Category Archives: Drinking water

Federal waters rule gets batted around endlessly in the courtrooms

Confusion is nothing new when it comes to figuring out whether federal agencies have jurisdiction over certain wetlands and intermittent streams under the Clean Water Act. And now the Trump administration has guaranteed that confusion will reign a while longer.

Meanwhile, lawsuits — also nothing new to the Clean Water Act — continue to pile up at a rapid pace.

Some argue that the confusion begins with the 1972 Clean Water Act itself, which requires the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to issue permits for any filling or dredging — which covers most development — within the “navigable waters” of the country.

Congress defined “navigable waters” in a way that has generated much confusion and many lawsuits through the years: “The term ‘navigable waters’ means the waters of the United States, including the territorial seas,” the law states.

Even the U.S. Supreme Court couldn’t figure it out and ended up adding to the confusion. In a 4-4-1 split ruling, half the justices focused on “navigable waters” with a narrow definition to include major waterways but avoid federal protection for many wetlands and intermittent streams. The other half of the justices supported a broader definition, which would protect downstream waters by also protecting upstream sources of water.

Writer Steve Zwick of Ecosystem Marketplace does a nice job explaining the legal and historical context for the confusion in a four-part series of articles. Zwick relies on, and gives credit to, the writings of William W. Sapp and William M. Lewis, Jr.

Under the previous administration of Barack Obama, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency worked together to draft a new rule to more clearly define federal jurisdiction over streams and wetlands, as outlined by the broader Supreme Court opinion. It became known as the “Clean Water Rule” or “WOTUS” for Waters of the U.S.

Some potential opponents applauded the certainty of the proposed rule, even if they disagreed with some details. (See Water Ways, March 25, 2014.) But others believed that the states, not the federal government, should be in charge of protecting streams and wetlands. It became a common theme to argue that the new rule would regulate the tiniest ditches and farm ponds — something the Obama administration denied.

One of the opponents of the 2015 rule was Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma’s attorney general who ended up suing the Obama administration on behalf of his state. In all, 31 states joined various lawsuits against the rule, with separate lawsuits brought by farmers and industry.

Scott Pruitt, EPA administrator
Photo: EPA official portrait

“President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency currently stands poised to strike the greatest blow to private property rights the modern era has seen,” Pruitt declared in an opinion piece co-authored by U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky. The piece was published in The Hill.

Pruitt, of course, is the man that President Trump later named to head the EPA, the same agency he was suing in multiple lawsuits. Pruitt said early on that he would not allow Obama’s WOTUS rule to go into effect.

Before it took effect, the WOTUS rule was tied up in the courts, including an injunction issued by the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. Under the Clean Water Act, appeals courts can take primary action under certain conditions, but the U.S. Supreme Court agreed unanimously (PDF 923 kb) on Jan. 22 that the WOTUS rule is not one of these conditions.

And so the rule, originally scheduled to go into effect in August 2015, was put back into a confusing status, ready to go into effect in 37 states where it was not blocked by an injunction that covers 13 states under an order of the U.S. District Court in North Dakota.

“This is just all-out war. All-out litigation,” Vermont Law School professor Pat Parenteau was quoted as saying in an article by Ariel Wittenberg in E&E News. “This is good news for lawyers, but it is not going to be settled at all.”

Pruitt’s EPA then moved to finalize the Obama WOTUS rule on Jan. 31 but with an “applicability date” set for two years away. The announced intent was to overhaul the rule by pulling back federal jurisdiction over streams and wetlands.

“Today, EPA is taking action to reduce confusion and provide certainty to America’s farmers and ranchers,” Pruitt said in a news release. “The 2015 WOTUS rule developed by the Obama administration will not be applicable for the next two years, while we work through the process of providing long-term regulatory certainty across all 50 states about what waters are subject to federal regulation.”

In the interim, the EPA has announced that it will revert to previous policies and guidelines drafted following the confusing Supreme Court ruling.

