Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Water quality standards update

Proposed changes could better protect human health and the environment



This time of year, most of us can’t wait to get into or on the water. Our state water quality standards are in place to make sure we can safely swim and boat in our waterbodies. Historically, we’ve kept Washington waters clean by measuring the presence of fecal coliform bacteria at beaches, lakes, rivers and streams. Fecal coliform has been used as an indicator of contaminants that can make us sick, like viruses and parasites.

Good water quality is important to all
who enjoy the outdoors in our great state.
However, there are now more precise bacteria testing methods available to identify when harmful pathogens are present, and we need your thoughts on making a change to how we measure water quality to keep our waterbodies safe for swimming and other recreation.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and many other states, have moved from fecal coliform testing to different bacteria standards. The Department of Ecology is following suit, proposing a transition to E. coli testing in freshwater and enterococci bacteria in saltwater. These tests are a more precise indicator of contaminants that can affect human health and the environment.


What’s affected, what isn’t

Water quality standards are used to determine compliance with the state’s wastewater discharge rules, permitting, monitoring, and prioritizing cleanup plans for waterbodies. The standards are not related to beach closures, which are managed by local health departments.

This rule update will not change the water quality testing for shellfish used by the Washington State Department of Health to classify shellfish as safe for consumption. Fecal c
oliform bacteria will continue to be measured in saltwater to protect shellfish harvesting areas, using standards set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.


Advisory committee feedback

Last October, Ecology announced the idea of changing the water quality standards and reached out to interested parties to weigh-in on the issue. Based on those responses, we convened a technical advisory team in January made up of members from regulated industries, environmental groups, and tribes.

Two children explore a beach in Birch Bay
The team assessed the current standards and recommended moving to the new standards. The team also helped Ecology anticipate what education and outreach will be needed as Washington transitions to the new testing methods.

We are now seeking comments from the public on the transition. The comment period is open now and runs through Sept. 14, 2018. There will be five public hearings for this rule proposal, including online webinars and in-person meetings in Tukwila and Spokane.

For a complete listing of the hearing dates and details, as well as the proposed language, visit Ecology’s Recreational Use Criteria rulemaking webpage.

Visit the water quality webpage for more on water quality standards and updates to these standards.

Fecal Matters: Sooes Beach is OPEN for Water Recreation, Clallam County

BEACH Program Update

July 18, 2018, the Makah BEACH Program has re-opened Sooes Beach in Clallam County to water contact recreation. Recent water sampling determined that bacteria levels were low and safe for swimming.

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 julianne.ruffner@ecy.wa.gov for questions.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Don't let ground-level ozone ruin your summer fun



Summer is definitely here. It’s hot, it’s sunny, it’s the time of year you want to be outside. With all that fun in the sun, though, can come a form of air pollution we’re definitely not excited about: ground-level ozone. 

Ecology keeps a close eye on ground-level ozone levels around Washington and issues advisories when levels rise to a point that could affect people’s health. Let’s talk about what ground-level ozone is, what it can do to your health, how you can help prevent it, and how to find out when levels are unhealthy.


Why should I care about ground-level ozone?

First, let’s distinguish the difference in ozone and ground-level ozone.
  • “Good” ozone forms naturally one to 30 miles above the Earth’s surface. This ozone layer protects life from the sun’s harmful rays.
  • “Bad” ozone forms at ground-level. It is the main ingredient of smog and can cause a plethora of health problems.
Today, we are going to talk about how ground-level ozone forms, the health problems it causes, and what to do about it.

How it forms

Ground-level ozone is a gas created by a chemical reaction between nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the presence of sunlight. Vehicle and industrial emissions, gasoline vapors, chemical solvents, and natural sources emit NOx and VOCs that help form ground-level ozone. 

Obviously, urban areas will see higher amounts of ground-level ozone because they tend to have more air pollutants. But rural areas may not be spared from the health effects of it. Ground-level ozone takes time to form, and while it’s forming the wind can carry it far away. So, even if you live in the country, you can still be exposed to ground-level ozone.


What it can do to your health

Unhealthy amounts of ground-level ozone can affect everyone, but people with lung disease, children, older adults, and people who are physically active are especially sensitive. Ground-level ozone can:
  • Irritate your throat.
  • Cause coughing, wheezing, and painful breathing.
  • Inflame and permanently damage lung tissue.
  • Aggravate asthma, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis.
  • Increase the likelihood of pneumonia and bronchitis.
To protect your health, do less strenuous activities outdoors or stay inside until it cools down. If you experience serious symptoms, see your doctor.

How you can help reduce ground-level ozone

On hot days when ground-level ozone is expected to reach unhealthy levels, take these extra steps to help reduce air pollution:
  • Drive less. Combine errands or use public transportation.
  • Switch to a zero emissions vehicle, walk, or ride a bike.
  • Postpone travel until the weather cools when possible.
  • Don’t use lawnmowers or other small engines during heat spells.
  • Follow burn bans.
  • Don’t barbecue or use your fire pit while it’s hot out.
  • Don’t let your engine idle.
  • Refuel your vehicle in the early mornings.
  • Don’t paint or use aerosol sprays until temperatures cool off.
When it gets hot outside, keep an eye on Ecology’s Facebook page or Twitter account for air quality advisories or check Washington’s Air Quality Monitoring Network

To learn more about ground-level ozone and other air quality topics, visit Ecology’s website.
 

By Kim Vaughn / Air Quality

Fecal Matters: Sooes Beach is CLOSED to Water Contact Recreation, Clallam County

BEACH Program Update


On July 13, 2018, the Makah Beach Program issued a no water contact health advisory for Sooes Beach in Clallam County. This closure was issued due to high levels of fecal bacteria in the water. This 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 julianne.ruffner@ecy.wa.gov for questions.

Watching the water supply

While you’re out there enjoying this warm and dry weather, there’s another side to the story that we’re continuing to track: How these conditions are impacting state water supplies.

We are seeing dry areas around the state. NOAA is forecasting summer to be even drier and warmer than normal, so our dry conditions are likely to persist until the fall rains return.

This map from USGS shows about half of the 
streamflows in our state are at below-normal levels.
Learn more about streamflows at our statewide
conditions webpage
Currently, parts of the state (mostly southwest Washington) are experiencing moderate drought-like conditions. See the U.S. Drought Monitor map below for more detail. However, storage reservoirs for drinking water and irrigation are in good shape.

People and the environment depend on a healthy water supply. Impacts from the current dry conditions will likely most affect irrigators and fish. We’ll continue to track conditions on our website and this blog.


Are we in a drought emergency?


While drought-like conditions are evident, we’re not declaring a drought emergency at this time. Drought emergency declarations for the entire state or part of the state involve a formal, statute-based process. Conditions that could trigger a drought emergency are when water supply in an area is 75 percent of normal and there is an expectation of undue hardship because of deficient water supply. We are watching the situation closely.

Curtailment updates


We issue curtailment orders in parts of the state due to low flows in rivers and streams. Curtailing water use protects senior water right holders and adopted streamflows. Here’s an update:
  • In June, we wrote about curtailing 300 junior water users along the Yakima River and its tributaries. Since then, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced that senior and pro-ratable customers of project water will receive 100 percent of their water supply this summer. This is an improvement over June, when Reclamation had forecasted 96 percent. Due to this revision, which Reclamation attributes to reduced demand during the month of June, we are notifying the junior water right holders in the basin that they may resume their diversions. 

  • In the Methow area, irrigators with interruptible water rights will likely be regulated when river levels drop close to minimum flows. We will provide these water users with a hotline to check if they are allowed to irrigate.

As always, visit our statewide conditions webpage for information on streamflows, temperature, precipitation, and more.


We use several tools to assess statewide water supply conditions, including a weekly map from the U.S. Drought Monitor. This week’s map shows abnormal dryness and parts of the state, mostly in southwest Washington, experiencing moderate drought-like conditions.


By Kristin Johnson-Waggoner, communications manager

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Fecal Matters: Cline Spit County Park is OPEN for Water Recreation, Clallam County

BEACH Program Update

July 11, 2018, Clallam County Health and Human Services has re-opened Cline Spit County Park to water recreation. Recent water sampling determined that fecal bacteria levels were low and safe for swimming.

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 julianne.ruffner@ecy.wa.gov for questions.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Fecal Matters: Bay View State Park Beach is OPEN to Water Contact Recreation, Skagit County

BEACH Program Update

July 6, 2018, Bay View State Park beach in Skagit County is open to water contact recreation. Recent water sampling showed that fecal bacteria levels were low and safe for swimming.

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 julianne.ruffner@ecy.wa.gov for questions.