Category Archives: Business and industry

Inslee to decide whether to revise water-pollution standards for the state

Identifying and eliminating sources of water pollution — a process involving “chemical action plans” — is a common-sense idea that never faced much opposition among legislators.

Capitol

But the Legislature’s failure to act on the idea this year cut the legs out from under Gov. Jay Inslee’s anti-pollution plan, which included updated water-quality standards along with authority to study and ban harmful chemicals when alternatives are available.

Although chemical action plans make a lot of sense, the idea of coupling such planning to water-quality standards never quite gelled. Inslee argued that water-quality standards alone would not solve the pollution problem, because the standards address only a limited number of chemicals.

Furthermore, while the water-quality standards define an acceptable level of pollution for a body of water, they are limited in their regulatory control. The standards generally limit discharges only from industrial processes and sewage-treatment plants. In today’s world, stormwater delivers most of the pollution. Legal limits for stormwater discharges are nonexistent, except in rare cases where a toxic-cleanup plan has been established.

Environmentalists and tribal leaders were disappointed with the governor’s proposed water-quality standards. They believed he should be calling for much more stringent standards. While most people liked the idea of an ongoing program of chemical action planning, the governor received limited support for his legislation, House Bill 1472, among environmental and tribal communities.

Inslee

We can’t forget that Inslee had publicly stated that if the Legislature failed to act on his full pollution-cleanup program, he would revisit the water-quality standards — presumably to make them stronger. So the governor kind of boxed himself in, and that’s where we stand today.

Republican legislators acknowledged the value of chemical action plans. Their concerns seemed to center around a distrust of the Department of Ecology, reflecting the views of the chemical industry and others who could find themselves under greater regulatory control.

The House stripped out a provision in the bill that would allow Ecology to ban chemicals without legislative approval. And the key committee in the Senate — the Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee — went further by limiting Ecology’s ability to study safer chemicals when a ban is under consideration.

The governor ultimately shifted his support away from the bill that emerged from the committee, as I described in a story I wrote in April for InvestigateWest. The bill never made it to the floor of the Senate, and it ultimately died, along with funding for a wider range of chemical action plans.

“Not only did we not get additional policy help, but we also didn’t get funding to implement the chemical action plans that were already done,” noted Rob Duff, the governor’s environmental policy adviser.

In all, about $3.8 million for toxic cleanup efforts was cancelled along with the legislation.

Plans have been developed to reduce toxic releases of five classes of persistent, bioaccumulative toxics, or PBTs, including polychlorinated biphenyls and mercury. But carrying through on cleanup ideas spelled out in those plans has been slow without targeted funding, and many toxic chemicals of concern, such as pharmaceuticals, are not considered PBTs.

“We aren’t going to throw up our hands,” Rob told me. “Under the PBT rule, we can do PBTs. We will continue to push toward source reduction, although we did not get additional authority from the Legislature.”

Educational programs and voluntary efforts by industry remain in play, pending a further try at legislation next session. Meanwhile, the governor will review the proposed water quality standards, according to Duff.

Rule note

“We will put everything on the table and see what is the best path forward,” he said. “We will have the governor briefed and the necessary discussions over the next two weeks.”

The governor’s proposed water-quality standards have gone through public hearings and must be approved by Aug. 3, or else the process must start over.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency is developing its own water-quality rule, which could impose stronger standards upon the state. Water-quality standards, which are a concentration of chemicals in the water, are based on a formula that accounts for how each chemical is assimilated through the food web and into the human body.

One factor involves how much contaminated fish a person is likely to eat. For years, states across the country have used the same fish-consumption rate of 6.5 grams a day, which is less than a quarter of an ounce. This number was long recognized as grossly underestimating the amount of fish that people eat, especially for Northwest residents and even more so for Native Americans who generally consume large quantities of fish.

If adopted, the new water-quality standards would raise the daily fish-consumption rate to 175 grams, or about 6 ounces. If all other factors stayed the same, the new fish consumption rate would raise the safety factor by 27 times. But, as the update moved along, several other factors were amended as well.

