I’ve completed the seventh story package in a 10-part series
examining the Puget Sound ecosystem, with a special focus on
indicators of ecological health. We’re calling the project “Taking
the Pulse of Puget Sound.”
The latest stories, which ran Sunday and Monday, addressed
freshwater quality. The opening piece looked at the huge amounts of
pollution coming into our streams via stormwater — one of the
highest priorities for cleanup, yet one of the most difficult to
As the Puget Sound Partnership’s executive director Sheida
Sahandy told me, industrial discharges are still a concern, but
they are no longer the biggest problem.
“Now we’re dealing with stormwater, which is trickling in here
and trickling in there, and everybody has a finger in it,” she
Solutions are many, and the goal should be to shut off pollution
at the source, beginning with removing dangerous chemicals from
everyday products. Since the sources of pollution are numerous,
everyone needs to play a part — from cleaning up pet wastes to
properly using of household chemicals to reducing the use of lawn
and garden pesticides. (Those who don’t subscribe to the Kitsap Sun
may still find value in the graphics on the
Freshwater Quality page.)
I led off the first story by showing the increased efforts by
city and county governments to better manage their stormwater
systems, such as pumping out their catch basins, sweeping their
streets and converting outdated stormwater ponds into filtration
systems, commonly known as “rain gardens.”
I also introduced readers to the Washington Stormwater
Center, a research facility in Puyallup where scientists are
testing the effectiveness of rain gardens and pervious pavement.
Jenifer McIntyre, a Washington State University researcher, has
demonstrated that stormwater from highway runoff is 100 percent
effective at killing adult coho salmon. Yet that same stormwater
filtered through soil — such as in a rain garden — is cleaned up
enough that fish can survive, apparently unaffected.
Monday’s story addressed the increasing use of benthic
invertebrates — water bugs — to measure the health of streams. The
bugs are doing double duty, since they are both a measurement of
stream quality and a critical part of the food web for the
Some 27 local governments and organizations are involved in
collecting data on benthic invertebrates from about 850 stream
locations throughout Puget Sound. For results, check out Puget Sound Stream
When I began this project on freshwater quality several weeks
ago, I thought it was going to be easier than some of the other
story packages I have done, such as on fish, birds and marine
mammals. If anything, this issue is more complex. I’ll admit that
I’ve neglected this blog while pursuing these issues, and soon I
will be moving into the issue of freshwater quantity.
Overall, I must say that I’ve been impressed by the many people
dedicated to finding answers to the mysterious problems brought on
by pollution and by those finding solutions even before the
questions are fully identified.
I can’t begin to estimate the number of times I’ve typed “Kitsap
County Surface and Stormwater Management Program” over the past 20
years in stories about pollution in Kitsap County and the need to
clean up local waterways.
But my typing fingers are already offering thanks for a new,
shorter name, which will no doubt save some ink as well.
We won’t be talking about the “swim program” anymore when trying
to pronounce the abbreviation, SSWM. I hope we won’t need any
abbreviation for the new name, which is “Clean Water Kitsap.”
“Clean Water Kitsap” nicely wraps up the goals and image of the
long-running program with just three words. It’s a good name with
an up-to-date style.
This is the program that collects stormwater fees from
properties in unincorporated Kitsap County and uses the money to
track down pollution, reduce stormwater and help people do the
right thing. The spirit of the program is captured in a new video
you can see on this page.
Four agencies receive portions of the stormwater money and
coordinate their efforts to clean up our local waters. Here is a
short summary of what they do:
Kitsap County Public Works (Stormwater
Program): Maintenance of public stormwater systems,
inspection of private systems, upgrades to regional systems, street
sweeping, watershed monitoring and public education.
Kitsap Public Health District: Countywide
monitoring of streams, lakes and bays; pollution identification and
correction programs; pollution advisories; public-health
investigations; and septic system education.
Kitsap Conservation District: Farm-management
assistance and planning; rain garden and green infrastructure
grants and assistance; and backyard habitat grants.
WSU Kitsap Extension: Training for stream
stewards, beach watchers and rain garden professionals; and
coordination of various volunteer projects.
