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.  

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Air quality and your health

By Camille St. Onge, Communications Manager, Air Quality Program

You’re doing a lot of things to keep your heart healthy. You eat right. You exercise. You don’t smoke. But are you paying attention to the quality of the air you breathe?? If not, today’s the day to start.

Air pollution — especially particle pollution — is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Exposure to fine particles has been linked to heart attacks, strokes, and early death in people with heart disease.

What can you do? Do everything you’re supposed to for good heart health. And pay attention to the Washington Air Quality Advisory (WAQA) — especially if you have heart disease, or if you’re at greater risk of a heart attack (including men over 45 and women over 55).

When the WAQA  reaches Code Orange – the level considered unhealthy for these at-risk groups – you should make some adjustments to your exercise plans.

Walking instead of running, or weeding your garden instead of pushing a mower or hauling
mulch, are just a couple of examples of things you can do to reduce the amount of pollution you breathe as you’re exercising. And always exercise away from busy roads if you can: particle levels generally are higher in those areas.

Don’t wait for symptoms to tell you if particles are affecting you: your first symptom could be a heart attack.

Shoreline recreation opportunities abound in southeast Washington

By Brook Beeler, communications manager, Eastern Region

Despite a population just fewer than 30,000 combined, Asotin, Columbia and Garfield counties have a lot to offer recreationists.

Southeast Washington counties receive more than one million visits each year to public recreation sites for outdoor activities like boating, cycling, hiking and fishing.

The Grande Rhonde River meets the Snake River in Asotin County.
As part of a local shoreline program update, a coalition of local governments has developed a public access plan to connect residents and visitors with southeast Washington’s unique shoreline resource.

The plan outlines existing site locations, amenities and potential improvements as well as possible partnerships and funding sources to make the improvements a reality.

Petroglyphs left by Nez Perce Tribe
indicating their historic use of the area.
You can tell the coalition what you think about plans to maintain and improve existing recreation sites including parking, signage, picnic areas and restrooms.

Comments will be accepted until May 29. You can review 
the plan and submit comments online by visiting

The coalition includes Asotin, Columbia and Garfield counties along with the town of Starbuck and the city of Clarkston.

More photos of southeast Washington recreation opportunities can be found in an Ecologywa Flickr album.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

1-800-RECYCLE answers the big questions

By Andrew Wineke, communications manager, Waste 2 Resources

Where do you go to recycle llama poop?

That was one of the first questions Ecology’s Michelle Payne received when she began staffing the 1-800-RECYCLE hotline back in 1998.

Most of us know where to go to recycle aluminum cans or newspapers, but what about a tanning bed? How about a scuba tank? What about an old set of blueprints?

The 1-800-RECYCLE line (1-800-732-9253) is a free service that helps Washington residents find the appropriate place to recycle just about everything. The hotline’s database includes 1,801 recycling facilities and 116 different types of recyclable materials.

And, yes, that includes llama manure. As it turns out, Payne says, you can take it to a composting facility.

The 1-800-RECYCLE hotline has operated since 1976, and the website came online along with Michelle in 1998. The 1-800-RECYCLE Facebook page started just last year.

Three Ecology staff members answer the hotline from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays – which will expand to 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays beginning May 1. The phone team averages nearly 400 calls a month, while another 6,000 people find answers on the automated website.

The 1-800-RECYCLE team relies on local governments, businesses and the public to learn about new collection sites, or new materials being accepted for recycling. They work hard to keep the database current, checking on every facility via the web or through an email or phone call at least once a year.

If you know of a new facility, or an existing facility accepting new materials, email

And if you’ve got some alpaca scat you need to unload, now you know who to call.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Why Washington is a natural stormwater leader

By Sandy Howard, Water Quality Program communications manager
Washington may be famous for its apples, coffee, aerospace, and software, but before any of these came along, we were famous for our rain.

The rain is a good thing, but it’s also a bad thing when it lands on our most-populated areas because it creates polluted stormwater runoff.

It’s a problem local governments are solving under the direction of the state’s municipal stormwater permit program. Our success is building, and it’s making Washington a natural stormwater leader.

Just this month, environmental delegations from Shanghai, China, came to Washington to learn about our stormwater programs. Our Water Quality Program hosted a 12-person delegation from the Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau & Shanghai Academy of Environmental Sciences. They were here to learn about how Washington manages water quality in areas like stormwater and low-impact development.