Inslee’s proposal was to raise the allowable risk of getting cancer after a lifetime of eating 175 grams of fish each day. The proposal was to increase the risk factor from one case of cancer in a million people to one case among 100,000 people. Inslee included a “no-backsliding” provision, so that the allowable concentration of chemicals would not be increased, no matter what the formula came up with.

Environmental advocates and tribal leaders cried foul over the cancer risk, and Dennis McLerran, regional administrator for the EPA, said he did not want the cancer risk to be increased for any state under his authority.

I covered these issues in a two-part series for the Kitsap Sun:

The EPA expects to have its proposed standards for Washington state ready this fall, possibly November. EPA officials will review the state’s proposal when it is final, but that won’t stop the agency from completing its work, according to a written statement from the EPA regional office.

“We continue to work closely with Governor Inslee’s office and the Washington Department of Ecology to see water quality standards adopted and implemented that protect all residents of the state, as well as tribal members, who regularly and often consume fish as part of a healthy diet,” according to the statement.

Industry officials and sewage-treatment-plant operators have argued that the technology does not exist to meet some of the water-quality standards that would result from a cancer-risk rate of one in a million if the other factors stayed the same. PCBs is one example of a pollutant difficult to control. Besides, they argue, stormwater — not their facilities — is the primary source of PCBs in most cases. That’s why eliminating the original sources of PCBs is so important.

McLerran, who seems to support the more stringent standards, has mentioned that facilities can apply for variances, relaxed compliance schedules or other “implementation tools,” to get around strict numerical standards impossible to meet with today’s technology.

Environmental groups are calling on the governor to tighten up the proposed water-quality standards, rather than let them go into effect, given the Legislature’s failure to approve his overall plan.

“Gov. Inslee must do everything in his power to protect the most vulnerable — babies and children — from the devastating health effects of potent neurotoxins like mercury and carcinogens like PCBs,” stated Chris Wilke, executive director for Puget Soundkeeper.

“Ecology’s draft rule provides only the appearance of new protection while manipulating the math, leaving the actual water quality standards largely unchanged,” he said. “This is simply unacceptable. Without the veil of a new source control package from the Legislature, the Governor’s plan clearly has no clothes.”

Others maintain that the governor has been on the right track all along, and they warn that the state could face lawsuits if it imposes standards that are too strict.

Bruce Hope, a retired toxicologist, wrote a guest editorial for the Seattle Times that included these statements:

“Taking an achievable approach like the one in the Department of Ecology’s draft rule would reduce the risk that municipal wastewater treatment plants or industrial facilities are subject to standards that couldn’t be met…

“Developing the right approach to water-quality protection for Washington will thus require various interests continuing to work together to find common ground.

“Washington’s rules for protecting our waters need to be established by the people elected by Washington voters. The EPA’s Region 10 office should simply not be threatening to circumvent or supersede the standard-setting authority granted to the state under the Clean Water Act.”

Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund gets tangled in politics

Two members of the Washington’s congressional delegation — Reps. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, and Dave Reichert, R-Auburn — are expressing confidence that the Land and Water Conservation Fund will be reauthorized.

But with so many dollars on the line for conservation purposes, many supporters are growing nervous about when it will happen and what the final bill will look like. After all, what could possibly go wrong in a Congress famous for getting nothing done, with less than 100 days left to go before the law expires?

The Land and Water Conservation Fund is a major source of money for recreation and habitat-protection projects across the country, ranging from building local swimming pools to buying land for national parks. Since 1965, more than 41,000 grants have provided a total of about $4 billion, divided among every state and five U.S. territories. For a list of completed projects in Washington state, check out “50 Years of Success” by the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund receives $900 million a year, about halfway up the lowest line. The short bars show spending, compared to revenues from drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund receives $900 million a year, about halfway up the lowest line. The short bars show spending, compared to revenues from drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf. (Click to enlarge)
Graph:LWCF Coalition

The current law places $900 million a year into the fund, but in recent years only a fraction of that ever gets appropriated — roughly between one-fourth and one-half. If not appropriated, the money disappears into the general Treasury for other spending.

