Monday, August 31, 2009

Are you the master of your shoreline?

One of the many miles of shoreline in Spokane County One of the many miles of shoreline in Spokane County. Williams Lake will be governed by Spokane County's Shoreline Master Program Update.
The sun is shining, the work week is over, and you are relaxing on a small stretch of Spokane County’s 730 miles of shoreline. Enjoying the shoreline is more than a great start to the weekend; Washington shorelines are a valuable asset that voters chose to protect with the adoption of the Shoreline Planning Act in 1972. The cornerstone of that act is locally-tailored Shoreline Master Programs.

Shoreline Master Programs are the vehicles by which shorelines are protected. They are written to help minimize environmental damage to shoreline areas, reserve appropriate areas for water-oriented uses and reduce interference with the public’s access to water. In many communities a comprehensive update has not been done in 30 years. In Spokane County, now is the time for you to weigh in on the program’s update.

Right now you can read and comment on how future development is handled and where habitat improvements will be made. It is important that your voice is heard. Whether it is a water-dependent use, public access, or habitat protection you value, be the master of your shoreline.

Read the draft plan online: Spokane County draft plan

Written comments will be accepted through October 2, 2009 at or Ecology's Spokane office: 4601 N. Monroe St., Spokane, WA 99205. Comments should be addressed to the attention of "Spokane County SMP."

Attend the public workshop and hearing at 7 p.m., Tues., September 15, 2009 at Spokane Community CollegeBuilding 6, Sasquatch Room, 1810 N. Green St., Spokane.

For more information:

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Floating the collective green boat

We’re a boating state for sure. So we think we have a sure-fire audience for a new website we’ve just lit up. It took Ecology about two years to build the concept of Clean, Green Boating. This is a one-stop location for boaters to jump into green boating and keep Washington waters clean and healthy.

While building this site, we were astounded to learn that Washington has more than 250,000 licensed pleasure crafts. And this doesn’t count the vast number of larger yachts registered with the U.S. Coast Guard. What if all of these boaters adopted green boating practices? We think this could really help improve the health of our waters.

In developing the site, we got a taste of how diverse boating education information is on the web. Lots of governmental agencies and organizations own a piece of boating!

For Ecology, the two key programs involved are Water Quality and Spills. Outside of Ecology, boater information comes from the Washington Parks and Recreation Commission Boating Program. There’s also the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance Clean Marina Program.

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) cares about clean boating practices because they help keep state owned aquatic lands clean and healthy. Clean boating benefits habitat for fish and wildlife, and people who enjoy the natural world. The state Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO) has its own Green Boating website.

Now Ecology’s site contains boater information from RCO and the Department of Fish and Wildlife about how they can help combat the spread of aquatic invasive species. The list of groups that own a piece of the boating pie goes on and on. We’ve listed many of the players here.

One of Ecology’s motives in developing this site was to deliver some educational guidance about proper hull cleaning. Many boat hulls are painted with soft, toxic paints. It is illegal to clean these types of hulls in the water or near a storm drain because toxic chemicals in the paints can kill fish and aquatic life.

Did you know that you could face a fine of up to $10,000 for in-water hull cleaning of this type of hull?

Toxic boat hulls can be an environmental problem. A 2007 study by Ecology found elevated concentrations of copper inside two Puget Sound marinas. Marinas have been shown to be sources of copper to the marine environment, the primary source being antifouling paints on boat hulls. Read more about the study here: Dissolved Copper Concentrations in Two Puget Sound Marinas.

Ecology’s new website encourages all boaters to “know your hull” before you clean it. We encourage boaters to learn more about hard coatings and epoxy-based hard paints for boat hulls. These products provide a slick surface and they are safe for in-water cleaning. The surfaces discourage organism growth, last longer, and minimize harm to the environment. Best of all, these surfaces can improve your boat’s performance and save fuel costs. One of these coatings could be right for your boat.

DNR helped us write and design an educational hull-cleaning advisory poster that we would like to eventually distribute to marinas across the state. It’s great guidance to help boaters be knowledgeable about keeping toxic chemicals from getting into waters. The poster says that if your boat hull has soft, toxic paint, do NOT clean it in or near the water, or near a storm drain. To do this work yourself on land, use a tarp and vacuum sander to collect all debris, and dispose of it properly. Better yet, take your boat to an approved boatyard for this work!

Clean, Green Boating — like its green and alive name — is a living website.

We want to keep improving it over time. If you have ideas to include something we’ve missed let us know. You can email me directly at

Friday, August 14, 2009

What can you do when the power goes out?

