Friday, July 29, 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.

Goodbye hoodies, hello flip-flops – summer temperatures are here! Despite the heat, our water supplies continue to be in good shape statewide. We can thank the recent cool, wet “Jultober” conditions for reducing water demand and improving water supplies. Those moderate conditions felt much different from last summer, when we were in a statewide drought emergency.

Status of our supplies

Weather impacts | If late June and early July felt cooler than usual to you, you’re not wrong. Average temperatures for the last month were within 2 degrees of average statewide, with most of the state being below average. Things changed late last week when the heat set in, especially on the east side. Yakima hit 102 on Monday, tying the record high for that day. Looking ahead, the weather is expected to cool off a bit in the coming days.

Precipitation amounts have been varied, depending on the region. Over the past 30 days, the north Olympic Peninsula has been drier than average while the eastern slope of the Cascades and southeast Washington have been wetter than average. Record daily rainfalls were recorded recently in Seattle, Kennewick and near Walla Walla. Flash flooding even caused some road closures in Chelan and Douglas counties.

Rivers and streams | As of today, 28 percent of rivers are below normal. Our rivers, in an aggregated sense, are just shy of normal flows. That said, in a few rivers – about 7 percent – flows are much lower than average or are at record low conditions.

Agriculture | The Yakima River Basin, our drought bellwether, continues to have a good water supply. Junior water users are being prorated to 90 percent of full supply. Last year, it was 46 percent. Summer storms have helped rivers in some areas, especially on the east side, and reduced the need for continual irrigation.

A bull trout navigates an upper tributary of the 
Yakima River. Photo: William Meyers/WDFW
Fish | Our fish are doing alright, despite some areas of high water temperatures. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is monitoring conditions closely and may take action to protect vulnerable fish populations. Visit their website to learn more. Overall, the toughest part of the year for fish was spring, but this summer so far is better than last year.

Drinking water | Drinking water supplies in Seattle, Tacoma and Everett are in good shape.

What’s next

The Water Supply Availability Committee (WSAC) will hold its monthly meeting on Aug. 11. This committee is a team of experts from state and national agencies who review data and discuss potential water shortages. If conditions warrant, this committee can convene the Executive Water Emergency Committee (EWEC), which is made of state agency leaders with a stake in water supplies. These leaders assess findings from WSAC and determine whether water users in affected areas will likely incur undue hardships. EWEC can recommend the governor consider an emergency drought declaration.

How you can help

It’s easy to make water conservation part of your daily routine. Here are two tips that will save water and money:

  • Wash only full loads of laundry or use the appropriate water level/load size selection on the washing machine.
  • Want a nice, cold glass of water? Keep drinking water in the refrigerator instead of letting the faucet run until the water is cool.

For more tips, visit our water conservation page.

By Kristin Johnson-Waggoner, Water Resources Program communications manager

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Fecal Matters: Edmonds Underwater Park closed to swimming, Edmonds, Snohomish County

July 29 update: On July 28, 2016, Edmonds Underwater Park beach was closed to swimming due to high fecal bacteria levels in the water. We've had several questions about this beach closure. We'd like to keep you up to date.

Is this beach closure for Brackett's landing?

Yes, this closure is for Brackett’s Landing North, also known as the Edmonds Underwater Park. The area with high bacteria counts is north of the rock jetty. 

Does this affect other Edmonds beaches, such as Marina Beach?

This beach closure is only for the Edmonds Underwater Park next to the Edmonds-Kingston Ferry Terminal, also known as Brackett’s Landing. Edmonds Marina Beach is good for swimming, results show low bacteria levels.

What is the cause/origin?

There are several potential ways for a beach to develop high levels of fecal bacteria. We don’t know the cause yet. Edmonds Public works will be sampling the beach today and this weekend to continue to check bacteria results.  
Our BEACH Program staff will be out on the beach Tuesday morning to do a shoreline survey and determine possible sources to these two beach sites. Possible sources for this beach include the accumulation of beach wrack (dead and decaying seaweed) that has piled up on the north side of the beach, as well as pet feces.

The beach will be retested over the weekend and on Monday. The earliest the Edmonds Underwater Park will re-open for swimming is Tuesday, Aug. 2. In the meantime, the nearby Marina Beach is clean and open for swimming.

-- Original post --

On July 28, 2016, Edmonds Underwater Park beach was closed to swimming due to high fecal bacteria levels in the water.  The public is advised to avoid any contact with the water until water sampling shows that water is clean 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.

Debby Sargeant, our BEACH Program Manager, is available at 360-407-6139 or for questions.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Cleaning Up: Small sites, big impacts in Eastern WA

Large-scale environmental cleanups with big cranes -- and even bigger price tags -- capture a lot of public attention, especially in Washington's urban centers.

Used oil sometimes bubbled up inside Roby's Service.
But relatively small projects in sparsely populated rural areas can have significant positive impacts in smaller communities too.

That's why our Toxics Cleanup Program created the Eastern Washington Clean Sites InitiativeThe effort involves communities and other partners in shaping cleanup projects that will make a difference in local residents’ quality of life.

