Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Ecology secures $5 million in federal grants to help partners conserve five coastal wetlands

Barnum Point in Island County.
Barnum Point on east side of Camano Island in Island County. Photo courtesy Benjamin Drummond.
May is American Wetlands Month. To highlight the vital ecological, economic, and social health benefits wetlands provide Washington state, we are pleased to announce Ecology has been awarded $5 million in federal National Coastal Wetlands Conservation grants to help protect, restore and preserve five crucial coastal wetlands in Clallam, Island, Kitsap, and Skagit counties.

The federal program, managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USF&WS), provides up to $1 million in funding for individual wetland conservation projects located in our coastal and Great Lake states as well as U.S. territories. The program is funded in part through taxes paid on equipment and fuel purchases by recreational anglers and boaters.

While only states can apply for the coastal wetlands grants, we work in close partnership with land trusts, local and tribal governments, and other entities to identify conservation projects in Washington and develop wetland restoration and protection proposals for consideration by USF&WS.

With five $1 million individual federal wetland conservation awards, Ecology received more program grants in 2018 than any other state agency in the nation. In past decade alone, we have helped secure federal funding and provided technical assistance for projects totaling nearly $86 million to conserve more than 10,000 acres of coastal wetlands in Washington.

‘Kidneys’ of our watersheds

Sometimes referred to as the “kidneys” of a watershed, wetlands are renowned for improving our water quality by removing excess nutrients, toxic substances, and sediments from the water that flows through them.

Wetlands help safeguard the overall health of our community water supplies by helping filter and slowly recharge our underground sources of water. Wetlands help reduce flood damages by soaking up rain and storing flood waters. These ecosystems provide critical habitat for plants, wildlife, and fish, including salmon. Wetlands are an effective and economical way to enhance community safety while improving quality of life.

Restoring coastal wetlands in Clallam County


Elwha River delta along coast of Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Elwha River delta. Photo courtesy Jamie Michel.
We were awarded a $1 million grant for the Elwha River Delta Acquisition and Restoration project. We are working in close partnership with the Coastal Watershed Institute to conserve and restore critical coastal wetlands at the mouth of the Elwha River in Clallam County. The project will:
  • Protect and restore 3.25 acres of coastal wetlands at the site of a former delta channel in the Elwha River.
  • Complete the restoration of 2 acres of marine shoreline that was part of a previous conservation project to remove derelict shoreline armoring.
This conservation effort will help maximize the environmental benefits associated with removing the Elwha River dams and is part of a broader effort by local partners to protect the river corridor, from its headwaters to the estuary. 


Lower Dungeness floodplain.
Lower Dungeness floodplain.
Another $1 million grant will be used for the Lower Dungeness Floodplain Restoration project. We are working with Clallam County to reconnect the lower Dungeness River to its historic channels and floodplain, ensuring the perpetual conservation and restoration of wetlands, floodplain, and shoreline along one of the most important river systems on the Olympic Peninsula.  This first phase effort will benefit more than 100 fish and wildlife species currently using the site, including four salmon species.




Protecting estuarine and freshwater wetlands on Hood Canal


Big Beef Creek in Kitsap County.
Big Beef Creek; photo courtesy
Brandon Palmer
After securing a $1 million grant for the Big Beef Creek Estuary Acquisition, we are working in partnership with the Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group to acquire and protect 126 acres of estuary, freshwater wetland and riparian habitat in Kitsap County. This property on the lower Big Beef Creek feeds into Hood Canal on the west side of the Kitsap Peninsula. The project will result in the conservation of a complex, functional, and truly connected coastal wetland ecosystem critical to many salmon species. 


Preserving, enhancing coastal wetlands in Island and Skagit counties


We are using a $1 million grant for the Barnum Point Phase 2 Acquisition project and working in close partnership with Island County to acquire 30 acres of Puget Sound waterfront property on the east side of Camano Island. The project is located in Port Susan Bay, within the greater Skagit and Stillaguamish river delta. This area is considered one of the most important places on Washington's northwest coast for estuarine and nearshore conservation due to its biodiversity and key role in supporting dozens of important estuarine-dependent species.