You can guess what happened next. On Feb. 6, a total of 10 states, including Washington, plus Washington, D.C., filed a lawsuit in New York, claiming that Pruitt’s delaying tactics were illegal. The state officials, led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, argued that the federal government ignored the federal Administrative Procedures Act by adopting the revised rule without a meaningful comment period and in disregard of the Clean Water Act’s underlying intent of protecting the nation’s waters.

“The agencies have now suspended the Clean Water Rule without consideration of the extensive scientific record that supported it or the environmental and public health consequences of doing so,” the lawsuit (PDF 1.9 mb) says.

On the same day, the implementation delay was challenged in a separate lawsuit (2.6 mb) by two environmental groups, Natural Resources Defense Council and National Wildlife Federation.

“The Agencies’ only proffered rationale for the suspension is that it will promote regulatory clarity and certainty,” the lawsuit says. “In light of the administration’s open antipathy for the rule’s provisions, that rationale rings hollow. But it is also belied by the record. There is no evidence that suspending the rule will promote clarity or certainty, and ample evidence that suspending the Rule will create confusion and uncertainty.”

In Ariel Wittenberg’s story in E&E, Georgetown Law professor William Buzbee talks about how messy things have become.

“If the administration had taken the time to put out proposals that truly and fully engaged with the merits of the Clean Waters Rule and tried to come up with a new read, then it would be ordinary days in the courts,” he was quoted as saying. “But anything they do now, given their proposals, is likely to be legally vulnerable.”

Now the possibility exists that some courts could delay implementation of the original WOTUS rule while others reject the two-year delay. In any case, there is no end in sight to the legal battles, and nobody can be certain about what kind of projects will require federal permits.

Amusing Monday: Plenty of Super Bowl ads show water in some role

It was easy to find water in this year’s Super Bowl commercials. In fact, some of the most entertaining ads featured water prominently, while others contained clear references to it. So I’m happy to continue the after-bowl tradition of reviewing commercials that people enjoyed during the big game.

One of my favorites was a pairing of fire and ice, a promotion of both a spicy new version of Doritos and a new lemon-lime variant of Mountain Dew, featuring Peter Dinklage and Morgan Freeman. Brian Steinberg of Variety magazine called the commercial “colorful and full of music and surprising raps.”

“That’s a tough order and sort of a challenge, but they found a clever way to do it,” said Ed Cotton of the independent ad agency Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners, as quoted in the Steinberg piece.

In general, Steinberg and other observers noted how advertisers this year seemed to shy away from politics and socially minded issues in favor of entertaining commercials about entertainment — that is, promotions for a lot of new movies and TV shows.

Margaret Johnson, chief creative officer for the agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, which created the Doritos-Mountain Dew ad, said she noticed a humanitarian theme this year and not so many women running around in bikinis, according to an article by Sapna Maheshwari in the New York Times.

“I was just thinking that one thing I haven’t seen are those ads that objectify women, which is refreshing,” Johnson was quoted as saying. “And guess what? There’s still funny stuff on the air. We’re making progress.”

One commercial with a strong water connection showed a cadre of Vikings towing their Ram truck across the ocean to get to the Super Bowl while singing “We Will Rock You.” They turn back when they find out who is playing in the game. The second video on this page is an extended version of the commercial you might have seen on television.

Many of the commercials viewed yesterday actually hit the Internet before the Super Bowl. In the month leading up to the game, the one that got the most hits featured Budweiser water, according to Business Insider magazine. The notes on the company’s YouTube video said Budweiser employees helped provide 79 million cans of water to people affected by natural disasters across the United States since 1988.

The second-most watched commercial before the game was a promotion for a movie called “Dundee” that nobody will ever see, because this series of ads is strictly an effort to get people to visit Australia. Three ads feature characters who might work well together to create an exciting movie. The titles are “Dundee — Official cast intro trailer,” “Dundee — Water Buffalo,” and “Dundee — The Son Of A Legend Returns Home.

