Friday, August 28, 2015

WCC Fish Response: Crews help fish battle the drought

By: Laura Schlabach, WCC outreach coordinator 

Our Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) crews responded to a different type of emergency this week: Emergency Fish Response! The Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) called on WCC AmeriCorps members to complete critical fish passage projects through the Governor's Drought Relief funding package.

These fish passage projects are important in maintaining salmon runs this year because of severe drought conditions statewide.

Hot weather combined with low snowpack means most of Washington’s rivers are running significantly lower than normal. Flows are so low that fish can no longer migrate upstream. Fish passage projects help salmon navigate low rivers by eliminating barriers to water flow and creating deeper pools for salmon to advance upstream. Learn more about drought's impacts on salmon and other fish.

WCC helping fish in Pierce County

WCC got the call for help earlier this month. Supervisor Josh Williams' crew quickly responded, collecting 40 sandbags and heading to Wilkeson, Boise and South Prairie creeks in Pierce County. They broke down rock dams and woody debris barriers to increase water flow and help fish passage. Our WCC members also placed sand bags along a shallow overhang in Wilkeson Creek to create an alternate, deeper route for salmon to navigate upstream.

WCC AmeriCorps members place sand bags
along shallow overhangs to create a deeper stream
for salmon to navigate upstream. 

Improving the Dungeness for fish travel

WDFW also called two of our Port Angeles WCC crews to the Dungeness River. The Dungeness River relies on snowpack from the Olympic Mountains in the summer and into autumn; this winter’s lack of snowpack and the resulting shallow water have made it difficult for salmon to swim upstream successfully.

Our members in supervisors Phill VanKessel and Peter Allen’s crews repositioned in-stream rocks to sections of the river where water levels could become critically low. By creating many small diversion dams, salmon now have channels of deeper water to migrate upstream.

Individuals from Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s Natural Resources Department helped our WCC members and WDFW install the diversion dams.

Clearing clogged river beds for fish in Yakima

Our WCC members on supervisors Matt Cone and Josh Perry’s crews were called to help the Benton Conservation District clear water star-grass, a native underwater plant, from shallow river beds along the Yakima River.

Due to this year’s extreme low flows, the mats of water star-grass were taking over the riverbed and clogging the river. Removing these mats will increase water flow for salmon migration. The project will also give salmon better access to the rocky river beds, where they spawn, or lay their eggs.

Our WCC crews do a variety of emergency response work, but it’s not often they get sent out for Emergency Fish Response. They deserve a huge shout-out to thank them for their great drought relief work. Awesome work team!

WCC AmeriCorps crews break down rock dams and woody debris barriers to help fish travel through low river flows. 

Join WCC

Do you want to help the environment, meet great people and make a real difference? Join Ecology's Washington Conservation Corps, an AmeriCorps Program program consisting of three subprograms: the core WCC, Veteran Conservation Corps and Puget SoundCorps.

See photos of the types of projects WCC members work on during their service in our WCC Projects Flickr set. Learn more and apply online today to become a member of WCC:

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Fecal Matters: Freeland County Park in Island County CLOSED to Swimming

BEACH Program Update

On August 27, 2015, Island County Health Department closed Freeland County Park 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 for questions.

Fecal Matters: Beach going tips after heavy rain

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, after a heavy rainfall water runs off of 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 swimming 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.

Visit the BEACH web site 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.

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

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

More Everett Smelter cleanup work underway this summer, fall

By Meg Bommarito, Everett Smelter Project Manager, Toxics Cleanup Program

We're continuing to remove arsenic contaminated soil from north Everett. This year, we're cleaning up two areas -- residential yards north of Broadway and at the American Legion Memorial Park.

Soil in much of northern Everett contains arsenic and lead left behind from air emissions from a smelter that operated in the neighborhood more than 100 years ago. Ecology received $33.9 million in 2009 for cleanup work in Everett as part of a much-larger bankruptcy settlement with ASARCO Inc., the smelter’s last owner.

We're at the park!

Our cleanup at Legion Park starts this summer. Similar to residential cleanup work, we are removing contaminated soil and will replace it with clean soil and new sod. This is the first of three Everett parks slated for cleanup. We’ll do similar work at Wiggums Hollow Park and Viola Oursler Overlook over the next couple of years. Park cleanup is funded by a state legislative appropriation from the 2013-15 biennium budget.

Legion Park’s Arboretum is already closed for cleanup. The entire park will close on Sept. 8.  They will re-open in spring 2016. Meanwhile, dog-walkers and view seekers can still use the overlook throughout construction.

Houses too!

This year our contractor will work at 22 homes north of Broadway along 5th, 6th and 7th streets between Wayne and Waverly. This work is expected to begin in late September and wrap up early in 2016.

Comment period scheduled for this fall

We’re preparing for another cleanup phase that will involve the cleanup site’s eastern industrial area along the Snohomish River. Before developing a cleanup plan for this area, we will ask the public to review and comment on our investigation of the contamination, and study of cleanup alternatives.

Both documents, called the supplemental remedial investigation report and the feasibility study, will be available this fall for a public comment period. Ecology will develop a cleanup action plan after the public comment period.

Want more information?

If you're curious about what happens during cleanup, check out our website.  You can also sign up to receive regular email and mail updates on our website

Lawn care in a drought: brown is the new green

by Lynne Geller, communications and outreach, Water Resources Program

Using water efficiently (that is, not wasting it) is something we can all get behind – nobody thinks that wasting water is a good thing.