Guemes Island in Skagit County.
Guemes Island coastal acquisition project.
We will provide $1 million in federal coastal wetland grant funding toward the Guemes Island Coastal Acquisition project and are working in partnership with the Skagit Land Trust to acquire and permanently protect 143 acres on Guemes Island in Skagit County. This project will conserve:
  • More than 4,000 feet of marine coastline – including nearly 30 acres of feeder bluffs and associated coastal forest uplands.
  • About 116 acres of marine shoreline and the largest coastal wetland ecosystem on the island including freshwater wetlands, meadows, and creeks.
Wetlands tools and resources

Want to know more? We provide technical assistance and develop tools for local governments, consultants, and developers regarding the responsible management, regulation, and stewardship of our wetlands.

Clean Air Month - part 2


Ways to protect the air

Today, we’re continuing our blog conversations that celebrate Clean Air – and sharing practical ways we all can do our part to protect and improve the air we breathe. Last time, we looked at just what is part of the Clean Air Act. In this blog, we'll consider how wood burning, household chemicals and buying products made locally impact air quality.

Buy local
The less time products spend on a ship, train, or semi-truck the less air pollution is created.
 
Consider ways to reduce, reuse, recycle, and reconsider where your items originate from. Buying local also supports small businesses and creates jobs. We all win when you buy local!

Use an adequate wood burning device
During winter we often have stagnant air that traps smoke near the ground. Heating your home with a wood burning device can increase your family’s health risk consisting of lung and breathing problems. Wood burning devices include:
  • Wood and pellet stoves.
  • Wood furnaces.
  • Manufactured fireplaces.
  • Masonry heaters.
Only certified wood burning devices are legal to purchase, sell, or give away in this state, whether new or used. They must meet Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Washington standards. If it doesn’t, check with your local air authority for grant programs to help replace your old stove, or better yet, switch to electric heat! Many electric companies offer grants to help convert your house to electric heat.

Burn wood the right way
You should only burn dry wood that has been split, stacked, and stored for at least a year. Dry wood emits less smoke and makes a hotter fire. You should be able to easily see through the smoke coming from your chimney. If you buy wood, ask if it has been properly seasoned. Properly dried and aged wood burns more efficient and saves you money! 

Only burn vegetation
Never burn anything other than vegetation. Check for burn bans before you start a fire and keep something nearby to extinguish it. For campfires, be sure to put them out completely and never leave them unattended. Everybody loves a good fire, but the smoke shouldn’t annoy your neighbor.

Burn barrels, construction debris, garbage, and scraps from another property are illegal to burn everywhere in Washington.

Reconsider burning altogether
There are many alternatives to burning yard waste. When mowing, leave grass clippings where they land. They provide nutrients for your lawn. Start making your own garden compost, or check with your community for free yard waste drop off days. The less you burn, the cleaner the air.

Dispose chemicals responsibly
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) contribute to ground-level ozone formation because they evaporate into the air. Check with your local landfill or visit Ecology’s website to find a proper disposal facility. 

Some common VOCs to look out for are:
  • Acetone (nail polish remover, furniture polish, wallpaper).
  • Benzene (glue, paint, carpet, gasoline emissions).
  • Butanal (barbeque emissions, burning candles, stoves, cigarettes).
  • Carbon disulfide (chlorinated tap water).
  • Dichlorobenzene (mothballs, deodorizers). 
  • Ethanol (glass cleaners, dishwasher and laundry detergents).
  • Formaldehyde (floor lacquers, some molded plastics).
  • Terpene (fragrances such as soap and detergents).
  • Toluene (paint).
  • Xylene (traffic emissions, idling cars).
In our next blog we’ll address how all these activities influence climate change and how clean energy industries and our vehicle choices have an impact on clean air.

By Kim Vaughn | Air Quality

Friday, May 18, 2018

Clean Air Month - Part 1

Our future and air pollution

Air quality has improved dramatically since the Clean Air Act was initiated in 1970 to respond to industrial pollution that at that time had no prevention controls in place.

Still today, hundreds of studies show that air pollution threatens the health of Washingtonians -- your health. The challenge for the future will be to continue to improve air quality in the face of population and industry growth. Together, we can make a difference.

