Friday, July 24, 2009

Mapping the Environment

By Dustin Bilhimer, Water Quality Program

With the release of Internet mapping services like Google Earth© and Microsoft’s Virtual Earth© anybody with a computer and Internet connection can have a perspective on of our planet that was never before possible. Now you can explore your community and any part of the world from your computer desktop.

The Department of Ecology also has Internet mapping services that provide environmental information for Washington State. Click here to go to our webpage where you will find links to all of our web-map applications and searchable databases including (among many others):
We believe that when citizens know what is going on in their surrounding community, they can make better choices to improve their environment. Ecology is continually trying to improve upon these services and increase our transparency to the people of our state.

One of my favorite things to do is to look at aerial photos of our shorelines from as far back as the 1940s to see how they have changed in the last 50-60 years using our Coastal Atlas. The photo collage (right) was created from images in the atlas. Look at how the Nisqually Delta has changed since 1977. I can’t wait to see how it will change with the Nisqually Delta restoration project!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A bicyclist’s view of wasted water

As a bike rider, I see it every day. Sprinklers on, splattering or draining all over the asphalt, wasting a precious natural resource and washing it down into storm drains, contributing to stormwater runoff problems.

Many folks don’t realize that water going into storm drains carries oil and pollutants from the street, plus fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides from our lawns. This water is untreated – it goes directly into Puget Sound. And, into the animals and plants that live there.

Besides being a hazard to the environment, this wasteful water use adds up to added expense for businesses and homeowners with little return on investment.

Every morning and often in the evening, while I am biking to and from work, I see puddles of water in the streets. Often, I have to dodge sprinklers shooting water onto the bike path. And, the next day it's the same thing. Many times in the same areas, as you can see in this photo, taken the day after the top photo.

Sprinklers are often programmed to water even in the rain! It'd be laughable if it weren't so sad.

Seeing this makes me realize just how important Ecology is. Educating, spreading the word, and being good examples will hopefully keep our communities’ water a sustainable resource long into the future.

FRONTLINE did a report on runoff. Here’s a link that has lots of that information: . And Ecology’s Washington Waters — Ours to Protect website has helpful information on how each of us can do our part to prevent stormwater pollution.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Ecology weighs Olympia isthmus height proposal

By Gordon White, Program Manager, Ecology Shorelands & Environmental Assistance Program

“Right on!!!” and “Good job, D.O.E” were two reader comments generated by The Olympian’s July 5, 2009, story, Taller building plan hits snag. As great as the applause feels – and in government praise is rare - it’s also undeserved.

Here’s the deal. There is a big debate in the Capitol City over allowing taller buildings in a four-acre area along the isthmus shoreline that bridges the downtown with the west side. Debate includes a clash of values: supporting infill in urban growth areas versus keeping building heights low to protect public access, residential and historic views of the shoreline.

These are local issues and typically are decided locally. But part of the proposed area to be rezoned falls under the State Shoreline Management Act. To allow taller buildings, the city has to make sure the change is consistent with its shoreline program. Under the voter-approved Act, Ecology must review the city’s shoreline program amendment process, then evaluate the impact of changes.

This is where the Olympian’s news coverage may have led some people to give credit where credit isn’t due. The article has been read by some that Ecology’s involvement includes an opinion on the proposed Larida Passage project.

As boring and bureaucratic as it sounds, our review is about the city’s process to change its shoreline program – not the underlying project.

To be clear, Ecology usually isn’t in the business of deciding the merits of development or local zoning changes. We shouldn’t and won’t be. Unless there are clear mis-steps, omissions or violations of state law in a city or county shoreline decision, Ecology sticks to its role of providing science and technical support to the primary decision makers—local government.

Deciding one project at a time where the best places are along the city’s shorelines for taller buildings and where they should be avoided is a problem. Backing into the answers to these questions the way the city proposes, likely violates the Shoreline Management Acts principle against uncoordinated and piecemeal development.

We think the city should do a full analysis of all its shorelines and then make height decisions that make sense given all the varying geography and appropriate uses. This is what we advised the city to do a year ago.

After all, Ecology provided funding to the City in September 2007 so the city could do a comprehensive update of its shoreline program. To do anything else would be supporting what we’re required to protect against – piecemeal and uncoordinated shoreline development.

We’ve offered the city a chance to prove us wrong. See our June 10 letter to the city and initial analysis of the city’s “limited” shoreline amendment (Outline of Ecology’s pending decision, Limited amendment analysis).

Ecology’s decision has yet to be finalized. And when it’s made, then we’ll be ready to take the heat or the praise.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Some people still singin’ the car wash blues

Car Washing poster
Summer’s here. The time when most of us want to drive a clean car. Well, most of us, maybe not all of us. I have a silver car that doesn’t show the dirt, so I’m not too much of a clean car freak, but I do like clean windows and good working wiper blades.

I digress…

Today Associated Press reporter Phuong Le writes an update about our beloved car washing.

About a year ago, we had a lot of misinformation going around. People thought the state was banning residential car washing, which was not true.

Phuong got the story right. No, we’re not banning car washing. There is nothing wrong with washing your car. But where you wash it makes all the difference for our salmon, for Puget Sound, and for the rivers, lakes and streams near you.

We are in an education mode because you see, the soapy water is toxic to fish. Even biodegradable soapy water is toxic -- as toxic as some industrial pollution.

For a lot of us, car washing in the driveway is right up there with baseball, motherhood and apple pie.

You probably know that storm drains (street-side drains) empty into a series of underground storm drain pipes. This water is not treated. The underground pipes are essentially part of our watershed system that drains into our rivers, lakes and Puget Sound.

This morning, a producer of a Seattle radio program called me and asked to interview me. I said sure.

The radio host made it clear that he understands why only rain should go down the drain. Would you or your kids want to swim in the soapy water or let your dog drink it? No. He agreed with us.

We suspect we’ll get more media calls in the coming days. That’s good if it helps all of us remember that whatever runs down the street or road and into the storm ditch ends up poisoning the water that we and the salmon need for our survival.

You have good, clean options for washing your car. We require by law commercial car washes to collect and treat soapy water and grime from our cars. Or if you prefer to wash your car at home, that patch of grass in the yard just might be craving a drink of water right now. And in the process, it will filter out the soapy pollutants before the rinse water reaches the water we need for drinking and for salmon.

For a hoot, watch this educational video about driveway car washing posted by the city of Pullman. (Scroll down on that page. It’s called "Stormwater video #1")

Ecology has educational materials on our Washington Waters – Ours to Protect website. Check them out!

Here’s to your shiny ride! Will I be seeing “Wash Me” on your back side of your ride this summer? Maybe so, maybe not!