Friday, April 29, 2011

Air Time: Governor signs historic deal at TransAlta

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Air Quality Program

Laughter and applause marked the signing of historic legislation today (Friday, April 29) at the TransAlta coal-fired power plant near Centralia.

Gov. Chris Gregoire inked ESSSB 5679 inside a large tent set up in the plant’s main parking lot. The legislation means eventually the state’s only coal-burning power plant will stop using coal, which will eliminate millions of tons of climate-changing greenhouse gases. It also will either eliminate or greatly reduce the emissions of other toxic air pollutants such as mercury.

Perhaps fittingly, the plant’s two coal-fired boilers did not appear to be operating during the ceremony. No steam came from its stacks. (The photo with this post was taken previously.)

The deal also ensures predictability for the company and its employees, and provides tens of millions of dollars for economic development and energy conservation efforts in Lewis County. The TransAlta operation is a key employer and corporate citizen in a county that routinely posts some of Washington’s highest unemployment numbers.

Here’s a news release from the Governor’s Office that provides some more specifics.

Hundreds of people – plant workers, TransAlta corporate officials, local community leaders, representatives of labor and environmental groups, and state lawmakers and agency representatives – witnessed the event. (I didn’t get an official count, but I heard overheard someone say more than 300 people had confirmed they would attend.

State Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-20th District, served as master of ceremonies. DeBolt, who also is the TransAlta plant’s external affairs director, set the theme of the day by stressing the remarkable collaboration that took place to get this deal done.

DeBolt and the other speakers – TransAlta CEO Steve Snyder; Sen. Phil Rockefeller, D-23rd District; Rep. Gary Alexander, R-20th District; and Bruce Nilles of the Sierra Club – emphasized the hard work done by labor, environmentalists, state officials, community leaders, and the company that culminated in this agreement.

Here’s the Sierra Club’s take on today’s bill-signing.

The Governor and DeBolt singled out two people who they said were key to the effort’s success – Jay Manning, the Governor’s chief of staff (and former Ecology director), and Keith Phillips, her advisor on energy and environmental issues.

CEO Snyder noted that his Canada-based company is celebrating its 100th year … and, he said, today’s agreement helps signal TransAlta’s move into the future, which involves clean energy.

The event also served as a salute to TransAlta’s workers. The company treated employees and the other participants to a barbecue lunch following the bill-signing ceremony.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Ecology’s Techie Tools Improve Efficiency, Customer Service

By Barbara MacGregor, Web Communications Manager

screen grab from Ecology's Facility/Site Database
You've likely heard the commercial that says, "We've got an app for that." Well, here at Ecology we have apps for a lot of our information, too, along with the databases and innovative technological tools that help us organize and access critical information.

These apps and databases help improve agency efficiencies and make our information more easily accessible to the public.

Ecology’s Water Quality program is using PARIS to make it easy for operations with water quality pemits to file their required discharge monitoring reports online.

The soon-to-be-live Shorelands & Environmental Assistance Coastal Atlas Public Access tool will allow users to go online and not only find local beaches but also get information about water quality and recreational opportunities.

The Water Resources Program's new Webmaps showcases water right information statewide and for the Office of Columbia River. The public can use these webmaps to locate water right information on their own, thereby freeing up Ecology staff time.

New tools help Ecology work more efficiently

Internally, the Photo and Image Management System (PIMS) helps organize and safely store photos and graphics. Previously, photos were kept on shared network drives, on hard drives, and on disks.

Ecology's Environmental Information Management System (EIM) is Ecology's main database for environmental monitoring data. It currently holds about 10 million records (and growing) on physical, chemical, and biological analyses and measurements. The data is used by Ecology staff for environmental modeling, site cleanup determination, rule making, and special projects like water quality assessment.

The new Groundwater System enables Ecology hydrogeologists to easily enter, search, map, and download information specific to groundwater, including well construction, water level, and water quality data.

The Facility/Site tool contains a wealth of information about facilities and sites around the state and can help answer questions such as "What activities occur at the facility I'm about to visit? Are there any photos of the facility? What permits does it hold and from which programs? Who's been there recently?"

