Tag Archives: Pollution

Map points toward safe — and hazardous — shellfish

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.

Shellfish_map

Besides pointing out the locations of public beaches where recreational harvesters may safely gather clams and oysters, the new 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 the search.

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 beaches.

The map was created by the Office of Shellfish and Water Protection, a division within the Washington State Department of Health.

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 intestinal illness.

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.)

For additional information about recreational shellfish harvesting, including a “Shellfish Harvest Checklist,” visit the Department of Health website.

Is that a light I see shining at the end of restoration?

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.

Last summer, a massive pond was constructed off Waaga Way to capture stormwater from developments that was flowing into Steele Creek. Photo by Larry Steagall
Last summer, a massive pond was constructed off Waaga Way to capture stormwater from Central Kitsap developments flowing straight into Steele Creek. / Photo by Larry Steagall

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 September story, “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.

Sites where known nets are still killing fish. Map courtesy of Northwest Straits Commission
Sites where known nets are still killing fish.
Map courtesy of Northwest Straits

Phil Anderson, director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, was excited about the prospect. Here’s what he said in a news release.

“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.

For additional information, read the story I wrote for last Saturday’s Kitsap Sun (subscription) or check out the Northwest Straits webpage.

Creosote pilings and docks

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.

I mentioned work underway in Jefferson County in my story last week (subscription), and reporter Tristan Baurick mentioned a specific cleanup project at Nick’s Lagoon (subscription) in Kitsap County. You may also wish to check out the DNR’s page on Creosote Removal.

New method could reveal presence of human waste

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.

Shawn Ultican, left, a water-quality investigator with the Kitsap Public Health District, and University of Washington-Tacoma undergraduate student Derek Overman test the water from the drainage pipe at Silverdale Waterfront Park. Kitsap Sun photo by Meegan M. Reid.
Shawn Ultican, left, a water-quality investigator with Kitsap Public Health District, and University of Washington-Tacoma undergraduate Derek Overman test the water from a drainage pipe at Silverdale Waterfront Park.
Kitsap Sun photo by Meegan M. Reid.

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 investigations.

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.

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More results, more questions found in toxic studies

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 latest study on toxic chemicals (PDF 3.1 mb) Click on image to download

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:

  1. 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 alternatives.
  2. 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 been retained.
  3. 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 appropriate.

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 compounds.

The latest report, which includes discussions about the uncertainties, is called “Assessment of Selected Toxic Chemicals in the Puget Sound Basin, 2007-2011.” You may also wish to review all the toxics work to date on Ecology’s webpage called “Control of Toxic Chemicals in Puget Sound.”

New video: Leave a doodie; it’s a crime (bow wow)

A parody of the 1996 hit single “No Diggity” by the R&B group Blackstreet has been rearranged into a new video called “Dog Doogity.”

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 singer Martin Luther (McCoy) to rush in with a plastic bag, a song and a smile.

“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.

Lewis wrote the lyrics for “Dog Doogity” with a little help from his friends. Check it out:

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, a mastiff.”

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 said.

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.

New study refines Puget Sound pollution issues

A third-generation study of toxic pollution in Puget Sound claims to be the best estimate so far of total amounts of toxics entering Puget Sound each year.

New report on toxics in Puget Sound (PDF 7.3 mb). Click to download.
Washington Department of Ecology

As Craig Welch of the Seattle Times points out in a story today, it’s a big exaggeration to think that Puget Sound is suffering through enough drips and drabs of oil — largely from vehicles — to equal an Exxon Valdez spill every two years.

Craig is right to point out how previous studies overestimated the amount of several toxics. After all, politicians having been tossing around the dramatic Exxon Valdez analogy when it serves their purposes. Still, the total amount of oil or any other pollutant in Puget Sound is not really a good measure of the problems we face.

If you want to understand pollution in a waterway, it’s better to measure the concentration of the pollutant, see where that level falls on a toxicity scale, then consider how fish and other organisms are exposed to the pollution.

The new study for the Department of Ecology, titled “Toxics in Surface Runoff to Puget Sound,” analyzed 21 chemicals or groups of chemicals in 16 streams in the Puyallup and Snohomish river watersheds. The watersheds contain all different land types — commercial-industrial, residential, agricultural, forest, fields and other undeveloped lands. The idea is that researchers could extrapolate from these land types to represent all of Puget Sound. But such an extrapolation still requires a number of assumptions, which can throw off the estimates by wide margins.

At least we can say the latest study involved actual water-quality sampling. Previous estimates — including those that produced the Exxon Valdez analogy — were based on measurements of stormwater in other parts of the country.

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Sinclair-Dyes study: How to get ahead of pollution

The soon-to-be-released cleanup plan for Sinclair and Dyes inlets could become a leading example of how to reduce all kinds of pollution in a waterway. Check out my story in Tuesday’s Kitsap Sun.

Based on conversations with many people involved in the project, I believe the keys to success are continual and ongoing monitoring of water quality, an unfailing commitment to identify pollution sources, and a spirit of cooperation with people who can help solve the problems.

Officials with the Kitsap County Health District and other local and state agencies will tell you that one can never walk away from a watershed with the belief that the pollution problem is solved. Still, at times, the rewards can be relatively quick, as one observes improvements in water quality after a pollution source is turned off.

Every month for the past 15 years, health district officials have gone out into the field and taken water samples from nearly every stream in Kitsap County — some 58 streams at last count. Often, these monthly tests provide assurance than cleanup plans are working. Occasionally, they offer an early warning that someone in the watershed is doing something to degrade water quality.

If you haven’t checked the health district’s Water Quality website, I would recommend reading through some of the reports under “Featured Water Quality Reports,” particularly the “2010 Water Quality Monitoring Report.”