We’ve come a long way, baby

Industries have dramatically reduced the pollution coming out of their pipes. Point source pollution is no longer our largest source of water pollution.

Now, our biggest challenge is broad-scale, land-based pollution. This is pollution that comes off the land from how we have developed and use the land.

People-caused, polluted stormwater runoff is our top threat to urban waters.

When we covered the land with hardened surfaces like roads, parking lots, sub-divisions and shopping malls, we restricted its ability to soak up the water and naturally filter out pollution. In addition, when we use many modern products, like plastics and paints, we introduce more chemicals to our environment.

Stormwater pollution sources are so widely distributed and so diverse – they are difficult to manage.
Stormwater settling pond - a common sight in Washington.
What’s positive in Washington is our ingenuity and political will to manage and prevent stormwater pollution. 

The economics of stormwater investments

Since 2006, we have provided more than $200 million in grants to local communities to build stormwater facilities and implement municipal stormwater permits.

This support has resulted in hundreds of new stormwater projects across the state.

Our Stormwater Financial Assistance Program, established in 2013, provides grants that help local governments build stormwater facilities and control sources of stormwater pollution. The money is paying for us to reduce stormwater’s impact in our human-built world.

  • To install best management practices such as bio-retention areas.
  • To build tree filter boxes that collect and clean up the stormwater while watering thirsty trees.
  • To install pervious pavement to treat polluted stormwater.
  • To control sources of stormwater.

What we’re getting for our investments

When we manage our stormwater, we support our economy. Money and jobs stay in Washington. We estimate that our state adds 11 jobs for every $1 million spent on stormwater infrastructure projects.

When we build new buildings, we are using Low Impact Development (LID) techniques.
Instead of piping stormwater away from a site as fast as we can, low impact development mimics the natural cycle. Sending the water back into the ground to achieves multiple benefits.

We are reducing flows and preventing the runoff.  We are improving urban aesthetics. We are keeping water colder and recharging our drinking water aquifers.

As money allows, we are retrofitting existing development to copy this idea. For example, we're adding engineered rain gardens, known as bioretention, to old parking lots.

We're figuring it out, naturally

Washington has become a natural leader in the management of stormwater, in part, because the problem fell right into our lap.
Mother Nature gave us the rain, so we are – by necessity – figuring it out naturally.

We think our visitors from China verified it.

We asked them why they wanted to meet with us. “We are just building our stormwater program,” one of the Shanghai engineers explained. “So we surveyed the U.S. and found Washington state had one of the best stormwater programs in the country. So we wanted to come here.”

Do your part: Reduce your contribution to air pollution

By Camille St. Onge, Communications Manager, Climate Change and Air Quality Program

Nearly every day, each of us contributes a little to air pollution – but we don't always realize it. Take a few minutes to think about how you contribute to air pollution. Then come up with a plan to make some changes.

Cycle Sunday: Ride your bicycle to places you would normally drive your car. Get some fresh air and save some gas.

Alternative Mode Monday: Utilize alternate modes of transportation. Consider taking the light rail, bus or vanpool.

Ride Together Tuesday: Carpool to as many locations as possible. Riding together decreases the amount of emissions in the air.

Walk Somewhere Wednesday: Walk to nearby locations instead of driving. Increasing the number of steps you take will improve your health.

No Drive-Thru Thursday: Avoid the drive-thru and go inside to order your food, coffee or prescriptions. By doing this you will reduce exhaust emissions.

Fuel After Dark Friday: Hot temperatures and gasoline fumes create ground-level ozone. Reduce the effect and refuel your vehicle at night time.

Sweep It Up Saturday: Sweep your driveway, patio, deck, etc. instead of using a leaf blower. Get some exercise and breathe in fresh air while you burn a few calories. 


Rideshare Directory
Bike to Work 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Tacoma Smelter Plume: A big year ahead for Tacoma Smelter Plume sampling and cleanup

By Jill Reitz, Environmental Planner, Toxics Cleanup Program

This year is turning out to be the busiest year yet for Ecology's sampling and cleanup work in the Tacoma Smelter Plume.  The plume is a 1,000-square-mile-area of arsenic and lead contamination from the former Asarco smelter in north Tacoma.  If you live in north Tacoma or on southern Vashon-Maury Island, you can expect to see our field crews in the area throughout the year.  Read below for more information about our plans for 2015...