But for all the promise of glory, the true nature of the visit is revealed in the amusing final video on the homepage of Tourism Australia.

One low-key commercial focuses on the true value of water. I’m not sure how well the message came through during the 30-second spot, but it’s another commercial in a long-running series by actor Matt Damon, cofounder of water.org. This organization helps to improve the health of people in third-world countries by providing permanent sources of drinking water.

This Super Bowl commercial encourages people to purchase a limited-edition glass with the logo of Stella Artois, a Belgian beer. The “chalices” were designed by female artists from three countries to reflect the different styles of Mexico, India and the Philippines. Check them out at water.org. According to the promotion, the $13 derived from each sale is enough to provide clean water for a variety of uses to one person for five years.

A funny commercial that has received little attention in the advertising media depicts some elderly folks still getting up to an alarm and going to work in a variety of occupations. The ad, by Etrade, encourages investment by younger people, so they won’t be tossed around by a firehose in their older years, as shown at the end of the piece. Tagline: “Over 1/3 of Americans have no retirement savings. This is getting old. Don’t get mad. Get Etrade.”

Another commercial I liked features water in a minor role, while no less than six celebrities toss out humorous lines. In “Alexa Loses Her Voice” — the Amazon commercial voted the best of the day in a USA Today survey — actress Rebel Wilson “sets the mood” while Alexa is out of service.

Michelob’s “I Like Beer” commercial features lots of people singing the drinking song, including one guy who somehow manages to sing underwater while swimming laps in a pool.

Stormwater report urges cities and counties to get up to speed on rules

In Kitsap County, stormwater has been a major issue — and the subject of ongoing newspaper stories — for a very long time.

As a local reporter working for the Kitsap Sun, I followed the prolonged struggle among engineers, developers, planners and environmentalists to approve new rules for reducing toxic runoff washing into Puget Sound. After the legal battles were over, local governments were called on to update their stormwater codes, and many key provisions went into effect last year.

Click for a PDF (1.7 mb) version of “Nature’s Scorecard.”

It was with some surprise that I read a new report called “Nature’s Scorecard,” which reveals that more than half of the 81 cities and counties around Puget Sound have failed to follow through in a meaningful way to encourage low-impact development, which is required by state rules. Low-impact development, or LID, involves techniques that filter rainwater into the ground as close to the source as possible.

According to the report, 15 percent of the local governments failed to update their codes, and an additional 38 percent made only minor changes. Out of 81 local governments, 20 were forced to file a “notice of noncompliance” admitting they had not met the new standards.

The scorecard is a joint effort by two environmental groups involved in water quality, Washington Environmental Council and Puget Soundkeeper Alliance. It was nice to know that the authors of the report contacted local officials in advance where deficiencies were noted. Some officials offered explanations, and others moved quickly to fix the deficiencies, according to Mindy Roberts of WEC.

Mindy told me that she hopes the scorecard and discussions with local officials will result in LID improvements without going to court.

The scorecard also calls out municipalities that have done exceptionally well on the LID front. Named as “green star leaders” for going beyond the minimal standards are Kitsap County and the cities of Lacey, Oak Harbor, Olympia, Port Orchard, Renton, Seattle and Tacoma. See the news release on WEC’s website.

The softer approach also paid off in Fife, where stormwater officials apparently were not aware of the state requirement to make LID the primary method of stormwater management, Mindy said. After city officials were contacted, they jumped into action and now have a code that will reduce stormwater pollution.

Stormwater officials in Mountlake Terrace were on schedule to meet the state mandate, Mindy said. But the City Council, under pressure from developers, failed to pass the code language when it was presented to them. Now city officials are again working to come into compliance, she noted.

The website for “Nature’s Scorecard” includes information about the impacts of stormwater, the need for LID regulations and the status of various cities and counties. Scores in the report come from compliance with five key LID strategies: reducing impervious surfaces, protecting native vegetation and soils, supporting pervious pavement, planting native vegetation, and protecting natural buffers along streams, wetlands and shorelines.

