes. Although cleanup of the site and redevelopment are on separate regulatory paths, parallel progress is being made.

First an overview of what’s up with the site cleanup, then an outline of what’s happening with environmental reviews related to coal export proposed by Millennium Bulk Terminals – Longview.

Cleanup Action Plan

For almost three-quarters of a century, the site of the former Reynolds Metals Reduction Plant in Longview has hosted intense industrial activity. For 70 years, this property was an active aluminum smelter and continued to receive bulk shipments of alumina after the smelter closed in 2001. The ore continued on to a Wenatchee smelter.

For the past decade, most of activity at the site has centered on understanding and developing options for cleaning up the chemical contamination and waste byproducts left behind by the operations of the first 70 years. While working alongside the local community, property owners and Cowlitz County, the Department of Ecology has carried out a regulatory oversight role ensuring future cleanup will meet strict legal standards that protect people and the environment.

Rigorous studies and sampling of the site identified soils with elevated levels of fluoride, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and total petroleum hydrocarbons. Testing has shown that the shallow groundwater at the site contains fluoride and PAHs.

The importance of cleaning up this site to the local community is reflected by the robust public engagement during the cleanup process. This includes local leaders, community members, tribal governments, the property owner Northwest Alloys, Inc., and Millennium, which leases the property. As a result, this complex cleanup is well-informed and comprehensive, as outlined in the draft Cleanup Action Plan, which Ecology expects to finalize later this year.

A thorough cleanup of this site is a high priority for everyone. Northwest Alloys, Inc., and Millennium are responsible for funding the cleanup. Once the final Cleanup Action Plan is issued and a legal Consent Decree is signed, cleanup can begin.

Columbia River Sediment Dredging

While investigating the site, Ecology found contamination in nearby Columbia River sediments. A small area of sediment is contaminated with PAHs.

In November, this pocket of pollution is scheduled to be dredged and sent to a landfill licensed to accept contaminated sediments. More information about the early dredging action is outlined in an approved interim cleanup work plan.

Clean, sandy backfill will replace the material that is removed.

Millennium Bulk Terminals-Longview Environmental Review

Separate and distinct from the site cleanup, Millennium is proposing to build and operate a coal export terminal on a portion of the site. Before any permit decisions can be made, Cowlitz County, Ecology and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must complete federal and local environmental studies.

The federal study is led by the Army Corps of Engineers and follows the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The local study is being co-led by Cowlitz County and Ecology and follows the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). The two studies are on different timelines and both are required before local, state and federal permit decisions can be made.

Final SEPA EIS planned for Spring

The SEPA final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is a much-anticipated project milestone. After three public hearings that drew hundreds of people and an unprecedented 267,000 public comments, the draft study requires significant additional work before issuing it in a final form.

Cowlitz County and Ecology announced that they plan to release the final SEPA EIS on April 29, 2017, four months ahead of schedule.

NEPA Draft EIS Out for Public Review

On Sept. 30, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued its draft EIS for the federal review required by NEPA. The 60-day public comment period on the federal draft study continues until Nov. 29. More information is available at the Millennium Bulk Terminals NEPA Draft EIS webpage.

There are also public comment periods for two federal permits related to the proposed coal export terminal that continue through Nov. 29. Read the joint public notice.


Cleaning up legacy pollution from large industrial sites is a big deal for any Washington community. For the Longview-Kelso region, the cleanup and redevelopment of the old Reynolds smelter offers important economic opportunities, and a chance to reclaim a contaminated site.

Cowlitz County and Ecology continue to ensure activities at the site, whether they are related to cleanup or a future use, are meeting local and state requirements.

Back in 1941, when the Reynolds smelter was manufacturing aluminum to build aircraft for the war effort, it’s unlikely that anyone imagined what the future of this site held; both the immense effort required to clean up the site, and the equally immense efforts from people of all walks of life to influence its future.

One thing is for sure: there is a lot of activity on the site. It’s a flurry of activity and it’s not even winter, and there’s much more happening in the months ahead.

By: Dave Bennett, Southwest Region communications manager

Monday, October 17, 2016

VIDEO: Finding solutions for the Chehalis basin

The Chehalis River Basin is at a turning point. In recent years, the basin has experienced extreme and frequent flooding, and it may experience larger floods more often in the future. Habitat for aquatic species is significantly degraded and, if action is not taken, is expected to decline further. We're working with the community to address these issues.

We are currently taking comments on our environmental review of solutions proposed for the basin. Learn more in this video, and join us at public hearings to share your feedback.

With a new environmental report out for public review, now is the time for you to get involved and engage on potential ways to restore aquatic habitat and reduce flooding throughout the Chehalis River Basin in southwest Washington.

Comments now being accepted on environmental review

We have completed a draft environmental report, officially called a programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, as part of a community effort to restore the basin and put it on a path to recovery. The environmental review evaluates four basin-wide options that were developed and submitted to Ecology by the community to address these problems.

Join us in person at upcoming public hearings

Come join us in person to learn more and share your feedback at public hearings.

Open houses begin at 6:00 p.m. followed by a presentation at 6:30 p.m. and public hearing at 7:00 p.m.

Tuesday, Oct. 18 at 6 p.m.
Veterans Memorial Museum
100 S.W. Veterans Way
Chehalis, WA 98532
Thursday, Oct. 27 at 6 p.m.
Montesano City Hall
112 N. Main Street
Montesano, WA 98563

Comments will be accepted through Oct. 31, 2016. Learn more, read the report and submit your comments online at

SEPA: Washington's environmental protection law

The State Environmental Policy Act (often called SEPA) gives a formal process to identify and assess possible environmental effects of a proposal before deciding how to proceed.