2015 Residential Yard Cleanups...

Contractor removes soil on a property in Tacoma, 2014.
This summer, we are planning to remove contaminated soil on up to 100 more yards in the Yard Sampling and Cleanup Program.  We expect to start construction in July and continue through November.  Over 80 yards are located in north Tacoma in the EPA Study Area (see map right) and 17 yards are on south Vashon-Maury Island (see map lower right).  We are also busy meeting with the next group of homeowners to start planning for cleanup in 2016.  Never a dull moment!

Sampling of Residential Yards Continues...

Cleanup progress in the EPA Stuy Area in north
Tacoma, as of Feb.1, 2015
Since 2013, Ecology and the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department have sampled over 2,000 yards within the Yard Program service area, working neighborhood by neighborhood. This year, we plan to sample another 750 in Tacoma and up to 150 on Vashon-Maury Island.  To learn more about sampling or to sign up, visit our sampling webpage.

Cleaning up child play areas and parks...

This summer, Ecology's Soil Safety Program will replace contaminated soils in some play areas at Tacoma's Baltimore Park and Optimist Park. Cleanups will begin around July 2015. We will send out more information and hold a neighborhood meeting about the cleanups in early June. If you'd like to be on our email or mail list, please contact Amy Hargrove, Cleanup Manager, at (360) 407-6262 or

Cleanup progress on Vashon-Maury Island, as of 
April 15, 2015.

Follow our sampling and cleanup work in 2015...

  • Ecology's website: Check out our webpage for updates.
  • Sign up for email updates on our listserv.
  • Follow our blog!
  • Attend one of our neighborhood meetings. Our next meeting is:
May 6, 2015 -- 6:30-8:00 p.m.
McMurray Middle School, 9329 SW Cemetery Road, Vashon, WA.


Please call the project line at (360) 407-7688 and press 2 for Tacoma Smelter Plume or email me at

Friday, April 24, 2015

Stuff & Junk: Message in the Materials 2015

By Joye Redfield-Wilder,
Communications manager, central regional office

Students in the Yakima area explored current environmental issues and the effects of climate change as part of this year’s Message in the Materials art show and educational outreach program hosted by our Central Regional Office in Yakima.

In anticipation of Earth Day (April 22), students created jewelry pieces from recycled materials and created Climate Change Collages from recycled magazines. Their works are on display through May 15 at the Central office, 15 W. Yakima Ave., Suite 200.

Jewelry pieces made with re-purposed materials
The students from Davis and Eisenhower high schools titled their show this year Stuff & Junk (Click on Stuff & Junk album to see close-up photos and descriptions)

That would be “stuff and junk”– like magazines, recycled leather, buttons, old jewelry and beads and other “found” items to create something new, personal and beautiful.

CRO employees gathered up the “resources” for the projects, scouring their old jewelry boxes, magazine racks and calendar piles to supply students with materials for their creations.

Eisenhower student creates pendant from junk drawer crystals and jewelry
Eisenhower students were challenged to create a collage on the issues they were most passionate about as they considered how the Earth’s climate is changing.

They created flat art using magazine photos and other elements, accompanied by artist statements reflecting their thoughts on the subject.

Eisenhower jewelry students combined the old and the new --- like a deconstructed string of pearls attached to a newly created chain mail -- into innovative pieces. They were assigned to create an enamel piece, a resin piece using a recycled pop bottle cap, and pair with junk jewelry – mismatched earrings, studs, beads and baubles, shells – to create a new bracelet, necklace, anklet or earring set.

Davis students rolled paper beads and combined them with puzzle pieces, leather from old coats, hardware, buttons and ribbons - junk drawer finds to create bracelets, necklaces and earrings. 


On April 17, Yakima Valley students participated in the Skills USA state jewelry competition for high school students. Their challenge was to create a necklace (and maybe matching earrings) using new and recycled materials.
Food and flooding concerns considered in Climate Collage

They had 30 minutes to sketch a design from materials they were given in an envelope and three hours to construct the pieces - using scrap metals, vinyl molding, linoleum, recycled leather and beads. Students from Highland High School joined finalists also from Davis and Eisenhower schools.