Revenues put into the fund come from royalties paid by energy companies for drilling for oil on the outer continental shelf, so no tax dollars are involved. As President Obama and others have stated, the program allows money coming from the extraction of natural resources to go into protecting natural resources.

In a conference call yesterday, Kilmer recounted how the fund has helped bring businesses to Washington state, as employers look for places with natural beauty and recreational opportunities. He noted that in his previous life he worked for the Pierce County Economic Development Board helping employers site their businesses.

“Just like in real estate, location matters,” Kilmer said. “Access to natural beauty matters. Something our region has is a natural environment that you won’t find anywhere else, and innovators and employers are attracted to the Pacific Northwest.”

Kilmer said it is “hard to overstate the importance” of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. He promised to work hard to have it permanently authorized.

Reichert delivered a similar message, saying he helped gather signatures in support from more than 200 representatives from both parties.

“I want to reassure everyone… we are going to continue to fight this fight back here,” he said. “We think it is absolutely critical to invest in the LWCF … and support public land conservation efforts.”

I did not get a clear picture of how the political battles are shaping up, nor whether reauthorization is likely before the fund expires at the end of September. But we can get some clues from remarks by key leaders in the House and Senate, as well as testimony in public hearings.

At one end of the spectrum, Washington’s Sen. Maria Cantwell has proposed legislation, S. 890, that would not only reauthorize the law but require permanent and dedicated funding at the full amount of authorization. If Congress fails to appropriate the funds, presumably the money would stay in the fund unless redirected to another program.

Separate bills in the Senate and House (S. 338 and H.R. 1814) would not go as far. They would make the fund permanent but would not change the appropriation process. A provision would be added to the law to require that 1.5 percent of the appropriation, up to $10 million, would be set aside for opening up public access to recreation.

In the Senate, an amendment to the Keystone XL pipeline bill, which would do what S. 338 proposes, nearly passed with 59 votes, one vote shy of the required 60 votes to pass in today’s Senate. That is seen as decent support in the Senate, but nobody is predicting what will happen in the House.

Republicans, who are in control of the committees, could shape any bills that they decide to bring to a vote and move to floor.

Rep. Tom McClintock, a Republican from California, chairs the Subcommittee on Federal Lands Oversight of the House Natural Resources Committee.

“This 50-year old act expires in September, offering the 114th Congress an opportunity to thoroughly examine its mission and impacts and to make adjustments accordingly,” McClintock said in a hearing in April on the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

McClintock raised objections about buying more federal land when there is a serious backlog of maintenance projects needed to meet standards for fire prevention, fire suppression, wildlife management and facilities maintenance. Money that goes to states, on the other hand, comes under greater accountability because of the funding match provided at the local level, he said.

The funding is entirely discretionary, he noted, so it is “incumbent upon Congress” to decide whether to support additional funding for the purchase of federal lands.

Similar views were expressed by Alaskan Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Republican chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

“I fully support reauthorizing this act, this year, in a way that reflects changing needs and evolving viewpoints about conservation in the 21st century,” Murkowski said during a hearing in April.

“As we look to reauthorize LWCF, I believe that it makes sense to shift the federal focus away from land acquisition, particularly in Western states, toward maintaining and enhancing the accessibility and quality of the resources that we have,” she said. “This is the best way to put our nation’s recreation system on the path of long-term viability.”

She stressed her support for state programs and for increasing public access to federal lands.

In that same hearing, Washington’s Sen. Maria Cantwell, the Democrats’ ranking minority member on the committee, said it is not necessary to choose between maintenance and purchase. Maintenance is already authorized, she said, and Congress decides how much to spend on maintenance.

“Nearly half of the National Park Service’s estimated backlog is attributed to needed repairs for roads and highways within the national parks,” she said. “The single biggest improvement we could make in reducing the maintenance backlog would be to increase the funding level in the transportation bill for park roads.”

The Land and Water Conservation Fund is flexible, she argued. It provides money for states to buy and develop local recreation projects and to protect habitat for endangered species.

The fund also provides money for the Forest Legacy Program to purchase development rights from private timberland owners to keep the property in a forest condition.

