Friday, July 19, 2019

Fecal Matters: Closures for multiple beaches and others lifted

There are several beach closures that were caused by the estimated 3 million gallon sewage release in King County. Unrelated no-contact advisories are also going into effect and one beach advisory is being lifted. 

Ecology details about the spill are in our news release.

Updates will be made to this blog if additional closures or openings occur. Beach closures are also available on our beach map at

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.

Jefferson County: Multiple beach updates

Oak Bay County Park now open
Jefferson County Health Department has lifted the no-contact advisory at Oak Bay County Park. Analysis of water samples collected found bacteria levels were low and safe for water contact.

Fort Worden State Park under health advisory
Jefferson County Department of Heath issued a no-contact advisory to water recreation at Fort Worden State Park beach. 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.

King County: Multiple beaches closed to water contact

An estimated 3 million gallons of sewage was released by a King County wastewater treatment plant. This release has prompted several beaches to be closed to water contact until further notice.

Update at 3:30 p.m., July 19
King County has revised their list of beach closures to:
  • Discovery Park: North and South Beach
We previously reported the following beach closures nine beach closures which is listed below.

Closed beaches include: 
  • Alki Beach Park
  • Carkeek Park
  • Discovery Park: North and South Beach
  • Elliott Bay Marina
  • Golden Gardens Park
  • Myrtle Edwards Park
  • Pocket Park at 32nd Ave. W. (also known as Magnolia Tidelands Park)
  • Port of Seattle Terminal 91 
  • Seacrest Park

Kitsap County: Multiple beaches closed to water contact

Kitsap County Health has closed beaches to water contact because of the King County sewage release. Modeling conducted by the Washington Department of Health shows that sewage from the King County incident will reach Kitsap beaches. 

The following beaches are closed from July 19 - July 22:

  • Fay Bainbridge Park
  • Indianola Dock
  • Joel Pritchard Park

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

Media can contact Camille St. Onge, communications, at 360-584-6501 or for questions. 

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Fecal Matters: No-contact advisory issued for a portion of Port Washington Narrows, Kitsap County

BEACH program update

Kitsap Public Health District issued a no-contact health advisory for the east shore of the Port Washington Narrows, between the Warren Avenue Bridge and Manette Bridge. This is due to a 1,500 to 2,000 gallon sewage spill from Seaglass Village Apartments. Signs have been posted at public access points and the public is advised to avoid contact with the water in those areas. This advisory will remain in effect through Sunday, July 21. 

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 following our Fecal Matters blog posts, connecting on Facebook, or joining our listserv.

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

Chip, chip, hooray!

A lot of people have their eyes on the skies right now, keeping a sharp lookout for wildfire smoke. Although cooler weather has meant that the 2019 wildfire season has gotten off to a thankfully slow start, the widespread drought in Washington and climbing temperatures mean that a major blaze could come at any time.

Despite the best efforts of firefighters, we can’t always control the amount of smoke we get from summer blazes. With that in mind, it makes a ton of sense to limit all of the other sources of smoke that we are exposed to. In winter, that may mean burn bans, or encouraging people to use either low-emission, modern woodstoves or switch to other forms of heating. In the spring and summer, limiting smoke means reducing the amount of green waste and slash being burned, and providing other ways for communities to dispose of this material.

What’s wrong with burning green waste? Although burning green waste – tree limbs, bushes, yard trimmings and similar material – is illegal in urban areas throughout Washington, it is legal and fairly common in many rural areas. The advantage of burning is that it’s cheap and simple. The disadvantage? One, it’s dangerous – “controlled” fires that get out of control are the number one cause of wildfires in Washington. And, two, burning waste produces lots of smoke – often in the very communities that are already being hit the hardest by wildfire smoke.

“Burning is thought of as a cheap and easy way out, but it’s risky and it means putting more smoke into the air and into people’s lungs,” said Sean Hopkins, Ecology’s smoke management lead for Central Washington. “Our communities are already exposed to far too much smoke – we need to do everything we can to protect air quality.”

For years, the Department of Ecology’s Air Quality program has been working with local communities to make safer alternatives to burning more affordable and more accessible.

Over the past four years, Ecology has provided communities in North Central Washington – the part of our state that experiences the most wildfire smoke – with more than $200,000 to collect green waste and chip it, allowing the material to be composted or disposed of in other ways.

Lake Wenatchee Fire and Rescue chipping wood waste
near Lake Wenatchee and Plain.
A recent Ecology-funded project with the Lake Wenatchee Fire and Rescue District is a good example of how this works. Ecology provided Lake Wenatchee with a $50,000 grant to buy a commercial-sized wood chipper and then hold a series of free chipping events in the Lake Wenatchee and Plain communities.

Residents only needed to stack up their brush and limbs next to the road – up to 10 cubic yards per household. Fire district crews towed the chipper along the road and chipped as they went.
By the end of June, the fire district collected and chipped more than 14 dump truck loads of brush.

Burning that material would have put nearly a ton of particulate pollution into the air. Thankfully, with the chipper in hand, the fire district will be able to hold more chipping events in the future.

