Tuesday, May 26, 2015

How and why we regulate the use of pesticides in water

By Sandy Howard, Water Quality Program communications manager

We know you care about the chemicals that may be finding their way into the environment.

Photo credit: Tristan Hervouet via freeimages
So do we.

That’s why we are focusing on identifying priority toxic chemicals and developing plans to reduce or eliminate their use, or to mitigate their impacts on people and the environment.

Our Water Quality Program has goals to prevent and reduce water pollution and to clean up polluted waters.

To make this work, we engage you to help protect and restore Washington’s lakes, rivers and marine waters.

Clean Water Act protections

When we come to work each day, our Water Quality Program compass is water quality – both in protecting high quality waters and cleaning up polluted waters.

The federal Clean Water Act and the state’s Water Pollution Control Act give us the basic structure of the regulatory programs we use to clean up and protect the health of our waters. And under the act, a water quality permit program is one of our key pollution gatekeepers.

Permits limit pollution

Under our Clean Water Act authorities, a water quality permit is a legal tool that authorizes and limits a pollution discharge.
For example, we permit discharges from large industrial facilities and we permit discharges from wastewater treatment plants. Our Clean Water Act permits allow the discharge of a limited amount of pollution and we recognize that the limited amount of pollution may have impacts. Our permits strive to minimize those impacts.

Protecting the benefits our waters provide

Some people may be surprised to know that both the Clean Water Act and state law allows the use of aquatic pesticides for the purpose of protecting the benefits that our waters provide.

Aquatic pesticides, when used carefully under a water quality permit, can protect water used for domestic, industrial and agricultural purposes, and for livestock, shellfish harvesting, habitat, commerce and navigation, and boating.
Pesticides are used to control:
  • disease-carrying mosquitoes
  • weeds and algae in irrigation systems
  • invasive and noxious weeds in parks and lakes
  • non-native fish
By controlling mosquitoes, we protect public health from diseases. By controlling weeds and algae, we conserve water, protect public safety, and provide a benefit to agricultural production. By controlling noxious weeds, we help protect the environment, public health, and recreation.

Controlling noxious weeds

Twenty years ago, the Legislature clarified that we must allow the use of aquatic pesticides to control noxious weeds when the uses meet our stringent environmental protections.

With strategic and permitted use of aquatic pesticides, we have dramatically reduced infestations of the noxious weed Spartina from more than 9,000 acres in 2003 to around 8 acres today.

Pesticide regulation 101

Pesticides are registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which must follow federal pesticide laws. EPA’s lengthy registration process includes health and environmental studies that look at short-term, long-term, and indirect effects.

State law requires that pesticides used in Washington be registered by the state Department of Agriculture. WSDA reviews the EPA registration to determine if there are any state specific concerns, such as endangered species, or drinking water concerns. If there are concerns, WSDA may deny the registration and the pesticide may not be used in Washington. Or they may include it in the restricted-use category, which is the case for all aquatic labeled pesticides. To buy, sell or use aquatic labeled or other restricted use pesticides in Washington, you need to have a license from WSDA.

Pesticide labels

Pesticide labels provide important protections, too. EPA approves the labels and it is illegal to use a pesticide in a way that is inconsistent with the label. However, different manufacturers of the same pesticide may seek approval for different uses – resulting in different labels and therefore different approved uses for the same pesticide.

Before pesticides can be used in or near water, the label needs to specifically state its OK.

Ecology provides third layer of environmental protection

Photo credit: Laurivo via freeimages
The Department of Ecology provides a third layer of regulation for the use of aquatic pesticides through a water quality permit.
Our state has a strong permitting program to carefully control and manage pesticide use in and around water.  Our program covers the water uses. It does not cover dry land, agricultural uses of pesticides.

Additional protections added by permit

When we consider issuing an aquatic pesticide permit, we evaluate and require environmental protections in addition to EPA and WSDA requirements. Additional conditions may include:
  • when, where, how and the amount of aquatic pesticides can be applied
  • specific monitoring and reporting to evaluate compliance
We also require public notification.

Aquatic pesticide permits contain restrictions, protections

Ecology’s pesticide permits contain a lot of detailed requirements. They set limits to the geographic area where the pesticide may be used. They set restrictions on the pesticides that may be used, opting for the least toxic products that are available. They require public notifications. They limit the timing of pesticide use to protect other plants or animals, such as young salmon. They require post-treatment monitoring to ensure the pesticide was applied correctly. Pesticide applicators must submit reports to us to show that permit requirements were met.