For the month of May we’ve been celebrating Clean Air with tweets and this blog post. Look for other updates on May 22 and 25 at ECOconnect.

What is clean air?
Clean  air naturally balances gases such as oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide. Clean air does not contain pollutants and allergens, harm the environment, disrupt your view of scenic vistas, or cause health problems, as defined in statute to protect human health and the environment.

Air pollution is caused from a variety of sources that we all contribute to. Some of the sources are:
  • Emissions from vehicles, ships, trains, and airplanes. 
  • Emissions from construction equipment.
  • Campfires, forest fires, and agricultural burning.
  • Cooking, BBQ, and wood-burning stoves.
  • Solvent-based cleaning supplies.
  • Blowing dust, soot, ash, etc.
  • Commercial and industrial facilities like factories, restaurants, and dry cleaners.
By doing your part, you can help protect our clean air, environment, recreation activities, and health.

How we protect the air
The federal Clean Air Act requires states to develop plans to monitor and reduce air pollution to protect the environment and public health. The EPA sets national standards, or limits, for six criteria air pollutants called the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.  The six criteria air pollutants are:
  • Nitrogen dioxide.
  • Ozone.
  • Particle pollution.
  • Sulfur dioxide.
  • Carbon monoxide.
  • Lead.
It is each state’s responsibility to monitor the air and make sure they are meeting the national standards. If air pollution reaches levels that harm human health, the state must develop a plan to clean up the air. These plans are known as State Implementation Plans

Ecology and seven local clean air agencies help keep the air clean by:
  • Developing and enforcing rules about air quality.
  • Regulating harmful emissions from vehicles, burning, and industrial activities, and reducing greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.
  • Issuing air quality permits. Inspecting – and fining, when necessary – businesses and industries that have those permits.
  • Tracking air quality using about 70 air monitoring stations.
  • Developing plans to maintain and improve air quality.
  • Informing the public about air conditions by:
    • Issuing daily decisions for agricultural burn permit holders.
    • Calling burn bans.
  • Educating the public about making healthy, clean air choices.
In our next blog, we’ll explore specific ways we all can protect clean air.

By Kim Vaughn | Air Quality

Water permit decisions further protect the Spokane River

The Spokane River passes through cities in the area
but maintains a natural feel.
We recently made several decisions on requests for new uses of water from the Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer that will further protect the Spokane River. Groundwater use from the aquifer is directly connected to the river, which is protected by an instream flow rule.

The rule set specific flow levels and limits future surface and groundwater withdrawals — to ensure there is enough water to meet the current and future needs of people, fish and wildlife.


Our team evaluated 10 applications requesting more than 11,000 acre-feet combined of additional water use each year. Several of the requests were to increase the amount municipal water providers could use and a few were for small irrigation projects.

Each application was individually evaluated against the “four-part test.” To issue new water rights in Washington, we must verify:
  1. Water is legally and physically available. 
  2. Water is used for beneficial purposes in a specified amount.
  3. The water use does not interfere or degrade existing water users’ ability to perfect their rights.
  4. The water use upholds the public’s interest, including preservation of environmental, public health and navigational values. 
Because the river’s flow is protected by rule, all requests for increases in annual water use were denied – the applications did not pass the four-part test.

Fortunately, municipal water suppliers hold sufficient water rights that are senior to the rule, which is enough to accommodate anticipated growth and development in the region.

Two applications out of the 10 were approved because they only requested changes to increase the amount of water that can be pumped at one time, instead of an overall request for more water to be used each year.

Protecting streamflow is important


State law requires that enough water is retained in streams and rivers to protect and preserve instream resources and values such as fish, wildlife, and water quality. Instream flows have been set covering nearly half of the state’s watersheds and the Columbia River.

The Spokane River is the heart of the region and by managing local water supplies we can preserve a clean and flowing river for generations to come.


The Spokane Region prides itself of the beauty of the river's falls 
rushing through the heart of the City of Spokane.

Arrow leaf balsam root spots the Spokane River's 
banks in springtime when stream flows are high.