By Dustin Bilhimer, Water Quality Program
A recent power outage at our office lasted several hours and prompted me to think about this very question. Most everything I do at work centers around having electricity to power my computer in which all my work resides. I originally drafted this post with paper and pencil.

So, aside from ensuring my loved ones are safe during a blackout, what should I do with this time without electricity? How about contemplating how I could accomplish the most important things I need to do (provide water, food, shelter, and security) in the event I lose power for an extended period of time?

These are some of the questions I’ve asked myself:

  1. How will I get water if the municipal water system doesn’t have electricity to pump water to my house? How do I keep my food from spoiling without a refrigerator?
  2. How do I meet my needs for shelter if I have no heat during the winter? How about cooking my food? How can I add solar power to my house (possibly tied to the larger power grid) to provide my critical electricity needs?
  3. If power did not come back on for days, weeks, or months, everyone is going to have problems with the first two issues and they will be desperate to meet those needs. Under the worst case scenario, how can I protect my family from dangerously desperate and very hungry people?

So what are the solutions to these top three issues of food and water, shelter, and security? Here are my thoughts.

In the past few years my family has been learning to grow vegetables and save seed. We have expanded our garden to the point where we provide a little more than half of the total food we need during the growing season on a 0.17 acre city lot. We’ve also started canning and freezing our garden bounty to save food for the rest of the year (begin to learn how, click here). This part has been especially fun, and I feel good knowing that I have a pantry full of good wholesome food that I’ve grown and that I won’t need to rely on buying as much from a grocery store.

To address my personal security issues, I’ve gotten to know my neighbors better and I feel confident knowing that there is strength and security in working together with them if we need to. History has proven that survival is easier when people work together for the common good rather than as individuals trying to “go it alone”.

However, without the availability of clean water I will not survive long regardless of how well I’m meeting my other needs. If I can’t get water from my tap, there is a community well I can walk to and carry water home from. But if that wasn’t available, or the ground water contaminated, my family and I would not be able to stay in our home.

Without the easy access to clean water that the Departments of Ecology and Health, and countless citizens, work to protect every day, our culture and our communities that rely on public or private water utilities would cease to function as they are now. Everyone needs to do everything we can to protect and support our life-support system, our water.

Ecology has some information on what you can do to help protect water quality (click here) and lists of other references that can help you be more sustainable (click here). You can also find information on protecting your water from EPA (click here).

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Will it be return to form or a new norm for Washington’s drill program?


As a spill preparedness manager for Ecology, this phrase may seem a way to lower tensions. But in a worst case oil spill preparedness drill, they are serious, high-energy words. About 10 times a year, we say and write this four-word phrase hundreds of times. Oil handling companies and vessel shipping firms in Washington must develop special “oil spill contingency plans” that describe the “who, what, when, why, and how” the firms will respond to an oil spill. We review and approve the plans but they don’t just gather dust. We conduct drills to test individual plans so we know each company is ready to effectively respond.

Our worst case drills simulate how a company would respond if a large oil spill happened during their operations. We also conduct tabletop drills, smaller in size and scope that focus on specific response readiness activities and equipment.

Our drills are critical. We get to see the strengths and weaknesses of each plan. Drills allow us to help companies improve their spill readiness. We get to work with private cleanup contractors and our local, tribal, state and federal partners. And it all works. The companies we regulate transfer over 12.5 billion gallons of oil over Washington waters annually. In five years, none have had a serious spill.

Unfortunately we also must say, “THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

Ecology is facing financial challenges. Our spill prevention and preparedness budget was reduced by $2 million. We had to cut 8 full-time positions. Our drill program has been hit especially hard. Worst case drills are expensive, complicated, and take a lot of resources. We coordinate with hundreds of people and manage tons of information. We have fewer qualified people to carry out our preparedness work. For the foreseeable future we won’t be able to plan for, participate in, or evaluate worst case spill drills.

It’s a tough decision but we had little choice.

On the bright side, Washington’s oil handling and shipping community and our public partners have a decade of carrying out a strong drill program. This track record means our temporary, short-term withdrawal hopefully won’t lower industry’s spill readiness and response capabilities.

What will Ecology do instead?

We are focused on keeping and improving readiness activities in the earliest hours of a spill. Actions in those initial hours can make or break a response. Although we’re reducing our role in worst case and tabletop drills, we are increasing our presence at deployment drills. These test response equipment readiness and effectiveness, equipment operator training, and equipment maintenance. Although we’re shifting resources, Ecology will still be meeting with our regulated community and conducting drills. To find out more details about changes to the drill program, please see our drills Q&A page.

