Category Archives: Drinking water

No end in sight for dispute over pesticide injury to salmon

It has been 15 years since a federal judge ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency and National Marine Fisheries Service must consider whether pesticides increase the risk of extinction for Northwest salmon populations.

Chlorpyrifos

Since 2002, NMFS (also called NOAA Fisheries) has determined that some pesticides do indeed pose a significant risk to the ongoing existence of salmon listed under the Endangered Species Act. Yet, after all these years, permanent protective measures have not been imposed by the EPA, which is responsible for regulating pesticide use.

One could argue that progress has been made in the face of litigation from environmental groups. The EPA has acknowledged its responsibility under the Endangered Species Act, and the agency has adopted a new and evolving methodology for measuring the risk to listed species.

After its initial assessments were thrown out by the courts, NMFS has agreed to complete new biological opinions for five pesticides that pose some of the highest risks. Studies for chlorpyrifos, malathion and diazinon are scheduled to be done by the end of this year, followed by carbaryl and methomyl by the end of next year.

What we don’t know is whether President Trump’s anti-regulatory efforts and pledge to dismantle the EPA will slow or stop the process of protecting salmon. When it comes to pesticides, environmental activists will tell you that the Trump administration has already taken steps to undermine not only salmon but also human health.

For example, the insecticide chlorpyrifos was scheduled to be banned by the EPA after a new analysis found that its ongoing use on food crops could pose unsafe risks for people, especially young children whose brain development could be impaired.

In March, just before the ban was to go into effect, Trump’s new EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, reversed EPA’s course, saying the U.S. Department of Agriculture disagrees with the methodology used by the EPA in developing the ban.

Environmental groups, which had already obtained a court order to force the EPA to reconsider its approval of the pesticide, were outraged. They filed yet another lawsuit, as described in a news release from Earthjustice.

“EPA’s stunning reversal on chlorpyrifos in the face of overpowering scientific evidence of harm to children signals yet another dereliction of duty under the Trump administration,” Kristin Schafer, policy director for Pesticide Action Network, said in the news release.

After the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to force the EPA to take immediate action on chlorpyrifos, nine U.S. senators stepped in to draft legislation that would ban the chemical. See news release and video from Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, and a separate statement from Earthjustice.

Chlorpyrifos is among numerous pesticides that can harm salmon directly and indirectly in a variety of ways, including destroying salmon’s ability to make their way upstream to spawn and killing off the insects they eat.

In its latest biological evaluation released in January, the EPA looked at more than 1,400 toxicity studies before concluding that chlorpyrifos in all its various uses could be expected to have an adverse effect on all threatened and endangered species throughout the U.S. — including killer whales in Puget Sound. Check out the news story by Adam Wernick, Living on Earth.

Of course, chemical manufacturers and farming groups — including apparently the USDA — are not easily convinced that certain pesticides are harmful. They want to go on selling and using these chemicals, as they have for many years. Consequently, they want the EPA to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a chemical is causing damage. But federal law actually requires that all chemicals on the market be proven safe, so any doubt should trigger a reduction of pesticide use or at least greater restrictions on their application.

It is easy to complain about the adequacy of any scientific study. In fact, a disputed difference in methodology between the EPA and NMFS led to a National Academy of Sciences Review, which eventually made suggestions for unifying the agencies’ different scientific approaches.

Through the years, one thing that I have found remarkable is that chemicals rarely appear to get safer with time. For most pesticides, more study raises more concerns, and when you mix pesticides together you never know what you’ll get.

In 2008, shortly after I started writing this blog, I reported on a study by Nat Scholz, a NOAA toxicologist in Seattle who has been studying the effects of chemicals on salmon and other species. This particular study examined mixtures of chlorpyrifos and four other pesticides.

The biggest surprise, Nat told reporter Erik Stokstad of Science magazine, was the strength of the synergistic punch from the pesticides diazinon and malathion. Together, the two chemicals killed all the salmon exposed to them. Even at the lowest concentration, fish were extremely sick.

“It was eye-opening,” Nat was quoted as saying. “We’re seeing relatively dramatic departures” from what happens with each pesticide by itself. See Water Ways, Feb. 19, 2008.