Boots on the Ground: WCC deploys 37 to assist flood response efforts, 35 more on standby

WCC crew readies sandbag berm near Pend Oreille River at Newport.
WCC crew readies sandbag berm near Pend Oreille River at Newport.
Today, Friday, May 18, we will have 37 Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) members deployed to Eastern Washington to help communities in Okanogan and Pend Oreille counties respond to the most severe flooding the region has seen in more than 40 years.

Late last week, rain and high daytime temperatures caused significant snowpack melt, pushing many rivers out of their banks. Many local governments directly affected by flooding requested emergency assistance from our WCC AmeriCorps members and staff.

Our WCC crews are deployed to the following communities to help fill, stack and place sandbags to keep floodwaters out of people’s homes:
  • 16 members and staff in Newport in Pend Oreille County.
  • 18 members and staff in Okanogan in Okanogan County and Cusick in Pend Oreille County.
  • Five members and staff in Tonasket in Okanogan County.

WCC members and staff filling sandbags in Cusick
WCC members and staff filling sandbags
 in Cusick.
In addition, we have six more members and staff actively supporting a Department of Natural Resources base camp in Okanogan where more than 225 DNR, regional fire district, and other interagency staff are staying during the current flood response. Our responsibilities at the camp include organizing and loading supplies like pumps and hoses, loading trucks, and supporting facilities.

Should we receive additional assistance requests, we have another 35 members and staff on standby ready to deploy to help with flood response efforts.

On Friday, May 11, Gov. Jay Inslee issued a state of emergency to make resources available as flooding and high-risk conditions continue. A total of 20 Eastern Washington counties face potential flooding.

When local disasters such as flooding occur, local and tribal government partners and state officials often request on-the-ground assistance from our WCC.

The National Weather Service is predicting more flooding as hot weather drives more snowmelt to various river systems – especially the Okanogan, Similkameen, Kettle, and Pend Oreille rivers.

The WCC provides hands-on experience, field skills, and training opportunities to young adults between 18 and 25 and military veterans. Our 300 members and 53 field supervisors across the state restore critical habitat, build trails, and protect the state’s natural, historic and environmental resources. They also respond to out-of-state and local disasters.

Learn more about WCC
Ecology's Washington Conservation Corps, an AmeriCorps program, consists of three subprograms: the original WCC, Veteran Conservation Corps and Puget SoundCorps. We are currently recruiting for three-month AmeriCorps members positions. Recruitment for the 2018-19 year will begin in July! See photos of the types of projects WCC members support during their service in our WCC Projects Flickr set and WCC Featured Projects Story Map. Learn more and apply online today.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

New permit for wineries helps protect water quality

We have worked together with the Washington's wineries to develop the first statewide water quality permit for wineries, called the Winery General Permit. This permit establishes practices for managing winery wastewater. The permit is scheduled to take effect July 1, 2019.

Helping Washington wineries be more sustainable

Washington is the second-largest wine-producing state in the nation. Because the wine production in Washington has increased greatly over the past decade, we decided to develop a general permit that establishes good waste management practices.

This permit will help protect our waters from potential pollution. A general permit allows businesses that have a similar function to have a unified approach. Instead of each winery applying for water quality permits separately, they can apply for coverage under the one statewide general permit.

General permits simplify the permitting process – which saves both the facility and the state time and resources.

Working with the wine industry to create a solid permit

Since 2014, we have worked closely with Washington’s wineries and industry experts to get to know Washington’s diverse wine industry. We learned about wineries’ current waste management systems and listened to concerns about complying with a new permit.

We included flexibility, compliance options, benchmarks, and scaled requirements for small producers and existing facilities. For more about our collaboration with the wine industry and stakeholders see the permit development history on our website.


Why is winery wastewater a concern for water quality?

The wastewater made from winemaking facilities has the potential to contaminate ground water, which is where many Washingtonians get their drinking water.

Contamination can occur if a winery’s septic tank and drainfield system fails, if their wastewater lagoon leaks, or if they use too much untreated wastewater to irrigate their crops. Winery wastewater can have high amounts of organic matter and solids, and extreme pH ranges.