It’s important we develop solid preparedness tools and keep our cool if an incident happens. My hope is that we will return to our old way of business soon while still enhancing Washington’s spill readiness. However, I want to hear from you about how future drills can best serve Washington’s spill readiness needs now – and in the future.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

It's been hot and dry but it hasn't been a drought

Every evening as I turn up the hill on the road to my home in Auburn, I’m restricted to one lane by orange construction cones because the closed-off lane is occupied by a big blinking electronic sign. It asks only one thing of me and other Auburn residents: “Please conserve water.”

This is the first time in 14 years I’ve lived in the Lakeland Hills area of Auburn, that the city has requested voluntarily restrictions on water use. It’s not a problem for me. The brown lawn along my driveway shows the city that we’re not big consumers of water in my household, even during the horrendous heat wave of late July.

Gov. Chris Gregoire is assuring us that despite the hot temperatures and drier than normal conditions, that almost all water supplies are in good shape around the state. The city of Auburn has been concerned because city wells were in full production to keep pace with rising water demand and those wells were approaching capacity.

As temperatures start to cool down a bit, however, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Auburn return that sign to storage.

The governor is getting ongoing advice from a couple of committees on if or when she may need to declare a drought emergency. Without a doubt it’s dry: more than 30 counties in the state have a high or very high fire danger.

But there is no water emergency in the state yet, although the Department of Ecology is watching two areas closely where regional drought declarations may be in order: the North Central Cascades and the Olympic Peninsula. Both areas saw snowpack at 65-70% of normal and projections of summer runoff are down at that level as well.

Two criteria must exist for the governor to consider a drought declaration: 1) Water supply (be it snowpack or precipitation or both) must be below 75% of normal and 2) water users must be experiencing “undue hardship.” The law doesn’t define undue hardship but you know what it is if your well has gone dry.

Legislative action taken to whittle down a $4.9 billion state budget deficit has meant Ecology has lost the authority to allocate drought relief funds. Money from those accounts has been used in previous years (in the drought of 2005, for example) to help homeowners drill their dry wells deeper or add to a city’s water storage capacity.

A drought declaration, however, may help bring federal financial relief to those regions that need it. In the meantime, Ecology is keeping the governor apprised of any trouble in Washington water supplies. We’ll be monitoring water supplies through the winter because the National Weather Service predicts that El Nino conditions will continue to develop and last through the winter of 2009-2010.

To find out more about what is expected from El Nino this winter, check out this National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Web site:

Climatologists note in the past (such as in 2005) that there has been a correlation between El Nino and warmer and drier conditions. So this may mean below normal snowpack and stream flows next spring and the drought conditions that may accompany them could make this summer seem like a walk in a (water) park.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The "Spills aren't Slick" campaign reminds boaters to report ALL spills

The "Spills aren't Slick" campaign is a joint effort by Washington, California, Oregon and British Columbia to address a significant source of oil and fuel spills: recreational boaters and commercial fishermen. Marinas across the state are posting campaign reminder signs for boaters. The signs also let them know they need to notify authorities if they spill oil or gas in the water.

Scores of leaky gaskets and filters and sloppy fueling practices cause many small spills that add up over time. And unfortunately, the reports that are received from recreational boaters and fishermen are probably just the tip of the iceberg. Many people don't know they are required to report spills, and they don't know that it's as easy as dialing 800-OILS-911.

More than 1,000 blue, black and white signs have been posted at public and private marinas in Washington, the majority in the Puget Sound area.

The toll-free 800-OILS-911 number is prominently displayed on the sign. Using the phone number, people can use it to report oil spills from British Columbia to California. The call goes directly to each state's emergency management division. The intent of the easy-to-remember 800 number is to get people to report a spill while there's still time to minimize the damage.

If you are a boat owner, here are a few things you can do to help prevent spills:
· Shut off all engines during fueling.
· Use an absorbent pad or fuel collar to catch drips.
· Know the fuel capacity of your boat's tank and do not top off. (Maximum 90 percent full.)
· Keep bilges dry and oil free. Avoid oily discharges.
· Use absorbent pads (not soaps) to clean up spills. Soaps and oil are toxic to fish and the environment.
· Recycle used oil and filters.

In addition, boat motors should be tuned up and bilges checked for oil leaks before launching your boat. An oil-absorbent roll in the bilge area will temporarily take care of any oil drips and can be used to catch any fuel before it spills into the water. The oil-absorbent pads and rolls can be purchased at most marina supply stores.

If a spill occurs, stop the flow and warn others in the area immediately. Shut off any ignition sources, including cigarettes, and contain the spill. Then, immediately call 800-OILS-911. By law, ALL spills must be reported.

Learn more at Washington Waters - Ours To Protect.