These are just a few of the technological advances Ecology uses to work more efficiently and to improve our customer service.

> > Visit this website to learn about other ways Ecology saves time and money.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

What are you doing to protect Washington Waters?

Take the Pledge

Ours to Protect

You can inspire powerful change in others. Let people know about the actions you and your family are taking to protect Washington waters.

Tell us your clean water stories

Do you carry extra plastic bags when you walk your dog? Have you found a way to wash your car without contributing to run-off? Not sure what you're doing? Here are some ideas to get you started.

Tell us what you're doing and inspire your neighbors!
And then take the pledge, to do just a little bit more.

Washington Waters - Ours to Protect

Speak for the Trees, for the Trees Have No Tongues!

By Brook Beeler, Environmental Educator, Office of Communication and Education

Brook Beeler explaining how to use this habitat map to Kindergarten students.
Happy Earth Week!

This past week I spent an entire day with Kindergarten students studying healthy habitats, each eager to protect our planet. While preparing to relay the four basic components that make up wildlife habitat (food, water, shelter, and space) I reflected on Ecology’s mission.

The Mission of the Department of Ecology is to protect, preserve and enhance Washington’s environment, and promote the wise management of our air, land and water for the benefit of current and future generations. In order to fulfill our mission and move Washington forward in a global economy, the Dept. of Ecology has three goals:

  • Prevent pollution

  • Clean up pollution

  • Support sustainable communities and natural resources

You’re right, that is a bit much for a 6 year old to digest. So the basic message that I shared, is that wildlife and people need access to clean food, water, shelter, and space. Here at Ecology it is our job, along with other natural resource agencies, to ensure that Washington’s environment is clean, healthy, and managed wisely.

To explain this concept to these kids I used an activity from a nationally known curriculum, Project WILD. Then, read a well known story, Dr. Seuss’s 1971 children’s classic The Lorax.

In this classic tale, a daft businessman, the Once-ler, recounts his story to a young man about his encounter with the original spokesman for the environment, the Lorax. At first glance it seems to pit big business against the environment, but as always there is a moral to this story with a special twist.


The Lorax appears, with a “ga-Zump” in this story to “speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.” He shows the Once-ler how poor practices can affect habitats and the environment.

The Department of Ecology popped onto the scene in 1970, the same year as the first Earth Day as a matter of fact. We have come a long way in the last 41 years, speaking for the environment. However, we know that a clean environment and healthy economy go hand in hand. We know that when we protect our environment, we also protect human health, communities and jobs in our state. More than one-third of Washington’s economy is directly supported by natural resources activities.

If you are interested in learning more about how we protect Washington’s environment you can keep up with us through our website. We have news, publications, videos and more.


Near the end of our story the Lorax gives up on the Once-ler. He takes leave to find a new place that his wildlife friends can inhabit. He searched for a place where there is enough clean food, water, shelter and space. But he leaves a small challenge behind, “unless.” Our businessman, the Once-ler, takes this challenge to heart and passes the challenge on to the young man. He said, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

We know many of you out there who care a whole awful lot and we want to make sure you can meet the challenge of the Lorax.

You can start today:

  • Follow @EcologyWA on Twitter!

  • Have your voice heard. See our Public Involvement Portal to find out how.

  • And those Kindergarten students, well, they learned a whole awful lot. After hunting down all the components of a healthy habitat they were ready to share. Students drew pictures of their habitats that included clean water and fresh air in hopes that the Lorax and his friends would come back.

    Six year old, Emma Beeler's, healthy deer habitat drawing
    which includes: water, food, shelter, air, and space.

    Wednesday, April 20, 2011

    New round of Everett smelter cleanup work starts soon

    By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Toxics Cleanup Program

    We're gearing up for a new round of work to clean up the legacy contamination left in Everett by the old Asarco smelter.

    The Asarco smelter, which operated in Everett in the early 1900s, caused widespread arsenic and lead contamination in northeast Everett. In addition to contamination left behind on the old smelter property, particles emitted from the smelter’s stacks settled on the surrounding areas, contaminating soil.