Permit process open to public

Our permitting process is open and transparent to the public. You can review draft permits and give us feedback at different times during our permit development process.  We receive important feedback from you that helps us shape a final permit.

Stay informed

We hope you find this information to be helpful. We invite you to sign up to receive our email notifications about aquatic pesticide permit applications in Washington.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Fecal Matters: Bayview State Park in Skagit County CLOSED to Swimming

BEACH Program Update

On May 22, 2015, Bayview State Park beach in Skagit County was closed to swimming due to high levels of fecal bacteria in the water.  This beach will be resampled for bacteria levels next week.  The public is to have no 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.

Debby Sargeant is the BEACH Program Manager and is available at 360-407-6139 or debby.sargeant@ecy.wa.gov for questions.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Around the Sound: Moving ahead in Port Gamble

By Seth Preston, communications manager, Toxics Cleanup Program

We're getting ready to launch a major cleanup in Port Gamble Bay in the coming weeks and months.

The Pope & Talbot mill in 1940.
The bay is a high priority under the Puget Sound Initiative. We and various partners are already doing restoration and preservation work in and around the bay, so this cleanup project is the next step.

The mill site in an old aerial view ...
Historical activities at the former Pope & Talbot mill site released contamination and wood waste on land and in the water. The mill operated for more than 140 years before closing in 1995. Since then, the site has been used for various activities.

The cleanup work will be the topic of a public meeting on May 27 at the Hood Canal Pavilion, 4740 NE View Drive, in Port Gamble. An open house will begin at 4:30 p.m., followed by a presentation and discussion that will start at 6 p.m.

Come join us!

... and in a more recent photo after the mill was removed.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Water levels rising at Lake Osoyoos as
spring snow melt proceeds

by Al Josephy, Water Resources Program, Lacey

Lake Osoyoos (Okanogan County) is beginning to rise as snow melt feeds the lakes and streams in British Columbia, and dam operators in the Province let more water out of Lake Okanagan. Operators at the Zosel Dam in Oroville have been filling Lake Osoyoos from its winter level of 909.5 feet to its usual summer operating level of 911.5.

However, this year Ecology has elected to operate the Lake at closer to 912 feet. Ecology maintains the Lake level in part for water uses below the Canadian border, down the Okanogan River. One of these uses could also include fish passage later in the summer.

In this very unusual water year, with potential for a long, dry summer, storing a bit more water in the freshet is a prudent thing to do.

Osoyoos Lake is regulated at Zosel Dam at Oroville by Ecology. The lake serves as a source of water for irrigation and summer recreation in both the U.S. and Canada.

Planning for an unusual summer

Usual spring operations at the dam call for slowly raising the level of the lake from winter operating levels to summer levels between March 1 and June 1 of the year. But 2015 has not played out as a “usual” year. Snow water has been absent this year in most of the Columbia Basin and across the Cascade corridor as well. As a result, many river basins are likely to see drought during the summer.

Lake Osoyoos is fed from Okanagan Lake and is governed under Orders created and overseen by the International Joint Commission (IJC). Lake levels are an integral part of those Orders. Ecology is required to operate the Lake between 911 and 912 feet between June and mid-September. In most years it is convenient for Ecology to maintain approximately 911.5 feet.

For more information on the operation of Zosel Dam or LakeOsoyoos, contact Al Josephy at Ecology at 360-407-6456. Additional information on the International Osoyoos Lake Board of Control and the new Order of Approval can be found at http://ijc.org/boards/iolbc/.

To track the progress of lake levels in “real-time,” as well as find additional information, go to the U.S. Geological Survey web page for Osoyoos Lake.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Around the Sound: Remaking Everett's waterfront

By Seth Preston, communications manager, Toxics Cleanup Program
Everett Shipyard then (2006) ...

We're hard at work in Everett, remaking the city's industrial waterfront along with a variety of partners.

We've identified 11 cleanup sites along Everett's Port Gardner Bay under the Puget Sound Initiative. Some of these cleanup sites are owned by and being cleaned up by the Port of Everett with our oversight and financial and technical assistance.