We use initiative funds to help clean up properties where the responsible party (land user, facility operator or property owner) can't be found or simply can’t afford to pay for cleanup.

The Eastern Washington Clean Sites Initiative includes about two dozen cleanup sites in 11 counties. Among those sites are an old mill property and some former gas stations.

An eyesore in Buena

One of those old gas stations is the old Roby's Service property in Buena, a small Yakima County community north of Toppenish. The location operated as a gas station and auto repair facility from the 1950s until about 2003.
Roby's was bordered by homes and a U.S. Post Office. 

Over the years, petroleum contamination was found in soil and groundwater coming from leaking underground storage tanks. Ecology dug up and removed the tanks and pipes in 2001.

But the abandoned structures languished. Used oil sometimes seeped up from underground through holes in the flooring. It was a general eyesore, located next to homes and the local U.S. Post Office, and the community wanted it gone.

Our cleanup staff in Ecology's Central Regional Office went to work with Yakima County's code enforcement personnel. In 2011, Ecology removed many site structures and concrete and pumped out a waste oil tank.

In 2012, crews dug up and removed the empty waste oil tank and the surrounding contaminated soil, and backfilled the pit.

Crews tear down the old Roby's Service structures in Buena.
About 2,500 tons of soil and 122 tons of concrete debris were taken from the site and disposed of properly. A compound that helps enhance breakdown of the remaining petroleum contamination was added to leftover soil.

Testing shows any residual soil contamination is not impacting groundwater beneath the site.

A new chapter

With the blighted structures gone, there's new hope for the former Roby's site. It's being removed from our Hazardous Sites List, which means we consider it to be cleaned up.

And a young entrepreneur who bought the property is talking about using it to develop a park or a youth center.

It's just one more example of how environmental cleanup can spark development and improve a community's quality of life.

By Seth Preston, Toxics Cleanup Program communications manager

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Taking the classroom outdoors

Students get a peek at microbiology and stream health

Ecology staff and Yakima Valley College students take samples at Diamond Fork Creek in Klickitat County
For a second year in a row, this July, Yakima Valley Community College (YVCC) students and their biology professor joined Ecology staff on a biological survey in a Washington stream.

Nancy Cortez and Freddy Martinez are both pre-med students working with YVCC professor Claire Carpenter on a microbiology project this summer. The experience allowed them to get "up close" to biology and to enjoy the great outdoors in a beautiful mountain stream!

The team took measurements and samples in Diamond Fork Creek, a tributary to the Klickitat River in Klickitat meadows, northeast of Mount Adams. Ecology staff Eiko Urmos-Berry, Molly Gleason, and Dan Dugger showed them how to collect biological and water quality samples, measure stream habitat, and record data.

The students got their hands wet scrubbing rocks for invertebrates and periphyton, a group of microscopic organisms that cling to rocks. Periphyton and invertebrate communities in healthy streams are different than in streams with pollution.

The data from these surveys are used to determine healthy reference conditions for Washington streams.

Nancy Cortez summed their experience up, "I always thought Department of Ecology only told people, 'Hey, clean up that oil spill! Hey, you can't dump paint here! But now we've been part of these surveys, it's like, whoa! You do this too?"

By Dan Dugger, Environmental Assessment Program specialist, Eastern Region

Friday, July 22, 2016

Pollution solution: Keep a clean beach, help keep shellfish harvests open

There’s poop on Washington beaches. Bird poop. Fish poop. Insect poop. Dog poop. Cat poop. And yes, there is people poop, too.

North Beach has suffered several shellfish harvest closures due to dangerously-high levels of fecal bacteria.

Beach poop comes in all shapes and sizes, but the vast majority is invisible. Beach poop can originate from many different sources, both human and animal. But whether it comes from humans, our pets and horses, or wildlife it adds fecal coliform bacteria to our beaches and shellfish beds. This directly affects our ability to harvest and enjoy razor clams.

Beach poop is everyone’s business. 

New beach study pinpoints sources

A new study released by our Environmental Assessment Program identifies levels of contamination and main sources of fecal coliform bacteria pollution along the Pacific coast--from Ocean Shores to the Moclips River--and offers solutions that residents and visitors can use to keep beaches safe from this problem. High levels of fecal coliform bacteria not only impact shellfish beds, but can make people and pets sick from exposure to contaminated water.

The North Beach Bacteria Study is a collaboration between Ecology, Washington Department of Health, the Quinault Indian Nation and local governments. Its aim is to improve downgraded shellfish areas and protect those that currently meet water quality standards.

“Maintaining healthy beaches and shellfish beds is everyone’s business,” says Lydia Wagner, our project coordinator on the study. “Beachgoers must be responsible for their own activities that contribute to bacteria pollution.”

The North Beach area receives tens of thousands of visitors during the summer months and clam digs, which creates an intermittent, heavy-use impact on beaches.

Do your part to keep the beach clean

For beach tourists, the study offers three easy tips they can use to keep Washington beaches clean and limit bacteria problems in shellfish areas:
  1. Bag your pet waste and properly dispose of it
  2. Pack out your picnic trash
  3. Don’t feed wildlife
Learn more tips to be a good beach steward on our website

Local residents are also encouraged to maintain their home’s septic system. Regular maintenance supports clean beaches and helps avoid costly repairs later.

