Thursday, April 21, 2016

Earth Pass It On: What this city girl has learned about keeping the water clean

by Sandy Howard, communications manager, Water Quality Program

I was born in Tacoma, but I grew up in south King County on the rim of the Green River Valley.

Our home’s picture window had a view directly to the west. We could watch the planes landing and taking off from Sea-Tac Airport, day and night.

My family did a lot of car camping and scouting, so I got a lot of exposure to the outdoors. I took for granted the nearby pristine waters of Saltwater State Park, the cold and swift running waters of the Green River at Flaming Geyser Park, the satiny surface of Lake Meridian on opening day of trout season.

I have memories of whirling round and round on the beach with a whip made of sea lettuce. Throwing rocks, and wading into Puget Sound peering into the shallow water to see crabs and tiny fish.

And of my brother throwing my favorite piece of driftwood out the car window – just to spite me! 

Remarkably, and not really intentionally, I wound up with a fascinating career with the Department of Ecology. It’s amazing all of the things I’ve learned since I’ve been here. And it’s stuff I never knew before. 

I'm sitting next to my Dad, my brothers and some of their
friends along Point Defiance a long time ago. 
Almost everything we do on the land has a downstream effect.

For example, I don’t have a lawn or a garden, but I have a giant driveway. And I have a big roof.

I have learned that if I keep them clean, they don’t grow a lot of moss. I don’t need to use a lot of moss killer. When it rains, that’s less moss killer washing downstream and getting into Olympia’s Percival Cove.

I have learned that if I have four quarters, maybe six if I’m feeling rich, I can get my car really clean at the auto mall car wash. That way I don’t make soapy water that goes down the storm drain. Did you know the soapy water acts like a fertilizer?  It contains phosphorous that triggers algae blooms, which are an increasing problem in our lakes, rivers and Puget Sound.

And this next one is kind of a quirky one, but it’s true. 

Did you know that if your community is having a sewer spill – which usually means a sewer line is broken and raw sewage is spilling into the ground or into the water – the best thing you can do is to limit your use of water? Less water going down your drain means less of a spill.

Another one is that I check my car to make sure it’s not leaking oil. I drive a hybrid, but I’m hoping my next car will be an all-electric one. Maybe a Tesla? 

In my long career, I’ve had a chance to help educate people about water quality.

Mom, my brothers and me looking like tourists somewhere 
along Puget Sound back in the day. 
Some of the most gratifying work has been to help educate people about toxic algae blooms. Almost every year, somebody’s dog drinks from a lake that is having a bloom and gets sick or dies. So here’s my advice -- if you see green algae or scum in the water, stay away from it. Keep your pets and children out of it.  

Our lakes, rivers and Puget Sound are special and irreplaceable. It has taken decades for pollution problems to crop up, and it will take decades for us to get them clean again. I thank cities, counties and industries who are doing their part for clean water. You and I can do some things, too. Our small steps together will get us there. 

Me today.
Learn more about what you can do to keep the water clean by visiting Washington Waters – Ours to Protect

Earth Day every day

Earth Day is Friday, April 22. (And every day is a good day to inspire better habits for the environment!) Watch for additional blog posts about our work and how you can help protect the earth! Find it all on our social media channels by searching #EarthPassItOn.

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