In the past year, Ecology has also been working closely with Okanogan County’s Solid Waste Department. Okanogan faces a special challenge in getting rid of tree limbs and other green waste: The apple maggot.

The apple maggot threatens Washington’s famous apple orchards, and officials have put in strict limits on transporting homegrown fruit or tree limbs to prevent the spread of the pest. Because Okanogan County includes areas in both the quarantine zone and the pest-free area, that makes collecting green waste a challenge. With $85,000 in grants from Ecology, however, Okanogan was able to not only buy a wood chipper, but also build its own steam treatment unit.
A new wood chipper Okanogan County purchased with an Ecology grant.

Steaming the wood chips at high heat is the required method to kill any apple maggot larvae that might be present. This then allows the treated wood chips to be moved into pest-free areas for disposal. Steam treatment was one of the methods suggested in a 2018 report on managing waste disposal and the apple maggot problem by Ecology and the Washington State Department of Agriculture.

Okanogan County has purchased the chipper and just finished building the steam treatment unit. The county plans to put the new equipment to use later this year.

No matter what we do, smoke will always be with us in Washington. These projects in North Central Washington show us that there’s still a lot we can do to reduce smoke when we can and help our communities breathe easier.

- Andrew Wineke, Air Quality Program 

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

New Tacoma park emerges from Superfund site

Aerial view of Dune Peninsula showing Puget Sound, walking paths, and the Tacoma Yacht Club
Tacoma's new Dune Peninsula at Point Defiance Park.
Image Courtesy of Metro Parks Tacoma
Since the 1980s, we have been working in partnership with the City of Tacoma and the EPA to clean up the blight and contamination left behind by the former Asarco smelter.

On Saturday, July 6, 2019, a beautiful new park was born from the smelter’s slag heap after decades of hard work, and millions of dollars in cleanup. The Dune Peninsula at Point Defiance Park is now open to the public with walking paths, a public amphitheater, and sweeping views of Puget Sound and Vashon Island.

History of the site

Aerial view of former Tacoma Smelter Plant showing industrial buildings, docks, and smokestack next to Puget Sound
The former Asarco smelter plant and smokestack
After operating for nearly 100 years, the Asarco smelter was designated as a Superfund cleanup site in 1987. While the smelter provided local jobs and valuable metal resources for the nation, it also left a toxic legacy in the soil, groundwater, and sediments in Puget Sound.

The once-iconic Asarco smokestack – the tallest in the world at 571 feet – vented heavy metals and arsenic that drifted along the winds to contaminate an estimated 1,000 square miles of land from Seattle to Olympia. Even the peninsula that the 11-acre park is built on was created from slag waste that Asarco dumped into Puget Sound over a period of decades.

Since the smelter was closed and its smokestack imploded in spectacular fashion, the site has been undergoing a remarkable physical and economic transformation. This includes the development of Point Ruston, with theaters, restaurants, shopping, and condominiums with spectacular views – and now this beautiful park.

Funding from the ashes

In 2009, Washington state was awarded a $188.5 million settlement during Asarco’s bankruptcy. $95 million of these funds were set aside for the Tacoma smelter. In 2013, the state legislature granted Ecology $5 million of these funds for the Metro Parks Trails Project. This funding was used to permanently cap 400,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil on the peninsula — enough to fill 120 Olympic-sized swimming pools — and allowed the new park to be built over the top.

Many agencies provided funds for additional improvements around the new park including:
  • $36.6 million from Metro Parks' 2014 voter-approved park bond
  • $25.4 million from the EPA
  • $3.5 million from the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office to create a 20-foot wide trail, and a pedestrian bridge over Pearl Street.
  • $2.5 million from the Washington State Department of Transportation to create a new roundabout entrance to Point Defiance Park
  • $1 million from Ecology to create a regional stormwater facility that can handle 8 million gallons of water daily from a 754 acre watershed

Naming the park

Back in the 1950s, the Asarco smelter and its pervasive pollution inspired local author Frank Herbert to draft an award-winning ecologically-inspired science fiction novel titled “Dune.” The Dune Peninsula Park is named after this novel, and Frank Herbert’s name is emblazoned on the new trail winding through it.

Cleanup continues

While the Dunes Peninsula is now open to the public, Ecology is still cleaning properties in nearby neighborhoods within the Tacoma Smelter Plume. To date, these cleanups have removed contaminated soil from homes, schools, daycares, parks, and camps in the surrounding area. Nearly 1,200 homes in the smelter plume qualify for cleanup.

Around 300 homes have already had their soil replaced, along with nearby city parks, schools and even Fort Nisqually at Point Defiance. Homeowners whose properties may be contaminated can contact us to learn more about the options available. For more information on all of our cleanup programs around the Asarco smelter, visit our Tacoma Smelter Plume Project page.

By Marcus Humberg, Communications Specialist, Toxics Cleanup Program.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Wait, how can there be a drought when it’s raining?

While recent rain is helping many parts of the state, more than a
few scattered showers are needed to fix Washington's drought.
For the past few months, Washington’s weather has been all over the map.