WMS outreach too

Ecology staff visited classes relating information on protecting the environment and provided inspiration, and resources (old jewelry, magazines, etc.) for the projects.

Students at Wapato Middle School also had their own show: See the WMS Message in the Materials blog and Flickr album. And last year’s show at Message in the Materials 2014.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Greater risk of wildfires in Washington because of drought and climate change - air quality may suffer

Chiwaukum Creek wildfire, Washington 2014. Washington Department of Natural Resources. 
By Camille St. Onge, communications manager,
Climate Change and Air Quality Program

Warmer and drier summer conditions mean increased wildfire risk is projected for 2015, and climate change modeling indicates these conditions are likely to become the norm in the decades ahead. 

Weather models from the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center show another hot and dry summer is forecast for Washington this year. And, climate scientists expect the area burned by fire each year to double in the Northwest by the 2040s. This not only puts Washington’s forestland at risk but air quality as well.   

“While wildfires obviously pose an immediate threat to human life, homes, property and forestland, they also cause less visible damage through air pollution,” said Stu Clark, air quality program manager for the Washington Department of Ecology. “Smoke from wildfires can cause respiratory problems across a much wider area than the fire itself affects.”

Less snowpack sets up wildfire conditions

The average snowpack measured on April 1 in the Cascade Mountains has decreased by about 20 percent since 1950. Climate models show declines in snowpack are projected to continue because rising temperatures will cause winter precipitation to fall as rain instead of snow. 

Already in 2015, low snowpack has reduced moisture in forestlands. Just last week Gov. Jay Inslee expanded the number of watersheds under the state’s drought declaration to 24, covering nearly half the state.

“The dry conditions are of concern throughout Eastern Washington,” said Clint Bowman, an atmospheric scientist with Ecology. “Summer thunderstorms will bring the threat of lightning-caused wildfires.” 

The Washington Department of Natural Resources has already reported 60 wildfires in 2015. That’s more than three times the average number of wildfires for this time of year. 

Air quality affected by wildfire smoke

Air pollution (PM2.5) levels recorded by Ecology.
In 2012, smoke pollution in towns and cities near wildfires, such as Ellensburg, reached hazardous levels, causing respiratory problems for many people in the community. Emergency room visits doubled and 3,400 school absences caused by health issues tied to the fires were reported in Chelan, Douglas, Kittitas and Okanogan counties.   

In 2014, the Carlton Complex Fire, Washington’s largest wildfire on record, swept through Eastern Washington. More than 425,000 acres of land burned, 320 homes were destroyed and smoke pollution reached unhealthy levels in many communities. Air monitors recorded spikes in air pollution over several weeks. In total, there were 88 days with unhealthy air quality levels during the 2014 wildfire season. That is more than three times greater than a typical year like 2011, during which 23 unhealthy air quality days were recorded.


Ecology has a statewide network of air monitors that operate year round measuring air pollution and often times more are deployed during wildfires. Visit Ecology’s air monitoring web page to see air quality levels in your community.    

The Department of Natural Resources is offering a series of wildfire preparedness meetings. These sessions will help property owners learn how to combat potential damage to land and homes from wildfires.

Other resources:
Washington multi-agency smoke information website

Washington Department of Ecology

Washington Department of Natural Resources

Washington Department of Health

Around the Sound: Another Anacortes site cleaned up

By Seth Preston, communications manager, Toxics Cleanup Program

Our Puget Sound Initiative work in the Anacortes area has drawn a lot of attention from community members and local media.

Those projects generally involve large, complex, high-profile sites like the former Scott Paper mill site and the old Custom Plywood site.

Wyman's Marina structures before removal.
But through our work with the Port of Anacortes and other site owners, we're also helping to address issues at smaller contaminated properties.

Take, for example, the old Wyman's Marina and Wholesale Supply site. We're taking comments until May 19 on our proposal to declare the site to be cleaned up.

From taking care of boats ...

Prior to the late 1940s, the site and surrounding area were used for lumber milling and shipbuilding operations. The property was sold and was used for an 80-berth marina with fueling, dry dock, and maintenance and storage facilities. The marina provided boat maintenance and engineer repair services. 

In 1965, the port bought the property, then leased it to new operators who continued boat repair and fueling services.