Dig deeper into the science

The study is the first step in creating a great resource for those interested in protecting Washington’s coastal beaches. Residents will understand how a damaged septic system can harm the beaches they love. Visitors will understand why packing out the beach poop, whether it’s actual poop or common litter, is important to maintaining the safe and healthy beaches they love to visit. 

There is a simple solution to the problem of common beach pollution: bag it up and pack it out.

By: Dave Bennett, communications manager

Let’s Talk Science: Gearing up for the Tri-Cities Ozone Study

Ground-level ozone, not to be confused with “good” ozone in the earth’s upper atmosphere that shields us from harmful ultraviolet radiation, is toxic to human health.

Exposure to ozone irritates the eyes, nose, throat and the respiratory system. It is especially bad for people with chronic heart and lung disease, pregnant women as well as the very young and elderly.

Air quality specialists here at Ecology monitor air quality across the state to ensure we’re meeting federal health-based standards. Recent monitoring data collected in partnership with Benton Clean Air Agency indicate levels of ozone are higher than we’d like in the Tri-Cities. Ozone readings in Kennewick are about as high as those downwind of the Seattle area.

Because of the health risks associated with ground-level ozone pollution, we need to figure out how to manage it – and are launching a study of sources in the Tri-Cities area of south central Washington.

How ozone forms

Ozone forms in the air when certain gases from individual sources react together on hot summer
days. These gases are known as ozone precursors.

Nitrogen oxide (NOx), a combination of oxygen and nitrogen, is a common air pollutant in the recipe for ground-level ozone. Also in the mix are volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a large group of carbon-based chemicals that easily evaporate at room temperature and come from a variety of natural and manmade sources.

The hot weather, in particular sunlight, bakes the ingredients of NOx and VOC, creating the harmful ozone pollutant.

Let’s fix the problem

Before we can control ozone, we need to know where the ozone precursors are coming from.

We’re taking a team approach. For three weeks in July and August, we hope to quantify compounds such as ozone, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxide in the air by taking several high-tech measurements.

Washington State University and RJ Lee Group Inc. are on contract to complete a majority of the work. We will also conduct some measurements as part of the study. Our friends south of the border in Oregon are also concerned about an ozone buildup in Hermiston. So the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is conducting field monitoring that coincides with our study.

What happens next?

These measurements will tell us where VOCs and NOx are coming from and potentially what is causing high levels of ozone in the area.

Please stay tuned. Study results are expected around mid- 2017. We will share the results and next steps and looking for input from the local Tri-Cities community.

Meanwhile, we all can take important steps to reduce ozone pollution in our communities.

If you have questions about the study, email

By Ranil Dhammapala, atmospheric scientist

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Large-scale cleanup brings sizeable environmental benefit to Bellingham Bay

We did it! We've completed the first phase of a major cleanup for the Whatcom Waterway site in Bellingham Bay. One year ago we launched the cleanup with a special kick-off event, and now we get to celebrate a significant achievement in our goal of a cleaner Puget Sound.

Since summer 2015, contractors have been working to remove or isolate contaminated sediment from a portion of Bellingham Bay. In fact, over 111,000 cubic yards of sediment — contaminated from the operations at the former Georgia-Pacific (G-P) pulp and paper mill — was shipped out of the bay to an approved off-site landfill.  Remaining contaminated sediment was isolated with over 103,000 cubic yards of clean material.

This work is part of an ongoing, coordinated effort to clean up a legacy of contamination in Bellingham Bay.

A history of industrial contamination

G-P used mercury in its chlor-alkali plant to produce chlorine and sodium hydroxide for bleaching and pulping wood fiber. Wastewater containing mercury was discharged directly into Bellingham Bay from 1965 to 1971, before G-P installed treatment measures to reduce mercury releases. In 1979, the company constructed an industrial waste treatment lagoon (sometimes referred to as an aerated stabilization basin, or ASB), which stopped the discharge of untreated wastewater to the bay.

In 2005, the Port of Bellingham purchased 137 acres of waterfront property from G-P, including property within the Whatcom Waterway site. The port accepted lead responsibility for cleaning up the site with Ecology direction under the state’s Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA).

A clean slate for a revitalized waterfront

The $30.5 million cleanup primarily addressed contaminated sediment underwater, but shoreline areas were also cleaned up. Creosote-treated timber was removed from the waterway, asphalt and rubble were removed from beach areas, and sheet pile walls were installed to prevent contaminated groundwater from entering the water.

All of this work lays a foundation for a revitalized Bellingham waterfront, including a new city park.

Ensuring a clean, healthy future

To ensure the long-term success of the cleanup project, scientists will conduct regular testing of sediment, crabs and clams for contaminants for up to 30 years.

There's a lot to celebrate. And stay tuned for more Bellingham Bay cleanup updates!

By Krista Kenner, Communications Manager, NWRO-Bellingham Field Office