Wastewater discharges like those from winemaking facilities can:
  • Pollute groundwater aquifers that supply drinking water and the water used to make wine.
  • Kill aquatic organisms.
  • Overwhelm wastewater treatment plants causing untreated sewage to be discharged to Puget Sound and rivers.

Check out our website for more info: www.ecology.wa.gov/winerypermit

Who needs coverage under the new permit?

Wineries may need coverage under the permit if they discharge more than 53,505 gallons of wastewater in a typical calendar year. Specifically, these wineries will need coverage if they discharge winery process wastewater:

  • To a wastewater treatment plant.
  • As irrigation to managed vegetation.
  • To a lagoon or other liquid storage structure.
  • As road dust abatement.
  • To a subsurface infiltration system.
  • To an infiltration basin.

What’s next?

Before the permit is effective (July 1, 2019), we will hold workshops to inform winery representatives how to:
  • Apply for permit coverage.
  • Inspect their facilities.
  • Document their progress.
  • Implement best management practices.
  • Report using Ecology’s web portal.
Join our winery email listserv to receive updates, notices, and other information. 

By: Stacy Galleher, Water Quality communications specialist

Monday, May 14, 2018

Boots on the Ground: WCC responds to severe flooding in Eastern Washington

WCC members and volunteers filling sandbags in Okanogan
WCC members and volunteers filling sandbags at 5 a.m. in Okanogan
This past weekend, we deployed several Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) crews to help the towns of Okanogan, Tonasket, and Cusick after rain, high daytime temperatures and significant snowpack melt caused severe flooding in Okanogan, Pend Oreille, and Ferry counties.
 
Our WCC AmeriCorps members and crew supervisors spent about 16 hours Saturday, May 12, assisting community efforts to fill, stack and place sandbags to keep floodwaters out of people’s homes.

On Friday, May 11, Gov. Jay Inslee issued a state of emergency to make resources available as flooding and high-risk conditions continue. A total of 20 Eastern Washington counties face potential flooding.

When local disasters such as flooding occur, local and tribal government partners and state officials often request on-the-ground assistance from our WCC.

We currently have two WCC crews deployed to Tonasket and three to Okanogan in Okanogan County. Another crew is serving in the town of Cusick in Pend Oreille County.

A seventh WCC crew is being deployed to the Okanogan County Fairgrounds in Okanogan to set up and manage a camp base for our response partners at the state Department of Natural Resources.
  
WCC members getting sandbags ready in Tonasket.
WCC members getting sandbags ready in Tonasket.
On Monday afternoon, water levels remained lower than the flooding levels experienced on Friday and Saturday.

However, the National Weather Service is predicting a second flood crest later this week that could be higher than the first as hot weather drives more snowmelt to different river systems in Eastern Washington – especially the Okanogan, Similkameen, Kettle, and Pend Oreille rivers.

The WCC provides hands-on experience, field skills, and training opportunities to young adults between 18 and 25 and military veterans. Our 300 members and 53 field supervisors across the state restore critical habitat, build trails, and protect the state’s natural, historic and environmental resources. They also respond to out-of-state and local disasters.

WCC disaster response program
 
Our WCC crews have responded to local floods, wildfires, oil spills and landslides and have also been deployed to provide disaster relief and recovery assistance for communities affected by floods, hurricanes and tornadoes around the nation. Four WCC crews are designated disaster response crews but any crew has the potential to be deployed.

Hundreds of readied sandbags on pallets waiting to be deployed in Tonasket.
Sandbags readied in Tonasket.
  • Members and staff are trained to safely and effectively:
  • Clean up homes, roads and structures
  • Install emergency repairs such as roof tarps
  • Manage volunteers and donations
  • Remove hazard trees and debris
  • Set up and operate emergency shelters
 Learn more about WCC
 
Ecology's Washington Conservation Corps, an AmeriCorps program, consists of three subprograms: the original WCC, Veteran Conservation Corps and Puget SoundCorps. We are currently recruiting for three-month AmeriCorps members positions. Recruitment for the 2018-19 year will begin in July! See photos of the types of projects WCC members support during their service in our WCC Projects Flickr set and WCC Featured Projects Story Map. Learn more and apply online today.