The Environmental Protection Agency approved new water-quality
standards for Washington state this week, overriding a plan
approved by Gov. Jay Inslee and the state Department of
It was a rare posture for the EPA. Now the state will be
pressured to appeal the EPA standards to federal court. Cities and
counties as well as some industrial organizations are clearly
unhappy with the EPA’s action, while environmental and tribal
representatives got most of what they wanted.
The EPA action is especially unusual, given that this state is
known for some of the strongest environmental regulations in the
country. After much dispute, Ecology finally agreed to much higher
fish-consumption rates without increasing the cancer-risk rate,
leading to more stringent standards for many of the chemicals. But
Ecology had its own ideas for the most troublesome compounds with
implications for human health. They include polychlorinated
biphenyls (PCBs), arsenic and mercury. For background, see
Water Ways, Oct. 18, 2015.
Some news reports I saw this week said EPA’s action will lead to
salmon that are safer to eat. But that’s not at all certain, and
opponents say it is unlikely that the revised limits on chemical
pollution will have any practical effect on compounds that affect
A record number of sewage-treatment plants in Washington state
fully complied with state water-quality requirements in 2014, with
128 plants winning the coveted Outstanding Performance Award from
the Department of Ecology.
The awards program has reached its 20th year, and the Manchester
Wastewater Treatment Plant in South Kitsap remains ahead of the
pack. It’s the only plant with a perfect score every year since the
In the first year of Ecology’s awards program, only 14 plants
across the state were recognized as doing everything right, but
that number has grown nearly every year.
Last year, 128 winning treatment plants — more than a third of
all the plants in the state — passed every environmental test,
analyzed every required sample, turned in all reports and allowed
no permit violations.
“The talents of our professional operators are critical to
successful plant operations and protecting the health of
Washington’s waters”, said Heather Bartlett, manager of Ecology’s
Water Quality Program, in a news release. “It is
an honor to recognize their contributions with these awards.”
Kitsap County officials are rightly proud of the perfect record.
Five years ago, in an article in Treatment
Plant Operator magazine, lead operator Don Johnson said the
success of the Manchester plant could be credited to the dedicated
wastewater staff and support from all levels of county government.
Don, who retired last year, has been replaced by Ken Young.
The magazine article may tell you more than you want to know
about the design and operation of the Manchester plant. The plant
was a modern facility when Ecology’s awards program was launched 20
years ago, and it has been kept up to date through the years.
Johnson stressed that treatment-plant operators should always be
prepared for new developments.
“My advice is for them to remain adaptable and up to date,” he
said. “There are many changes in the industry, and it’s important
to pursue energy efficiency and create reusable resources.”
Reaching the 20-year mark deserves some kind of celebration for
the Manchester plant. I would suggest organized tours of the
facility, public recognition for all the plant workers through the
years and maybe a slice of cake. So far, I’m told, no specific
plans have been made.
Port Townsend’s treatment plant has had a perfect score for 19
of the 20 years, missing only 1997. Meeting the perfect standard
for 16 of the past 20 years are two plants owned by the city of
Vancouver — Marine Park and Westside.
Kitsap County’s Kingston plant has received the award for nine
straight years. The county’s Suquamish plant, which is regulated by
the Environmental Protection agency because it is on tribal land,
has met all permit requirement for 15 years straight. (EPA does not
With a key deadline approaching next week, Gov. Jay Inslee
decided today that he will not move forward on new water-quality
standards at this time.
The governor had hoped that the Legislature would approve his
plan to track down and eliminate sources of nonpoint pollution, the
kind that often gets into our waterways via stormwater. The
Democratic-controlled House approved a revised proposal for
chemical action plans
(HB 1472), which Inslee said he could support. But, in the end,
the Republican-controlled Senate failed to act on the bill.
“Without this legislation, we lack the necessary broad approach
to protecting our water in a way that advances human, environmental
and economic health,” Inslee said in a
news release issued today. “The lack of legislative action is
disappointing and forces us to reassess our approach.”
Environmental advocates and tribal officials have called for
stronger water-quality standards. Such standards, if approved,
could require industrial facilities and sewage-treatment plants to
extensively upgrade their systems to remove more pollutants from
Inslee and his supporters have argued that many of the
pollutants of greatest concern don’t come from industrial and
municipal discharges. Rather they come from “the small-but-steady
release of chemicals in everyday products – brakes on vehicles,
flame retardants in furniture, softeners in plastics, and metals in
roofing materials,” according to the news release.
That’s why Inslee has pushed for the more comprehensive approach
of dealing with the most troublesome chemicals, many of which are
not even regulated under the federal Clean Water Act. (Inslee
news release, July 9, 2014.)
Water-quality standards actually apply to streams and bodies of
water. Comparing results from water samples with numerical
standards tells us whether the waters are polluted or clean enough
to protect public health. The numerical standards become a starting
point for permitting any discharge through pipes, although
stormwater pipes are generally not regulated.
I have followed this story now for quite some time. The latest
two weeks ago in Water Ways covers the overall issue and
includes links to previous stories.
It isn’t clear what the next move will be. The news release says
the governor has “directed the state Department of Ecology to
reconsider its draft clean water rules while he and the agency
assess options on how best to assure protection for the health of
Washington’s people, fish and economy.”
Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency is developing new
standards for Washington state. If the state fails to act or fails
to protect public health, as determined by the EPA, then the
federal agency could impose its standards on the state. Proposed
EPA standards, like state standards, must undergo a rigorous
review, including public comments and probably public hearings.
Mark MacIntyre, EPA spokesman, issued a statement today in
response to Inslee’s decision:
“We believe it’s important to have human health criteria in
place that are protective for everybody in Washington, including
high consumers of fish such as members of tribal communities. In
terms of who writes the standards, EPA continues to prefer and
support Washington’s development of revised water quality standards
that we can approve. In the meantime, we are proceeding consistent
with our commitment to work on a federal proposal for Washington,
but will pause that work to review and act upon a state submittal,
should we receive one.”
Washington Department of Ecology, which enforces the Clean Water
Act for Washington state, was planning to approve the new standards
by next Thursday. But under Inslee’s latest order that will not
happen. If the rule is revised, it must undergo a new public review
More than 1,600 comments were received on the proposed
standards, which are not likely to be approved in their current
form. Most of the comments related to the higher cancer risk level
chosen by Ecology and the governor. Cancer risk is one factor in
calculating the water-quality standards, along with a
fish-consumption rate, chemical-toxicity factor and others.
Actors and comedians are talking about water in a new video
campaign to raise awareness about the value of clean water and the
importance of keeping pollution out of waterways.
Waterkeeper Alliance brought together celebrities to share their
feelings and memories about water uses. They include Neil Patrick
Harris, Susan Sarandon, Bobby Moynihan, Taran Killam, Ray Romano
and Brad Garrett.
Locally, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance is affiliated with the
national Waterkeeper Alliance. Puget Soundkeeper Chris Wilke, based
in Seattle, is featured in an earlier video
that explains the goals of Waterkeeper Alliance and the actions of
affiliates across the United States and throughout the
The new campaign, called “Keep it Clean” is directed by Rachael
Harris and produced by Kids at Play.
“We want to get people thinking about what water pollution means
to them — to their drinking water, their surf break, their favorite
fishing spot,” Harris said in a prepared statement. “But
it’s a dirty and heavy topic! So we brought together some of the
most brilliant and passionate voices in entertainment to put their
own spin on it, to get a little silly, to make people think about
why this issue is important, and what they can do to help.”
The videos presented here were announced as the “first round” of
the campaign, which I presume means that more will be coming later.
The three videos shown in players are compilations of comments on
What’s your favorite use of water? (top video)
Heartfelt memories (middle)
What does Waterkeeper Alliance do? (bottom)
The other videos show either celebrities speaking alone or with
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.
A highly informative map, just released by state shellfish
officials, can show you at a glance where it is safe to harvest
shellfish in Western Washington.
Besides pointing out the locations of public beaches where
recreational harvesters may safely gather clams and oysters, the
map provides links to information about the approved
seasons and limits, with photographs of each beach. One can choose
“map” or “satellite” views, as well as enhanced images to simplify
If you wish, you can track down locations by searching for the
name of a beach, nearby landmarks or the address. You can obtain
the latest information about entire shorelines as well as specific
The map was created by the Office of Shellfish and Water
Protection, a division within the Washington State Department of
Jim Zimny, recreational shellfish specialist at Kitsap Public
Health District, said he expects the map to be updated immediately
when new health advisories are issued.
“It’s a great resource, very easy to use,” Jim said.
Jim works with state shellfish officials to collect shellfish
samples and report results, including findings of paralytic
shellfish poison, a biotoxin. Closures are announced when high
levels of PSP or dangerous bacteria are found. Hood Canal, for
example, is covered with the letter “V,” meaning one should cook
shellfish thoroughly to kill Vibrio bacteria, which can lead to
Since I generally write the geographic descriptions of shellfish
closure areas, I can assure you that looking at a map will be a
better way to see what is going on.
A news release about the new map points out that
the risk of eating shellfish increases in summer. That’s why it
especially important in summer to follow the three C’s of shellfish
safety: “check, chill and cook.”
Those three C’s refer to checking the map for health closures
and looking on the beach for warning signs; chilling the shellfish
to avoid a buildup of bacteria; and cooking to 145 degrees to kill
pathogens. (Cooking does not destroy PSP and other biotoxins, so
it’s important to avoid closed areas.)
When it comes to ecosystem restoration, I love it when we can
see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s rare when we have a
chance to say that restoration is nearing completion, since we know
that habitat work continues on and on, seemingly without end, in
many areas of Puget Sound.
So let us anticipate a celebration when Kitsap County’s regional
stormwater projects are completed, when all the deadly ghost nets
have been removed from the shallow waters of Puget Sound, and when
there are no more creosote pilings left on state tidelands.
Of course, the light at the end of the tunnel may be a mirage,
but let’s not go there quite yet.
Kitsap regional ponds
Kitsap County has been collecting a Surface and Stormwater
Management Fee from residents in unincorporated areas and using
some of that money to leverage state and federal stormwater grants.
The fee is currently $73.50, but it will rise to $78 in 2014, $82
in 2015, $86.50 in 2016, $91 in 2017 and $96 in 2018. See
Kitsap Sun, Nov. 27, 2012.
The good news is that the effort to retrofit old, outmoded
stormwater systems is nearing completion, with remaining projects
either in design or nearing the design phase. Check out the Kitsap
County Public Works Capital
Facilities Program for a list of completed projects with maps
as well as proposed projects with maps. As the documents show, the
regional retrofits are on their way to completion.
So what are the sources of future stormwater problems? The
answer is roads, and the problem is enormous. Still, the county has
begun to address the issue with a pilot project that could become a
model for other counties throughout Puget Sound. Please read my
“New strategies will address road runoff” (subscription) to see
how the county intends to move forward.
Ghost nets and crab pots
Earlier this year, the Legislature provided $3.5 million to
complete the removal of derelict fishing gear that keeps on killing
in waters less than 105 feet deep. The work is to be done before
the end of 2015.
Phil Anderson, director of the Washington Department of Fish and
Wildlife, was excited about the prospect. Here’s what he said in a
“Working in conjunction with our partners at Northwest Straits
and in the State Legislature, we have made enormous strides toward
eliminating the risks posed to fish and wildlife by derelict
fishing gear. This is difficult work, and it requires a real
commitment from everyone to get it done. We look forward to
celebrating the next milestone in 2015.”
The most amazing statistic I found on this topic involved the
number of animals trapped by ghost nets. According to one
predictive model, if all the nets had been left alone to keep
fishing, they could be killing 3.2 million animals each year.
Washington Department of Natural Resources hasn’t slowed down in
its effort to remove old creosote pilings and docks. The structures
can be toxic to marine life, obstruct navigation and snag fishing
gear. By 2015, the total bill for removing such debris is expected
to reach $13 million.
Nobody is sure how much it will cost to remove the last of the
creosote materials from state lands, but DNR officials have
inventoried the various sites and expect to come up with a final
priority list over the next six months. Some pilings on privately
owned land may be a higher priority for the ecosystem, and
officials are trying to decide how to address those sites. Of
course, nobody can tackle pilings on private lands without working
through the property owners.
Download a spreadsheet of the
work completed so far (PDF 53 kb), which involves a focus on 40
sites throughout Puget Sound. Altogether, the projects removed
about 11,000 pilings plus about 250,000 square feet of “overwater
structures,” such as docks.
A technique that could flag the presence of human waste in a
sample of water is under development in a partnership between the
Kitsap Public Health District and University of Washington’s Center
for Urban Water.
As I explained in a
May 29 story in the Kitsap Sun, it could be helpful for
pollution investigators to know whether bacteria are coming from
human waste or from animal waste.
For example, if bacterial levels are high in a stream but human
waste is not present, then investigators could look for deposits of
dog waste or livestock waste or else search out signs of wildlife.
In that case, one could avoid testing for failing septic systems,
saving a lot of time and money — not that this would occur in most
The technique under review involves testing for certain
chemicals associated with humans, such as caffeine, medicines,
personal care products, flame retardants, pesticides and human
hormones. The current research is trying to identify which of these
compounds could serve as the best routine test for human waste.
Five years of studies and analysis have helped refine our
understanding about the toxic pollution getting into the streams of
Puget Sound and eventually into the open marine waters.
The final report in the series was released yesterday, prompting
a story I wrote for
today’s Kitsap Sun.
When accounting for all the pollution, it’s not surprising to
learn that the sources of toxic chemicals are so diverse that it is
difficult to figure out where everything is coming from. But we do
know that if chemicals are picked up in stormwater, they are likely
to make their way into freshwater, where they pose short-term or
long-term risks to aquatic organisms.
The solutions are common sense, if one can be assured of the
sources of harmful chemicals:
Remove materials from the environment if they are found to
release toxic pollution. This can involve a legal ban on certain
products or else educating people to select less toxic
Reduce the amount of stormwater that flows into streams by
infiltrating rainwater into the ground before it leaves the site.
This “low-impact development” can include permeable pavement, rain
gardens and even natural forests where a thick organic carpet has
Clean sediment out of storm drains and sweep up the dust on
city streets and other areas where toxic chemicals are likely to
reside in metallic form or be bound to soil particles. Safely
dispose of these materials. When the rains arrive, there won’t be
much left to wash into streams.
While all this sounds simple enough, the issue gets complicated
when trying to decide which products to ban and when to recommend
that people voluntarily stop using certain items. Alternative
products may cost more, which tends to raise questions among users.
Also, manufacturers and retailers are not likely to give up selling
profitable products without a fight.
Further complicating the situation is the scientific uncertainty
surrounding the alleged harm when someone declares a product not
good for the environment. Such uncertainty inevitably sparks
scientific, economic and policy debate about whether the proposed
action is justified.
For example, the Washington Legislature approved a ban on
automobile brake pads containing certain levels of copper. Brake
pads are believed to release enough copper to harm salmon in some
urban streams. But the metallic form of copper found in brake pads
is not toxic until it is converted to an ionic form. How much gets
converted in the environment is still a question. For details, see
a story I wrote for the
Kitsap Sun in March of 2010.
As for the latest study released yesterday, some additional
focused research and debate may be needed before further actions
can be taken.
For example, questions are raised about the total amount of
toxic metals leached from roofing materials, including common
asphalt shingles. Copper, cadmium, lead and zinc are listed as
contaminants along with diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP).
As suggested by the report, direct studies of roofs in the Puget
Sound region could help determine the potential harm of various
roofing materials and suggest whether bans or advisories are
The amount of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) coming
from creosote-treated wood was something of a surprise in the
report. If anything, the findings tend to support the ongoing
effort by the Department of Natural Resources, which has been
removing creosote pilings from shorelines. Further studies might
help to focus removal efforts in areas most sensitive to creosote
A parody of the 1996 hit single “No Diggity” by
the R&B group Blackstreet has been rearranged into a new video
Wanna guess what the video is about?
Produced for the campaign “Puget Sound Starts Here,”
the video — posted last night — delivers a clear message about
picking up dog waste: Just DOO it!
Three men who grew up together in Seattle and are now based in
San Francisco produced the video, which shows a series of people
walking their dogs in familiar locations around Seattle, Tacoma and
Everett. The animals leave behind little surprises, which provokes
Luther (McCoy) to rush in with a plastic bag, a song and a
“It was really fulfilling for three Seattle guys to do something
that was a lot of fun and beneficial to our hometown,” said Peter
Furia, one of three producers for the company called Seedwell. The others are Beau Lewis
and David Fine. All will be 30 this year.
In the rain, it’s a good day
Each and every day, the Northwest way
The girl and her dog, they were fine (wow)
Until they left a doodie, that’s a crime (bow wow)
Furia said the campaign started when the three men were
approached by public relations expert Bob Frause, who
helped develop the “Puget Sound Starts Here” campaign.
They were asked to develop a video suitable for YouTube viewers,
generally a younger audience. They could choose any of the three
messages being promoted by the campaign: 1) Wash your car in a
carwash, where dirty water won’t wash down the storm drain; 2) Be
careful with your use of lawn chemicals; or 3) Pick up after your
dog when Mother Nature calls.
The choice was easy, Furia said. “We knew that dog doo was going
to be the most suitable for the online video space.”
Lewis remembered the Blackstreet song and thought it would make
a great tune to spoof.
“We removed the rap verse and just did the R&B parts,” Furia
said. “We wanted it to be shorter and sweeter.”
With a background in music production, the three produced a
high-quality sound with original instrumentation by Jeff Kite. The
song sounds great through high-quality headphones.
Luther, an actor as well as a singer, really got into the
project, according to Furia. “He’d been to Seattle a couple of
times and thought the project was fun and funny, and he owns a dog,
Unfortunately, they couldn’t get Luther’s dog transported to
Seattle in time to perform in the video, but the other dogs DOO
quite well on cue.
I can’t forget to mention the dance routine, created by Paul
Benshoof as an imitation of the funky dancers from the original
video. Of course, the full
dance number could not fit on the video, but the producers
saved it to a separate video for those who want more. Outtakes
can be viewed on a third video.
The $40,000 song and video production is part of the $500,000
“Puget Sound Starts Here” campaign, which is spanning over 18
months with numerous radio and television
spots along with newspaper and online ads.
Some 81 cities and counties involved in the campaign have
organized into seven teams, each of which will receive a portion of
the money for efforts in their local communities. In Kitsap County,
bus ads will focus on pollution messages.
Suzi Wong Swint of Snohomish County, a leader in the “Puget
Sound Starts Here” campaign, said she expects the video will get a
lot of viewers.
“Everyone from all the jurisdictions really like it, “ she
Nobody seems to know if the original members of Blackstreet have
seen the video, but Furia says it is all in good fun. Since “Dog
Doogity” is an obvious parody, a commentary on the original,
copyright is not an issue, he said.