Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Fecal Matters: Arness County Park and Kingston Marina are CLOSED to Water Contact Recreation, Kitsap County

BEACH program update

Kitsap Public Health District issued a no-contact advisory for Appletree Cove from Arness County park to Kingston Marina on Nov. 14, 2018. This advisory is due to a 5,000 gallon sewage spill and will remain in effect through Saturday, Nov. 17. Signs have been posted at affected areas and the public is advised to avoid contact with the water in those areas.

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 on 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.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Fecal Matters: Heavy rainfall can increase health risks for surfers, divers, and other beachgoers

Illustration of Washington beach program moniker. Foot prints and starfish are in the foreground and an illustration of watery sand is in the background.We had a great summer for water sports enthusiasts, but as we transition into the rainy season, surfers, divers, and other winter beachgoers should be aware of potential rising bacteria levels at their favorite beaches. After heavy rainfall, bacteria levels in beach water could rise.

What causes bacteria levels to rise?

Water runoff from heavy rain drains into nearby lakes, rivers, and saltwater beaches. This runoff can carry unsafe levels of fecal bacteria to water bodies from sewage system overflows and animal waste.

Don’t be scared, be aware!

Anyone who comes in contact with winter ocean water should be aware of the potential health risks associated with heavy rain. This includes the following types of beachgoers:
Storm drain pipe protruding from a retaining wall at the beach. The wall is made of boulders. The pipe was water spewing from it onto the beach.
Keep an eye out for pipes or streams that
drain directly to the beach.
  • Surfers
  • Divers
  • Kayakers
  • Paddle boarders
  • Boaters
  • Walkers
  • Dog walkers
  • Seashell collectors
  • Sand castle builders
Contact with fecal-contaminated water, shells, or sand can result in gastroenteritis, skin rashes, upper respiratory infections, and other illnesses. Children and the elderly may be more vulnerable to waterborne illnesses. 

Protect yourself and others

It’s easy to prevent these illnesses. Here are some steps you can take to ensure that you and your family stay healthy this winter:
  • Avoid contact with fresh or marine water after a heavy rain.
  • Avoid water recreation for 24 hours after heavy rainfall.
  • Be aware of areas with pipes or streams that drain directly to the beach. 
  • Pick up pet waste.
  • Watch your dog at the beach; make sure they don’t drink the water.
  • Remember to wash your hands before eating or preparing food, especially after a trip to the beach.
For more information about the water quality at your beaches, follow our blog, Facebook page, or LISTSERV.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Reining in dust in the Horse Heaven Hills

It’s no secret that Eastern Washington can get windy. Very windy, at times.

And that’s not a problem… until that wind picks up loose soil and sends it aloft. Then you’ve got a dust storm, and that can lead to some real health concerns. Dust contains tiny particles that can lodge deep in people’s lungs. Much of this dust is truly minuscule – the particulates known as PM10 are about one-seventh the diameter of a human hair.
The Wallula Maintenance Area (in green) in relation to the Horse Heaven Hills.

In Eastern Washington, agriculture is the main source of dust. Farmers have made great strides in the last few decades in reducing dust, but there is still a need for improvement. That’s why Ecology created a High Wind Fugitive Dust Mitigation Plan for the Tri-Cities area. Part of the plan is to work with partners to encourage farmers to adopt additional voluntary practices that disturb the soil less and reduce the number of these high wind dust events.

What’s happening
Most dust storms hitting the Tri-Cities start out in farmlands southwest of Kennewick. The Horse Heaven Hills are home to many dryland wheat farms and the area is the main source of dust for these high wind events.

Several times in recent years, high winds have whipped up major dust storms in the area, and Ecology’s air quality monitor in Kennewick picked up PM10 readings that exceeded federal standards. For example, on Aug. 14, 2015, wind speeds hit a maximum of 56 miles per hour and our monitor recorded a 24-hour average reading of 589 micrograms per cubic meter – far above the 150 microgram per cubic meter 24-hour standard.