On that point, more than 2,100 acres of forestland adjacent to both Green Mountain and Tahuya state forests in Kitsap and Mason counties were protected from development in 2009 with a $3.3 million purchase of development rights from Pope Resources. See Kitsap Sun, Aug. 12, 2009.

In the latest round of funding, an effort is moving forward to protect 20,000 acres of forestland between Shelton and Allyn in Mason County. The plan is to take up to 10 years to buy the development rights from Green Diamond Resource Company, which will continue to manage the land under a federally approved habitat conservation plan.

As for extra money for state projects, Cantwell pointed out that a relatively new program, the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, provides a dedicated source of funding for state grants. Money from drilling in the Gulf of Mexico places up to $125 million a year in the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

In a column published by the Kitsap Sun, Washington State Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, said the Land and Water Conservation Fund is important for protecting public property in every corner of the state, including a land purchase to improve degraded water quality in Lake Quinault near the coast.

Rolfes said she worries that in this “highly charged political climate,” opponents of public lands could block spending from the fund by failing to authorize its renewal.

“If they succeed,” she said, “the loss won’t be abstract — it will be real and immediate.”

The video below, produced by The Nature Conservancy, makes an argument for continuing the purchase and protection of public lands.

Amusing Monday: Verruckt water slide lives up to ‘crazy’ name

It’s been nearly a year since the opening of Verruckt, the world’s tallest water slide, located at Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City, Kansas.

Numerous videos reveal a thrilling ride, as three people are strapped into a raft and fly down a 60-degree incline from 168 feet up — higher than Niagara Falls — reaching speeds up to 65 miles per hour. The German word “verruckt,” which means crazy or insane, seems to fit, but I’d love to hear from anyone who has gone down this slide.

A year ago, just prior to opening, more than a few people were alarmed by the continuing delays, caused in part by safety concerns. During practice runs, before any person went down the slide, rafts loaded with sandbags kept flying off the slide in dramatic crashes.

A little less water on the slide slowed the speed and kept the rafts more stable. Still, to this day, riders report that they can feel the raft rising off the slide and going into free fall. The first video shows the initial trip taken by any human. On board were park designer Jeff Henry and ride engineer John Schooley.

Schooley admitted to Astead Herndon, reporting for CNN News, that the ride was more than a little nerve-racking.

“It was terrifying,” Schooley said. “It was great fun, but it was actually terrifying.”

Before the ride was finally opened to the public, most of the slide was enclosed with netting as an added precaution. Read “LiveScience” to see how they can make adjustments to the speed and stability.

The feeling of height and speed is shown well in a promotional video for Garmin action cameras (shown in the second video player on this page),

Another good depiction of the wild ride was shown by reporter Matt Gutman of ABC News. He was one of the first regular folks to go down the slide.

Verruckt is listed by Geobeats in the 10th position among the “World’s 10 Most Amazing Water Slides,” shown in the last video on this page. They all look more than a little crazy.

Bremerton takes third place in national water-conservation challenge

UPDATE, June 11, 2015

Bremerton has another winner in the Wyland Foundation’s National Mayor’s Challenge. Teacher Bobbi Busch and her seventh and eighth grades classes at Mountain View Middle School were declared the Northwest regional winner in the Classroom Edition of the challenge.

The 100 or so students in Busch’s three seventh-grade and two eighth-grade classes joined the competition simply by going online, taking the water pledge and listing their teacher.

Busch said she heard about the contest from Bremerton’s Kathleen Cahall during a meeting of science and math teachers. One winner was chosen at random from each region of the country. Thanks to the effort, Busch will receive a $250 gift card for purchasing supplies for her classroom, and the school principal will receive an identical $250 card to buy something for the school.
—–

Bremerton came in third this year in the National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation, a contest that encourages people to take a pledge to save water.

Bremerton 3

Third place is a very good showing, but not as good as the past two years, when Bremerton took the first-place spot in the nation. In 2012 — the first year of the contest — Bremerton came in third as well. That makes Bremerton the only city to place among the top three for its size in all four years of the contest, noted Kathleen Cahall, Bremerton’s water resources manager.