The marina operated until 1998, when boat maintenance operations and all underground storage tanks associated with marine fueling were decommissioned and removed.

The past operations contaminated the site with petroleum-related substances, metals and pesticides.

... to helping salmon

The port has removed all structures in water and on land, plus more than 400 tons of contaminated soil.

Now the site has been converted into habitat for juvenile salmon. Nearly 18,000 square feet of intertidal habitat and 8,500 square feet of riparian/salt marsh habitat were created.

It's not as big as those old mill sites, but it's yet another step toward improving and preserving our environment ... and our Earth.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A mother and daughter’s Earth Day message

By Devin Felix, Ecology web content specialist

Earth Day is all about looking out for those who will inherit our planet in the future. That’s something Maia Bellon takes very seriously as director of the Department of Ecology. And, perhaps even more importantly, it’s something she takes seriously as a mother.

In a new video for Earth Day 2015, Maia and her 11-year-old daughter Talia discuss why we should preserve the Earth — because we share it with future generations. Frankly, it’s adorable.

Happy Earth Day! Pass it on!

Bog savers receive Ecology’s Environmental Excellence Award

By Larry Altose, communications manager, Northwest Regional Office, Bellevue

Earth Day 2015 finds us a day shy of a year since a unanimous Snohomish County Council agreed to purchase and thereby preserve a 25-acre slice of nature between Woodinville and Maltby called Hooven Bog.

It made this a fitting day to honor two people who led a grass-roots effort to protect a rare example of bog and fen wetland that has become increasingly rare in western Washington.

Ecology's regional wetlands chief Paul Anderson (left) 

nominated Mark Ericks and Randy Whalen for the 

Environmental Excellence Award.
Randall Whalen and Mark Ericks received Ecology’s Environmental Excellence Award for their leadership in preserving this resource. Northwest Regional Director Josh Baldi presented the award at a ceremony today in the Everett office of Snohomish County Executive John Lovick.

“Randy and Mark are directly responsible for protecting Hooven Bog,” said Baldi. “We applaud their success in preserving a place where people can see its plant and animal life, and the way it supplies cool, clean water. People like Randy and Mark give us hope that we not only can protect special places like Hooven Bog, but also that we can restore the health of Puget Sound."

Getting involved 

Hooven Bog supports unique
plants such as this sphagnum
moss. (Photo courtesy of Bear
Creek Headwaters)
Whalen, a local resident and a founder and director of Bear Creek Headwaters, led a legal battle against county approval of residential development along the bog’s southern shore. He personally funded his appeal, which reached the state Court of Appeals. He also spearheaded an effort to raise public awareness of the ecological value of Hooven Bog and the environmental costs posed by the proposed development.

His efforts caught the attention of Deputy County Executive Mark Ericks. Ericks lost little time in assembling a funding package for the county to acquire and preserve the majority of Hooven Bog and adjoining forested lands to the south and west. The Snohomish County Council approved the plan on April 23, 2014. The county finalized the purchase that July. The property will be managed by Snohomish County Parks and Recreation as a natural area.

Bogs and fens

Part of Bear Creek’s headwaters emerge from the
bog and its surrounding forest. (Photo courtesy of 

Bear Creek Headwaters)
Bogs form over hundreds or thousands of years when plant matter decays and fills a lake bed, creating peat. Fens are similar, but can form in places where the water table is high and tend to have year-round flowing water. Both help release cool and clear water; each is home to unique plant and animal communities. The state Department of Natural Resources includes Hooven Bog in its Washington Natural Heritage Program as a high-quality undisturbed wetland that supports state threatened, endangered, and sensitive plant species. The bog is part of the headwaters of a major tributary to Bear Creek. In Redmond, about 11 miles south, Bear Creek joins the Sammamish River, which flows into Lake Washington.

High praise for superior efforts

Nominations for Environmental Excellence awards originate from Ecology staff, allowing them to recognize superior achievements that come to their attention. Northwest Regional Office wetland unit supervisor Paul Anderson garnered some outside testimonial support for his nomination of Whalen and Ericks:

Our honorees led efforts to preserve this rare  
bog environment as a publically owned natural area. 
(Photo courtesy of Bear Creek Headwaters)
“Hooven is the most diverse bog/fen system I have ever seen and I have seen a LOT of bogs,” said Sarah Cooke, a wetland scientist and independent consultant. “It is with confidence that I state that it is extremely rare to have such a diverse sphagnum bog/fen system, let alone one with intact mature forest in the urban/urbanizing corridor in the Puget Sound.”