What we are doing
A prototype deep-furrow conservation drill helps to prevent soil erosion.
We’ve drafted a plan and will put together a High Wind Dust Prevention Work Group with Ecology, Benton County Clean Air Agency, conservation districts, USDA offices and other partners. This work group help to educate farmers and the general public about the need to minimize dust during high wind events, promote conservation measures to minimize soil erosion and explore other steps to reduce soil erosion. We’ll work to better notify the public about high wind dust events, and work with the Washington State Department of Health to improve public education on the health threats from dust. 

Ecology is also investing $163,000 with the Benton Conservation District to incentivize farmers to use no-till or erosion mitigation methods on their fields.

What’s the story? 
The backstory is somewhat complicated. Creating the plan is a federal requirement stemming from long-ago air quality problems in the Wallula Maintenance Area – a region around the town of Burbank where, back in the 1980s, dust control issues led to a federal “non-attainment” designation for PM10. Although dust control in the Wallula area is now much-improved, there are ongoing federal requirements to prevent air quality from backsliding. Since the Kennewick monitor stands in for the Wallula Maintenance Area, high readings there triggered the need for a plan. 

The important thing is that the regulatory requirements that led to the new plan will bring us together with our partners to take further steps to better control the dust. And that should be better for everyone in the region. 

Comment on the plan
Before we get to work, however, we’re asking the public to weigh in on the High Wind Fugitive Dust Mitigation Plan between Nov. 5 and Dec. 12. Find the plan on our Outdoor Dust Management page.

For more information, contact Laurie Hulse-Moyer,

By Andy Wineke, Air Quality program

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Monitoring is essential to Puget Sound

Data focuses on climate impacts, nutrient pollution

The recent death of young orca J-50 sent a clear message: It’s more important than ever to dig in and understand what is happening in Puget Sound. It’s urgent. 

Since 1998, 40 orcas have been born and survived – but another 73 newborn orcas have gone missing or died. These are clearly not good odds. The numbers clearly support the recent formation of the Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force.

While the Task Force considers immediate actions to address the decline of orca populations, science teams are refocusing their work, too. 

Emphasizing climate change and nutrient pollution 

Map of Puget Sound with dots plotted on the map that representation some monitoring stations.
Areas Ecology monitors sediments
and benthos.

A multitude of drivers affect Puget Sound’s ecosystem. And these drivers have changed over the past 30 years since Ecology began monitoring the seafloor. Warming temperatures, changing river flows, increased ocean acidity, and accumulating toxic substances can affect seafloor sediments and the sea creatures that live within them at the bottom of the food chain.  

We recently adapted our sediment monitoring program to collect data that will help better understand the effects of climate change and of nutrient pollution flowing into the sound. We took the best aspects of our former work and used it to develop the new program. The program consists of 50 sampling stations collected Puget Sound-wide, in addition to 30-36 sampling stations in each of the six largest urban bays.  

Findings from the new approach will be used to answer questions related to the effects of toxics, nutrients, and climate change pressures on Puget Sound’s sediments and benthos

Samples and data support many efforts

We’ve been monitoring Puget Sound seafloor sediments and the invertebrates (benthos) that live within them since 1989. We’ve gathered more than 1.5 million invertebrates and 3,000 sediment samples. We track the numbers and types of species we see in order to understand the health of Puget Sound and detect changes over time. The extensive collection supports researchers, state agencies, and local governments.

The most publicized results of our data are the Vital Sign Indicators for Puget Sound.  These high-level environmental indicators are used by the Puget Sound Partnership, a state agency that leads the region’s collective effort to restore and protect Puget Sound.

We partner with many researchers to leverage our sampling efforts to learn about other impacts to Puget Sound. For example, we collect sediment for University of Washington researchers who study foraminifera, small, shelled organisms that live in sediments.  Changes in communities of these organisms over time may be indicative of effects from ocean acidification in Puget Sound. UW scientists also examine our samples for microplastics that end up in the sediments, while another group studies a species of algal cysts in sediments that can cause harmful algal blooms. 

Looking to the seafloor for answers 

The seafloor might not be the first thing the average person thinks about when considering the health of Puget Sound. But to understand what is happening at the top of the food chain, scientists and researchers need to understand what is happening throughout the entire system, beginning with the bottom. The sediments of the seafloor.  Organisms that spend most of their lives in the sediments are easy to collect and are reliable indicators of sediment and water quality. 
Image of marine food web. It shows the small benthos at the bottom of the food chain on the seafloor, fish that eat the benthos and all the larger mamals in the food chain all the way to the orca whale at the top of the chain.
Marine food web diagram. Ecology monitors the tiny
creatures at the bottom of Puget Sound.

Sharing knowledge

Passing on knowledge is an important part of our work. Over the years the large collection of preserved invertebrates and many specimens have been loaned to the South Sound Estuarium where they are used to educate the public. To reach younger generations, our sediment monitoring specialists have worked with undergraduate and graduate students in regional colleges, and they participate in community outreach events, including the South Puget Sound Community College’s science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) camp for middle-school girls.

Today, we need to collect data about the quality of all elements of the Puget Sound ecosystem that can inform groups like the Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force and decision-makers who are working to rehabilitate Puget Sound.

Visit our website to learn more about work related to Puget Sound.

By Camille St. Onge, communications

Monday, October 29, 2018

Ecology seeking public comments on Grays Harbor County's proposed shoreline program

Marine shoreline along Grays Harbor estuary.
Grays Harbor County's proposed updated shoreline master program designed to
help protect, guide shoreline uses along Grays Harbor estuary.
We are seeking public comments until Monday, Dec. 3, about significant revisions that Grays Harbor County is seeking to make to its shoreline master program (SMP)—the locally-tailored set of land use policies and regulations designed to protect and guide how the county will develop, restore, and preserve more than 1,200 miles of marine and freshwater shorelines in and around:
  • Grays Harbor estuary
  • Pacific Ocean coastline
  • Numerous rivers and streams including the Chehalis, Hoquiam, Humptulips, North, Satsop, and Wynoochee rivers.
  • Six lakes including Wynoochee Lake
Grays Harbor County last amended its SMP in 1991. The proposed updated master program will replace the county’s current SMP. It is designed to:
  • Prioritize water-oriented uses and development in Grays Harbor County.
  • Provide for public access to public waters and shorelines.
  • Support restoration actions consistent with the county’s shoreline restoration plan.
  • Incorporate critical area regulations to ensure environmentally-sensitive areas within the county’s shoreline jurisdiction are protected.
Draft review documents available online or by appointment

The draft documents currently out for review and comment are available electronically through our website. Paper copies are also available for review, by appointment, at Ecology:

Washington Department of Ecology
Southwest Regional Office
300 Desmond Drive
Lacey, WA 98504

To arrange a time, please contact Ecology’s Kim Van Zwalenburg. Her phone number is (360) 407-6520.

The documents are also available by appointment at the county:

Grays Harbor County
Department of Public Services - Planning and Building Division
100 West Broadway, Suite 31
Montesano, WA 98563

To schedule an appointment, please contact Jane Hewitt at Grays Harbor County. Her phone number is (360) 249-4222

How to submit comments by Dec. 3

Comments only need to be provided once before the Dec. 3 deadline. While we prefer public comments be submitted through our online comment form, we also will accept comments by mail sent to:

Kim Van Zwalenburg
Washington Department of Ecology
Southwest Regional Office
PO Box 47775
Olympia, WA 98504-7775

Next steps

After the public comment period closes Dec. 3, Ecology will compare Grays Harbor's proposed SMP to the requirements of the state Shoreline Management Act and Shoreline Master Program Guidelines. Based on the comparison, we will decide whether to:
  • Approve Grays Harbor County’s proposed SMP as is.
  • Approve the revised SMP with recommended changes.
  • Send the proposed SMP back to the county with required changes to meet statutory and rule requirements. Recommended changes may also be included with the required changes.

Eyes Under Puget Sound: critter of the month – the skeleton shrimp

Skeleton shrimp on sea grass
A female skeleton shrimp sways spookily with the ocean current.

This Halloween, we’d like to introduce you to one of the most bizarre groups of crustaceans in Puget Sound – the skeleton shrimp. From their spindly skeletal bodies to their creepy waving movements, these otherworldly critters are bound to make your skin crawl!

Skeleton crew

Kingdom: Animalia; Phylum: Athropoda; Class: Malacostraca; Order: Amphipoda; Family: Caprellidae.
If you can put aside their alien appearance, skeleton shrimp are fascinating creatures. Unlike most of their cousins in the order Amphipoda (which actually do resemble tiny shrimp), the skeleton shrimps (or “caprellids”) are specialized for clinging rather than swimming in marine habitats. If they want to move, they have to crawl along like inchworms. They also have adaptations for camouflage, changing colors to blend in with their surroundings. You can find them hiding among other invertebrate critters on docks and pilings, using their hook-like back legs to hang on to the plant-like fronds of colonial hydroids and bryozoans. They can also be found in beds of seaweed and eelgrass, their lanky bodies waving about in the water current.

Skeleton shrimp microscope images
Left: Caprella mendax.
Center: A female Tritella pilimana broods her eggs in a special pouch. Image courtesy of Dave Cowles,
Right: Tritella pilimana.

Skeleton at the feast

Skeleton shrimp have varied feeding methods – some species are filter feeders that wait for food to come to them, while others are predators, hunting for worms and crustacean larvae. Some eat detritus (dead particulate material), and some species like to munch on tiny microalgae called diatoms. In fact, skeleton shrimp are so good at grazing on diatoms that their presence is thought to keep eelgrass beds healthier by removing diatoms that encrust the blades. Fish and larger invertebrates pass these nutrients up to the higher trophic levels when they eat the skeleton shrimp.

Poison punch

Gnathopod (claw) of the male skeleton shrimp

The male gnathopod of Caprella cf californica.
A skeleton shrimp’s unusually large claws, called gnathopods, play an important role in their mating behavior. In some species (including species of Caprella found in Puget Sound), the male’s gnathopods are armed with a poison-producing gland. The toxins they make aren’t harmful to humans, but when two males fight over a mate, the outcome can be deadly.

Naked truth

Mating can be tricky for these critters because their window of opportunity is short. Like all arthropods, they shed their exoskeletons to grow in a process called molting. The female is only able to mate right after molting, when her new exoskeleton is still soft. She carries her eggs in special flaps called brood pouches, and the young hatch out looking just like miniature adults, immediately inching away to find their own little branches to attach to.

Skeleton key

For taxonomists, the scariest thing about skeleton shrimp is identifying them! We encounter over half a dozen species in Puget Sound, and telling them apart can be quite the daunting task. We look for key features such as the length of the antennae, whether or not the animal has a spine on its head, and the shape of its gnathopods. Despite the taxonomic challenges, we do enjoy seeing these weird little beasts in our samples, although the swaying and claw-waving of the live ones can be a bit unnerving. So if you really want to get spooked on Halloween, head down to a dock, peer into the murky water, and hunt for tiny skeletons!

By: Dany Burgess & Angela Eagleston, Environmental Assessment Program

Dany Burgess and Angela Eagleston on Ecology's field research boat

Our benthic taxonomists, Dany and Angela, identify and count sediment-dwelling organisms as part of the Marine Sediment Monitoring Program. They track the numbers and types of species they see in order to understand the health of Puget Sound and detect changes over time.

Dany and Angela share their discoveries by bringing us a benthic
Critter of the Month. These posts will give you a peek into the life of Puget Sound’s least known inhabitants. Can't get enough benthos? See photos from our Eyes Under Puget Sound collection on Flickr.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Washington communities are invited to apply for federal assistance to increase local sustainability

Our Brownfields Program staff are encouraging Washington communities to take advantage of the Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities Program. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created the program for communities that are relatively new to environmentally sustainable approaches but have a basic understanding of smart growth principles and how they apply locally.

EPA enacts this program by providing technical assistance workshops in selected communities. Their workshops are focusing on two tools this year.
  1. Communities with Superfund and/or brownfield properties are invited to apply for the Strategies for Neighborhood Reinvestment tool. A brownfield is a formerly abandoned property whose redevelopment may be complicated by actual or perceived environmental contamination. The tool will help them enact policies to increase the redevelopment potential of contaminated properties by creating better conditions for real estate investment in the neighborhoods surrounding them.
  2. Communities digging up and reconstructing streets are invited to apply for the Green and Complete Streets tool. The tool will help them capitalize on water infrastructure upgrades as an opportunity to rebuild more pedestrian and bike-friendly streets that better manage stormwater on-site.

How to Apply

Submit a letter of interest no longer than two pages. The applicant can be a local, county, or tribal government, or a nonprofit organization that has the support of the local government on whose behalf they are applying. Communities can submit multiple letters of interest, but the nature of the challenge should correspond with each tool requested. Each letter should:
  1. Select one of the tools described above.
  2. Describe the nature of the smart growth or sustainable communities-related challenge(s) facing your community, including any relevant data to demonstrate the challenge. If applicable, describe how this challenge affects low-income, minority, tribal, and/or other communities facing disproportionate environmental or health risks.
  3. Explain the relevance of the selected tool to the challenge(s), being as specific as possible. Applicants must describe how the community’s issues can be addressed through the technical assistance workshop, focusing on why the requested tool will help with a specific challenge. Specifically:
    • For Strategies for Neighborhood Reinvestment, indicate what, if any, economic development is occurring in your community and steps your community has already taken to encourage infill development, including policies, code changes, partnerships, or other strategies.
    • For Green and Complete Streets, preference will be given to communities that already have a Complete Streets policy in place and want to add the “green” element, so indicate how familiar your community is with Complete Streets practices as well as green infrastructure for stormwater management. Include local examples, if any.
  4. Describe your plan for engaging underrepresented communities, including low-income, minority, tribal, and/or overburdened communities, in the technical assistance workshop.
  5. Identify your preferred timing for the workshop. The proposed timeframe for these workshops is between March and September 2019. Please provide a preliminary idea of the best dates for your community.
  6. Describe the community’s expected capacity for implementation, for example, local policy change, additional consideration for physical improvements, new incentives, etc. EPA generally looks to assist communities that are ready to implement once the Building Blocks workshop and next steps memo are complete.
  7. If applicable, describe how this assistance would complement work being done in the community using other federal funding (EPA brownfields grants, U.S. HUD Community Development Block Grants, U.S. DOT TIGER/BUILD grants) and/or how this workshop would align with a local or regional planning process.
  8. Affirm that the community can provide the information or materials listed in the “What the Community Provides” section of each tool description.
  9. List the primary point of contact and other key stakeholders who would be involved in the technical assistance work, including title, address, email, and phone number of the primary contact.
The letter must be signed by a mayor, city manager, elected official, or other representative of the community. This signature represents the community’s support and commitment to this program and assistance.

The letter of interest must be submitted in an attachment (Microsoft Word or PDF file) by email to no later than November 16, 2018, at 2:00 p.m. Pacific Standard Time.
Please save your file using the following format: Name of Jurisdiction Name of State and corresponding tool number (#x) based on the following list. For example: Catonsville Maryland #1.

  • Tool #1: Neighborhood Reinvestment
  • Tool #2: Green and Complete Streets

If you have questions about this request for letters of interest, please see EPA’s Frequently Asked Questions webpage. If your question is not answered there, please contact Chip Gurkin at or 202-564-2778.