The two cities that exceeded Bremerton’s efforts this year were Ponway, Calif., in first place, and Hot Springs, Ark., in second. Each had more people, by percentage, who took the pledge than those lower on the list. Olympia, which is in the same population category as Bremerton (30,000 to 100,000), came in ninth, not a bad showing at all.

Seattle came in eighth among cities with populations of 600,000 and more. No other cities in Washington state made the list of the top cities.

If Bremerton area residents carry through on their pledges, they will save enough water to fill 24 Olympic-size swimming pools each year, according to a news release from the Wyland Foundation (PDF 360 kb), which sponsors the competition. That’s 15.6 million gallons.

Beyond the water savings, Bremerton area residents agreed to reduce their use of disposable water bottles by 46,424 bottles, according to the report. Other proposed actions could save 495,000 pounds of trash going to the landfills, 138,000 gallons of oil and 75 million pounds of carbon dioxide.

In all, residents from more than 3,900 cities signed more than 391,000 online pledges to save water. As in last year’s contest, residents from the winning cities will be entered into a drawing for more than $50,000 in prizes.

Kathleen Cahall and city employees Lisa Campbell, Teresa Sjostrom and Kelsie Donleycott did a good job getting the word out about this year’s challenge, and many local businesses provided information to their customers. As always, Mayor Patty Lent’s personal involvement and interest in water resources helped generate support for Bremerton’s high standing in the contest.

On a somewhat related topic, state and local water-quality officials have been spreading the word this month about using commercial car washes to recycle washwater from vehicles. The goal is to save water and prevent pollution from going into storm drains that flush into streams and bays.

The 3 million cars in the Central Puget Sound region can contribute nearly 10,000 gallons of gasoline, diesel and motor oil to waterways each year, along with 19,000 pounds of phosphorus and nitrogen, 2,900 pounds of ammonia and 1.4 million pounds of solid waste, according to a news release from the Puget Sound Car Wash Association.

School and other nonprofit groups can sell tickets to car washes — an alternative to holding car washes in parking lots that lack adequate controls for pollution. In Kitsap County, check out the Fundraiser Car Wash Program. One can also contact local car wash operators directly, or view a list of operators in the Puget Sound region that have joined the PSCWA program.

Unwanted chemicals founds in barns, sheds throughout the state

A chemical-waste roundup for farmers was held last week in Spokane by the Washington State Department of Agriculture. More than 1,000 pounds of DDT — a chemical banned in 1972 — were dropped off at the event.

Altogether, more than 25,000 pounds of unwanted insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and rodenticides were collected.

It is a good reminder that lots of chemicals are still being stored in barns, basements and sheds, potentially leaking onto the ground and creating a risk of contamination. Solutions are available for homeowners and all sorts of businesses.

waste

Farmers are encouraged by the WSDA to look for chemicals and contact the agency, which will help with safe and free disposal. For info, check the WSDA website.

Joe Hoffman, WSDA’s waste pesticide coordinator, said in a news release:

“Proper disposal prevents future problems, such as leaks that may contaminate the soil and drinking water or accidental exposure to these old products by people or animals. Some of these old pesticides are highly toxic and you do not want to wait for an accident to happen.”

DDT, short for dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane, is a nearly odorless organochloride used mainly to kill insects. In 1962, the book “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson described how DDT was threatening birds that ate exposed insects. The chemical was banned in the United States for agricultural use but is still licensed for limited purposes.

People who would like to get rid of chemicals stored in their homes can usually rely on local drop-off or round-up programs. Most counties will help people get rid of all sorts of chemicals, from pesticides to auto fluids to cleaning solvents. To connect with local facilities, check the Department of Ecology website.

Kitsap County’s Household Hazardous Waste Facility is one of the few that still takes paint, and it even offers a Swap Shop program for people who would like to pick up some free paint or other products dropped off but still usable.

“The program is going pretty well,” manager Rick Gilbert told me. “People are reasonably familiar with our service. We have a large percentage of residents in the military, so finding us might be a challenge for some.”

The Kitsap County collection facility is located in Olympic View Industrial Park across Highway 3 from Bremerton National Airport. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

After paint, the most common materials dropped off are pesticides, flammable liquids, motor oil, compressed gas and fluorescent lights. In 2014, nearly 700,000 pounds were dropped off at the Kitsap facility — about average for the past five years but about twice as much as dropped off in 2000.