But what about our lawns? Can we keep our lawns and still protect our limited water supply when half of our state is in extreme drought (U.S. Drought Monitor)?
Photo courtesy of City of Olympia

Happily, the answer is yes. And that’s a good thing: in the summer, as much as 50 percent of our home water use goes to lawns and gardens. The typical suburban lawn consumes 10,000 gallons of water above and beyond rainwater each year. So we are talking a lot of water – and along with that, a lot of money!

The good news about brown grass

Probably the single best way to limit water use is . . . . to stop watering your lawn! Yes, brown grass may not be your favorite aesthetic, but rest assured your lawn is not dead. Lawns go dormant as a natural response to summer heat stress. They will revive in the fall when the rains start. (Tip: giving your lawn a good soaking before the fall rains, in September/October, will help give your dormant lawn a jump on recovery.)

If you are not comfortable with an all-or-nothing approach, the Oregon State University Extension Service encourages developing a “lawn maintenance plan.” Assess what areas of lawn matter most and so will require more care, and what areas can acceptably make do with little attention. Any watering can then be focused on what you most care about. For example, maybe you want your front lawn to be more of a showcase, and can let the side or back yards rest.

Tips for water-efficient lawn care

Here are some year-round, water-efficient lawn care tips. Using water efficiently is important every year, and especially in a drought year. There are things you can do now that will strengthen your lawn for years to come.

  • Infrequent, deep watering encourages deeper root growth and results in plants that are better able to withstand variations in soil moisture. (An occasional shallow watering during a drought is actually counter-productive. It can drain resources from the roots, which the grass needs to stay alive.)
  • As a general guideline, green lawns need one inch of water a week, including rainfall. But this will vary with location, soil type, etc. Check with your local utility for an online sprinkler calculator, or local county extension service.
  • Dormant, low maintenance lawns can survive the summer with no water. If you must, water one inch once a month (this could help support the sleeping lawn, but is not necessary).
  • If you do choose to water, don’t just set the automatic irrigation timer in the spring and forget about it. To be water smart, adjust the time as the summer progresses, based on temperatures and other changing conditions.
  • Always water early in the day or in the evening, when it isn’t windy, for maximum water benefits.

Mowing: For most lawns, set mowing height at two or three inches. This reduces the growth rate and demand for water, promotes deeper root growth and lessens likelihood of sun damage. A general rule-of-thumb is to never remove more than one-third of the grass height at one time.

Fertilizing: Fertilizers increase water consumption; only apply the minimum amount. Fertilizing is a case of “less is more.” Don’t apply fertilizer in the summer. It can stress the lawn, forcing growth that cannot be supported by the root system or availability of water.

Mulching: Leave lawn clippings on your grass, this cools the ground and holds in moisture. It also reduces weeds, which will compete for available water.

Weeding: Should be done regularly, as weeds compete with other plants for nutrients, light and water. A thorough weeding in the spring will help your lawn all summer long.

Lots of gardening information available

For all you gardeners out there, the good news is that there is an abundance of information available on water-efficient lawns and gardens. Maybe you are designing a new garden with drought-resistant plants, taking out part of a lawn and replacing it with groundcover, need to know more about appropriate fertilizers – whatever you are tackling, there is no shortage of help. Here are a few examples of what’s out there:

Water-Smart Landscapes – publication from the EPA, WaterSense program

Water Efficient Gardening – a power point put together for Clallam County but contains the basics for gardening anywhere

Efficient Irrigation – tips from the WaterUseitWisely campaign

Friday, August 21, 2015

Help us tell the story: Half of state in “extreme drought”

Send us your photos of dry river beds, fish kills, crop losses

By Dan Partridge, communications manager, Water Resources Program

The U.S. Drought Monitor now considers half of Washington to be in “extreme drought.” The entire state is classified as being in “severe drought.”

As fires rage in Eastern Washington and low stream flows are turning some rivers and streams into beds of bare rocks and boulders, it’s essential that we document the drought’s impacts and what’s being done to mitigate the hardships from those conditions. And we need your help to do that.

Find updates as they happen on our drought page

This week, we posted a more streamlined Washington Drought 2015 Web page that provides links to the latest fire information, air quality alerts about smoke from the fires, and information about how the drought is impacting our communities, farms and migrating salmon. The page also allows you to track the work Ecology and our partners are doing to relieve the rapidly mounting hardships across the state. We are also spotlighting the water conservation work of our cities, towns and irrigation districts with a weekly blog series.

Bogachiel Peak, Olympic Mountains    

Story of the drought in pictures, charts and graphs

In conjunction with the new Web page, we have posted a Washington State 2015 Drought Photo Tour. At this site, you will find photos of scant snowpack, streams reduced to a trickle and charts and graphs that illustrate what is shaping up to be the state’s worst drought in modern history.

Submit your photos

Ecology is working with the state departments of Agriculture, Health and Fish & Wildlife to provide information, photos and analysis, but we also need the public’s help in documenting the impacts of the drought. If you see dry stream beds, wildlife struggling to get to water, fish stranded in shallow pools or crops dying in the fields, fill out this simple form and submit your photos for the Drought Photo Tour.

Your contribution will alert staff to conditions they may not be aware of and help us in our efforts to alleviate hardships across the state from a drought that shows no signs of subsiding soon.

Below is one of our stories of declining river flows: