The Center for Environmental Filmmaking at American University
in Washington, D.C., holds an annual “Eco-Comedy Video
Competition,” based on a different environmental theme each year.
This year’s theme to challenge student creativity was “Clean water,
The winner of the Grand Prize and Viewers’ Choice awards this
year was a video called “Dude, or the Blissful Ignorance of
Progress” (shown in video player).
The Center for Environmental Filmmaking was founded on the
belief that films are vitally important educational and political
tools in the struggle to protect the environment, according to
Professor Chris Palmer, who started the center. The goal is to
train filmmakers to create films and new media that promote
conservation in ways that are ethically sound, entertaining and
All the contest entries can be found in the
comments section of the YouTube webpage about the contest.
I found another video on the center’s website that was not
involved in this particular contest but was both educational and
amusing. It was a public service announcement called “Tap Water.”
When it comes to eliminating toxic pollution from our waterways
and the foods we eat, almost everyone agrees that the best idea is
to track down the chemicals, find out how they are getting into the
environment and then make decisions about how to handle the
It’s all common sense until politics comes into play.
If the chemicals are really hazardous and if substitutes for the
chemicals are available, then a ban on their use may be the right
decision. That has happened with pesticides, such as DDT, and
solvents, such as PCBs.
In the case of PCBs, banning these chemicals is not enough,
because they were used so widely and continue to hang around, both
in old products still in use and in the open environment. Waiting
for them to break down and disappear is not a practical
The solution involves conducting chemical detective work to find
out how the chemicals are traveling through the environment and
ultimately getting into people and animals. Some toxic sinks for
PCBs, such as old electrical equipment, can be identified and
destroyed before the chemicals begin leaking out. Others, such as
contaminated sediments at the bottom of Puget Sound, pose a more
Even when chemicals are banned, the ban is enforced with limits
on concentration, below which the chemical can still be used.
That’s the case with very low levels of PCBs found in some types of
inks and dyes. So when paper is recycled, the PCBs may escape into
the environment. We know that PCBs, which mimic hormones and can
wreak havoc on the body, can build up in fish, killer whales and
humans over time. The question for regulators becomes which sources
are the most important to eliminate.
I bring all this up because Gov. Jay Inslee and Department of
Ecology would like to increase the pace of studying potentially
toxic chemicals, including finding out what harm they are doing,
how they get into the food web and whether alternative chemicals
New chemicals are finding their way into household products,
cosmetics and other materials all the time, and studies continue to
raise concerns about old chemicals that we have lived with for a
long time. Some chemicals are the subject of vigorous and ongoing
The Washington Legislature has been asked by the governor to
fund Ecology for up to two chemical action plans per year. The
other question before lawmakers is how much authority to give
Ecology for banning chemicals and considering whether alternatives
are available. These are issues I covered in a story last week for
a nonprofit journalism group. The story was carried by the
Kitsap Sun on Sunday.
This issue of chemical action plans has gotten tangled up with
the need for Washington state to update its
water-quality standards, required under the federal Clean Water
Act. These standards, now under review by Ecology, determine which
water bodies in the state are considered clean of toxic substances
and which should be labeled “impaired.”
The standards also are used to develop discharge permits for
industrial facilities, sewage-treatment plants and occasionally
stormwater outfalls. The general implication is that if a discharge
from a pipe meets the state’s water quality standards, then it
won’t pollute the receiving waters.
Years ago, when most water pollution came from industrial and
sewage discharges, the program was successful in making the waters
substantially cleaner. More than 100 chemicals remain on the
Environmental Protection Agency’s priority pollutants list. All
these chemicals are still tested by dischargers, although the vast
majority are not detectible in fish caught in Puget Sound.
Meanwhile, other chemicals of growing concern are not on the list —
so they are not subject to testing, let alone regulatory
We now know from various
studies that most of the toxic pollution entering Puget Sound
comes from stormwater, not discharges from pipes, while other
toxics are still sitting on the bottom of Puget Sound. It will take
a lot of money and a lot of time to address these sources. The
effort is moving in that direction, but funding continues to be
debated, including the current session of the Legislature.
Efforts to update the antiquated rules in the Clean Water Act to
provide for a more rationale approach have been started and stopped
many times. I suspect that environmental advocates fear that with
the anti-government mood in Congress the result could be even
less-effective controls on pollution — so we live with regulations
structured more than 30 years ago.
Gov. Inslee tried to shift the focus of toxic cleanup from the
federal approach to the state’s new approach with chemical action
plans. While newly proposed water-quality standards are more
70 percent of the chemicals (PDF 392 kb) on EPA’s list, they
would have been 10 times more stringent if his proposal had not
changed a key factor in the equation that determines the standards.
Going up against environmental advocates, Inslee proposed
increasing the cancer-risk rate in the equation from one in a
million to one in 100,000.
In other words, if a body of water barely meets the pollution
standard for a given chemical, 10 in a million people — rather than
1 in a million — could develop cancer from eating a maximum assumed
level of fish from the water. This is the increased lifetime risk
from that one chemical.
Everyone agrees that we should do what we can to reduce our risk
of getting cancer, and cutting down toxics in fish is an important
step. In a two-part series I wrote for the
Kitsap Sun in March, I began by describing the risks and
benefits of eating fish from Puget Sound and other areas, then I
proceeded to talk about the alternative approaches to cleaning up
Increasing the excess cancer risk from one in a million to 10 in
a million is worth discussing. That change is not insignificant.
But getting to some kind of bottom line is not easy. Keep in mind
that the overall risk of getting cancer from all causes is about
433,000 in a million (43.3 percent) for men and 228,000 in a
million (22.8 percent) for women, according to the
American Cancer Society.
Environmental and tribal officials would like the risk of eating
fish to be as low as possible. Many are angered by 15 years of
delay by state officials in updating the standards, which were
based on poor estimates of how much fish people eat. The newly
proposed change assumes a daily consumption of 175 grams (about 6
ounces) of fish, compared to the previous 6.5 grams (about a
quarter of an ounce.) Tribal officials say many people in their
communities eat more than 175 grams.
On the other hand, businesses operating industrial plants and
local governments running sewage-treatment plants are worried about
what it will take to comply with new standards if the cancer risk
remains at 1 in a million. Increased costs for their treatment
systems, ultimately passed along to their customers, are a primary
So far, the regional office of the EPA has made it clear that it
does not like the idea of increasing the cancer-risk rate from the
level currently used by Washington state and most other states. See
agency’s comments dated March 23 (PDF 6.4 mb). The EPA seems to
be taking the approach that if the technology does not exist or is
too expensive to reduce chemical concentrations to levels demanded
by the new standards, then dischargers should be given a variance
or allowed additional time to come into compliance.
It isn’t clear how these issues will be resolved, and there are
many technical and legal aspects to be considered. Washington state
is on a course to complete its update to the standards by August,
when the EPA could release its own plan for bringing the state into
For the past few years, I’ve been hearing that Washington’s
water-quality standards are grossly out of date, especially when it
comes to assumptions about how much fish people eat. Water-quality
standards are a set of criteria used to determine when a body of
water is “impaired” and to establish limits for discharges from
industrial facilities and sewage-treatment plants.
It was hard to understand how the Department of Ecology could
assume that an average person was eating just 6.5 grams of fish a
day. That’s less than a quarter-ounce. A typical meal of fish is
commonly considered to be eight ounces (226.8 grams). So the
assumption was that people were eating one meal of fish every 35
The water quality standards come from an equation established to
ensure that if you consumed a certain amount of fish, then your
health would be protected. So it would seem logical that if you ate
more than that amount, your health might be at risk.
That’s what got me started looking into the nuances of this
discussion about water-quality standards and eating fish,
especially fish from Puget Sound. The result was a two-part series
published Sunday and Monday in the Kitsap Sun (subscription) —
Part 1 and
Part 2 — and reprinted with permission on the website of
Investigate West — Part
1 and Part
I’ll talk about my new relationship with InvestigateWest at the
bottom of this page, where I’ll also report on a new study about
the protective effects of eating fish even when mercury levels are
The first thing to understand about water-quality standards is
that the state has been relying on an equation created by the
Environmental Protection Agency. That equation resulted in water
quality standards used since 1992 across the nation and still in
some states (PDF 429 kb). The problem was that the EPA has not
updated the nationwide standards, known as the National Toxics
Rule, even while the federal agency has been pushing for states to
come up with their own standards.
Obviously, the fish consumption rate was no longer valid, if it
ever was. State and federal guidelines call for people to eat at
least two or three meals of fish each week for health reasons. It
is not uncommon for Native Americans to eat a meal of fish or more
each day. Protecting the treaty rights of tribal members, which
includes safely eating fish from their “usual and accustomed
areas,” is a responsibility of the state and federal governments,
Fish consumption is not the only issue, however. Other factors
in the equation are also out of date. The EPA has updated estimates
of toxicity for many of the 100 or so chemicals for which
water-quality standards are listed. The weight of a person’s body
in the equation also was changed.
Perhaps the most controversial change in the formula, as
proposed by Gov. Jay Inslee, is to increase the cancer risk rate
for human health from 1 in a million to 1 in 100,000.
I won’t go deeper into the calculation here, since you can read
my story for more details, or look into the state’s
“Overview of key decisions in rule amendment” (PDF 6.4 mb). But
understand that all the assumptions taken together changed the
final number for each of the 96 chemicals under review for
Washington state. Also note that the vast majority of these
chemicals are not even detectible in fish down to parts per
Under Inslee’s proposal, the final number generated by the
equation would be the new water-quality standard for a chemical if
the number were lower (more protective) than the existing standard.
For chemicals in which the number was higher (less protective), the
old standard would remain.
The result was that 70 percent of the standards would become
more stringent under Inslee’s proposal and 30 percent would stay
the same, according to Ecology officials. To see the proposed
changes between the old and new standards and whether the change in
cancer risk would make a significant difference, check out “Human
Health Criteria Review Documents” (PDF 2.9 mb).
Out of the 96 chemicals on the list, two create the greatest
concerns for human health in Puget Sound waters. They are
polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and mercury. For these chemicals,
Inslee’s proposal would keep the water-quality standards the same.
This is controversial, but his thinking is that these chemicals are
widespread in the environment, and reducing their concentrations in
effluent would have little effect on improving the safety of
The governor has proposed a separate planning process with
funding from the Legislature to track down and reduce the sources
of pollution that cause the greatest health concerns — including
some chemicals not on the EPA’s list.
Eating fish is especially important for pregnant mothers and
young children, as I described in the first part of the series.
Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish tissue are considered essential
for the proper development of the brain and neurological system,
including memory and performance, as well as other health
Health advisories tend to balance the beneficial effects of
eating fish with the risks of getting too much PCBs, mercury and
other harmful chemicals. The goal is to choose fish that are
relatively low in toxic chemicals, knowing that practically all
fish, meats and dairy products contain some contaminants.
New study on protective effects of fish
A new study in the Seychelles, an island country where people eat a
lot of fish, suggests that polyunsaturated fatty acids in fish may
provide some protection against the health risks of mercury,
including neurological problems.
The study was published in the “American Journal of Clinical
Nutrition.” The report’s co-author, Edwin van Wijngaarden,
associate professor at the University of Rochester’s Department of
Public Health Sciences, had this to say in a news
“These findings show no overall association between prenatal
exposure to mercury through fish consumption and neurodevelopmental
outcomes. It is also becoming increasingly clear that the benefits
of fish consumption may outweigh, or even mask, any potentially
adverse effects of mercury.”
Because the findings are so new, I chose to stick to the
standard health advisories in my Sunday story.
Laura Riley, medical director of labor and delivery at
Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, said the advice to limit
fish intake may not be warranted after all. But she is not ready to
drop the cautionary approach, according to a story by Dennis
“More study needs to be done before you can convince me that the
fish is actually protective,” she said. “I want to see the
As most of you know, I have retired from the staff of the Kitsap
Sun, but I’m still writing this blog and occasional stories for the
newspaper, including the two-part series this week.
I was recently asked by InvestigateWest, a nonprofit
journalism group, to cover some environmental issues being debated
in the Washington Legislature. I started this new assignment this
week and expect to continue coverage to the end of the legislative
session. My work is being funded through a crowd-sourcing
website called Beacon. All contributions are appreciated.
Washington Department of Ecology is poised to award $229 million
in grants and loans for projects that will help clean up waters
throughout the state.
Grants to Kitsap County include $4.2 million for planned
stormwater projects, plus another $4.6 million to lay sewer lines
designed to protect shellfish beds in South Kitsap’s Yukon
This level of funding for a single round of water-quality grants
demonstrates that elected officials are serious about cleaning up
Puget Sound and other water bodies throughout the state. The
Legislature must still approve the funding for the proposed grants
The Yukon Harbor project is interesting, because Kitsap County
officials were able to show that residents of the South Kitsap area
would face a severe hardship if forced to pay for a new sewer line
and all the connections themselves.
Yukon Harbor has been the subject of pollution identification
and correction projects by the Kitsap Public Health District.
Fixing septic systems and cleaning up pollution from animals
allowed 935 acres of shellfish beds to be reopened in 2008. See
Kitsap Sun, Sept. 25, 2008. But recent studies show that the
pollution is growing worse again as some systems continue to have
problems. Officials say the best answer is to run a sewer line to
properties on or near the beach.
The grant will pay for the sewer line and pump station to carry
sewage to the Manchester sewage treatment plant. Some money will be
used to help residents pay for the costs of connections to their
Without the state grant, officials estimate that each of the 121
property owners would need to pay about $70,000 to complete the
project, according to David Tucker of Kitsap County Public Works.
Without the “severe hardship” grant, the project probably would not
One nice thing about this project is that residents will not be
required to hook up to the sewer, Dave told me. Those who have
upgraded or replaced their septic systems or have systems still
working well may continue to use their own on-site systems.
“The common infrastructure will be covered by the grant,” Tucker
said, “and people can make a choice about whether they want to
connect. Everybody’s septic system is in a different state of
In addition to the $4.6 million grant, the county will receive a
low-interest loan of $432,000 for the remainder of the $5 million
needed for the project. Design is scheduled to begin this year,
followed by construction in 2017 if things go well.
Meanwhile, stormwater projects continue to gain attention,
because they can address both pollution and streamflow problems. In
Kitsap Countyu, grants were proposed for the following stormwater
projects, which require a 25-percent local match:
Clear Creek project, known as Duwe’iq Stormwater Treatment
Wetland, which will use a $937,000 grant to create a stormwater
wetland off Silverdale Way near Ross Plaza to collect water from 18
acres of commercially developed property.
Ridgetop Boulevard Green Streets project, which will use $1
million in a second phase of construction to create biofiltration
systems in the median of Ridgetop Boulevard in Silverdale.
Silverdale Way Regional Stormwater Facility project will use
$1.5 million for new stormwater ponds north of Waaga Way to collect
stormwater running off steep hills in the area.
Chico and Dickerson creeks project will receive $500,000 to
complete the second phase of a project to replace two culverts on
David and Taylor roads and establish floodplains to take excess
water during heavy rainstorms.
Bay Shore Drive and Washington Avenue Filterra project will use
$277,000 to install 15 Filterra planter-box stormwater filters to
reduce pollution coming off streets in Old Town Silverdale.
Kitsap County also was successful in obtaining a low-interest
loan of $3.8 million to replace three aging pump stations and
upgrade a sewer line on the beach near Manchester. Since the line
is part of the Manchester system, the loan will be repaid through
In all, Ecology received 227 applications requesting more than
$352 million in grants and loans. Some $143 million went into
loans, and $21 million went into grants allocated to 165 projects
statewide. About 110 of the projects involve stormwater
A public meeting on all the projects will be held at 1 p.m.
March 4 at Pierce County Library, 3005 112th St. E., Tacoma.
Comments will be taken until March 15. For information and a list
Jimmy Fallon and Bill Gates together make an interesting
combination. One is about finding new ways to solve serious world
problems, while the other is looking for new ways to surprise and
Bill gates recently challenged Jimmy Fallon to the “ultimate
taste test” involving two glasses of water. Jimmy would try to tell
the difference between bottled water and sewage effluent from an
innovative treatment plant built in Sedro Woolley, south of
Bellingham. As you’ll see from the video, there was a bit of
In his blog,
“Gates Notes,” Bill Gates describes the Omniprocessor, designed
by Janicki Bioenergy of Washington state. A video on that page
(shown here) demonstrates how the processor works, with an ending
in which Gates drinks water that had been in the form of human
feces just minutes before.
Gates makes the most of this humorous but deadly serious issue,
knowing that one of the greatest health threats in the developing
world is contaminated drinking water — and that a machine could
help solve the problem.
The Omniprocessor burns dried human waste as fuel to dry more
waste as it comes into the plant, providing an endless supply of
fuel that can be burned at a very high temperature, thus
controlling air emissions. The drying process produces steam, which
can run a generator for electricity. The water vapor is cooled and
goes through a final filter to produce clean drinking water.
I’ve read many articles written about the Omniprocessor over the
past month, but Mark Stayton of the
Skagit Valley Herald wrote the most informative piece I’ve
A working prototype is scheduled to be fabricated this spring in
Dakar, Senegal, West Africa, and go into use soon after. Graphics
and photos are available on the Omniprocessor home
I’ll be interested to see how this entire operation works in
practice. Not much is said about getting the waste to the machine.
Apparently, some locations have trucks that pump out latrines and
then dump the untreated waste someplace else, risking contamination
to groundwater or surface water. Transportation of the waste/fuel
might be less of an issue in cities with inadequate
sewage-treatment plants, but I don’t know how efficient trucks
would be in rural areas, where roads are often a problem.
Anyway, I will try to keep you informed about the Omniprocessor
and similar technology in the months to come.
Kingston’s sewage treatment plant could provide irrigation water
for the nearby White Horse Golf Course and possibly other uses
under a plan now in development.
Kitsap County commissioners recently signed a $325,000
“predesign” contract with Brown and Caldwell engineers. The firm
was hired to answer a host of questions about the feasibility of
producing high-quality effluent at the plant and then putting the
clean water to good use.
“We’re just starting to look at the whole project,” said Barbara
Zaroff of Kitsap County’s Wastewater Division. “We just had our
kickoff meeting two weeks ago, and now Brown and Caldwell will be
going out to collect data.”
I peppered Barbara with questions that she could not answer at
this point, because the detail work is yet to be done. But we know
from a previous study by
Golder Associates (PDF 18.2 mb) that producing high-quality
effluent in Kingston is more than a random thought.
Golder found benefits from using the water for supplementing
flows in nearby Grover’s Creek while recharging much-needed
groundwater in that area of the county. The Suquamish Tribe, which
owns White Horse Golf Course, has expressed interest in acquiring
the water if various issues can be resolved.
The Kingston treatment plant, completed in 2005, produces an
average of 150,000 gallons of effluent per day, currently
discharged into Appletree Cove. As population grows, the plant can
be expanded to about 300,000 gallons per day.
It appears it would be cost-effective to treat the water to
tertiary standards with sand filters, although other technologies
will be explored. A pond could be built on or near the golf course,
which would store the water for irrigation and allow infiltration
into the ground. The available water should provide the needs of
the course with plenty of water left over.
Discharging into a wetland that feeds into Grover’s Creek is
another idea, along with providing irrigation at the county’s North
Kitsap Heritage Park. Unused water might still be discharged into
Puget Sound, particularly in winter months when irrigation water is
One question that always arises with reclaimed water is what
happens to trace amounts of chemicals that pass through the
treatment process, such as pharmaceutical drugs that mimic
hormones. We know from studies that some of these chemicals can
affect the growth, development and metabolism of fish in some
An analysis by
Golder Associates (PDF 18.2 mb) concluded that future treatment
processes in the Kingston plant would remove between 80 and 97
percent of endocrine disrupting compounds coming into the plant.
Environmental conditions where reclaimed water is discharged would
degrade the chemicals further, so the overall risk would be low for
salmon and other fish, according to the report.
The new study is expected to look further into the risks.
Meanwhile, the state Department of Ecology is continuing to work on
reclaimed-water rule that could improve permitting and
monitoring by producers of reclaimed water.
The Kingston project would be similar to what is happening at
the Central Kitsap Wastewater Treatment Plant near Brownsville,
where construction is adding sand filters as part of an overall
upgrade to the plant.
The nearby Silverdale Water District has installed about 15,000
feet of “purple pipe” for reclaimed water on the major arterials of
Silverdale, including Silverdale Way. The project is part of the
water district’s major pipe-replacement project. Another 2,000 feet
will be added as part of the Bucklin Hill Bridge project, General
Manager Morgan Johnson told me.
Much of the new commercial construction in Silverdale is being
designed to use reclaimed water for irrigation, and some buildings
are being plumbed to use reclaimed water for flushing toilets and
other secondary uses. Ballfields in the area could get some of the
A public-outreach program is being planned to educate the public
about reclaimed water and to answer questions that people may have.
Under the current schedule, the reclaimed-water valve would be
turned on in 2020, but that date may be pushed back, Morgan
In Kingston, it will take about a year to put the information
together and identify a preferred alternative, Barbara told me.
Final engineering and design will follow under a new contract if
things go as expected.
The current contract will examine pipeline routes to convey the
water to the potential users. Costs for building and operating the
system will be explored.
Yet to be determined is how costs and benefits of the reclaimed
water will be shared between the county, which owns the treatment
facilities, and those who will use the water. That goes for both
Kingston and Central Kitsap.
Many golf courses across the country — especially in the arid
Southwest — are using reclaimed water for irrigation. In a few
places where water is in extremely short supply, water systems have
begun adding the clean effluent straight into their drinking water.
Check out reporter Emily Schmall’s story for
the Associated Press.
While water is still somewhat plentiful in the Puget Sound area,
it only makes sense to find uses for freshwater that would
otherwise be dumped into salty Puget Sound.
A two-day survey of Kitsap County’s shoreline identified 90
boats moored on buoys, at anchor or aground — and 18 of them were
found to have some kind of problem, according to Richard Bazzell of
the Kitsap Public Health District.
The survey, conducted Monday and Tuesday, is considered a key
step in Kitsap County’s new Derelict Vessel Prevention Program,
which I described in a
Kitsap Sun story (subscription) last May. The idea is to
identify neglected vessels that could pose a risk of sinking if not
given some attention.
Of the 18 vessels with problems, three were declared “derelict”
boats with a high risk of sinking or polluting the water, based on
criteria developed by the state’s
Derelict Vessel Removal Program. Owners of those boats will get
an official warning, and the state could take control of the boats
if the owners fail to make them seaworthy.
Richard told me that he has the greatest concern for a 30-foot
power boat moored in Port Gamble Bay. The other two boats are
sailboats. Because of their condition, they could be considered
illegal dumping and managed under the county’s solid-waste
regulations, as well as under the state’s derelict vessels laws, he
For the other boats needing attention, the approach will be a
friendly reminder, Richard told me. Ten of the 18 boats were
unregistered, which is an early sign of neglect for boats in the
water. Other problems range from deteriorating hulls to weak lines
to excessive algae growth. The greatest concerns are that the boats
will spill toxic chemicals, such as fuel, or create a navigational
hazard for other boats.
