Monday, August 19, 2019

New career opportunities with the Wastewater Operator-in-Training Program

Ecology is growing the operator certification training program by adding three new Operator-in-Training levels.

Recently, we announced awards for the top-performing wastewater treatment plants and their operators. This week, we are excited to announce new career opportunities are now available through our Operator-in-Training (OIT) program.

Why Wastewater Treatment Plant Operators matter

Anything that goes down the sink or toilet ends up at a wastewater treatment plant (treatment plant).  Treatment plants are the frontlines of public health and environmental safety as they work around the clock to clean up our wastewater before it goes into Washington's rivers, lakes, streams, and Puget Sound.
Wastewater treatment operator drawing by 
James R Davis, Senior Gardener for South 
King County Wastewater Treatment Plant 

Wastewater treatment plant operators are the unsung heroes, responsible for ensuring treatment plants keep functioning properly and cleaning the wastewater. These operators have an undeniably important role in keeping Washington’s waters clean.

“Washington’s growing population creates a greater need for wastewater treatment every day. Talented and proficient plant operators are critical to meeting this challenge,” said Ecology Water Quality Program Manager Heather Bartlett. “There are jobs to be had, and we encourage people to go into this field to help serve the public and protect the environment.”

Because their work is so critical to the protection of public health and the environment, Ecology certifies wastewater treatment plant operators to help ensure that they are knowledgeable and able to properly operate and maintain wastewater treatment plants. We certify operators based on wastewater operating experience, relevant experience, and education. We are growing our operator certification training program by adding three new Operator in Training (OIT) Group Levels. 

Why Add Operator in Training Group Levels?

Ecology added new OIT Group levels II-IV to incentivize and encourage entry into, and growth within, the profession. This program creates more pathways for operators to advance to higher group levels. It also helps managers at treatment plants to plan for their most experienced operators’ retirements.

How did we design the OIT levels? 

We listened to operators. In 2018, we conducted a survey and formed a stakeholder Rule Advisory Committee (RAC). The RAC—made up of certified operators, statewide, from each group level—came together to advise us on the necessary changes to the rule. We then released an informal draft of our proposal for public comment. This past spring we held a formal comment period on the new levels.

During the survey and the RAC meetings, wastewater operators voiced their concern about the number of operators retiring from the workforce and the challenges for new operators entering the industry. We have repeatedly heard how important it is to get entry into this field and to promote growth from within the talented pool of operators that the state certifies. These OIT group levels help us do that. 

How it Works

A certified operator for the City of Enumclaw is cleaning a
secondary clarifier, just one of many tasks operators do to keep
treatment plants running smoothly. 
The formal regulatory action we took was adopting new OIT Group levels II-IV in chapter 173-230 WAC. These new OIT Group levels are for operators who can pass the next higher Group level exam, but do not yet meet the certification requirements to qualify for a full certification at that higher Group level. This means operators do not have to wait as long before taking the exam for the next certification level.  

Applicants who already hold a full certification 

If you meet the requirements for the OIT group level, you may apply for an OIT certification one level above your current full certification group level. If you pass the exam, you will then hold both your new OIT certification and your existing full certification.
You may keep your Group II – IV OIT certification for two exam cycles, up to 10 years, while gaining the necessary experience to upgrade to the next group level for full certification. 
While holding an OIT II-IV certification, you are only required to meet the professional growth requirements for their full certification and will pay only one renewal fee.
You will not be required to earn an OIT group level II-IV certification to advance to the next full certification level. It is merely an option for those operators lacking the operating experience necessary to qualify for the next level full certification. It allows you to take and pass the exam and gain the experience on the job. 

Applicants not yet certified 

If you do not already hold a certification, you may apply only for an OIT I. There is no time limit to how long an OTI I may remain at this group level.

Be a part of the solution

Given our state’s growing population, we need to treat more and more wastewater. This is a great field, with growth opportunities—often right in your own community.
Every treatment plant is unique - 
like the Cowiche Treatment Plant pictured here.

Not sure if you have the right experience? We find that people with experience as a welder, machinist, mechanic, operator at other similar facilities, laboratory technician, or engineer, often have the right type of experience for this important work. Check out our certification program website for more information. 

Evergreen Rural Water of Washington (ERWoW) is in the process of launching their Wastewater Utility Apprenticeship Program. The program offers hands-on and classroom training, which are both invaluable to wastewater treatment plant operators. We have had the opportunity to review their proposed program and training courses. Based on our review, operators who are successful in the program can qualify for the Operator-In-Training, Group I, Group II OIT, and eventually Group II level wastewater operator certification exams.