Such findings raise questions about the adequacy of all studies conducted on single pesticides. Pending final reports on pesticide effects on salmon, the courts have imposed 60-foot no-spray buffers along streams (300 feet for aerial spraying) to reduce chemical exposure to salmon and other species.

Nobody can say for sure if those buffers are adequate, but biological opinions from NOAA due out at this end of this year could shed new light on the problem. Meanwhile, chemical manufacturers are hoping those court-mandated reports never see the light of day — and they are putting pressure on the Trump administration to slow down the process.

In a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, a lawyer for the three companies — Dow AgroSciences, ADAMA and FMC — called on the EPA to withdraw its biological evaluation, saying the analysis is flawed in several ways. The lawyer also wrote to other federal officials, asking the National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to delay their biological opinions. According to the lawyer, the court-imposed deadlines are not legally binding.

Reporter Tiffany Stecker of Bloomberg BNA does a nice job describing various viewpoints surrounding this complicated issue. She also describes a close relationship between Dow and the Trump administration.

“The company donated $1 million to President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee,” she wrote. “Trump appointed Dow Chairman and CEO Andrew Liveris to head the White House American Manufacturing Council.”

Dow spent more than $13.6 million on lobbying efforts last year, according to Michael Biesecker, environmental reporter for the Associated Press.

“When Trump signed an executive order in February mandating the creation of task forces at federal agencies to roll back government regulations, Dow’s chief executive was at Trump’s side,” Biesecker wrote.

“’Andrew, I would like to thank you for initially getting the group together and for the fantastic job you’ve done,’ Trump said as he signed the order during an Oval Office ceremony. The president then handed his pen to Liveris to keep as a souvenir,” according to the AP report.

Patti Goldman, managing attorney for Earthjustice’s Northwest Regional Office, said Dow executives are doing everything they can to suppress the science surrounding chlorpyrifos and other pesticides — including hiring their own scientists to raise doubts and delay proposed bans for these toxic chemicals.

“We have a person (Pruitt) in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency who really doesn’t believe in the mission of the agency,” Patti told me.

Turmoil over pesticides has been heightened by the Trump administration just when the EPA and NMFS appeared to be coming together to resolve long-held conflicts over how to assess risk and reduce harm to salmon, she said.

Now, after 15 years of court battles, the end of the conflict appears far from over.

“I think we have had incremental progress, because we’ve gotten the agencies to look at this,” Patti said. “Some chemicals are no longer on the market, and some are on the market for only particular uses.”

While there is plenty of disagreement over whether controls on pesticide use are working, for now the no-spray buffers remain in place as a temporary protection.

It was a wet water year, but then the weather reversed its course

After unusually high amounts of rain fell on the Kitsap Peninsula last fall, this summer is starting out with a most unusual pattern of dryness.

It appears that we haven’t had any measurable precipitation anywhere on the peninsula since mid-June. That’s an oddity for dryness not seen in even the driest year on record since 1990, when Kitsap Public Utility District began keeping rainfall data.

Since May 17, Central Kitsap has seen only 1.4 inches of rain, while less than half an inch fell in Hansville during that time period. That’s barely any rain, given that we are talking about nearly two months. Holly has experienced about 2.4 inches in that time — still way low for the rain belt region of the Kitsap Peninsula. And to think that last fall I was contemplating that we might break a record this year. See Water Ways, Oct 27.

I will admit that I used to avoid writing weather stories for the Kitsap Sun. If an editor asked me to write about the weather, I would think for a moment and promise a “much better” story of a different kind. Now, as I try to keep up on climate change, I find myself fascinated with what I can learn from rainfall patterns — including the extremes you see going from south to north on the Kitsap Peninsula.

If you haven’t been around the area much, you may not know that we get more and stronger rainstorms in the southwest corner of the peninsula around Holly, while Hansville at the peninsula’s northern tip may get a third as much rainfall in some years.

Take a look at the pink lines in the charts on this page to see the average over 25-30 years. The scales on the left side of the graphs are different, but the charts show an average precipitation around 30 inches for Hansville in North Kitsap, 50 inches for Silverdale in Central Kitsap, and nearly 80 inches for Holly in Southwest Kitsap.

These charts also show the rainfall patterns in each area for this year with a blue line. Last year, which had above normal rainfall, is shown in orange. And the year that ended with the highest total rainfall is shown in green.

Hansville is especially interesting, because this year and last year essentially kept pace with the record rainfall year of 1999 as spring ended and summer began. In fact, on May 16 of all three years, the total accumulation to date in Hansville was 38 inches, give or take less than half an inch.

After May 16, the three years diverged in accumulated rainfall, and this year’s dry spell makes the blue line as flat as it can get for an extended period. Last year, the driest time came in April, as you can see from the flat section of the orange line.

July and August are typically the driest months of the year, but that can vary greatly by year. I used to tell people that we Puget Sound residents can expect a full three months of summer each year, but nobody can predict when it will happen or whether it will be divided up, say a week here and a week there.

Anyway, as I mentioned on April 1 in Water Ways, we are on a trajectory to exceed the average rainfall this year even if we get no more rain until the water year is over on Sept. 30. It appears our water wells will survive, but we need more rain for the streams to rise by early fall for salmon to increase their numbers.

Washington state keeps its cool for the first five months of this year

For the first five months of this year, Washington state has stood out as the only state in the U.S. with a below-average temperature.

While most of the country was experiencing warmer-than-normal temperatures, we here in Washington were going outside to temperatures that averaged nearly 1 degree F. below normal.

In fact, the contiguous 48 states recorded the second-warmest January-through-May period on record, despite cooler conditions in Washington. Average temperatures were 1.4 degrees F. below the record set in 2012 for the same period, according to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (PDF 4.2 mb). Click on maps to enlarge.

The average temperature in Washington state was 38.6 degrees for the first five months of the year, compared to an average of 39.4 degrees for the 20th century. Out of 124 years on record, it was the 35th coolest for the five-month period, the coolest since 2011. The coolest on record was in 1950.

Forty states were much warmer than average during the same time period, with Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas reaching record-warm levels.

Of course, temperatures can vary greatly from year to year, but climate conditions in Washington, as in most of the world, demonstrate an increasing temperature trend since records began in 1895, as shown by the blue line in the graphic.

The country as a whole has also been much wetter than normal so far this year. Average precipitation across the lower-48 has reached 14.85 inches, which is 2.46 inches above average and the fourth wettest January-through-May period on record. It is also the wettest first five months since 1998.

Washington state was 6.78 inches above the 20th century average of 20.03 inches for the five-month time period. This year was the sixth wettest on record.

Washington and five other western states were listed as much above average for snow and rain, while Idaho reached record precipitation for the first five months of the year. Record flooding was reported in the mid-Mississippi Valley. Below average precipitation was seen in the Northern Plains states and Florida.

Meanwhile, about 5 percent of the lower-48 was listed in drought conditions on May 30, up slightly from earlier in the year. Drought improved in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Southeast, but it worsened in the Northern and Southern Plains and in Florida.

Bremerton loses ground in annual ‘water pledge’ competition among cities

Bremerton may need some help to get back on top in the National Mayor’s Water Pledge Challenge, an annual competition that encourages people to take specific steps to save water and help the environment.

As usual, Bremerton started out on top in its population category when the contest began on April 1. The city held its own through most of last week. But now the city has slid down to number 4, which means that more water customers are needed to take the pledge. Go to My Water Pledge.

Bremerton has always done well in the competition, perhaps largely because of the enthusiasm of Mayor Patty Lent, who likes to see people conserve water and always wishes the city can come out on top in the competition. This year, a good showing in the competition would be especially nice, considering that Bremerton is celebrating the centennial of its unique water system.

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Amusing Monday: Cartoon could be a mascot for this blog

If I needed a mascot for this blog, I just found the perfect cartoon character. His name is Raindrop, and he appears in a cartoon series called “Raindrop, the Water Adventure.”

While this cute and funny cartoon seems like something a child would enjoy, it also introduces concepts that many adults can appreciate — such as the formation of weather, pollution, erosion, evolution of life, and man’s role in altering the environment.

I’m seeing what appears to be a cartoon that appeals to a wide range of ages with discussions of water issues central to life on Earth. As such, these are also issues I often discuss while reporting about Puget Sound protection and recovery.

