Thursday, April 30, 2015

Nonpoint pollution: What’s the point?

By Sandy Howard, communications manager, Water Quality Program

Its name is confusing and its definition is complicated.

But, nonpoint pollution is something you should care about.

It’s one of the leading sources of water pollution in Washington.

What we call “nonpoint pollution” is really the combined environmental effects of modern life. It’s the rubber from our car tires, bacteria from our pets and failing septic tanks, copper from our brake pads, phosphorous from our cleaning products, and muddy water from cleared land – it’s a little bit of everything that we leave behind as we go about our business.
When your home septic system fails,
remember it doesn't just fail at home. Find out more.

When it rains, the runoff picks up and carries this pollution downstream into our lakes, rivers and marine waters. It can send bacteria into our waters that closes our shellfish and swimming beaches. It can release PCBs and pesticides from the land.

When we cut down trees next to the shoreline, we lose vital shade that’s needed to keep the water cold for salmon. This, too, is a type of nonpoint pollution.

Nonpoint pollution is not just an urban phenomenon – nonpoint pollution is a problem in suburban and rural areas as well. Nonpoint pollution happens in agricultural areas, forests and in your neighborhood.

We’re finding and fixing problems

The good news is that local governments and organizations are finding and fixing nonpoint pollution problems, one step at a time.

In Washington, we have an ongoing funding source to help them tackle nonpoint pollution. It’s the Clean Water Act Section 319 Federal Grant program. This money comes to Ecology from the federal government to help pay for projects to clean up nonpoint pollution.
Here are a couple of success stories this grant program has funded to reduce nonpoint pollution:

Direct seeding reduces erosion

A $100,000 grant in eastern Washington has helped Ecology educate wheat growers about direct seeding technology. It’s a tillage practice that allows dry-land growers, primarily wheat growers, to plant seeds and fertilize a new crop on top of the previous crop, keeping topsoil in place. This seeding process decreases soil erosion and carbon emissions, and increases soil health. Direct seed growers now have a program in several eastern Washington counties to certify that they are preventing erosion and protecting vegetation along streams and rivers. Watch this short video to learn more.

Cleaning up bacteria in Hood Canal

We gave a $500,000 nonpoint grant to Jefferson County Health Department and Jefferson County Conservation District. Together, these organizations significantly knocked back a bacteria pollution problem in the Hood Canal watershed. Bacteria is a problem because it can make water unsafe for swimming, drinking or for eating shellfish.
Famous Washington state oysters.
The grant helped the local health department find and fix 36 failing residential septic systems. They held education classes for homeowners. They found and addressed vacation homes with unpermitted septic systems. They installed portable toilets and a dumpster along a popular fishing area on the Big Quilcene River to prevent bacteria and waste from recreational fishers.

And, the agencies planted 13,000 live stakes and 2,100 bare root trees and shrubs along Leland Creek to create shade that blocks the sun to keep the water cool and more fish friendly.

Problems are real, but they are fixable

These stories tell us that while nonpoint pollution problems are real, they are fixable.
And this is where you come in.

We are asking for your feedback to help us update our Nonpoint Plan, the state’s roadmap to address nonpoint pollution.

Our plan, officially called Washington’s Water Quality Management Plan to Control Nonpoint Sources of Pollution (Nonpoint Source Plan), provides the foundation of our state’s approach to address land-use caused pollution.

Our updated Nonpoint Plan will set strong goals, and clearer standards to protect public health and restore our waterways. Our plan will seek to support sustainable communities through the creation and preservation of strong local relationships. The plan will recognize the importance of public participation in understanding and addressing nonpoint pollution.

Tell us what you think

We are having public meetings across the state to ask for your input.

2- 4 p.m., May 6 at Ecology headquarters, Lacey (in-person meeting and online webinar)
6- 8 p.m., May 11 at Yakima Area Arboretum, Yakima
6- 8 p.m., May 12 at Oxford Suites Spokane Valley Washington Hotel, Spokane
6- 8 p.m., May 18 at Edmonds Conference Center, Edmonds

If you want to learn more, you can get details at our website.  

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