One of those projects focuses on the Everett Shipyard site.

A cleanup example

The site operated as a boat building, maintenance and repair facility. The shipyard conducted marine vessel repairs that included tank evacuations, equipment disassembly, sandblasting, woodwork and metalwork, painting/coating, and mechanical repairs.

... and now (2015).
Like the other Port Gardner Bay sites, industrial activities at Everett Shipyard spread contamination on to land and into the water for decades. 

The port has worked for several years to clean up the site's land and in-water portions to prepare for redevelopment. It's a key part of the port's Waterfront Place Central plans.

The photos show how the site has changed. And it's one more reminder of how cleaning up our environment not only improves and protects our land and water, it protects the health of local residents and provides opportunities for economic growth.

Fecal Matters: Port Ludlow beaches closed to swimming, Port Ludlow, Jefferson County

BEACH Program Update

On May 14, 2015 Jefferson County Health  Department closed Port Ludlow beaches to water contact recreation.  This closure was issued due to a discharge of partially treated sewage to Port Ludlow.  The public is to have no 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.

Debby Sargeant is the BEACH Program Manager and is available at 360-407-6139 or debby.sargeant@ecy.wa.gov for questions.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Glacier lilies bloom in ground normally covered by snowpack

By Dan Partridge, Water Resources communications manager

Glacier lily blooms in
Olympics’ Cox Valley
Glacier lilies are blooming at 4500 feet in the Cox Valley on the Olympic Peninsula where there would normally be about 80 inches of snow this time of year.

Eleven sites statewide where the Natural Resources Conservation Service  measures snowpack are snow free for the first time ever. On May 1,  98 Washington snow sites were measured and 66 of them were snow free.

Important decision coming up next week on state’s expanding drought 

This startling information was shared with the Water Supply Availability Committee (WSAC) today. The committee is comprised of state and federal agency representatives who monitor water supplies and help the Department of Ecology determine what areas of the state are candidates for a possible drought emergency declaration by Gov. Jay Inslee.

The governor has declared a drought emergency in almost half the state and an important decision is coming up next week when the governor’s Emergency Executive Water Committee will advise him on whether to declare a statewide drought emergency.  

Water supply,  hardships determine where drought is declared    

Two criteria must be met before a drought declaration can be issued for an area or region: The snowpack or main water source must be at 75 percent or below normal and water users are experiencing hardships from water shortages or expected to experience hardships.

Once a drought is declared, water users in the area can qualify for drought relief funds. These can be used for drilling water wells, leasing water rights or for acquiring pumps and pipes to move water from one location to another. Ecology’s request for $9.5 million in drought relief funds is under consideration in the special session of the Legislature.  

Just about all our river basins in Washington are at least partially dependent on snowpack for a water supply. In a normal year, snowpack accumulates over the winter and then slowly melts in the spring and summer feeding our rivers and streams, providing water for communities,  irrigation and fish passage.

Statewide snowpack at only 17 percent of normal

This spring snowpack statewide is 17 percent of normal. On the Olympic Peninsula where the glacier lilies bloom, snowpack is only one percent of normal and the snowpack is simply gone in the Central Puget Sound and Upper Yakima Basin.

Impacts from the drought are already severe in several areas. In the Yakima Basin, part of the region the governor declared in drought March 13, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has announced that farmers holding junior water rights will receive only 47 of their normal water allocations.  The Roza Irrigation District that serves junior water right holders has decided to shut down for at least two weeks beginning May 11 to conserve water later in the irrigation season. Ecology is working on a cost sharing plan for acquiring mitigation water that would allow these farmers to use emergency wells for irrigation.  

Low stream flows mean trouble for farmers, fish and small well systems 

Summer and fall forecasts for warmer than normal temperatures and below normal rainfall will only increase the demand for water in Washington at a time when stream flows continue to deteriorate across the state.  The U.S. Geological Survey reports in April, average stream flows statewide were below or much below normal.  Low flows mean trouble for farmers, fish and small community water systems that rely on shallow wells.

The WSAC today determined that in addition to the 24 of Washington’s 62 river basins already declared in drought,  another 10 river basins in our state meet at least half the threshold for a drought declaration. The remainder are on a “watch list,” close to the threshold. Next the  governor’s executive water committee will determine if hardships exist across our state that would justify a statewide drought declaration.