    The historic photo shows what the smelter looked like while operating. You can read more about the old smelter.

    Ecology managed the cleanup of the most highly contaminated properties from 1999 through 2007.

    In December 2009, the state won a bankruptcy settlement from Asarco. Settlement money – not taxpayer dollars — will pay for continued cleanup efforts in Everett and other locations contaminated by past Asarco operations.

    In 2011, Ecology plans to:
    • Clean up about 40 properties that have already been sampled. We expect that work to start in early July and end in early November.

    • Map and sample another 71 properties, which will be cleaned up in 2012.
    Sampling and cleanups for remaining properties are scheduled every year until 2019. The accompanying map shows where and when work will be done. Ecology will share information about future cleanup work as it becomes available.

    Everett-area residents can hear more about this at 4:30 p.m. April 29 on KSER Radio (90.7 FM) in Everett.

    Ecology’s Dave South, a veteran of Everett smelter cleanup work, will talk about our efforts and plans during the “Sound Living” show hosted by Ed Bremer. Dave will be joined by Jim White from the Washington Department of Health.

    Watch our EcoConnect blog for updates on the Everett smelter work. If you have questions or comments, let us know! You can contact:

    Friday, April 1, 2011

    Statewide water right information available on-line

    By Ann-Marie Sweeten, Water Resources Program, IT Section Manager

    CLICK TO ENLARGE!Information on more than 230,000 active water right and claim records in Washington State is now available at your fingertips! Ecology recently released an interactive Web map providing direct public access to all water right records in the Water Resources Program database. This includes records dating back to the late 1800s.

    The Web map application, named “Water Resources Explorer,” is an efficient and easy-to-use tool for anyone researching water rights or claims, or seeking to obtain a water right in Washington State. Consultants, real estate agents, local government workers, elected officials, and holders of existing water rights — among others — will find this web tool a valuable resource.

    Search: Do it your way

    The Explorer home page has a map of Washington State (taken by satellite) along with various search criteria. Typically, you start by zooming in on the map to the general area of interest, and then use one of the search tools to draw a square or other shape around the area you are interested in. Or you can search by criteria shown on the left side of the Web map:
    • water right: document/record number; name of the person or organization to whom the water right was issued; the type of record; priority date

    • address of the water right

    • location of the water right: county, city, watershed, township/range/section

    • location of the water right: latitude/longitude, Washington plane coordinates.

    Your results will provide extensive information about any water right or claim, including the quantity of water, purpose(s) of use, source, all related documentation (application, permit etc.) and even whether the right is metered or if there is a low-flow provision attached to it.

    Help is only a click away

    Ecology’s introductory page on Water Resources Explorer provides you with a range of supportive information on using and understanding the application. An instructional video walks you through several types of searches. Preparing your computer and browser is explained. And on the Explorer page there is a Help link that will answer many common questions.

    An efficiency tool: everybody wins

    Developing the Water Resources Explorer application is one of many efficiency steps being taken by Ecology’s Water Resources Program. The Web map provides information that until now was only accessible by contacting staff at Ecology, through the public disclosure process, or through individual research in an Ecology office. Water right information is now easily accessed directly by users, while at the same time saving state resources by freeing up staff time.

    Have a burning water right question? The answer is now only a click away:

    Fecal Matters: Washington Coast Cleanup 2011 - Washington CoastSavers

    BEACH Program Update

    Washington CoastSavers are cleaning up the coast on April 23rd, you can join in!

    Sign up now:

    From their website...

    "Celebrate Earth Day 2011 and save the Washington Coast! Last year, over 1000 volunteers cleaned up 16 tons of household plastics, lost fishing gear and other debris that would have poisoned our wildlife and trashed our beaches. Sign up today to help save your favorite beach."

    "Volunteers are invited to lend a hand at 40 beaches all along Washington's Pacific Coast, from Hobuck Beach to Cape Disappointment. Volunteers can help with a range of tasks, from gathering debris and carrying back to roadside dumpsters, to driving the beaches and picking up filled bags at others. To sign up for their favorite beach, people should visit the Washington CoastSavers website at"