Your feedback helps Ecology understand how a proposed action would affect people and the environment. Learn more about SEPA on our website.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Fecal Matters: Health Risks After Heavy Rainfall

BEACH Program Update

When the sun comes out after it’s been raining for a while, people often flock to the beach. But be cautious. With a heavy rainfall water runs off paved surfaces and land. Runoff can carry pollutants like fecal bacteria to nearby lakes, rivers, and saltwater beaches. Pet waste, domestic and wildlife animal waste can easily be washed downstream. Heavy rains can also cause sewage systems to overflow and discharge untreated sewage into nearby water bodies. 

Protect yourself and your family from getting sick by reducing contact with fresh or marine water after a heavy rain. Avoid water recreation for 24 hours after heavy rainfall, especially in areas where you see pipes or streams that drain directly to the beach.

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, is available at
360-407-6154 or for questions.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Reducing carbon pollution and preserving our resources

The Department of Ecology is dedicated to protecting our natural resources for future generations. The new Clean Air Rule we recently adopted was created to help reduce the carbon pollution generated in our state by capping and reducing emissions.


Business in Washington are lowering carbon pollution and doing their part to help slow climate change. This will help limit the projected effects on natural resources, like Puget Sound, and ultimately our way of life in the Pacific Northwest.

Carbon pollution from fossil fuels is putting Puget Sound and its ecosystem at risk. The water is absorbing carbon pollution which threatens shellfish and other aquatic species.

The Sound supports communities, families and the local economy through its fisheries and shellfish industry. The Sound is the world’s largest supplier of oysters and one of the few locations for the harvesting of our native geoduck.

Watch this video to learn more about Departments of Ecology’s commitment to preserving our natural resources, the wellbeing of our communities, and our local economy.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Eyes Under Puget Sound: Critter of the Month – Sweet Potato Sea Cucumber

With its smooth, plump body, this month’s critter bears a resemblance to items you might find in a grocery store. Meet Molpadia intermedia, the Sweet Potato Sea Cucumber.

Our Critter of the Month Molpadia intermedia, freshly collected from mud under Puget Sound.

Although the Sweet Potato Sea Cucumber may look and sound like a vegetable, you definitely don’t want to go slicing up this slimy mud-dweller on your salad!

Brother from another mother

Sea cucumbers like Molpadia intermedia are part of a larger group called Echinodermata that also includes sea stars, brittle stars and sea urchins.

Superficially, sea cukes don’t look much like their echinoderm kin, but they all have 3 characteristics in common:
  1. A water vascular system made up of tubes and valves which allows movement, digestion, and breathing by pumping water throughout the body
  2. Pentaradial symmetry – the body is organized in 5 symmetrical sections
  3. An internal skeleton containing calcium carbonate

Get under your skin

In the case of sea cucumbers, the internal skeleton takes the form of tiny particles called ossicles, embedded in the outer skin. Taxonomists can identify sea cucumbers by examining the shape of their skin ossicles under a light microscope.

M. intermedia has 2 kinds of ossicles:
  1. “Tables” – flat plates with tall, narrow spires
  2. Plates shaped like tennis racquets, filled with tiny holes
LEFT: Microscopic images of M. intermedia’s skin ossicles. The table images show a dorsal view (top)
and lateral view (bottom). The racquet-shaped ossicle shows the small perforations throughout.
RIGHT: Close-up of M. intermedia’s skin with ossicles (tables and clusters of racquets) visible.

In  addition to ossicles, M. intermedia has something else lurking inside its skin: tiny iron- and phosphate-rich blobs called phosphatic bodies. You can see these microscopic orange blobs in the image to the right above. The animals get more of these as they get older. Scientists think these granules serve to strengthen the connective tissue in the skin.

No foot to stand on

A living Molpadia specimen with its feeding
tentacles extended. This individual is waiting
to be weighed and measured in the field.
Sea cucumbers typically have rows of tube feet running the length of their bodies; however, M. intermedia lacks tube feet, giving it a smooth and shiny appearance. Its soft, cylindrical body has muscles running its length. These muscles can expand to lengthen it (up to 43 cm) or contract to shorten it into a little ball when it is disturbed.

At one end of its body is a mouth surrounded by 15 feeding tentacles. These short finger-like (digitate) tentacles help push food into its mouth as it ingests sediment while burrowing. At the rear end of its body is a short, stubby tail.

Couch Potato

M. intermedia seldom moves, making it an easy target for its main predators, including the Sand Star, Luidia foliolata, and fish. In some areas, M. intermedia lives in densities of up to 15 per square meter, and individuals tend to aggregate in groups of two to six. Talk about a sea cucumber buffet!

M. intermedia in a sediment sample which
has been partially rinsed through a sieve.

Critter of the Month

Our benthic taxonomists, Dany and Angela, share their discoveries by bringing us a benthic Critter of the Month. Dany and Angela are scientists who work for the Marine Sediment Monitoring Program. These posts will give you a peek into the life of Puget Sound’s least-known inhabitants.

In each issue we will highlight one of the Sound’s many fascinating invertebrates. We’ll share details on identification, habitat, life history, and the role this critter plays in the sediment community. Can't get enough benthos? See photos from our Eyes Under Puget Sound collection on Flickr. Look for the Critter of the Month on our blog.

By: Dany Burgess & Angela Eagleston, Environmental Assessment Program