Puget Sound residents are encouraged to review the report’s findings and support their elected officials in the implementation of LID to protect Puget Sound. Contact information for city and county stormwater officials is provided for each listed municipality.

One of the reasons that Kitsap County is a leader in stormwater management is the support from residents of unincorporated areas. Each property owner pays an annual fee to monitor water quality, assess pollution problems, develop appropriate solutions and construct regional stormwater systems in already-developed areas. Anyone can review the current five-year stormwater capital plan (PDF 1 mb).

The Kitsap County commissioners recently approved new stormwater fees for the coming years. It was interesting to hear the testimony of supporters at the meeting. Check out the video (above), beginning at 25:09 minutes. A fact sheet on the fees (PDF 1.6 mb) can be found on the county’s website.

Like Kitsap County, the city of Auburn has fully embraced stormwater management to address flooding and reduce pollution. Information, including an in-depth comprehensive storm drainage plan, can be found on the city’s Storm Drainage website.

At the national level, Kitsap County and Auburn received awards last year from the Water Environment Federation Stormwater Institute, which promotes innovative stormwater solutions. They were among six award winners nationwide for both large and small municipalities that go beyond regulations. Auburn was recognized for its stormwater innovation, while Kitsap was recognized for its management. See the news release from WEF.

Other related information:

  • “What makes stormwater toxic?”: The dangers of road runoff and possible solutions are examined in an in-depth story by reporter Eric Wagner. The piece was published Dec. 4 in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.
  • U.S. Government Accountability Office (PDF 4.7 mb): In a survey of 31 municipalities, the GAO found that green infrastructure — another term for LID — was more challenging than traditional pipes and ponds. GAO learned that collaboration among nearby governments is important and should be supported through documented agreements.
  • Kitsap County’s news release on Nature’s Scorecard: “A low-impact development approach allows us to work with the rain, rather than against it,” said Kitsap County Commissioner Charlotte Garrido. “This approach protects, restores, conserves, and reclaims our water — and this scorecard helps us know exactly where we stand in our region.”
  • “Are you planning for LID?”: Association of Washington Cities provides information resources and videos.
  • Building Industry Association of Washington: BIAW offers information on specific LID techniques, manuals and guidelines, technical articles and reports, and links to government requirements.

Amusing Monday: Amy Sedaris comedy skewers domestic TV shows

Have you had a chance to see the new television program “At Home with Amy Sedaris” on the Tru TV network?

It’s a parody of the many do-it-yourself shows that demonstrate cooking, craft-making and interior design. For me, the series started a little slow with subtle conversational comedy about cooking and bathing. But then the shows began embracing more and more physical humor while taking on some ridiculous plots.

Amy is surprisingly good at pratfalls, as shown in the latest holiday episode, in which she gets physically attacked by a haunted nutcracker. That segment follows the snowman sketch shown in the video on this page. The episode also includes visits from ghosts that remind Amy of her past life, followed by the Christmas morning piece shown on this page.

I wasn’t sure how this comedy would connect with this blog’s water theme before the connection was made for me in an episode in which Amy visits the outdoors, which is actually where water originates before it gets piped indoors.

This particular show opens with a scene that includes Amy going outside for her morning exercise routine. She appears to be naked with appropriate pixilation, but that’s all part of the humor. She accidentally locks herself out of her house without any clothes, as she begins to plan for a dinner party that very night.

“Wait a minute,” she says. “Why do I need to get into my house to prepare for a dinner party? Everything I could possibly need the forest will provide.”

She borrows clothes from a female scarecrow. It turns out that the scarecrow is the girlfriend of Sully, one of the woodsy experts who helps Amy gather food for the party. But we soon learn that food is not Amy’s top priority.

“Imagine you are lost in the wilderness and have a party to throw in a few hours,” she says. “What would you do first? Build a shelter? Find water? Start a fire? For me, it’s make a back-scratcher. I got strands of hay from that scarecrow in my shirt, and it’s killing me.”

If the typical episode pokes fun at homemaking shows, this woodsy outing sheds new light on all those reality shows in which ordinary people go into the wilderness and attempt to survive with virtually nothing coming from civilized society.

“Did you ever eat a cattail?” Sully asks Amy while discussing food options.

“I didn’t know they were edible!” Amy says with surprise.

“They’re not,” says Sully, “but when you’re hungry, you lower the bar.”

Amy proceeds to get her mushroom species mixed up and goes on a psychedelic trip. When she regains her senses, her friend Ruth shows her how to make a centerpiece from simple items collected in the woods — such as trash.

Sully returns with a hollowed-out gourd and shows her how to boil water by dropping hot stones into the water-filled container.

“Well, what can you do with hot water?” Amy wonders.

“All kinds of things,” Sully says. “You can make soup or tea — or just let it cool down and heat it up again. That’s my favorite.”

Amy, a longtime writer and actor in films and TV, seems perfectly suited to this off-beat comedy. She began her career with “Second City” and “Annoyance Theatre” comedy troupes in Chicago. She wrote and performed in two shows, “Exit 57” and “Strangers with Candy,” on the Comedy Central TV network. She has made guest appearances on numerous TV shows and is popular on late-night talk shows.

In 2009, Sedaris narrated the PBS special “Make ‘Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America,” a serious documentary about comedy. Since then, she has done voices for cartoon characters, performed in commercials and played characters in several TV shows, including “The Heart, She Holler” and “Alpha House.”

“At Home with Amy Sedaris,” which airs each Tuesday evening, can be replayed online at Tru TV if you have the appropriate cable or satellite TV subscriptions.

So far, the show has gotten some positive reactions. In an early review for Vox, Caroline Franke noted that Amy loves to make people feel at home before pulling the rug out from under them with a burst of laughter.

“If anything,” Franke writes, “Sedaris finding a way to build a TV show around her slightly deranged interpretation of domestic expertise feels long overdue. ‘At Home’ is the perfect mashup of these sensibilities, letting her entertain comedians, characters, and her famous friends alike with a delighted smile even as she perverts tradition.”

Hansville sees record rains coming down during November

Hansville is the driest area in Kitsap County, but in November the skies opened up with more rain than we’ve seen there in the past 27 years. In November, enough rain fell in Hansville — 8.7 inches — to break the record for that location.

Hansville // Graphic: Kitsap PUD

Longtime residents of our region realize that the amount of precipitation goes up dramatically as one travels south out of Hansville. For Silverdale, November 2017 was the sixth wettest November in 26 years, with a total of 11.0 inches. Holly experienced its fourth wettest November, with 22.9 inches, all based on rainfall data compiled by Kitsap Public Utility District.

The one glitch for Hansville is that three years of rainfall data are missing — specifically 2007, 2008 and 2009 — and 2007 was a particularly wet year in some parts of the county. In fact, record November rains were seen in 2007 in Holly but not in Silverdale. We may never know where 2007 would have fit into the records for Hansville, but November 2007 was only average in Port Gamble — the closest station. It’s very likely that Hansville really did break the record for November this year.

Silverdale // Graphic: Kitsap PUD

Consistent with those geographic differences, in Holly it rained 27 out of 30 days in November, compared to Silverdale with 22 out of 30 days and Hansville with 20 out of 30 days. This came after a fairly average October.

As you can see from the charts on this page, November rains pushed the lines up to begin tracking the wettest years in the record books from one end of the county to the other. But, as I discussed last month, anything can happen during the coming winter and summer. Last year started out well ahead of the wettest years on record. But, starting in mid-December, the rains did not keep pace with the record years, and then came a very dry summer. See Water Ways, Oct. 27.