Businesses with small quantities of chemicals can get advice on handling and disposal from experts at the facility, which will take materials for a fee. An appointment is required.

Burned-out fluorescent lights, which by law must be recycled, can be dropped off at more locations than ever as a result of a product-stewardship program called LightCycle Washington. The program is funded with a 25-cent fee added to the cost of all fluorescent lights sold in Washington state. To locate a nearby collection site, visit LightCycle’s interactive webpage.

Reducing toxics in fish involves politics, maybe more than science

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 situation.

Fish

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 approach.

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 difficult problem.

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.

In Washington state, chemical detectives tackle the toxic compounds one at a time, compiling their findings into a chemical action plan. The chemical action plan for PCBs was completed earlier this year. Others have been done for mercury, lead, toxic flame retardants and polyaromatic hydrocarbons.

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 are available.

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 scientific debate.

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 InvestigateWest, 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 control.

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 stringent for 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 the water.

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 concern.

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 the 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 compliance.

New reports of whale territory could shape protection strategy

Researchers have listed more than 100 “biologically important areas” for whales and dolphins living in U.S. waters, all reported in a special issue of the journal Aquatic Mammals (PDF 22.9 mb).

Journal

The BIAs may provide useful information, but they are not marine protected areas, and they have no direct regulatory effect, said Sofie Van Parijs, a researcher at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center and guest editor of the special report.

“They represent the best available information about the times and areas in which species are likely to be engaged in biologically important activities,” Van Parijs said in a news release. “We encourage anyone planning an activity in the ocean to look at this information and take it into consideration to understand and reduce adverse impacts on marine species.”

Project managers can use information in the report for offshore energy development, military testing and training, shipping, fishing, tourism, and coastal construction. Underwater noise, generated by most human activities in or on the water, can affect large areas of whale territory.

Separate articles were written about seven regions of the country, with three of them in Alaskan waters. The lead author for the West Coast regional report (PDF 4.5 mb) is John Calambokidis of Cascadia Research Collective in Olympia.

The West Coast report identified 29 BIAs covering areas important for blue whales, gray whales, humpback whales and harbor porpoises in Washington, Oregon and California. BIAs for blue whales and humpback whales are “based on high concentration areas of feeding animals observed from small boat surveys, ship surveys and opportunistic sources,” the report says.

BIAs for gray whales focus on their migratory corridor from Mexico to Alaska, along with primary feeding areas for a small resident population known as the Pacific Coast Feeding Group, or PCFG. This group, believed to be genetically distinct from the migratory whales, spend most of their time between Northern California and Canada’s Vancouver Island.

The BIAs for gray whales in Washington are around the northwest tip of Washington, including Neah Bay; in Saratoga Passage east of Whidbey Island; and around Grays Harbor on the coast.

Map

The PCFG could be a key factor in determining whether the Makah Tribe of Neah Bay is granted a permit to hunt for gray whales in Washington state waters and limiting potential limits on any hunts approved. It was interesting that the BIA report came out at almost the same time as an environmental impact statement on the Makah whaling proposal.

The impact statement evaluates alternatives for whaling, including a tribal proposal to hunt up to five whales a year but no more than 24 whales in six years. Various alternatives include plans to limit hunting seasons to reduce the risk of killing a whale from the Pacific Coast Feeding Group and to cease hunting if a quota of these whales is reached.

“This is the first step in a public process of considering this request that could eventually lead to authorization for the tribe to hunt gray whales,” said Donna Darm, NOAA’s associate deputy regional administrator, in a press release. “This is the public’s opportunity to look at the alternatives we’ve developed, and let us know if we have fully and completely analyzed the impacts.”

For details on this issue, including the EIS and instructions for commenting on the document, check out NOAA’s website on the Makah Whale Hunt.

Returning to the study of biologically important areas, no BIAs were established for endangered fin whales, because of discrepancies between sightings and expected feeding areas and uncertainty about their population structure.