By: Jocelyn Jones, Senior Water Quality Rules Planner

Friday, August 16, 2019

Fecal Matters: Water contact advisory issued for Dakwas Beach Park, Clallam County

The Makah Beach Program issued a water contact health advisory for Dakwas Park Beach in Clallam County. This advisory was issued on Aug. 16 due to high levels of fecal bacteria in the water. The beach will be sampled again next week to determine if bacteria levels have decreased. The public is advised to avoid contact with the water until further notice.

Contact with fecal contaminated waters can result in gastroenteritis, skin rashes, upper respiratory infections, and other illnesses. Children and the elderly may be more vulnerable to waterborne illnesses.

Stay updated about water quality at your beaches by keeping up with us on our blog Fecal Matters, on Facebook, or join our listserv.

Julianne Ruffner, our BEACH Program Manager, is available at 360-407-6154 or for questions.

Dust buster: A plan to manage dust in and near Wallula

Things looked a lot different when the Lewis and Clark expedition camped at the confluence of the Snake and Columbia rivers in 1805 and traded with the Nez Perce. That spot is now Sacajawea Historical State Park, surrounded by the growing metropolis of the Tri-Cities – something that Lewis and Clark could hardly have imagined.

One thing the explorers might well recognize 200 years later, though, is the dust frequently kicked up as winds blow across the dry terrain. Indeed – and unfortunately – the dust in recent decades may be worse than in 1805 due to the impacts of modern life.

Near the Tri-Cities, hot, dry summers make soils more vulnerable. Heavy southwest winds pick up dust from the nearby Horse Heaven Hills and send it through Kennewick and into Wallula at times. Industrial growth, agriculture activity and increasing population have also contributed to billowing dust at times.

Lewis and Clark's route through eastern Washington

What's happening in Wallula?

Back in the late 1980s, frequent problems with wind and dust pushed the area around Wallula – a few miles downriver from Sacajawea Park — into violation of federal air quality standards.  In 1990, the U.S. EPA officially designated the area as being in “nonattainment” – meaning that the area didn't meet federal standards for particulate pollution. Boundaries were drawn and the Wallula nonattainment area was born.
A map showing the Wallula maintenance area

The Wallula nonattainment area (now maintenance area) lies in Washington's Central Basin, the lowest and driest section of eastern Washington. This area is generally rural and agricultural. It includes parts of Walla Walla, Lincoln and Benton counties, as well as a small portion of Sacajawea Park in Franklin County. Burbank is the biggest city.

Diagnosing the dust

In order to bring the area back into compliance, local governments, industry and agricultural interests worked together on methods to reduce dust and improve air quality. Thanks to these efforts, by 2002 the area was back in attainment. Although the regulatory focus was on the relatively small area around Wallula, these dust reductions have meant cleaner air across the Tri-Cities region. 

However, that doesn’t mean our work was done. 

Once the area was back into regulatory compliance, Ecology and our local partners created an initial maintenance plan in 2005. The plan included a range of measures to prevent, control and reduce dust in the region:  
  • Working with the agricultural community to encourage best practices for preventing windblown dust and soil erosion.
  • Ensuring that industrial air permits included dust control plans for each facility, and
  • Developing a publication on best practices to minimize dust at beef feedlots and a Natural Events Action Plan outlining other dust reduction strategies

What's wrong with a little dust? 

We may think of dust as a natural thing, but it’s a nasty air pollutant. 

In Wallula, Kennewick, and other eastern Washington areas, windblown dust consists of tiny particles called PM10 that can add up to a significant health problem. When inhaled, PM10 settles into people’s lungs and can irritate or damage sensitive tissue. 

Exposure to particulate matter is associated with emphysema, asthma, chronic bronchitis, cancer, heart disease and even death. These particles also may be carriers for other toxic materials. The particles can remain in the air for extended periods, potentially causing long-term health issues for vulnerable people.

Dust will never disappear from the Columbia Plateau, but we hope that these efforts return the area to something closer to what Capt. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark encountered back in 1805. 

Museum at Sacajawea Historical State Park

What's next?

Now, we’re putting the finishing touches on a second maintenance plan that will take us through the end of 2025. The new plan closely follows the first, with a few updates. Now, and through Sept. 29, we are looking for the public’s review and comment on the plan.

Find the draft plan on the Maintenance Plan page. 

Public input

We're holding a public comment period on the draft plan through Sept. 29. If requested, we will hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. Sept. 24 at the McNary Wildlife Refuge. You can comment or request a hearing online -

More information

A related, but separate Dust Mitigation Plan addresses soil erosion from natural dust events from the nearby Horse Heaven Hills.

- Laurie Hulse-Moyer, Air Quality

Thursday, August 15, 2019

A Yakima adjudication update

We're moving forward with water right certificates

We have been busy since May 9, when Yakima Superior Court Judge F. James Gavin entered the final decree for the state’s longest adjudication of surface water rights in the Yakima River Basin.

Folks who are a part of the Ecology v Acquavella case will or have gotten letters explaining how to file and receive certification of their adjudicated water rights.

”We are working through the approximately 2,500 water rights by tributary watersheds, known as subbasins, beginning with Subbasin No. 1, in Upper Kittitas County,” explained Trevor Hutton, water resources section manager for our Central Region.

This blog provides some important background for claimants, so please read on.

What about appeals?

As identified in the Aug. 1, 2019, Yakima River Basin water rights adjudication 'monthly notice," a number of appeals of the case have been filed with Division III Court of Appeals, related to Subbasins 16 (Upper Naches) and 23 (Ahtanum).

“This handful of discreet appeals should not interfere with the certification of water rights,” said Hutton. “We will continue to follow the original direction of the court to issue certificates, unless the agency receives a ‘stay’ from the court, suspending the process.”

Yakima River Subbasin map shows water certificate letters sent for Kittitas County. 

Making progress on certificates in Kittitas County 

So far, we have contacted more than 1,000 water-right holders, comprising most of Kittitas County in Subbasins 1-12, outlining how to record their rights with Ecology and the county where the water use resides. 

We are aware that the claimant named on the water right certificate may not be the current owner of the property. This will not affect the validity of your water right, as it is associated with your property.

While this is a bureaucratic step – it is important to record your water right to ensure the paperwork, and ownerships and properties align. Many out there have had questions about the process, and we hope this blog helps to clarify the steps.

For instance, there are recording fees associated with the certificates. Ecology’s filing fee is $50, the same as required for any water right certification. Each county has its own fee schedule. We outline the fees due in the letter water right holders receive.

Mail the checks related to the fees associated with your water rights to Ecology and we will coordinate with your individual county for final certification. When the process is complete (which after a 40-plus year case is an added workload at the courthouses so we expect it will take some time), you will receive a copy of your certified water right!

If your rights are in Subbasins 1-12 and you did not get a certified letter from Ecology or you have not responded yet, please contact our Help Desk at 509- 575-2597. We've had some letters returned as undeliverable. Your call will help us find you.

If your rights are in Subbasins 13-31, be not dismayed, those mailings will occur soon.

The final schedule of rights is available for review on our website. Beginning in 1977, the water rights case examined and prioritized thousands of individual water claims in 31 tributary basins comprising Kittitas, Yakima, and Benton counties and a bit of Klickitat County.

Celebrated case deserved a celebration!

Earlier this summer, former Gov. Christine Gregoire helped our staff; case attorneys, cities, major claimants, irrigation districts, the US Bureau of Reclamation, residents, judges and court staff celebrate the final decree -- 42 years in the making -- at Sarg Hubbard Park on the Yakima River Greenway.

The celebration marked an important milestone and showcased how an incredible partnership of government, tribes, the agricultural community and others moved the needle away from countless water disputes toward solutions for enhanced water supply for all.

Much of it the case overlapped with Gregoire’s career -- which began as Ecology director, then as Washington State Attorney General and as two-term governor of the state.

Gregoire noted facetiously she was first told the case would take “maybe 10 years,” while acknowledging the hard work put into achieving compromise and success in a basin plagued by drought and at the mercy of climate change.

View her inspiring comments, and learn about her important connection to our current director, Maia Bellon, who hosted the event, in this YouTube video.

Other speakers included Sid Ottem, former adjudication Court Commissioner, Lorri Gray, regional director US Bureau of Reclamation; and Senior Assistant Attorney General Alan Reichman.

By Joye Redfield-Wilder, Central Region communications manager

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Fecal Matters: Herb Beck Marina is open for water contact recreation, Jefferson County

BEACH Program Update

Good News! Jefferson County Health Department has lifted the no-contact advisory at Herb Beck Marina in Quilcene. Analysis of water samples collected recently found bacteria levels were low and safe for water contact.

Contact with fecal contaminated waters can result in gastroenteritis, skin rashes, upper respiratory infections, and other illnesses. Children and the elderly may be more vulnerable to waterborne illnesses.

Stay updated about water quality at your beaches by keeping up with us on our blog Fecal Matters, on Facebook, or join our listserv.

Julianne Ruffner, our BEACH program manager, is available at 360-407-6154 or for questions.

Monday, August 12, 2019

New task force to set standards for cannabis testing labs

Thanks to a new law intended to improve cannabis product testing, state agencies are forming a Cannabis Science Task Force that will be led by Ecology. The Task Force will develop standards that ensure cannabis labs can produce reliable results when testing consumer and medical products.
Close up of a marijuana vape pens in a jar on a table. Plants in the background. Photo courtesy of @StayRegularMedia.
Vape pens are a popular recreational cannabis-based product available in Washington.*

Since cannabis was legalized in Washington, a number of consumer and medical products have been made available in the state. Not surprisingly, the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board and the Department of Health require products to be tested by an accredited laboratory. This testing is meant to ensure consumers are using products that are clean, free of harmful substances and are purchasing what was advertised. Medical and recreational cannabis products are tested for a variety of issues including potency, pesticides, and metals.

Cannabis products create a new paradigm

Close up of CBD products in small glass jars with black lids. Label says CBD rocks. Photo courtesy of @StayRegularMedia.
Cannabinoid products are required to be tested by accredited labs.*
Washington’s laws were developed in the early stages of legalization and gaps exist in the lab accreditation program. The gaps that exist today largely stem from the lack of a federal framework.

States typically rely on federal laws and rules as a regulatory framework for lab testing and accreditation programs. These frameworks exist for labs testing drinking water, food and health care samples and took years to develop. Standardized testing practices have not been established for cannabis and the result is a patchwork of regulatory practices that vary from state to state.

Laboratory test results impact many areas of our daily lives. The assurance of safe drinking water, food safety, and health care all rely on the competency of labs. Government agencies also rely on lab results to inform policy decisions. Bottom line – reliable testing practices are important to everyone.
Labs test both consumer and medical grade cannabis products.*

State agencies support improving cannabis testing

We’ve been working with the state Legislature and the Liquor and Cannabis Board over the last two legislative sessions to identify improvements and a path forward for Washington.

Because we already administer an environmental and drinking water accreditation program for 500 laboratories in Washington and throughout the nation, the Legislature has looked to us forexpert recommendations. In a report to the Legislature, we shared our evaluation of the existing cannabis lab accreditation program and options for improving the program.  

Multiple state agencies supported our recommendations and House Bill 2052, which transfers lab accreditation to Ecology and creates the Cannabis Science Task Force.

Washington’s Cannabis Science Task Force

Labs that test products – cannabis or any other product – rely on established methods, protocols, and standards among other requirements. Those practices do not exist for cannabis labs in Washington. That’s where the Cannabis Science Task Force comes in.

Washington’s departments of Agriculture, Health, and the Liquor and Cannabis Board will join us, along with interested tribes and industry partners, to establish standards for the state.

Liquor and Cannabis Board’s role

While the Task Force establishes standards, the Liquor and Cannabis Board will continue its oversight of accreditation. In addition to accreditation, the agency licenses growers, producers, and retailers. All of these regulatory activities are part of the Liquor and Cannabis Board’s seed to sale traceability system.   

Cannabis listen & learn forum

The Cannabis Science Task Force will meet for the first time on Aug. 21. This first meeting is designed to be a forum to listen and learn. Members of the public can attend and will have an opportunity to share feedback with the Task Force. 

When: Aug. 21, 2019, from 9 a.m. – noon
Where: Lacey Library 500 College St SE, Lacey WA 

To stay informed on the progress of the Cannabis Science Task Force, visit our website and signup to receive emails.

By Camille St. Onge, communications 
* Photos courtesy of Wikimedia and Stay Regular Media. 

Friday, August 9, 2019

Fecal Matters: Water contact advisory issued for Herb Beck Marina, Jefferson County

Jefferson County Department of Heath issued a no-contact advisory to water recreation at Herb Beck Marina beach in Quilcene. This advisory is due to high levels of fecal bacteria in the water. 

Signs have been posted at the beach to warn the public. This beach is being re-sampled and the advisory will stay in effect until bacterial levels have dropped to safe levels.

Contact with fecal contaminated waters can result in gastroenteritis, skin rashes, upper respiratory infections and other illnesses. Children and the elderly may be more vulnerable to waterborne illnesses.

Stay updated about water quality at your beaches by keeping up with us on our blog Fecal Matters, on Facebook, or join our listserv.

Julianne Ruffner, our BEACH Program Manager, is available at 360-407-6154 or for questions.