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Rainfall in the first six months of water year exceeds yearly average

Halfway through the current water year, which began on Oct. 1, rainfall patterns on the Kitsap Peninsula are shaping up to look a lot like last year.

Hansville rain gauge (click to enlarge)
Source: Kitsap PUD

For most areas, total rainfall is well above average, as it was last year at this time. It is also well below the record accumulation in most places. One exception is Hansville in North Kitsap, as you can see in the first chart on this page. There, the total rainfall is tracking both last year and 1999 — the highest year on record, which goes back 35 years at that station.

Moving into the drier half of the water year, it is now obvious that we will be above average in rainfall for the entire year, since we have already reached the average in most places.

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Amusing Monday: World Water Day inspires photos and videos

World Water Day, coming up on Wednesday, is an annual event first established by the United Nations in 1992 to focus on the importance of freshwater and to encourage actions to provide clean drinking water while reducing water-borne illness around the world.

This year’s theme, waste water, was formulated into a question that creates a double meaning. It can be either “Why waste water?” or “Why wastewater?” The first question emphasizes the water-supply issues associated with World Water Day. The second emphasizes the closely related health aspects of sanitation. For a serious discussion of these two questions, listen to the talk on YouTube by Guy Ryder, director general of the International Labour Organization and chairman of UN-Water.

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Amusing Monday: Bottled water is now
the king of beverages

For the first time in U.S. history, the consumption of bottled water has now surpassed that of carbonated soft drinks, according to the Beverage Marketing Corporation.

Bottled water consumption grew by 8.5 percent last year, while soft drink consumption fell by 1.7 percent, following an ongoing trend, according to the BMC’s Gary Hemphill, as quoted in Plastics News.

The statistics are based on volume consumed, not dollar value, Hemphill said. “Which is really kind of remarkable when you consider bottled water’s growth trajectory didn’t really start until the early ‘90s.”

The shift is largely attributed to growing health concerns related to drinking sugary soft drinks. But bottled water also is displacing the consumption of juice, alcoholic beverages and even tap water. See story by Hadley Malcolm in USA Today.

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Two-for-one executive order on regulations headed for showdown

The Environmental Protection Agency is moving forward to protect people’s health from toxic chemicals, despite an executive order from President Trump that requires two existing regulations to be repealed for every new regulation approved.

Photo: André Künzelmann, Wikimedia commons

On Tuesday, the EPA will hold a public hearing to help develop rules for controlling the use of 10 chemicals evaluated under the revised Toxic Substances Control Act. (See EPA Public Workshop.) As I described in Water Ways, Dec. 1, these high-hazard chemicals could be banned or significantly restricted in their use. Seven of the first 10 under review have been found in drinking water at various sites across the country.

Preliminary information about the chemical risks and the evaluation process can be found on EPA’s TSCA website.

The revised Toxic Substances Control Act received overwhelming bipartisan approval in Congress. Even the chemical industry supported the law, in part because it would limit what states can do to ban chemicals on their own. Check out my story in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

We have yet to see how Trump’s executive order on controlling regulations will affect upcoming rules for toxic chemicals, but the order is already causing some confusion. It has been ridiculed as “nonsensical” by environmental groups, which filed a lawsuit this week seeking to overturn the order. More than a few Republicans say they don’t know how it will work.

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Amusing Monday: Expanding the dictionary with help from friends

If you don’t know what something is called, you can make up a word for it — or perhaps a word to describe it. I guess that’s nothing new; every word in the dictionary must have come from someone.

I was amused recently when I heard an episode of “Says You” on public radio featuring a segment on made-up words. “Says You” is a game show that enlists a panel of well-read folks who try to explain the meaning of obscure words in the English language.

What surprised me was when the game went off on a tangent with the panel trying to guess the meaning of words taken from the Addictionary, which is sort of an alternative dictionary for made-up words not found in a regular dictionary.

So how does a game-show contestant define a word he or she has never heard before, a word that does not even exist? Thankfully, the made-up words used in the game were amalgams of recognizable words, so it was fun to hear the panelists struggle to find the definition of these new “words.” They were deemed correct only if their definitions matched those of the people who made up the words.

One that I recall was “bozone,” defined as “the substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating” — as in “bozone layer.” The panel had fun discussing how the word might relate to clowns.

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