Residents of Spokane and the south east experienced a relatively damp spring, while much of western and central Washington have seen warmer than normal temperatures and low precipitation since April.

And for most of the summer, the usually fire-resistant west side has had a higher risk of wildfires relative to historical norms than has most of Eastern Washington, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

As of July 11, the U.S. Drought Monitor still shows abnormally dry to severe drought conditions in all but the southeast corner of our state. Five percent of the state’s rivers are at record low, and many locations in western and north central Washington are expecting between 50 and 75 percent of normal stream flow through September.

So what does this all mean when more than half the state is in a declared drought emergency?

Jeff Marti, Ecology’s Water Resources Program drought coordinator, says recent precipitation has been a welcome change, but it hasn’t made up the deficit caused by warmer than usual conditions and a lack of snow pack.

“Over the last few days, some parts of the state have gotten some good shots of rain, and some places, like the Olympic Peninsula, have really needed it," Marti said. "Some rivers have rebounded nicely, but about a quarter of our rivers are still experiencing flows much below normal. It will take continuing rainfall to make that more than a temporary rebound. Our lowest flow season is still ahead.”

Conditions by region

While cooler weather and some rain has bumped up flows that supply irrigation water and support important fish migration in Central Washington, water supply remains in flux. Low reservoir levels in the Yakima Basin – the 7th lowest storage volume in 44 years – mean farmers must remain vigilant and fish managers on alert.

From arid areas to sudden downpours, weather patterns east of the Columbia River have meanwhile been wide ranging. The northeast portions of Pend Oreille and Stevens counties are in severe drought, while the east side’s midsection has seen thunderstorms and flash flood warnings several times over the past few weeks.

Crop damage from heavy rains was reported in Okanogan and Ferry counties, although NOAA’s National Weather Service shows total regional precipitation hovering just under average for the past month.

Conditions in the southeast have mirrored the majority of the U.S., and are wetter than in past years. Walla Walla basin water users have seen some low flows, but that’s mainly due to normal demand across the border in Oregon.

Taken as a whole, Washington’s lingering dehydration – the 13th driest July-June period ever recorded in the state – stands in stark contrast to the rest of the country. According to NOAA, the continental U.S. had its wettest 12 months on record, even as the Pacific Northwest became more parched. And with much of the summer yet to come, resolving this drought will require more than scattered showers.
Washington precipitation departure from average (inches), from July 1-15, 2019. Image courtesy of NOAA.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Fecal Matters: Water contact advisory issued for Oak Bay County Park, Jefferson County

Jefferson County Department of Heath issued a no-contact advisory to water recreation at Oak Bay County Park. 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. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Now accepting nominations for Cleanup Rule Advisory Group

The cleanup of Port Gamble Bay is just one of the more than
7,000 sites we've cleaned up since MTCA became law 30 years ago

Ecology’s Toxics Cleanup Program is updating Washington’s Cleanup Rule and we’re recruiting an advisory group to help!

The Cleanup Rule hasn’t been fully updated since 2001. We're updating it in three stages called “rulemakings” over several years. The first rulemaking is already underway and the advisory group will play a key role.

The Stakeholder and Tribal Advisory Group (STAG)
This group will provide feedback on the proposed rule changes, such as process changes to make cleanups more efficient. We’ll also seek its input on the cleanup standards during the second rulemaking starting in 2021.

Know someone who would make a great candidate?
You’re welcome to nominate yourself, someone else, or more than one person.

We’re looking for diverse voices and perspectives:
  • People who have practical experience with cleanups under the Model Toxics Control Act and experience working in advisory groups
  • People who are willing to represent the broader interests of their organization or community, and can attend up to 12 meetings in Bellevue over the next two years
Check out the details in our First Rulemaking Notice No. 1 then submit your nominations by midnight, Wednesday, July 28, 2019. 

Why does the Cleanup Rule matter? 
The rule outlines steps and standards that help protect your health, wildlife, environment, and economy. There are more than 13,000 contaminated sites in Washington and about 250 new sites are reported each year. But there’s good news: Ecology and our partners have already cleaned up more than 7,000 of these sites and we’re tackling more every day. 

Some of these sites may be in your own neighborhood, like a petroleum spill at your local gas station, or wood waste from an abandoned lumber mill contaminating the shoreline. Other sites stretch for thousands of acres, like the Tacoma Smelter Plume where air pollution deposited arsenic and lead for decades. The Cleanup Rule and Model Toxics Control Act help us clean up these sites so communities can thrive.

Submit your STAG nominations by midnight, Wednesday, July 28, 2019, then discover more ways to get involved:

1.    Track the rulemaking: Cleanup Rulemaking webpage, STAG EZView site, and Ecology's Site Register

2.     Subscribe to Cleanup Rule Update emails: MTCA-SMS Rule Listserv

3.     Visit What’s in my neighborhood to explore cleanups in your community

4.     Learn more about MTCA, Washington’s environmental cleanup law 

If you have any questions about the STAG or the rulemaking, contact Clint Stanovsky at and 360-407-7193.

By Elaine Heim, Toxics Cleanup Program Policy Unit Planner