The BIA assessment did not cover minke whales, killer whales, beaked whales and sperm whales but the authors recommend that future work cover those animals as well as looking into special breeding areas for all the whales.

A future BIA for killer whales could have some connection to an ongoing analysis by NOAA, which recently announced that it needs more information about Southern Resident killer whales before expanding their critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act. See Water Ways from Feb. 24.

In the overall report, BIAs can be established if they have any of the following characteristics:

  1. Reproductive areas – Areas and times within which a particular species selectively mates, gives birth or is found with neonates or calves,
  2. Feeding areas – Areas and times within which aggregations of a particular species preferentially feed. These either may be persistent in space and time or associated with ephemeral features that are less predictable but are located within a larger area that can be delineated,
  3. Migratory corridors – Areas and times within which a substantial portion of a species is known to migrate; the corridor is spatially restricted.
  4. Small and resident population – Areas and times within which small and resident populations occupy a limited geographic extent.

‘Whale Wars’ returns amid multiple legal entanglements

The seventh season of “Whale Wars” — a three-hour presentation premiering on Friday — follows on the heels of an unresolved contempt-of-court ruling against Sea Shepherd Conservation Society earlier this month.

Sea Shepherd captains (from left) Sid Chakravarty, Peter Hammarstedt and Adam Meyerson during 2014 Operation Relentless Sea Shepherd photo by Eliza Muirhead
Sea Shepherd captains (from left) Sid Chakravarty, Peter Hammarstedt and Adam Meyerson during 2014 Operation Relentless
Sea Shepherd photo by Eliza Muirhead

The new program, to be shown at 5 p.m. and again at 8 p.m. on Animal Planet network, documents the 2013-2014 Antarctic whaling season and the sometimes-violent confrontation between Sea Shepherd and Japanese whalers. Check out the Sneak Preview.

While Sea Shepherd faces some serious court rulings, the Japanese government finds itself in conflict with the International Court of Justice, which concluded that its “scientific” whaling program does not conform to scientific principles — which was the legal justification for the program — so the whaling must stop, at least for now. See Water Ways, March 24, 2014.

Paul Watson, founder of Sea Shepherd, appears to have ticked off the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which first called his group a “pirate” operation in December 2012. The court issued an injunction to keep Sea Shepherd ships at least 500 feet away from the Japanese whaling vessels. (See Water Ways, Feb. 26, 2013.)

In its latest ruling on Dec. 19, the court says Watson and Sea Shepherd’s U.S. board of directors acted contrary to its injunction by shifting their anti-whaling operations over to the related group Sea Shepherd, Australia. In the court’s view, Watson should have done what was necessary to halt the anti-whaling tactics, not find a way to continue them. As Judge Milan D. Smith, Jr. wrote in his findings (PDF 127 kb):

“Sea Shepherd US’s separation strategy effectively nullified our injunction by ensuring that OZT (Operation Zero Tolerance) proceeded unimpeded, in part by using former Sea Shepherd US assets. Sea Shepherd US ceded control over OZT to Sea Shepherd Australia and other Sea Shepherd entities it believed to be beyond the injunction’s reach, knowing these entities were virtually certain to violate the injunction.

“At the same time, Sea Shepherd US continued to provide financial and other support for OZT after the injunction by, among other things, transferring for no consideration a vessel and equipment worth millions of dollars to Sea Shepherd Australia and other entities…

“Rather than instruct its employees to help prevent OZT, Sea Shepherd US effectively shifted these employees to its affiliates’ payrolls to ensure continued participation in a campaign it knew was very likely to result in violations of the injunction…

“Our objective in issuing the injunction was to stop Sea Shepherd from attacking the plaintiffs’ vessels. Sea Shepherd US thwarted that objective by furnishing other Sea Shepherd entities with the means to do what it could not after the issuance of the injunction. It has long been settled law that a person with notice of an injunction may be held in contempt for aiding and abetting a party in violating it.”

These court findings were all related to Operation Zero Tolerance, the Sea Shepherd campaign that ended in March of 2013. The ruling did not address Operation Relentless, which ended in March of 2014 and is the subject of Friday’s “Whale Wars” event. I wonder if Japan will attempt to use the U.S. courts to collect for damages related to the latest conflict.