It was encouraging to find a relatively small number of boats
with problems, Richard said.
“We were expecting to run into a lot more problems,” he noted.
“Surprisingly, we didn’t, and that is a good thing.”
The county will offer technical assistance to help boat owners
figure out what to do, and educational workshops could provide
general maintenance information.
Boats with the most significant problems were found in these
Kitsap County embayments: Yukon Harbor in South Kitsap; Dyes and
Sinclair inlets in Central Kitsap; and Liberty Bay, Appletree Cove
and Port Gamble Bay in North Kitsap.
This week’s survey covered about 250 miles of county shoreline,
where the health district’s efforts are funded with a state grant.
Excluded are military bases, where private mooring is not allowed,
and Bainbridge Island, where the city’s harbormaster is conducting
similar work under the state grant.
The overall $250,000 grant for the prevention program is being
coordinated by Marc Forlenza, who developed a procedure proven to
be successful in San Juan County. Marc credits Joanruth Bauman, who
operated the derelict vessel program in San Juan County, as being
the brainchild of the prevention program.
Money for the
prevention program came from the Environmental Protection Agency’s
Puget Sound Restoration Fund. The grant is managed by the Puget
Seven counties, including San Juan and Kitsap, are involved in
the regional effort. The other counties are King, Pierce,
Snohomish, Mason and Jefferson. Thurston County is covered by the
Pierce County grant.
Some counties have been up and running for months. Others,
including Kitsap, are a little slow because of contract
complications. San Juan County contracted with Kitsap County, which
then contracted with the health district and Bainbridge Island.
Those last contracts were approved earlier this month.
The whole idea, Marc said, is to work with boat owners to keep
the vessels from becoming derelict in the first place. If boat
owners can take care of the problems, it costs the county and state
almost nothing. Once declared derelict, government officials are
forced to spend money in an effort to keep boats from sinking.
When a boat sinks, Marc said, the cost of dealing with the
problem rises 10-fold, and the resulting pollution can destroy
In San Juan County, early action on problem boats has reduced
the cost of dealing with derelict vessels from $76,000 in 2012 to
$23,000 in 2013 to zero in 2014, he said. That doesn’t include
vessels taken by the Washington Department of Natural Resources
under the new Voluntary Turn-In Program, which I’ll discuss in a
Marc has a good way of dealing with people. He seems to
understand the needs and challenges of boat ownership, and he tries
to nudge people in the right direction.
“You have to take time to talk to boat owners,” he explained. “I
call it ‘boat psychology.’ Some of these people have held onto
their boats for 20, 30 or 40 years. They have loved their boat.
When I talk to them, some will say, ‘I guess it’s time to let ol’
Betsy go,’ while others will say, ‘Over my dead body.’”
For the latter group, Marc drives home the fact that a boat
owner may be held criminally liable for maintaining a derelict boat
— and the Attorney General’s Office is now prosecuting such cases.
Beyond that, an owner may be held financially responsible if a boat
sinks — including the cost of raising the boat along with any
natural resource damages caused by pollution.
“That can cost tens of thousands of dollars, or even hundreds of
thousands of dollars in some cases,” he said. “You try to appeal to
people’s better sense.”
In Kitsap County, people who see a boat listing or potentially
sinking should call 911. For nonemergency conditions, one can call
Kitsap One, 360-337-5777, except for Bainbridge Island where people
should call Harbormaster Tami Allen at 206-786-7627. Additional information and phone
numbers for other counties can be found on a Puget Sound Partnership
The DNR’s Vessel Turn-In Program gives some people a way to take
action with little cost. To qualify, boats must be less than 45
feet long and have practically no value. The owner must lack the
means to repair or dispose of the boat. If approved by DNR, the
owner must drive or tow the vessel to a disposal location and turn
over ownership to the state. For details, check out the DNR’s
website on the
Vessel Turn-In Program.
Since the turn-in program started last May, DNR has disposed 19
boats, with another five lined up for disposal, according to Joe
Smillie of the agency. The Legislature provided $400,000 for the
new turn-in program, which is separate from the larger Derelict
Vessel Removal Program.
The removal program targets vessels at risk of sinking. In
emergencies, DNR or local agencies can take immediate action, but
normally the owner is given at least 30 days to move or repair the
Since 2002, DNR has removed about 550 abandoned vessels
throughout the state. About 150 others have been tagged as “vessels
In 2014 alone, 40 vessels were removed, including the sunken
Helena Star. The Helena Star was raised from Tacoma’s Hylebos
Waterway and salvaged at a cost of $1.16 million, requiring special
funding from the Legislature. The owner of the vessel was later
charged with a crime.
Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research has written an
excellent report about the recent death of J-32, the Southern
Resident orca that died with an unborn and decomposing offspring
Ken’s report talks not only about his observations of the
necropsy, which I reported in
Water Ways on Saturday, but it also includes his observations
as he watched the young whale grow up:
“The decade around the millennium was a difficult time for the
J10 matriline – J32’s mom (J20) died at the age of seventeen in
1998 when J32 was only two years old; her grandmother (J10), who
took over her care, died at the age of thirty-seven in 1999, when
J32 was only three years old; and her uncle (J18) died at the age
of 23 in 2000. All died young relative to the average lifespan of
50+ for females and 29 for males in this species.
“Fortunately, auntie J22 at age thirteen gave birth to a baby
(J34) in 1998, and provided orphaned J32 the required nurturing of
a ‘mom’. With that nurturing from grandmother and auntie, including
perhaps a little milk, J32 made it through her infancy and into her
teens to be a very vivacious young whale, full of energy.”
Ken writes eloquently about his concerns regarding the high
levels of toxic contaminants carried in the blubber of the Southern
Resident orcas. The contaminants are known to cause problems with
the immune and reproductive systems. They also can cause brain
deficits that can lead to behavior disorders. He writes:
“These pollutants are released to circulate in the bloodstream
when the whales’ blubber fats are metabolized for energy when fresh
food is scarce. It is like having a freezer full of tainted and
freezer-burned food that you never have to eat unless there is
nothing in the grocery store. When nothing else is available the
bad stuff is taken out of storage and circulated for body
Ken also repeats his plea for people to take action in the face
of ongoing disaster for the local killer whale population —
including this sudden death of a young mother known as Rhapsody and
her unborn offspring.
“This is a very ugly situation for the population of Southern
Resident killer whales – our beloved orca. I think we must restore
abundant healthy prey resources ASAP if these whales are to have
any chance of avoiding extinction. The critical point for their
recovery may already have passed. I hope not, but it will soon pass
if we do not take immediate action.”
Kitsap Rifle and Revolver Club has decided against undertaking a
formal environmental cleanup of its property on Seabeck Highway —
at least not any time soon, according to club officials.
The property is listed as a “hazardous site” by the Washington
Department of Ecology, mostly because of lead and metals associated
with shooting activities. The club had entered into the state’s
Voluntary Cleanup Program — which puts a property owner in charge
of the cleanup — but then withdrew from the program in late
Marcus Carter, executive officer for KRRC, told me that the club
had been assured by state officials that if it entered the
Volunteer Cleanup Program, it would not be placed on the state’s
Hazardous Sites List.
“But they went ahead and ranked us anyway,” he said.
I wrote about that ranking in the
Kitsap Sun in January of 2013. The gun range was rated a “2” on
a scale from 1 to 5, with “1” being the worst. I noted in the story
that many sites ranked a “2” go without action for years. KRRC
later disputed the ranking, saying available evidence should place
it no higher than a “3.”
A letter written in October by Bruce
Danielson (PDF 889 kb), attorney for the club, explained why
KRRC was withdrawing from the program. He also noted, “Our
voluntary participation has been an unacceptable drain on valuable
resources that KRRC can no long afford to expend for no
As an example of wasteful spending, Danielson cited a charge for
a “fraudulent” phone call from the state Attorney General’s Office
related to the site. The unwarranted billing was dropped, he noted,
but only after significant effort by club officials.
Marcus Carter said he realizes that the shooting range could get
stuck on the “Hazardous Sites List” for many years, similar to the
situation with the Navy’s Camp Wesley Harris. The abandoned
shooting range on Navy property also was ranked a “2.” Other than
an initial cleanup, the Navy has taken no steps to get the property
removed from the list. For a full list of hazardous sites, download
Hazardous Sites List (PDF 535 kb).
Marcus said the club initiated an extensive recycling program
years ago to regularly remove lead and other contaminants from
earthen berms that stop the bullets. The only contamination outside
the range itself are small amounts of materials where shooting took
place years ago, he said.
“Nothing is leaving our property,” Marcus insisted. “There have
been no suggestions from DOE to make our operations more efficient
or to do anything differently.”
As described in a
Kitsap Sun story in April of 2012, the gun club has been
following an approach generally accepted by the federal
Environmental Protection Agency:
“The club has relied on using EPA’s ‘best management practices’
to avoid being deemed a hazardous waste site subject to cleanup.
State law does not include such provisions, but Ecology endorses
EPA’s suggested practices, which are outlined in a 1997 letter
written by Jeff Hannapel in EPA’s Office of Solid Waste.”
I then quoted from the Hannapel’s letter:
“The agency has taken the position that the discharge of
ammunition or lead shot does not constitute hazardous waste
disposal, because the agency does not consider the rounds from the
weapons to be ‘discarded.’ Furthermore, the lead shot has not been
‘discarded’ by virtue of its discharge at the shooting range,
because the discharge is within the normal and expected use pattern
of the manufactured product. Accordingly, lead shot would be
considered scrap metal for regulatory purposes.”
Ecology officials admit that they don’t have enough money to
force property owners to clean up the most-contaminated sites, let
alone those lower on list.
For several years, the group CK Safe and Quiet, which includes
residents living near the shooting range, has been urging Ecology
to get the site cleaned up. The group has expressed concerns about
contamination leaving the site and getting into nearby
In 2011, the organization filed a notice saying it would sue for
cleanup under the federal Clean Water Act, which allows
citizen-initiated lawsuits. I mentioned the claims in a
Kitsap Sun article at the time.
The group never filed the federal case, pending legal action
against the club by Kitsap County, which focused on land-use and
noise issues. A ruling in the county’s case was recently handed
down by the Washington State Court of Appeals. See
Kitsap Sun story by reporter Josh Farley.
Some members of CK Safe and Quiet say they are now considering a
renewal of their Clean Water Act claims. Ryan Vancil, an attorney
who wrote the
2011 letter (PDF 134 kb), no longer represents the group, but
members are consulting with a new lawyer.
I’ll never forget my visit this past summer to the Lofall dock
and nearby beach on Hood Canal in North Kitsap. It was a scene of
devastation, in which starfish of all sizes were losing their limbs
and decomposing into gooey masses.
My guides on the excursion were three women who had been
watching for changes in sea stars as part of a volunteer monitoring
program being conducted up and down the West Coast. The three were
shocked at what they saw on the trip, as I described in a story for
Kitsap Sun as well as in a blog post in
Many questions remain about the mysterious affliction known as
“sea star wasting syndrome.” For one, why were the sea stars
affected over such a wide area, all at about the same time?
As described in the report, the researchers went to museums with
sea stars preserved in alcohol and found that the virus was present
in specimens collected as long ago as 1942 at various West Coast
sites. Minor outbreaks of the wasting syndrome have been reported
through the years, but obviously something much bigger is taking
A change in the environment, such as ocean acidification, has
been suggested as one possibility. A change in the virus, such as
we see for the flu virus in humans, is another idea. It could also
be related to an over-population among the sea stars
Jeff Adams of Washington Sea Grant, who is leading the local
monitoring program in Kitsap County, said it is good that
researchers have found something to go on, but other causative
factors are yet to be discovered.
“Why and where; those are two of the things still on the table,”
Jeff told me. “What are the environmental factors that drove this
much larger die-off? Was it something that made the virus more
prevalent or something that made the sea stars weaker?”
Jeff noted that the cause of death may not be the virus itself
but rather opportunistic pathogens that attack the sea stars after
their immune systems are weakened by the virus.
“Density may have played a factor,” he said. “Sea star
populations have been thick and strong over the past 12 years. When
you get a lot of individuals in close proximity, you can get sudden
changes. Marine populations fluctuate quite a bit naturally.”
Jeff hopes to maintain the volunteer monitoring program for
years to come, not just to track the disease but to understand more
about the cycles of marine life. Of course, he would like to be
able to report on an ongoing recovery of sea star populations from
their current state of devastation. Will the recovery occur in
patches or uniformly at all monitored sites?
“Ideally, this will run its course, and we will start seeing
juveniles showing up over the course of the summer,” he said. “How
many of them will disappear?
“Ideally, we will be able to maintain some sites for much
longer. For me, as a naturalist, there are lots of questions about
natural historical cycles that have not been addressed. A lot of
critters are facing challenges (to their survival).”
In Puget Sound, these challenges range from loss of habitat to
pollution to climate change, and the predator-prey balance will
determine whether any population —and ultimately entire species —
Linda Martin, one of the volunteers who gave me a tour of the
Lofall beach, said she was glad that researchers have identified a
viral cause of the sea-star devastation, but it remains unclear how
that is going to help the population recover.
Because of the timing of low tide, the three women have not been
to Lofall since early October, when the population was “completely
depleted,” according to Linda. But they are planning to go back
“We are anxious to go out and see if there is anything there,”
she said. “We have not seen any juveniles for a long time.
Originally, when we started out, we were seeing uncountable numbers
As for the new findings, I thought it was interesting how the
researchers removed tissues from diseased sea stars then filtered
out everything down to the size of viruses. After that, they
exposed one group of healthy sea stars to a raw sample of the fluid
and another group to a heat-treated sample. The raw sample caused
disease, but the heat-treated sample did not.
They then used DNA techniques to identify the virus, which was
found in larger and larger concentrations as the disease
progressed. Check out the research report in the
Proceedings of the NAS (PDF 1.1 mb).
Jeff Barnard of the
Associated Press interviewed researchers involved in the study
and others familiar with the problem.