Monthly water-quality testing over time tells a story about differences between wet years and dry years, about the effects of new development, and about successes that follow cleanup of problem farms, septic systems or yards containing dog feces.

I think it would be a big step forward if every significant stream in the state were monitored monthly for at least bacterial pollution. The results would help all levels of government set priorities for dealing with stormwater and other pollution sources.

Sinclair and Dyes inlets animation of hypothetical treatment system failure in East Bremerton (Click to launch; shift-reload to restart)
Project Envvest

Another factor worth mentioning in regard to the Sinclair-Dyes cleanup is the Navy’s funding for Project Envvest, a cooperative effort between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington Department of Ecology and the Navy. The resulting computer model helped describe the flow of pollution under various rainfall scenarios. It can even predict the movement of pollution resulting from various kinds of spills.

The animation (right) shows what would happen if the ultraviolet infection system were to fail in the East Bremerton treatment plant, which handles stormwater mixed with sewage during periods of heavy rainfall. Tidal flows make a big difference. This simulated spill is 7,000 gallons per minute for a total of 10 million gallons. See CSO Simulation Scenarios to view other animations from the model.

Other websites related to the Sinclair-Dyes project:

Project Envvest Status, Progress, Reports, and Deliverables (Navy)

Sinclair/Dyes Inlets Water Quality Improvement Project (Ecology)

State oil-spill law will push for better response efforts

Washington state lawmakers have approved legislation that strengthens the hand of the Washington Department of Ecology, as the agency continues to beef up the state’s oil-spill response capabilities. See reporter John Stang’s story in today’s Kitsap Sun.

Some of the specific requirements were stripped out of the original bill introduced back in January by Rep. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island. You may wish to review my initial blog entry in Water Ways Jan. 13. In place of detailed requirements, Ecology was given a strong hand to decide what kinds of equipment are needed for each area of the state, including Puget Sound.

In that sense, Rolfes’ initial goals for the legislation remain in place:

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Though small, Gasworks may qualify for Superfund

A small waterfront site in Bremerton could become the next federal Superfund site in Washington state. The site, called the Old Bremerton Gasworks property, has grown into a complex problem for cleanup agencies, as I describe in a story in Sunday’s Kitsap Sun.

A sign at the end of Pennsylvania Avenue in Bremerton warns of the hazards at the Old Bremerton Gasworks property.
Kitsap Sun photo

Old Bremerton Gasworks, the site of a former coal gasification plant, was first placed on the state’s Hazardous Sites List in 1995, with a top-priority ranking of 1 on a scale from 1 to 5.

Nothing much was said or done about the site until a few years ago, when property owners Paul McConkey and his son Trip began looking for a way to develop the waterfront property. A business park and marina were considered possible options. A portion of the site identified as hazardous is owned by Natacha Sesko, whose property has been included in discussions about future uses.

The federal Brownfields Program, which had expanded under President George W. Bush, was created to clean up former industrial sites and put them back into productive use. The program seemed like the logical vehicle to study contaminants on the gasworks property and help cover the cleanup costs.
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Kitsap plans to reuse 3.5 million gallons of effluent

When I first reported that Silverdale Water District was preparing to install a system of purple pipe for water reuse, it seemed the district was far ahead of everyone else in Kitsap County. Recall my story in the Kitsap Sun March 31, 2008, and the Water Ways entry that followed on April 2.

A new headworks at the Central Kitsap Wastewater Treatment Plant is part of major sewer upgrade designed to reuse the efflent.

Kitsap County commissioners started talking to Silverdale Water District commissioners a couple months later. See Kitsap Sun from June 2, 2008, and Water Ways from June 3.

Now the county commissioners are about to approve a six-year plan to design and install equipment capable of producing 3.5 million gallons of highly treated effluent every day, as I reported in Sunday’s Sun. That’s a lot of water, enough to irrigate ballfields throughout Silverdale with water to spare.

Now the ball is in the court of Silverdale Water District. District manager Morgan Johnson told me today that if the district can be assured of getting treated effluent from the Central Kitsap Wastewater Treatment Plant, it will move forward on building a backbone of purple pipe right into the heart of Silverdale.

If the county commissioners on Monday approve the six-year sewer plan and move ahead with a $41 million bond issue, it will be time for county officials to begin negotiations with those from Silverdale Water District. Tying up all loose ends about how much water will be provided as well as who will pay for what will be necessary to create one of the largest water-reuse systems in the Puget Sound region.

Morgan Johnson told me that he was surprised at how quickly the county commissioners embraced the notion of reusing treated wastewater, starting with that meeting more than two years ago.

“I was surprised that they’re taking this approach as aggressively as they are,” Morgan said. “We just need to know what the county’s schedule is.”

The county commissioners keep saying they are quite serious about their year-old “Water as a Resource” policy. Every county department must report annually about how they are advancing the effort to save and reuse as much water as possible. In a sidebar to my main story Sunday, commissioners Steve Bauer and Charlotte Garrido talked about how this policy can protect the water resource while saving the county money.

Stella Vakarcs of the Kitsap County Wastewater Utility said she would like to hold a “water summit” that would bring water and wastewater officials together to discuss the future of the effluent.

In addition to the CK plant, county officials are considering uses for treated effluent from the county’s plant in Kingston.

Meanwhile, officials with West Sound Utility District, which already produces high-quality effluent near Port Orchard, are getting ready to use that water for irrigation.

It will take about a year to design the upgrades at the CK plant. Construction is planned to begin in the summer of 2012, and the system should be completed about 2016.

If things go well, the purple pipes could be in the ground by then and ready to be charged with reused water.