The International Court of Justice ruling against the Japanese whaling operations seems to have had no effect on how the U.S. Court of Appeals views Sea Shepherd’s actions. Sea Shepherd’s activities were still illegal, the court ruled, and the injunction would still be needed if the whaling were to resume under conditions acceptable to the international court. See “order denying defendants’ motion to dismiss” (PDF 308 kb).

In fact, although whaling was suspended for the 2014-15 season, the Japanese government has submitted a new plan (PDF 2.3 mb) to resume whaling at this time next year. The plan calls for an annual harvest of 333 minke whales — as opposed to the previous plan to take 850 minkes, 50 humpbacks and 50 fin whales. For additional insight on the controversy, read Dennis Normile’s piece in Science Insider, affiliated with Science magazine.

As for the upcoming “Whale Wars” special, a news release from Animal Planet says the action will be as exciting as ever, even with Paul Watson gone from the scene:

“With Captain (Peter) Hammarstedt once again at the helm and tensions with the whalers at an all-time high, this new campaign will likely be the most aggressive and dangerous the Sea Shepherds have faced.”

This episode of “Whale Wars” was produced by Lizard Trading Company, using raw footage filmed by Sea Shepherd crew members. That’s similar to the arrangement for last year’s two-hour special. (See Water Ways, Nov. 7, 2013.)

Amusing Monday:
Flying fish for increased survival, savings and fun

The “salmon cannon,” a pneumatic-tube device destined to replace some fish ladders, got plenty of serious attention this fall from various news organizations.

You may have seen demonstrations by the inventor, Whoosh Innovations of Bellevue, that showed adult salmon shooting unharmed through flexible tubes. For dramatic effect, some videos showed the salmon flying out the end of the tube and splashing into water. Among those who found the device amusing were commentators for “CBS This Morning” and “Red Eye” on Fox.

For a laugh, comedian John Oliver recently took the idea in a different direction, aiming his personal salmon cannon at celebrities including Jon Stuart, Jimmy Fallon and… Well, if you haven’t seen the video (above), I won’t spoil it for you.

All this attention has been a surprise for Vince Bryan, CEO for Whooshh, who told Vancouver Columbian reporter Eric Florip that he has spoken with hundreds of news organizations and potential customers from throughout the world.

“It was a nice boost because it says one thing, that people care a lot about the fish, and two, that there really is a need,” Bryan was quoted as saying.

A good description of the potential applications for the “salmon cannon” was written by reporter Laura Geggel of Live Science. Meanwhile, Reuters produced a nice animation showing how the tube works. And a video on the Whooshh Innovations YouTube channel, shown below, provides a clear demonstration how the transport system can work for both humans and fish.

Amusing Monday: Video shows transformation
of Seattle’s waterfront

I’ve always heard that downtown Seattle and its waterfront area were built on a massive amount of fill, but I never knew how massive until I viewed the video on this page.

According to the researchers involved, Seattle is “one of the most dramatically re-engineered cities in the United States.”

The video was completed two years ago, but I had not heard of it until I read a recent blog post by archeologist Peter Lape, researcher Amir Sheikh, and artist Don Fels, who together make up the Waterlines Project. The three have collaborated to study the history of Seattle by focusing on how the shorelines changed over time. As they state in the blog post for the Burke Museum:

“For more than ten years, we’ve worked as an informal group, known as the Waterlines Project, to examine Seattle’s past landscapes. Drawing from data gathered by geologists, archaeologists, historians and other storytellers, we are literally unearthing and imagining our collective pasts…

“What have we found? Among other things, Seattle is one of the most dramatically re-engineered cities in the United States. From the dozen or so settlers who founded it on Coast Salish land in 1851 to its current status as America’s fastest growing city, hardly a decade has gone by without its residents taking on some major ‘improvement’ projects affecting its shorelines.”

The maps and photos collected during the Waterlines Project will take you back to another time. Thanks to photographer Asahel Curtis, much of the history of our region has been preserved for us to see. Some of his notable photographs on the waterfront theme: