Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Water quality experts dye to learn more about Hangman Creek

Scientists with the Department of Ecology often need to find out exactly where water flows and how long it takes under certain weather and stream flow conditions. On June 15, 2009, researchers added dye to Hangman Creek and observed how it behaved. They did this to find out why there is so little dissolved oxygen in the stream and why the chemistry is sometimes unhealthy. They’ll do it again on July 13.

Researchers track the plume of the dye with an instrument that is able to detect the small amount of dye in the river. The data are now being plugged into a computer model to help us understand the creek’s water quality problems.

The information gathered from the flow test will tell us how low flows in the summer affect the oxygen and the chemical nature of the water in a given stretch of the creek.

But seeing that reddish fluorescent tint in the creek can be quite a shock to innocent bystanders who happen upon it. We could use your help to explain this process if you hear any alarm from friends when they see the dye.

Using dye for this type of study is very common, and research has long shown that the dye doesn’t affect human health or aquatic life in any way at the low concentrations we use.

Parts of Hangman Creek and several of its tributaries violate water quality standards for dissolved oxygen and pH (a measure of alkalinity and acidity), endangering fish and other aquatic life. Excess nutrients and sunlight contribute to conditions creating excessive weeds and algae growth that cause oxygen and pH problems. When the stream flow is very low in the summer these problems are even worse.

Check out the video to see our water quality expert, Joe Joy, dumping rhodamine dye into Hangman Creek at Kentucky Trails Road on June 16.

Thanks to Tighe Stuart of Ecology’s Spokane office for the video.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Home Septic System Successes

By Dustin Bilhimer, Water Quality Program

Is your septic system acting up? When your home's septic system fails, it's more than a wet stinky mess. It's expensive to repair and it's a health hazard to you and your family.

A lot of people have learned the hard way that regular inspection and maintenance can prevent system failures and save you money in repair costs.

The Department of Ecology is working with local governments (contact your local health district here) and citizens to help cover costs for septic system repair/replacement where we find water pollution problems are caused by failing residential septic systems.

These partnerships are leading to improved working relationships between the public and government agencies. This cooperation leads to clean water solutions.

A recent success story from the Colville River watershed highlighted how homeowners received grant money from Ecology and the Conservation Commission to replace their septic systems.

Actions followed the implementation of a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) study and water quality improvement plan to clean-up fecal coliform bacteria pollution in the Colville watershed. After homeowners got their problem septic systems repaired, the district's water quality monitoring began showing signs of cleaner water.

Ecology and local governments offer different combinations of loans and grants to ease the cost of replacing failing septic systems where water quality needs to be improved. Here are several examples of Ecology providing financial assistance in other parts of the state:
Do you know how to properly maintain your septic system to prevent problems? Click here to learn how or go to Ecology’s Washington Waters homepage to learn more about what you can do to protect our water quality.

Are you interested in other water quality success stories? Click here.

Want to find out if there is a TMDL in your area? Click here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

It’s time to plan for saving water in the yard

Twenty-nine days, and counting, in a record-tying dry spell for Western Washington. The last time this happened was in 1982. That is the same year Minh Thai won the first ever Rubik’s Cube World Championship in Budapest, Hungary. What does that have to do with saving water, well nothing really, but since I’ve got your attention…

Recent warm weather could mean that urban water users are cranking up the times on their sprinkler systems. As we head into peak irrigation season for both Eastern and Western Washington, let’s think about being Water Smart. About half of the water we use on lawns and gardens goes to waste because of evaporation, poor timing, and bad system design. We can do better than that.

Practicing outdoor water conservation is easier than you think. Simple changes like watering during the early morning or late evening can reduce evaporation. That way your plants get the water all to themselves.

When it comes to timers, the motto is NOT “set it and forget it.” Adjust timing every month to allow for seasonal changes. Some water providers have sprinkler calculators to help guide homeowners.

If you are not sure about doing it yourself find a WaterSense Irrigation Partner, near you. Partnering irrigation professionals can install, audit or upgrade your system to save up to 9,000 gallons each year. That’s a lot of water! Better yet, that could be 9,000 gallons of water you aren’t paying for.

The bottom line is water conservation is good for everyone. By practicing conservation you are helping to secure a consistent water supply for Washington’s future. Who knows, maybe one day there will be a world championship for water savers.

What have you done to save water? Planted drought tolerant or native plants, removed grass, or installed a rain click? Tell us.

A few interesting links
Interested in caring for your lawn and garden the environmentally friendly way? Check out our Natural Yard Care brochure for more tips and tools.

Be prepared. Next month is Smart Irrigation Month.

Test your WaterSense with EPA’s quiz.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

When the Rain Came

For most of us in Eastern Washington a rainstorm means a nice cool drink for our lawns and gardens. For pollution detectives Ted Hamlin and Arianne Fernandez, the rain sets them into motion. They need samples. Hopping into their mobile lab they head into the storm, collecting water from storm drains. They’re looking for toxic chemical hot spots resulting from our urban environment.

As members of Ecology’s Spokane Urban Waters team, Ted and Arianne are trying to figure out where the toxic chemicals are coming from that pollute our lakes, creeks, rivers and streams. When rainwater hits hard surfaces like rooftops, parking lots, and roadways it washes into nearby ditches, swales, and storm drains. It’s not just rainwater, though; the water picks up a variety of pollutants on the way. In Spokane, this stormwater is funneled through an underground system of pipes that include storm systems, sanitary sewer, and Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO). This matrix of pipes allows our team to target specific areas within our urban environment while sampling.

The Spokane team isn’t just looking for anything. They’re trying to pinpoint the source of some of the most worrisome pollutants in the river: lead and other heavy metals; polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs); PBDEs (or fire retardants); dioxins and furans. Some of the pollution is a legacy of historic land use practices, others are chemicals found in consumer products, and others are commonly used in business or industry today.

Rain dances are not the only thing in the team’s repertoire. Together with Spokane Regional Health District’s local source control specialists, they’re helping local businesses to prevent hazardous chemicals from making their way into the river.

So if you see Arianne and Ted out sampling in the rain or working with businesses in your neighborhood remember these pollution detectives are working to improve our river and our community.

The Spokane River Urban Waters Initiative is just one way we are
Reducing Toxic Threats in Washington State.

For more information on other environmental improvements in the Spokane region visit our Spokane River page.

You can see an animation of a CSO system at the City of Bremerton’s CSO’s explained webpage.

Ecology's Urban Waters Team deploys
the mobile lab to sample stormwater
and sediments and perform site visits with
local businesses.