“The bog is a critical piece of a much larger ecological system, and its health in turn supports the health of our regional water systems, plants and animals, and fish and aquatic species,” said County Executive Lovick. “Thanks to the dedication of Mr. Ericks and our community stakeholders, this site will remain in conservation so that future generations can enjoy its quiet and natural beauty.”

See more photos of Hooven Bog and the award recipients.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Can we afford to keep letting water go down the drain?

By Lynne Geller, Communication and Outreach, Water Resources Program

What’s easy, uncontroversial, saves money, gives you a good feeling and you can start doing today?

Stop wasting water.

Come on. There is no downside here. I know you don’t think wasting water is a good thing.

But you may think, “What difference can I make?” Of course, no one person can solve the daunting problem of growing demands on a finite resource. But this is a case of the power of collective impact: each of us making small changes results in big changes. 

So what can one person do? You may be surprised that a simple action like turning off the water when shaving or brushing your teeth can save up to 4 gallons a minute – or up to 200 gallons a week for a family of four! Multiply that by hundreds of thousands of households and we are talking a lot of water.

It’s all about using water wisely. No one is asking you to go without. Rather, it is all about using the water we have efficiently and avoid wasting it.

And watching your water bill go down is a wonderful additional benefit!

Simple, easy, no-fuss actions you can start today for good habits tomorrow

One great thing about conserving water is that no special equipment is needed. At first it is just a matter of remembering. Start by choosing just one or two small actions. Tape a reminder note on the bathroom mirror, near your kitchen sink, or wherever you want to start saving water. After you do these actions for a short while, they will begin to be habits. And then you won’t have to think about them at all. You’ll save water and money without giving it a thought. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

Here are some easy things you can begin doing today:

  • Keep your shower under 5 minutes and you’ll save up to 1,000 gallons a month. 
  • Soak pots and pans instead of letting the water run while you scrape them clean.
  • Grab a wrench and fix a leaky faucet, and you can save 140 gallons a week. Household water leaks waste more than 1 trillion gallons per year.
  • Keep a pitcher of drinking water in the refrigerator instead of running the tap. This way every drop goes down you and not the drain.
  • Drop tissues in the trash instead of flushing them. Toilets account for nearly 30 percent of water used in the home. Older models can use up to 6 gallons per flush; newer low-flow toilets use from 1.6 to 3.5 gallons. Putting trash in the wastebasket uses none. 

Don’t forget that outdoor water uses account for approximately 30 percent of total household water use. There are lots of easy things you can do to use less water outside. You can find dozens of tips on-line.

Every day is a good day to save water

You are hearing about the drought currently affecting parts of our state. Looking at the potential impact of limited water on homes, farms, businesses, and the environment is a sobering reminder that we can’t take water for granted. It is a precious resource – we can’t live without it. Conserving water is not just for water-short times. It’s important to do all year, every year.

No new water is being made. We still have the same amount of water as we did when dinosaurs wandered the Earth. And yet the demands on water continue to increase. Our state population is predicted to grow to 8.8 million by 2040, and there still needs to be enough water for fish, wildlife, and the environment. There can be enough water for all the many demands on it, now and into the future, if we choose to be water smart.

Learn more at Ecology’s Water Conservation page. Links to additional resources are included. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

A penny for your thoughts, but $9 for your ABS switch

By Andrew Wineke, communications manager, Hazardous Waste and Toxics Reduction Program

There’s more than one way to skin a cat, as the saying goes. A less well known (but cat-friendlier) saying is that there is more than one way to get mercury out of the environment. Mercury, the silvery, liquid metal, is a problem child. It’s highly toxic, it lasts essentially forever, and it builds up in the environment, causing health effects and environmental damage.

You don’t see mercury thermometers and thermostats around as much as you once did, but small amounts of the toxic metal can still be found in a range of applications. Because mercury is so dangerous, it’s important to find every bit of it we can and collect it before it can cause damage.

Mercury pellets from automotive switches.
One program that has been extremely effective in Washington is working with auto recyclers to collect mercury-containing automotive switches.

In older cars, many of the light, airbag and anti-lock brake switches contain a tiny pellet of mercury, so it makes sense to work with auto recyclers to collect those before the cars are cut up and turned into scrap.

Washington’s program pays recyclers $3 for light switches and $9 for ABS switches (which contain more mercury).

Does it work? Just look at the numbers:
  • Since 2006, Ecology’s program has collected 234,500 switches
  • Removing those switches has kept more than 500 pounds of mercury out of the environment
  • In 2014, the program collected 1,518 ABS switches and 21,152 light switches, removing 50 pounds of mercury in the process.
Many other states offer similar programs, but Washington is a national leader in mercury removal. Our automotive switch program ranked fifth in the nation in mercury collected, despite Washington having a much smaller population and fewer vehicles than some of the other states.

What you can do
 It hopefully goes without saying, but you should not pull the ABS switch out of your car just because it may contain mercury. As long as the mercury is contained in the switch, it’s very safe. Ecology’s collection program is aimed at preventing long-term environmental damage.

www.lightrecyclewa.orgHowever, there are some items most of us have around our homes that also contain mercury: fluorescent light bulbs and electronics.

www.ecyclewashington.orgAs long as your fluorescent light bulbs are working, they’re safe and you can leave them be. When they do burn out, though, make sure you take the bulbs to a recycling center.

In January, Washington launched the LightRecycle program, which accepts fluorescent bulbs at convenient locations around the state. So do your part to keep mercury out of the environment and recycle your fluorescents!

For electronics, Washington’s E-Cycle program accepts TVs, computers and other electronic items and ensures they are properly recycled. It’s free and it’s easy, with more than 400 drop-off locations around the state. Since 2009, the E-Cycle program has collected more than 250 million pounds of electronics.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Learn more about Ecology’s environmental footprint and sustainability efforts

By Andrew Wineke, communications manager, Hazardous Waste and Toxics Reduction program

This is Earth Month, so sustainability is the word of the hour. Ecology, we think of ourselves as environmental leaders, responsible for protecting and restoring the air, land and water of Washington. As we do that, however, we leave an environmental footprint of our own with the vehicles we drive, the electricity we consume and the waste we generate.

To improve our sustainability, we first need to track that footprint and evaluate how we’re doing and where the best opportunities to improve lie.

One of the ways we do that is through our Sustainability Report. In this report, you’ll find data on Ecology’s energy consumption, greenhouse gas generation, waste and water use. You’ll also find broader categories of sustainability, such as our employee mix, our commuting habits and our budget.

The goal of reporting is to not only improve Ecology’s sustainability but to advance sustainability across the state by providing the data that can inform our strategic planning. Our Sustainability Report uses a framework established by the Global Reporting Initiative, or GRI.

GRI is a nonprofit organization that has introduced standardized language and metrics for sustainability reporting. GRI’s framework is the widely used by companies and organizations across the world.

Using a standard yardstick to measure our performance allows us to set an example for others. Last fall, Ecology hosted a GRI workshop that 85 businesses, governments and organizations attended.

Ecology’s Sustainability Report also advances the charge given to all state agencies by Gov. Jay Inslee to track and improve performance through Results Washington.

Gov. Inslee’s goal is to ensure a faster, smarter and more accountable state government. Sustainability, environmental protection, and the health of our communities are key performance areas for Results Washington.

Want to know more?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Cleaning Up: Small rural sites are big deals, too

By Seth Preston, communications manager, Toxics Cleanup Program

Large cleanup sites – both in terms of physical size and amounts of pollution – capture a lot of public attention. For example, big, old industrial sites around Puget Sound and other large urban areas come to mind.

Eastern Washington Clean Sites Initiative locations
But cleaning up relatively small sites in rural communities often can have just as big of a positive income for those communities’ environment, economy and quality of life.

That’s where the Toxics Cleanup Program’s Eastern Washington Clean Sites Initiative comes in.

The initiative takes in a variety of polluted properties – from an old mill in Cashmere to a deteriorating gas station in Buena, and from a former hard chromium electroplating operation near Walla Walla to a Stevens County site contaminated by wood-treating chemicals.

The reason behind this work is simple: Every community matters. Every cleanup site matters.

It all adds up to help improve, restore and protect this one Earth we have.