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Environmental reporter Christopher Dunagan discusses the challenges of protecting Puget Sound and all things water-related.
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Posts Tagged ‘Washington Department of Natural Resources’

Health officials to quickly test geoducks for arsenic

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

Shellfish and toxicology experts with the Washington State Department of Health are rushing to test new samples of geoducks from Poverty Bay near Federal Way. Poverty Bay is the apparent source of the geoducks that triggered a Chinese ban on the imports of all bivalves from the U.S. West Coast.

Photo: Washington Sea Grant

Photo: Washington Sea Grant

Since I wrote about this issue in Water Ways last Tuesday, state health officials have learned that arsenic — not paralytic shellfish poison — was cited by Chinese health officials as the cause of their concern in the Poverty Bay geoducks.

Past studies by state researchers have concluded that arsenic is not a health concern in shellfish taken from Puget Sound, based on sampling from some of the most polluted bays in the region. A letter (PDF 118 kb) sent last week from the U.S. Seafood Inspection Program to China’s health officials calls for China to lift its unusual ban. The letter cites a 2007 health assessment on arsenic in geoducks from Poverty Bay, where the giant clams were deemed safe to eat.

As a precaution, Washington Department of Natural Resources has closed the 135-acre Redondo Tract in Poverty Bay to shellfish harvesting until the Chinese ban can be resolved, according to a statement issued Friday from Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark.

One of the complicating factors in dealing with arsenic in shellfish is that the organic forms (primarily arsenobetaine) are not toxic, yet they are far more prevalent than the toxic inorganic forms (arsenic III and arsenic V ).

It is far easier to measure total arsenic than to separate organic from inorganic forms, so researchers often make assumptions. To be extra safe, they have assumed for years that toxic inorganic arsenic is less than 10 percent of total arsenic. Now, they have begun to rely on more recent geoduck studies from Seattle’s Richmond Beach (PDF 327 kb) that showed the inorganic form of arsenic to be less than 1 percent of total arsenic.

Dave McBride, a toxicologist with Washington’s Department of Health, told me the Chinese were reporting levels of arsenic at 1.7 parts per million, but they failed to say whether that was total arsenic or inorganic arsenic. The Chinese health limit was reported as 0.5 parts per million inorganic arsenic.

It also makes a difference whether the whole geoduck was tested or just the edible parts. The skin, which is generally discarded when cooking, appears to concentrate more arsenic than other parts, but the levels still are not high enough to be a concern.

A 2002 study of shellfish from several polluted water bodies in Puget Sound (PDF 1.5 mb) found levels of inorganic arsenic in clams to fall in a range from 0.015 to 0.035 parts per million. A 2007 health assessment of geoducks from Poverty Bay (PDF 874 kb) found total arsenic levels ranging from 2.28 of 4.96 parts per million.

Assuming inorganic arsenic at 1 percent of total arsenic the maximum value is .05 parts per million for shellfish from Poverty Bay. That’s one-tenth the level of concern reported by the Chinese.

Initially, Poverty Bay was an issue because of two sewage outfalls in the area and the proximity to Tacoma’s former ASARCO smelter — even though most airborne pollution landing on the water gets well dispersed. But the formal health assessment allayed concerns about arsenic and other metals as well.

Arsenic always raises initial concerns, because its inorganic form is known to disrupt the metabolism of multi-celled organisms, including humans. Also, it has been known to cause cancer. Because inorganic arsenic levels in shellfish are normally low, no federal or state standards have been established.

In response to the Chinese ban, the Department of Natural Resources went out yesterday and collected new geoduck samples from Poverty Bay. The idea will be to present findings on both total arsenic and inorganic arsenic, thanks to more sophisticated analytical equipment at the Department of Health laboratory.

Three geoducks will be put together to create a composite sample. In all, two composite samples each will be associated with 12 different locations in the bay, according to McBride.

Edible geoduck tissue will be separated from the “gutball,” which may be prepared by some Chinese cooks, I’m told. If enough samples are available, the whole geoduck (minus the shell) may be tested as well, or possibly just the skin.

One long day of processing is planned for Thursday, and the samples will be run through analytical equipment over the weekend, McBride told me. A report on the findings can be expected next week.

For information about the China ban on shellfish, check out a fact sheet from the state’s Office of Shellfish and Water Protection (PDF 282 kb).


Navy extends easement plans to Kitsap County

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

The Navy is continuing its efforts to control commercial over-water structures in Hood Canal. The idea is to buy subtidal conservation easements from the Washington Department of Natural Resources, which owns these deep-water areas.

Proposed Navy easement in Jefferson County

Proposed Navy easement in Jefferson County

The first easement was proposed for the Jefferson County side of Hood Canal (map at right). The easement application is now working its way through a formal review process. The proposal received a lot of attention when it was announced in May, in part because of the potential to derail the controversial pit-to-pier project. A story I wrote for the Kitsap Sun on May 15 describes the overall goals of the Navy’s program and its potential effects.

After that initial announcement, I was surprised that the Navy and DNR seemed reluctant to talk about the next phase, which turned out to be a second easement along the Kitsap County shoreline from the Hood Canal bridge to the county line near Holly. I described that proposal in a story I wrote for the Kitsap Sun yesterday (subscription).

Both proposed easements fall under the Department of Defense Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative (REPI).

Liane Nakahara, spokeswoman for Navy Region Northwest, said the need for the Kitsap easement, like the one in Jefferson County, relates to protections of Navy operations, including testing and training in legally defined ranges:

“The proposed restrictive easement over the bedlands would protect these ranges from incompatible development that may limit the Navy’s ability to use the approved ranges and continue operations in the future. In addition to the protection of the Navy’s military operating areas, the proposed easement will provide new protections for sensitive marine ecosystems.”

I’m not sure where the Navy will go with its next easement proposal. Work continues on upland properties in some areas. See reporter Ed Friedrich’s story about a related agreement two years ago, when the Navy began buying easements in the Dabob Bay area of Hood Canal (Kitsap Sun, Oct. 8, 2011). Officials are saying almost nothing about the next steps. But I have seen a map that purportedly shows the “area of interest” regarding the Navy’s REPI efforts. The area outlined includes all of Hood Canal and the regions around Indian Island, Keyport and Bremerton.

The Navy had an initial allocation of $3 million in 2011 for encroachment protection, and additional funds were added in 2012 and 2013, according to Liane Nakahara. Partners in the endeavor so far include DNR, The Nature Conservancy and the Trust for Public Lands. For background on how the partnership works, check out “Partner’s Guide to the Department of Defense’s Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative” (REPI)(PDF 1.9 mb).

For the Jefferson County easement, the DNR issued a “determination of nonsignificance” during the environmental review. An appraiser has been hired to estimate the value of the easement and determine what the Navy should pay the state for lost revenue.

Thorndyke Resource, which proposed the pit-to-pier project, has been pushing for increased environmental review, rather than the limited review undertaken so far by the DNR. It appears that if the proposal moves forward, the Navy and DNR are likely to face a lawsuit from the company.

Here are three recent documents related to the proposed Jefferson County easement:


Navy easement could block industry on Hood Canal

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

An easement requested by the Navy to prevent industrial development along the western shoreline of Hood Canal appears to be the first of its kind in Washington state.

One can envision this easement as a strip of underwater area from the Hood Canal bridge south to a spot just south of the Jefferson-Mason County line near Eldon, as I described in a Kitsap Sun story on May 15.

Easement

In most areas, the protected bedlands will be defined by their depths, from 18 feet below the average low tide to 70 feet down. More than 4,000 acres of state-owned bedlands would be covered by the easement.

“The practical effect of the agreement will be to preclude new near-shore commercial or industrial construction along the areas of the Hood Canal and neighboring waterways managed by DNR where the Navy operates,” states a joint press release issued by the Navy along with the Washington Department of Natural Resources.

It was quickly recognized that this could mean the end of the controversial pit-to-pier project for loading gravel onto ships and barges. If the developer, Thorndyke Resource, is unable to obtain a state lease for the proposed pier, the project would be dead in the water. The company, which has been working on the project for years, does not intend to give up without a fight.

Since the story first came out, the Navy has been preparing to conduct an appraisal, which will involve hiring an independent contractor, according to Liane Nakahara, spokeswoman for Navy Region Northwest. Once the appraisal work begins, it will take at least a couple months to complete, she said. Then the Navy and DNR must each approve the appraisal results.

I can’t imagine how difficult it will be to estimate how much money the state could lose by locking up this strip of underwater area for decades. If the pit-to-pier project were a certainty, then it would be easier to figure out how much revenue the state would lose by blocking that one lease. But what would be the probability of the pit-to-pier project getting all the required permits if the easement were not a factor?

What other types of development would be foreclosed by the Navy’s easement along Hood Canal, and where might these projects be located? If one could assume that the Jefferson County shoreline of Hood Canal would never be developed with marinas or piers anyway, then the loss would be zero and the Navy’s easement would be cheap. These are the questions that will drive an appraiser crazy.

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A new perspective on creosote log removal

Friday, March 18th, 2011

I’ve always wondered how much ecological good comes from removing old creosote pilings from along the shoreline, as the Washington Department of Natural Resources has been doing in its Creosote Removal Program.

A helicopter transports logs out of the salt marsh at Doe-Keg-Wats near Indianola in Kitsap County
Kitsap Sun photo by Meagan Reid

I was given a new perspective on the problem Tuesday, when I visited the Doe-Keg-Wats estuary. (See my story in Wednesday’s Kitsap Sun.) Now I am better able to see the value of removing creosote logs. Still, I wish a few more quantitative field studies would be done.

We all know that creosote, generally made from coal tar, contains numerous toxic chemicals. A study completed in 2006 for the National Marine Fisheries Service, titled “Creosote-Treated Wood in Aquatic Environments: Technical Review and Use Recommendations” (PDF 1.7 mb) talks about the many toxic constituents (p. 52), routes of exposure (p. 53-54) and toxicity (p. 54-65).

The report draws this important conclusion (p. 84):

“Overall, the laboratory and field studies described above indicate that treated wood structures can leach PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) and other toxic compounds into the environment. However, the degree of PAH accumulation to sediment associated with these structures appears to be relatively minor in many settings, particularly in well-circulated waters….

“Nevertheless, there are several factors that suggest that a precautionary principle might be applicable to certain treated wood uses. First, the above studies typically have evaluated responses at the community level (e.g., the benthic invertebrate studies) or to tolerant life stages (e.g., adult oysters and mussels). However, the level of environmental protectiveness applied to T&E (threatened and endangered) species (such as endangered salmonids) should occur at the individual rather than the population or community level.

“Moreover, field studies have indicated that PAHs can accumulate to potentially deleterious concentrations in poorly circulated water bodies or when the density of treated wood structures is high compared to the overall surface area of the water body. As a result, site-specific evaluations of risk should be conducted for treated wood projects that are proposed for areas containing sensitive life stages, species of special concern, or where water circulation and dilution are potentially low….”

This brings us to Doe-Keg-Wats, which appears to be one of the most pristine estuaries in the Puget Sound Region. Take a look at the aerial photo at the bottom of this page.

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Officials prepare to search for tideland trespasses

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

Washington state will receive $417,000 as the result of agreements with three shellfish growers who had planted clams and oysters on state land, as I reported in a story in today’s Kitsap Sun.

These encroachments onto state tidelands were deemed unintentional, and the growers will be allowed to keep their shellfish in place until they mature. After harvest, the growers will pay the agreed-upon assessment.

These three latest cases and an earlier one essentially dropped into the lap of the Washington Department of Natural Resources. Two were identified by area residents, and two were identified by one of the growers.

I first started writing about this issue two years ago, after Taylor Shellfish Farms was found to be encroaching onto state tidelands. At the time I suggested in Water Ways that it may be time to open this Pandora’s Box and determine where all such encroachments can be found.

Since then, the state has elected a new public lands commissioner, and Peter Goldmark appears willing to slowly open this box and take a look inside.

Aaron Toso, spokesman for DNR, told me yesterday that agency staffers are developing a computer model that will help prioritize where to search for possible encroachments onto state tidelands. For a variety of reasons, some areas have been surveyed better than others, and it makes sense to start with areas where the state is likely to recover some money.

The state is not subject to adverse possession law, so I suspect DNR will be able to recoup the cost of the effort — although I was told two years ago that the money recovered goes into the Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account, which can’t be used to search for encroachments. If true, that means DNR must find the money elsewhere in its budget to conduct the search. Perhaps the Legislature could remedy the problem by allocating a percentage of the money recovered to this effort until everyone is satisfied that the growers are staying on their own property.

While the state is not subject to adverse possession, there may be some legal disputes with the state over the meaning or intent of the original deeds. That may be one reason why DNR officials have been reluctant to open this Pandora’s Box. And, since private landowners do fall under the potential for adverse possession, we may see some growers claiming ownership to private tidelands where the original owners simply failed to defend their property rights.

I anticipate that DNR officials will experience some strife as they pry open Pandora’s Box. But I prefer a version of the mythological story in which the box also holds the power to defeat all the evils and usher in an era of harmony. That power is called Hope.


DNR holds online forum about geoduck farming

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

The Washington Department of Natural Resources is hosting an interesting conversation this week about the potential of leasing state-owned tidelands for geoduck aquaculture.

A typical geoduck farm involves seeding tiny clams on the beach and protecting them from predators for about two years. Normally, a section of PVC pipe is inserted into the beach, one surrounding each clam. The DNR is providing a variety of background information in support of this week’s discussion.

Each day this week, a new question about geoduck aquaculture is being raised. The participants in this forum are the very people involved in the debate at the local and state levels, so one can learn a great deal about this debate by skimming through the comments.

On Monday,
the question was: Are there effects of geoduck aquaculture on public access and aesthetics, and if so, how can they be mitigated?

Most of the commenters were opposed to geoduck farming on state lands, saying that the tubes were ugly, intrustive and restricted public access in various ways. Geoduck farmers also weighed in, saying the problems are minimal when the farms are managed responsibly.

Tuesday’s question was: When seeking to balance the public benefits from state-owned aquatic lands, how much of a priority should DNR give to job creation and revenue generation when developing a geoduck aquaculture program on state tidelands?

This lively discussion involved a range of interests discussing the balance between jobs/economic benefits versus protection of the ecosystem. Some people made the point that money raised by leasing state land can be used for environmental restoration.

On Wednesday, the question turned to: What does science tell us about the impacts of geoduck aquaculture on Puget Sound?

I found this discussion more confusing, in part because references to scientific studies were mixed in with personal observations. Many of the comments were interesting, but the discussion was too scattered to really address the scientific questions, for which some studies are still under way.

Today’s forum is called “unknowns”: If DNR moved forward on a program leasing state-owned tidelands for geoduck aquaculture, are there significant unknowns that we need to be aware of, and if so, what are they?

As of the time of this posting, only a couple people had weighed in today, but you may want to comment on this item or on any of the topics in previous days. One can navigate through these various topics from the main page of DNR Forum.

I would like to know what you think of this forum by DNR and if we might want to encourage discussions like this on other important issues of the day.


New ‘cabinet’ may redraw regional boundaries

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

I’ve always wondered why our natural resource agencies have such widely varying regional boundaries. If anyone knows the history of these various regions, please let me know.

Gov. Chris Gregoire yesterday announced a reorganization of the state’s natural resource agencies. While consolidation of entire agencies was taken off the table, plans are moving forward to consolidate the regions and possibly regional offices of multiple agencies. See my story in today’s Kitsap Sun.

We’ll talk more about the new Natural Resources Cabinet and other elements of the reorganization in the future. For now, take a look at the regional boundaries for our three major resource agencies:

Department of Ecology: Kitsap County is in the Northwest Region, along with King, Snohomish, Skagit, Whatcom, Island and San Juan counties. The regional office is located in Bellevue.

Department of Fish and Wildlife: Kitsap County is in Region 6, along with Pierce, Thurston, Mason, Jefferson, Clallam, Grays Harbor and Pacific counties. The regional headquarters is in Montesano, on the way to the Pacific Ocean.

Department of Natural Resources: Kitsap County is in the South Puget Sound Region, along with King, Pierce and Mason counties and portions of Snohomish and Lewis counties. The headquarters is in Enumclaw, northwest of Mount Rainier.

It won’t be as easy as one might think to fight tradition and create a new uniform set of regions for all three agencies. But times have changed, and these particular regions may not work as well as when they were originally set up. I’m fairly certain that agency heads will start with agreed principles for setting the boundaries, considering population, travel time, ecological functions and other things.

Should they be divided along county lines, as most are now, or maybe along watersheds or so-called “eco-regions”?

I like the idea of creating regional headquarters in the same place for all agencies, so that various staffs could work in concert. Because of the cost of construction, the agencies might not be housed in the same buildings at first, but putting regional staffers in the same town or city would be a good start.


How many natural resource agencies do we need?

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

It will be interesting to see whether state employees and outside observers settle on more, fewer or the same number of natural resource agencies than we now have in Washington state. As I describe in a story in today’s Kitsap Sun, just about everything is on the table for review.

When I first moved here in the 1970s, we had a Department of Fisheries along with a Department of Wildlife. Enforcement officers were assigned to one agency or the other, but they often rendered assistance to their fellow officers downstream or out in the woods.

At some point in the past, I believe the state operated with a single Department of Fish and Game. Then after trying two agencies for a number of years, they merged into one again: the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

This time, we could see a greater shakeup, as Gov. Chris Gregoire has called for a review of all natural resource agencies. That means we would add into the discussion these departments: Ecology, Natural Resources, and Parks and Recreation.

Does it make sense to consolidate agencies for a greater sharing of limited resources or stay with a greater number of agencies to hone the mission of the organization. Does one way result in fewer managers, or do you just trade top-level directors for middle managers?

Would it be better to have law enforcement officers focused on specific duties, or should they all be cross-trained to do the same thing? Should State Patrol officers learn about trees, deer and fish and help out with poachers in the woods — or is this going too far?

I don’t know the answers, but I really am interested in the outcome. The analysis has begun within documents filed on a new Natural Resources Reform Web page linked from the Governor’s Web site. It’s clear there’s much work yet to be done.

As for the number of scientists who need to stand in a stream (see Water Ways, Sept. 3), I guess some people are promoting the notion that one person could collect stream data for all three. Folks at the Puget Sound Partnership have talked about standardizing water-quality data, for example, but this issue is more complex than that.

One thing that caught my attention is the number of programs related to natural resources outside of Fish and Wildlife, Ecology, Natural Resources, and Parks. These programs may be brought into one of the agencies resulting from the reorganization. Here are some of those programs and where they currently reside:

  • Shellfish, drinking water and nuclear waste: Department of Health
  • Growth management: Department of Commerce
  • Comprehensive land-use plans and ordinances: Growth Management Hearings Boards
  • Rates for energy and solid waste collection: Utilities and Transportation Commission
  • Fines and land-use permitting: Environmental Hearings Office — including Pollution Control Hearings Board, Shoreline Hearings Board, Hydraulic Appeals Board, Environmental and Land Use Board and Forest Practices Appeals Board

For those who have an inclination to delve into this issue, there are plenty of things to consider.


Coming next week: ideas to reform state agencies

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

Reporter Austin Jenkins of KUOW offered a piece this week about a government reform study under way in Washington state, particularly involving three natural resource agencies.

He quoted Gov. Chris Gregoire from her second inaugural address, in which she raised the issue: “We have three agencies managing natural resources, each with its own scientists standing in the same Washington stream. We need to reform and we will.”

When I heard the example of the scientists in the stream, my reaction was not to be alarmed about government inefficiency. Instead, it suggested to me that government officials — even at the highest levels — have no clue about how science works.

I would not be alarmed to see a bunch of scientists from even the same agency standing in that stream at different times. We could have, for example, a bunch of fisheries biologists, each focused on his own discipline — stock identification, population dynamics, pathology, behavior, genetics, not to mention regulatory duties.

We could have something similar for other state agencies, and then there are university scientists and independent researchers, all adding to what we know about that stream. OK, the stream would need to be especially important or interesting to warrant that much attention, but the number of scientists involved from one or more agencies says nothing about the need for government reform.

I have no doubt that Gov. Gregoire knows something about science, having served as director of the Washington Department of Ecology. I suspect that a speech writer working for her simply chose a poor example to make a point.

I’m sure the governor would agree that we don’t need clumsy reform conducted by people who fail to understand science or the inner workings of natural resource agencies. I felt reassured after talking to the governor’s policy director, Robin Arnold-Williams. Reform, she told me, may not mean consolidation of entire agencies.

“There might be realignments or better ways to share and coordinate,” she said. “The governor’s number-one priority is to improve service.”

I could speculate about the ways our natural resource agencies could better coordinate. But I am patient enough to wait until next week. That’s when a committee working on such reforms plans to release a list of ideas for review by the public and everyone involved.

First, comes a full discussion, Arnold-Williams said. After that, the best recommendations will be forwarded to the governor, commissioner of public lands and the Fish and Wildlife Commission, who could well make some significant changes.

Stay tuned. This could be interesting.


Forest Legacy grant protects more than 2,100 acres

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

Some $3.3 million from the federal Forest Legacy Program will be used to purchase development rights on 2,100 acres of Pope Resources forestland adjacent to both Green Mountain and Tahuya state forests.

forest1That’s almost as good as putting these lands into one of the two state forests, which is something that could happen in the future. See my story in today’s Kitsap Sun.

Jon Rose, who works on long-term plans for Pope, says the land near Tiger and Panther lakes was under pressure for development. Now, the land will be retained in forestry uses.

The property, which straddles the Kitsap-Mason county line and lies adjacent to Bremerton’s vast watershed, can be found in the upper reaches of the Tahuya watershed — and that was how it was presented to the U.S. Forest Service. The Forest Service administers the Forest Legacy Program and lays out priorities for future acquisition.

The property will provide habitat for a variety of species and help maintain clean water in nearby salmon streams. A forest management plan spells out how and where logging can occur, with protections included for streams, wetlands and related buffers.

Washington Department of Natural Resources is designated to apply for Forest Legacy money in this state. Since 2000, about 20 properties in Washington have been acquired. Thirteen of them are in King County, three are in Kittitas, two are in Snohomish and one is in Pierce. Check out the list of properties through 2008 (PDF 40 kb).


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"In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught."Baba Dioum, Senegalese conservationist

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