Holly // Graphic: Kitsap PUD

Let me take a moment to further emphasize the difference in rainfall from north to south on the Kitsap Peninsula. Holly’s nonrecord precipitation of 22.9 inches in November is more than half of Hansville’s rainfall for the entire record year of 1999, when a total of 43.8 inches came down. Holly’s annual record is 127.5 inches set in 1999.

The average annual rainfall for Hansville is 30.7 inches, compared to Silverdale with a 42.8-inch average and Holly with 79.2 inches.

Looking forward, the rains are likely to continue, according to NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center (PDF 5.3 mb). La Nina conditions emerged in October and are predicted to continue through the winter in the Northern Hemisphere. The likely result will be below-average temperatures and above-average precipitation across the northern part of the contiguous U.S. — and the opposite across the southern tier of states, as shown in the map below.

Green shows above average precipitation; brown is below average.
Graphic: National Climate Prediction Center

It was a wet water year; it was a dry water year

Water Year 2017 was a crazy year for rainfall, with a precipitation pattern unlikely to repeat anytime soon, although forecasters say the coming year is somewhat likely to be wetter than normal.

Hansville (click to enlarge)
Chart: Kitsap Public Utility District

If you recall, Water Year 2017 (which began last October) started off soggy with well above average rainfall until December. Last year’s rainfall, represented by the orange lines in the accompanying charts, was not only above average in October and November, but it exceeded the rainfall observed during the wettest year recorded since 1982.

If you follow the chart for Hansville, you can see that last year’s total precipitation stayed above the record year until late January. From there, last year’s total rainfall tracked with the record year until this past May, when the rains practically stopped.

Talk about a dry summer. We got practically no rain until September, with minimal precipitation through the end of the water year on Sept. 30, as shown in these charts provided by the Kitsap Public Utility District.

Silverdale (click to enlarge)
Chart: Kitsap Public Utility District

Hansville’s annual rainfall last year totaled 39.5 inches, about 4 inches off the record of 43.8 inches in 1999. The record would have been broken if the rainfall this past spring and summer would have been normal. The year before — Water Year 2016 — was also a wet one with precipitation totaling 42.5 inches in Hansville.

In Silverdale, which gets a good deal more rainfall than Hansville, the pattern was similar except that last year’s total stayed ahead of the record until early December. The pattern was similar for Holly, one of the wettest areas of the county.

Silverdale’s total for Water Year 2017 was 61.8 inches, well off the record of 76.9 inches set in 1999. Still, the record books show only two wetter years: 1996 with 67.7 inches and 1997 with 64.8 inches.

Holly (click to enlarge)
Chart: Kitsap Public Utility District

Holly’s total for Water Year 2017 was 112.7 inches, second only to 1999, when Holly received 127.5 inches of precipitation. Other wet years were 1995 with 101.1 inches and 1997 with 100.1 inches.

The new water year, starting with the beginning of this month, showed little precipitation at first, then the rains came in mid-October, putting most areas near average, as shown by the blue line in the charts.

Overall, October so far has been a fairly wet month, up to twice the average rainfall in the Puget Sound region. For the nation as a whole, October has been mixed. We’ve seen extremely dry conditions in the Southwest, while up to four times the normal precipitation has been recorded for a swath from the Great Lakes down to the Central states, including the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles. Check out the map from the PRISM Climate Group at Oregon State University.

The outlook for the next three months from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center shows the likelihood for wetter-than-normal conditions across the northern part of the U.S., although Western Washington should be about normal. Meanwhile, the southern tier states are likely to have drier conditions.

A La Niña watch remains in effect. If conditions in the Pacific Ocean continue to develop, we could see cooler- and wetter-then-normal conditions early next year. So far, there is no indication what the annual precipitation for our area might be. But after last year’s turn of events we should not be surprised by any weather pattern.

No end in sight for dispute over pesticide injury to salmon

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

Chlorpyrifos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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