I wrote about the newly approved name Clean Water Kitsap in
Sun, Nov. 29, 2013, subscription), when officials began
planning on how they would roll out the new name and logo. Some
people wanted to start using the name right away, but organizers
kept a lid on it.
As of today, the new name is official and will be used with a
new logo. A new website is coming.
I wrote a brief story for tomorrow’s newspaper (Kitsap Sun, May
22), but I could not attend today’s dedication because of other
From a news release from the county, we get these quotes:
Kitsap County Commissioner Linda
“It seems fitting that we are making this change in 2014, at the
20-year mark of this innovative and nationally-recognized program.
It is built upon partnerships between agencies, volunteers and
Kitsap County Commissioner Rob Gelder:
“Our community may not know what their stormwater fees pay for or
think about stormwater management every day. But, Kitsap residents
benefit every day – rain or shine.”
The site of the dedication was an overhauled stormwater pond
north of Silverdale. The pond, with 2,000 young plants, will
increase stormwater storage by 20 percent and provide habitat for
birds and other wildlife.
Chris May, manager of the county’s Stormwater Program,
speaking of the revamped pond :
“Thanks to the Public Works crews for transforming this ‘water
prison’ to a water quality improvement project for Clear Creek and
a community amenity. As we move to greener stormwater solutions,
it’s facilities like this that will help restore our streams and
When it comes to cleaning up bacterial pollution in Puget Sound,
we seem to have a clash — or at least some redundancy — in the
methods we use.
In Kitsap County, water-quality officials are saying studies
conducted by the Washington Department of Ecology, which allocated
total maximum daily loads (TMDLs), have not been much help in
attacking the local pollution problem.
That’s because the approach developed by Kitsap County, called
the Pollution Identification and Correction (PIC) Program, has been
highly successful in tracking down and cleaning up bacterial
I also talked a little about the two water-quality standards
used for streams. It’s somewhat odd how Liberty Bay must conform to
a stricter standard than nearby Dyes Inlet, since both are in
urbanizing areas. By the way, there is only one standard for marine
waters, and Liberty Bay is generally clean under that standard.
With regard to cleanup methods, now that PIC has been adopted
and funded for the Puget Sound region, one might argue that it is
time to back away from the more cumbersome TMDL approach, which
spends a great deal of money to allocate pollution loads with no
guarantees that any cleanup will get done. For recent funding
details, review the Washington Department of Health’s Page on
“EPA Grant: Pathogens, Prevention, Reduction and Control” and
funding for PIC projects.
I used to feel happy for teenagers who got together on a weekend
to wash cars and raise money for a good cause. I would often take
time to drive in, get my car washed and praise the teens for their
efforts. And I would give them a nice tip.
Now, when I see a charity carwash, I just want to know where the
water is going. If the water is washing into a storm drain that
spills into a stream, I can’t help but wonder if these kids care
about fish and wildlife, or if they might not have gotten the
message about the harm caused by dirty, soapy water.
Sometimes, being an environmental reporter causes one to think a
little too much about the environment. Sure, carwashes probably are
not going to kill everything in sight. But they are just another
insult from a human society that has not yet learned how to protect
the living Earth.
The federal Clean Water Act of 1972 declared that it was illegal
to discharge polluted water into any natural stream or waterway. At
the time, industrial discharges were so severe that soap and heavy
metals from carwashes were insignificant. But now, after 40 years,
those industrial point sources are greatly diminished, and
researchers are learning that the greatest threat to water quality
today comes from thousands of small sources.
Gov. Jay Inslee has declared this month “Puget Sound Starts Here
Month,” according to a
press release issued by the Puget Sound Partnership. The idea
is for each of us to pay attention to how we affect Puget
Here’s the message from Marc Daily, the partnership’s interim
“It’s not just about the pipe coming out of the factory anymore.
Today, stormwater runoff is the single largest contributor to our
water quality problems. That pollution comes from our cars and how
we wash them, from the chemicals we put on our lawns, and from not
picking up after our pets. When it rains, bacteria and toxic
chemicals from these and other sources end up in our local
waterways. That’s a problem.”
One way to keep charity car washes alive is to capture the wash
water and direct it into a toilet or sink that connects to a
municipal sewer system, not a septic system.
King County provides instructions for making and using a
carwash kit to handle the water.
People can also sell tickets to commercial carwashes, which is
the method being pushed by most water-quality programs across the
nation. It’s not just here that carwashes are getting increasing
Like many people, I feel a tinge of sadness that carwashes will
probably die out. Like many harmful traditions, such as burning
garbage and smoking, it might be time to give this one up.
Still, if you want to operate a weekend car wash, get yourself a
carwash kit to deal with the wash water. Then stand on the corner
and wave signs promoting the fact that this is a clean and safe
carwash that protects the environment. If I see you, I’ll even stop
and donate to the cause.
I would like to share some comments from a story along with an
editorial cartoon, but first I want to talk about rain runoff from
streets, driveways, parking lots, yards and roofs — also known as
Stormwater is considered the greatest pollution threat to Puget
Sound, according to studies by the Washington Department of
Ecology. Of course, it is not the rain itself that causes the
problem. It is what gets picked up along the way: chemicals,
pesticides, fertilizers, bacteria … The list goes on.
Among the toxic chemicals, one of the biggest problems appears
to be motor oil from vehicles. Oil leaks out of cars as they are
moving down the road or while they are parked, then the rains wash
the pollution into the nearest ditch and eventually into Puget
Sound. By some estimates, that amounts to 7 million quarts of oil
Fortunately, not all the oil goes into the water. In Kitsap
County, for example, city and county street sweepers are driving
around, picking up some of the oil and other chemicals along with
soil particles on the roads. It is a proven effort to reduce
It would be better still if the oil didn’t get on the roads or
parking lots in the first place. But how do you get people to fix
the oil leaks in their cars?
An organization of local governments throughout the Puget Sound
region is hoping that awareness will provide one answer. More than
80 service shops in the region have agreed to check for oil leaks
at no cost or obligation to anyone. See my story in last
Tuesday’s Kitsap Sun.
It’s a pilot program with the clever title “Don’t Drip and
Drive.” It will run through April. The cost to the government is
the cost of advertising on the radio. A federal stormwater permit
issued to local governments throughout the region already requires
that they try to educate the public. Maybe this campaign will work;
maybe it won’t. I’ll report on the results after the program is
It seems like a simple approach to the problem. Even if people
know their cars are leaking, this program encourages them to think
about solutions. Why not get a free estimate to see what it would
cost to fix the leak? Maybe it won’t cost much. Maybe a few people
will find a way to address the problem sooner rather than later.
Maybe it will reduce wear on their vehicles.
If people become informed and are offered a free, no-obligations
solution, will it make a difference? I hope it does, because it
avoids the more heavy-handed ideas, such as requiring vehicle
inspections to obtain a car license.
If you read some of the comments at the end of the story,
however, you might think this pilot program is intruding into
people’s personal lives, not just asking them to check for oil
leaks. I realize that the comments section can be a dark place,
occupied by people who see a full glass as empty. But it is amusing
to see what bothers some people.
Here are the first few comments:
“I would guess that 99% of drivers park their vehicle in the
same spot in their driveway or garage every night. Do we need a
government program so they won’t have to look at that spot to see
if oil has dropped there?”
“I agree! Government is way outside of what they are
supposed to be. This is ridiculous and out of control.”
“Yep so they find a leak and what’s next??? Big time repair
bill and just in time to keep your wallet empty! Nice program! Big
goverment (sic) get out of my life will you???”
Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’d like to
share with you an editorial cartoon by Milt Priggee published in
Sunday’s Kitsap Sun.
Despite millions of dollars spent on research in Hood Canal, the
precise causes of low-oxygen problems in Southern Hood Canal are
still not fully understood, according to a report released this
week by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington
Department of Ecology.
News articles about the report have created some confusion, and
I’ll get to that in a moment.
As I reported in
Tuesday’s Kitsap Sun, research has not proven that nitrogen
from human sources is responsible for a decline in oxygen levels
greater than 0.2 milligrams per liter anywhere in Hood Canal. That
number is important, because it is the regulatory threshold for
action under the Clean Water Act.
Mindy Roberts, one of the authors of the report, told me that
scientists who have worked on the low-oxygen problem have gained an
appreciation for Hood Canal’s exceedingly complex physical and
biological systems. So far, they have not come to consensus about
how much human inputs of nitrogen contribute to the low-oxygen
problems in Lower Hood Canal.
The report, which examined the complexity and scientific
uncertainty about these systems, seems to have generated some
confusion, even among news reporters. I think it is important to
understand two fundamental issues:
1. The deep main channel of Hood Canal is almost like a separate
body of water from Lower Hood Canal (also called Lynch Cove in some
reports). This area is generally defined as the waters between
Sisters Point and Belfair. Because Lower Hood Canal does not flush
well, low-oxygen conditions there are an ongoing and very serious
2. Fish kills around Hoodsport cannot be equated or even closely
correlated with the low-oxygen conditions in Lower Hood Canal. The
cause of these fish kills was not well understood a decade ago, but
now researchers generally agree that heavy seawater coming in from
the ocean pushes up a layer of low-oxygen water. When winds from
the south blow away the surface waters, the low-oxygen water rises
to the surface, leaving fish no place to go.
I’m not aware that researchers were blaming nitrogen from septic
systems for the massive episodic fish kills, as Craig Welch reports
Seattle Times. At least in recent years, most researchers have
understood that this was largely a natural phenomenon and that
human sources of nitrogen played a small role, if any, during a
The question still being debated is how much (or how little)
humans contribute to the low-oxygen level in the water that is
pushed to the surface during a fish kill and whether there is a
significant flow of low-oxygen water out of Lower Hood Canal, where
oxygen conditions are often deadly at the bottom.
The new report, which was reviewed by experts from across the
country, concludes that fish kills can be explained fully without
considering any human sources of nitrogen. Evidence that low-oxygen
water flows out of Lower Hood Canal in the fall is weak, the report
says, though it remains a subject of some debate.
“We have not demonstrated that mechanism to their satisfaction,”
Jan Newton of the Hood Canal Dissolved Oxygen Program told me in an
interview. “We never said it caused the fish kill, only that it can
reduce the oxygen level below what it was. In some years, it
wouldn’t matter, but in some years it would make it worse.”
“While the draft report concludes that although human-caused
pollution does not cause or contribute to the fish kills near
Hoodsport, our agencies strongly support additional protections to
ensure that nitrogen and bacteria loadings from human development
“Water quality concerns extend beyond low dissolved oxygen and
include bacteria and other pathogens that limit shellfish health.
Overall, human impacts to Hood Canal water quality vary from place
to place and at different times of year. Hood Canal is a very
sensitive water body and people living in the watershed should
continue their efforts to minimize human sources of pollution.”
One of the most confounding factors is the large amount of
nitrogen born by ocean water that flows along the bottom of Hood
Canal. An unresolved but critical questions is: How much of that
nitrogen reaches the surface layer, where it can trigger plankton
growth in the presence of sunlight?
Plankton growth is a major factor in the decline of oxygen
levels, because plankton eventually die and decay, consuming oxygen
in the process.
Human sources of nitrogen often enter Hood Canal at the surface,
but researchers disagree on how much of the low-oxygen problem can
be attributed to heavy seawater that reaches the sunny euphotic
zone near the surface.
Knowing more than a few sewer operators in my day, I can tell
you that their leading pet peeve is all the stuff that people dump
down their toilets and drains.
I’ll never forget the courtroom description of a giant “rag
ball” — some 30 feet long — found in Bremerton’s sewer. Rag balls
are the accumulation of diapers, tampons and baby wipes that get
flushed down the toilet and become caught somewhere in the sewer
Bremerton’s famous rag ball became wrapped up in courtroom
testimony during a lawsuit against a sewer contractor hired by the
city to run the operation. For details, check out my story from
April of 1998.
What I really wanted to share with you this week is a song
called “O Christmas Grease” by Steve Anderson, a water resources
analyst at Clean Water Services. This is the agency that manages
wastewater and stormwater in a 12-city region west of Portland,
Steve often writes music and performs in a band when he’s not
working at the utility. He told me that he started writing original
songs as well as parodies of existing tunes to entertain his fellow
water experts at conferences. Last week, for example, he showed up
at a conference to help educators decide whether humor is useful in
educating people about wastewater issues.
Steve says the public-education folks at Clean Water Services
tolerates his songs, but they do not fully embrace his activities.
His first song — a parody about the low levels of drugs that make
it through the treatment process — got him into a little hot water
with some folks in the business. “Dope in the Water” is sung to the
tune of the Deep Purple original.
“The Ballad of Betty Poop” was written as a kid’s song for
Take-Your-Children-to-Work Day. It’s about the adventures of a
plastic GI Joe and other characters. It includes these famous
lines: “Give it up, you toilet treasures… You’ll never make it all
the way to the river…”
Steve has not released these songs to the public, though he
readily shares them with friends and anyone who will listen. I must
thank Gayle Leonard, who writes a blog called “Thirsty
in Suburbia,” for bringing Steve’s songs out into the light and
putting me in touch with this creative force in the sewer
It seems as if it has taken forever for someone in Kitsap County
to put treated sewage to beneficial use, but a demonstration
project on Retsil Road in South Kitsap is just around the corner.
Check out my story in
Saturday’s Kitsap Sun.
Local water experts were contemplating uses for highly treated
wastewater even before “low-impact development” became a common
phrase for infiltrating stormwater into the ground.
LID has caught on fairly quickly as a method of keeping polluted
stormwater from reaching our streams and Puget Sound. The concept
got an extra push from new stormwater regulations, which have
greatly increased the cost of conventional pipe-and-pond methods of
The less-touted benefit of LID is groundwater recharge, which
boosts our long-range water supply.
Kitsap County’s Watershed Management Plan (PDF 147 kb),
developed in 2005, estimated that Kitsap County’s sewage treatment
plants release 8 million gallons of treated water into Puget Sound
each day. That’s enough to increase the base flow of 10 streams by
10 cubic feet per second, raise aquifer levels throughout the
county or launch a new industry without touching our drinking water
“The most significant barriers to recycling wastewater are the
cost of infrastructure and additional treatment, as well as public
perception,” the report states. “Elected officials in WRIA 15 (the
Kitsap Peninsula) have expressed support for public education about
The report mentions that highly treated effluent from the
Central Kitsap Wastewater Treatment Plant near Brownsville could be
used to supplement streamflows in nearby Steele Creek. But more
recently Kitsap County and Silverdale Water District have begun
working together on a plan to pipe the water into the heart of
Silverdale, where it can be used to water ballfields and
That’s also the initial plan put forth by West Sound Utility
District, as I mentioned in Saturday’s story. Using wastewater for
irrigation cuts down on peak demand, which is what drives water
utilities to drill new wells. Needless to say, drilling deep wells
comes at a tremendous expense — an expense that grows greater as
Kitsap County approaches the limits of its groundwater supplies in
To many people, using reclaimed wastewater seems like a novel
idea, especially in an region known for its rain. People remain
squeamish about getting anywhere near sewage water, even if it is
treated. But I don’t believe it will take long for people to accept
the idea of using treated wastewater for irrigation, once they
realize it is treated to basically the same level as drinking
On the other hand, drinking treated effluent becomes another
issue, even though it has been done indirectly for years in many
places. If you live in a town on the Mississippi River, your local
utility may be drawing water out of the river for your consumption
just downstream of where a sewage treatment plant is dumping its
There are several other places where reclaimed water is mixed
with freshwater, such as in a reservoir, then drawn back out for
drinking. Ironically, putting the wastewater into a reservoir makes
it seem more palatable, even though it probably was cleaner before.
Treating the water in the reservoir is essentially treating the
wastewater again — although water is just water in the end.
A community in Texas made news across the country last week,
when reporter Angela Brown of the
Associated Press wrote about a new $13-million
water-reclamation plant to turn effluent into drinking water, the
first to be built in that state. Really, it is nothing new, as
Angela herself points out.
What I have not found anywhere so far is a direct use of
reclaimed water. That’s what you would get by pumping the highly
treated wastewater directly into a municipal water system’s piping
network. From a health standpoint, there would be nothing wrong
with that, provided the water could be shut off in the event of a
problem at the treatment plant. No doubt this kind of direct use
will be a little harder to get used to, even in areas where water
Water-quality leaders in the Washington Department of Ecology
and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency were quick to respond
yesterday to a
Seattle Times’ story, which begins:
“Seattle and King County are poised to spend more than $1.3
billion of ratepayer money on pollution-cleanup programs that won’t
even move the water-quality needle in Puget Sound.”
Yesterday’s story, by reporter Linda Mapes, is about combined
sewage overflows — something that Bremerton knows a little about,
having completed a cleanup program after 20 years and $50 million
in expenditures. See my story from
May 30 in the Kitsap Sun.
The premise of Linda’s story is that it might be better for
local governments to focus on reducing stormwater overall rather
trying to meet a 1988 state pollution standard focused on raw
sewage discharges. After all, the reasoning goes, stormwater
containing toxic chemicals may be worse for Puget Sound than
stormwater mixed with sewage.
The state requirement, by the way, limits discharges of raw
sewage in stormwater to one overflow per year, on average, for each
There is plenty of room for disagreement, as the Times’ story
points out. Christie True, director of King County Natural
Resources and Parks, stresses that upcoming CSO projects will
reduce the public’s exposure to untreated sewage. But Larry
Phillips, a member of the King County Council, says dollars spent
on CSO projects can’t be spent on buying habitat or attacking the
surface-runoff problem, which the Puget Sound Partnership has
deemed the region’s top priority.
Bill Ruckelshaus, the first administrator of the EPA and former
chairman of the Puget Sound Partnership’s Leadership Council, was
quoted as saying:
“This is just crazy; we don’t have unlimited funds in this
country, and whatever we do, we ought to spend where we get the
most bang for the buck … Cost-benefit has not been part of the
David Dicks, former executive director of the partnership and
now a member of the Leadership Council, said this:
“It’s just momentum. And what you learn in these things is you
can go in and scream and yell and be a revolutionary for a while,
but the institutional momentum of these laws has a lot of power,
and it is just dumb power. … What we need to do is turn off the
autopilot and see what makes sense here.”
Ecology and EPA officials took a stand in favor of the existing
rules for reducing sewage discharges. Both issued quick responses
to the Seattle Times article, writing on a blog called
From Kelly Susewind, manager of Ecology’s Water Quality
“Infrastructure investments are needed to address water
pollution caused by both CSO and stormwater discharges. In areas
served by combined systems, CSO projects provide solutions to both
CSO and stormwater pollution.
“The investments ratepayers make in their communities’ CSO
programs protect public health and Washington’s waters, two
principal missions of sewer and stormwater utilities. The success
of these projects advances the goals of our state and federal laws
to protect, clean up and preserve our waters for present and future
Adds Dennis McLerran, EPA’s regional administrator:
“Discharging large amounts of raw sewage to Puget Sound and Lake
Washington is simply not acceptable. That’s why EPA has worked
closely with the state, King County and Seattle over many years to
address sewage treatment and the ongoing problem of Combined Sewer
Overflow (CSO) pollution. With that work nearly completed, now is
not the time to lose our resolve to finish the job visionary
leaders in the Puget Sound region started some 40 years ago.”
Shellfish were not mentioned in this discussion — maybe because
it was focused on Seattle and King County, where industrial
pollution is a major problem. In Kitsap County, shellfish are worth
millions of dollars a year to the local and regional economy. For
Dyes Inlet, the reopening of shellfish beds probably would not have
happened except for a lawsuit that forced the city of Bremerton to
comply with the federal Clean Water Act on a strict time
Lisa Stiffler, former PI reporter who now works for Sightline
Institute, discussed Bremerton’s accomplishment with a focus on the
cost. See “How Bremerton cleaned its waters, and came to wonder
about the costs” in the online publication
A case can be made that shellfish beds in Dyes Inlet could have
been cleaned up enough to be reopened by spending just the first
$33 million, thereby saving the extra $17 million that it took to
bring the city into full compliance with federal law.
But state and county health officials have told me on many
occasions that Bremerton and Kitsap County, along with local
residents, must continue to work hard to keep the Dyes Inlet
shellfish beds open. Beaches in the inlet remain on the verge of
closure again, and population growth tends to exacerbate the
Kitsap County Health District is respected for its monitoring
and pollution-fighting program, but it does help to know that
release of raw sewage into the inlet has become a very rare
Lisa makes a good point when she says Bremerton would have saved
money if engineers would have known more about low-impact
development during the planning for CSO reductions. Infiltrating
rain water near the source (preferably before it runs off the
property) reduces the need to deal with stormwater flowing through
pipes. Keeping stormwater out of sewer lines by using LID
techniques effectively allows the pipes to carry all the sewage to
the treatment plants, even during heavy rains.
Bremerton has become a leader in LID. If city officials had
known 20 years ago what they know today, they probably would have
spent more on pervious pavement and rain gardens and less on
expensive piping networks. But it appears they did their best with
the knowledge they had — and LID has become a major part of ongoing
efforts to address stormwater.
Cities still working on CSO problems may find Bremerton’s
experience helpful. Keeping stormwater out of pipes is proving
effective, whether or not those pipes also contain sewage.
I guess we’re lucky in Kitsap County to have local health
authorities who not only gather water-quality data but also know
what to do with the information. I’m told that’s not the case for
many counties in Washington state or across the nation.
The reason I bring this up is because of a story I wrote for
today’s Kitsap Sun. Some of the water-quality report cards
being issued by environmental groups are nothing more than a
rewrite of raw data from water-quality samples collected by local
officials. This could be valuable information in places where no
other information is offered. But water-quality specialists at the
Kitsap County Health District stand ready to interpret the data
and take more samples, if necessary, so we know when we really
One bad sample does not mean we should run away from the water,
but it does serve to raise some questions. Asking questions is the
role I play when I see these reports. Fortunately, we have experts
in Kitsap County who know our streams and beaches and who are
willing and able to answer my questions.
It would be interesting to know how many counties in the state
conduct routine monitoring of streams, lakes and marine waters; how
many do follow-up tests when they find a problem; how many assess
the findings to measure trends; and how many use the data to begin
corrective actions. If anyone knows of information compiled on
monitoring programs for all counties or cities, please let me know.
If not, maybe this would be a project someone could take on.
Kitsap County’s monitoring program is funded by a stormwater fee
collected with our property taxes. The residential fee is $70 per
year. Commercial businesses may pay more, depending on their
Many cities and counties collect stormwater fees, but few use
the money for monitoring. Even fewer compile long-term trends with
a comprehensive ongoing monitoring program. Such programs deserve
In addition to paying for water-quality testing, Kitsap County’s
stormwater fee is used to investigate sources of pollution;
retrofit older communities with stormwater systems; clean out storm
drains on county property; inspect all storm drains except for
state highways; teach people about clean water; coordinate
volunteers in programs including Beach Watchers and Stream
Stewards; provide signs and supplies for the Mutt Mit dog-waste
cleanup program; fund grants for a backyard rain garden program;
and plan for and monitor results of stream-restoration and
I’m not saying that programs such as Heal the Bay and Testing the
Waters (by Natural Resources Defense Council) don’t have value.
In some cases, this is all that communities have, and they provide
a good reason to ask questions about water quality.
But, as Keith Grellner of the Kitsap County Health District told
me, these reports may be like crying wolf for some individuals. If
people keep hearing warnings when the problems are minimal or
nonexistent, will they pay attention in the face of serious