Wednesday, August 24, 2016

North Sound Baykeeper Blog finds a new home

As of August 2016, our North Sound Baykeeper Blog has found a new home on the RE Sources for Sustainable Communities website. Please check out our new Clean Water Blog for future posts at

You can still visit this blog to read stories from 2015 and earlier. We hope you enjoy browsing the new Clean Water Blog.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Did you know there's an important pollution permit out for public comment?

In case you haven’t heard, there’s an important state-wide pollution permit out for public review. It’s called a National Pollution and Elimination System (NPDES) permit for concentrated animal feeding (CAFO) operations. The CAFO permit is one of dozens of permits that are required by the federal Clean Water Act.

A CAFO is a livestock operation that confines animals for a total of 45 days or more in any 12-month period in a location where crops or vegetation are not present in the normal growing season over any portion of the area where where the animals are confined. It is estimated that there are between 450 - 500 livestock operations in Washington State that qualify as CAFOs, and these will need to gain coverage under the permit, once it is finalized. Washington State’s permit that regulates CAFOs expired in 2011. The final draft version of the permit was released for public comment on June 15th, and the deadline for the comment period is August 31 at 5pm.

In Washington, most of the livestock operations are dairies, and almost all of these dairies and will be required to gain coverage under the CAFO permit. The two counties in Washington that have the most dairies are Whatcom and Yakima. According to the state Department of Agriculture, there are about 100 dairies in Whatcom County, and about 54 dairies in Yakima County. Yakima county’s livestock operations are much larger than those in Whatcom, and there are also some very large heifer feeding operations in Yakima county that supply milking cows to the dairies.

Washington State’s estimated 200,000 adult dairy cows produce over 20 million pounds of manure every day. Fecal matter from these cows (and from humans, other livestock, pets, and wildlife) contains fecal bacteria which can survive outside of the animal, thereby elevating bacteria concentrations if they enter a stream. Even a small quantity of fecal material escaping into surface water from any kind of livestock can cause a substantial impact.

Unlike human waste, dairy waste is untreated. Manure is applied to farmland by a variety of methods: big gun spraying, liquid injection, and spreading solids. The best scenario is that just the right amount is applied when the plants are actively growing. If it's overapplied during the winter or other times when active plant growth is not occurring, serious problems can arise. Manure is sometimes over-applied to farmland, contaminating soil, groundwater, and surface water. In Whatcom County, almost all dairy waste is stored for part of the year in unlined manure lagoons that have been proven to seep into groundwater.

We are concerned with pollution from dairies for two reasons: surface water and groundwater pollution. We’re very concerned with bacteria pollution in surface water in Whatcom County - all of our lowland streams and the lower Nooksack River are polluted with fecal coliform bacteria (bacteria). Most of our urban streams are also polluted with bacteria, but these streams do not contribute to the loading from the Nooksack River that causes the shellfish closures. We are not blaming, and we have never blamed this pollution entirely on farms. Farms are one of the sources, as are septic tanks, hobby farms, pets, and wildlife.

The amount of bacteria in our lowland agricultural streams has been steadily trending upward since 2002. In 2014, about 500 acres of the Lummi Nation’s shellfish beds were conditionally closed to harvest, and about 300 more acres have just added to the closure. The Lummi Nation has said the closure affects thousands of families and costs millions of dollars in lost revenue. In Skagit County, the Samish shellfish harvest areas also suffer from closures typically following major rain events.

In Yakima County, a system of irrigation canals (called “drains”) create a vein-like pattern throughout dairy country, and many of these drains are extremely close to livestock feedlots. The feedlots that we viewed had huge piles of manure stockpiled in areas adjacent to these drains, which flow to the Yakima River. The Yakima River has suffered serious pollution issues for the last 20 years, and it is listed on the State’s list of most polluted waters list for dissolved oxygen, bacteria, temperature, pH, and other pollutants.

Groundwater pollution from nitrates is a huge concern in both Whatcom and Yakima counties. Where it comes from is open to debate - but there is no doubt that a great deal of it comes from manure applications. Manure, as well as human waste and dead plant material, contains a lot of organic nitrogen. When an appropriate amount of manure is applied to land when plants can use it for growth, it’s a valuable fertilizer. If too much is applied, or applied when plants can’t utilize it, it leaches through the soil into groundwater. The EPA health limit for nitrate in drinking water is 10 mg/L. Nitrate is a serious health concern in drinking water and is of special concern to infants and pregnant women. It creates the condition known as methemoglobinemia (referred to as “blue baby syndrome”) in which blood lacks the ability to carry sufficient oxygen to individual cells in the body.

The Sumas-Blaine Aquifer, in northern Whatcom County, is home to numerous large dairies, and is the major drinking water source for up to 27,000 people. The Department of Ecology and the U.S. Geological Survey report 29 percent of the sampled wells in this aquifer exceed the EPA health limit of 10 mg/L, and an additional 14 percent more wells containing more than 20 mg/L of nitrate. Similarly, over-application of manure to fields in Yakima county is estimated to contribute 66 percent of nitrate inputs to these residents’ water supply.

The Department of Ecology released the draft CAFO permit in mid-June, with a 60 day public comment period. Two public hearings were offered in late July - in Bellingham and Yakima. At these meetings, the permit writers presented information about the permit, and listened to public comments and concerns.

About 100 people attended the first public hearing, in Bellingham. A lively question and answer session preceded the public hearing. Members of the farming community expressed their discontent with the permit for a variety of reasons: fear that the permit was over burdensome and too costly, statements that agriculture is already over regulated, statements that lagoons don’t leak, fear that required buffers will put them out of business by taking acres of land out of production, and other concerns. Members of the environmental community brought up the reasons why they wanted a stronger permit: concerns about the multitude of lowland streams that are polluted with fecal coliform, statements about the number of drinking wells that have nitrates above the safe drinking water level, concerns that the permit is not compliant with the federal Clean Water Act, and concerns that winter applications and poorly tracked export of manure are too risky and result in pollution of streams and groundwater.

In an effort to increase our understanding of the people passionately arguing on all sides of the state about this issue, we traveled to Yakima County, which has the largest number total cattle in Washington. We wanted to view this issue in a state-wide context, see the larger CAFOs, and hear what the locals had to say. A Yakima Indian Reservation resident took us on a tour to see three CAFOs near her home. The three farms we viewed likely had more cattle than all the farms combined in Whatcom County.

The first thing I noticed was the smell. It was strong - really strong. We also noticed that huge piles of dry manure were stacked up right by irrigation ditches, which connect to the Yakima River. At the third stop, we drove up to a small house located behind a dairy with 16,000 cattle. As we walked between the house and the huge cattle feedlot, we flushed two great horned owls - one of them landed in a tree right above us.

We watched 16,000 cattle standing around in extreme heat - about 107 degrees F. Clouds of dust were wafting off the huge manure piles onto on the siding and roof of nearby homes. The smell was overpowering. Although air emissions from dusty operations like these can pause serious health concerns, the CAFO permit does not address air emissions. Many people in the Yakima area who live near CAFOs are worried about how these operations are impacting their air quality.

We believe that the draft CAFO permit does not regulate manure applications strongly enough to protect our water resources, and there are many ways the permit should be strengthened. We urge you to become educated about the importance of clean water in our state. Learning about this issue and commenting on this permit is one way you can make a difference. We urge you to read the draft permit, and to comment to the Department of Ecology before 5:00 pm on August 31. Thanks for reading - we appreciate your interest in clean water. For further information:

WA Dept of Ecology CAFO permit and background information page here.
RE Sources CAFO permit information page here.
Want a stronger CAFO permit? Add your name to our letter here.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Love your stormwater, Columbia

Residents of the Columbia neighborhood in Bellingham have a chance to make a big difference to water quality.  The City of Bellingham is embarking on an innovative new stormwater project with a three part goal:  to replace and repair existing underground drainage pipes, facilitate drainage at intersections, and improve water quality by providing polluted runoff treatment using rain gardens along the public right-of-ways.  This project will occur in a portion of the Columbia neighborhood centered around the Columbia Elementary School, on the north/sound bound streets between Williams and Park Streets.

Rain gardens are bowl-shaped gardens that are designed to collect and absorb polluted runoff using well-drained soil, plants, and mulch.  The job of rain gardens is to reduce pollution by increasing infiltration – but these hard working little gardens also help to reduce flooding, recharge groundwater, offer habitat, and they’re pretty.  What could be better?

Polluted runoff from the Columbia neighborhood drains to Bellingham Bay and Squalicum Creek.  Everything on our streets, sidewalks, roofs, and other impervious surfaces gets delivered via the “stormwater superhighway” directly to Bellingham Bay and Squalicum Creek with no treatment except for two treatment vaults along Monroe and Utter Streets.  The unsavory water is out of sight, but don’t let that fool you – polluted runoff is the #1 source of water pollution in urban areas of Western Washington.  It’s created by us, it’s everywhere, and all of us need to take steps to help clean it up.

The kids at the Columbia Elementary School know all about polluted runoff – they’ve marked hundreds of storm drains with “only rain down the drain - don’t pollute” markers.  A couple of these kids will blow your mind!  They know about rain gardens, they know that only clean water should go down a storm drain, and they insist that their parents and neighbors wash their cars at the car wash. They’re our best ambassadors for clean water.  They want more rain gardens!

If you know some kids or their parents who would like to host a rain garden in the Columbia neighborhood, this is a great opportunity.  The best locations for these are on Williams, Utter, Walnut and Parks streets near existing storm drains.  Areas near existing mature trees aren’t suitable.  The gardens will be placed within the existing right-of-way areas.

Homeowners who volunteer to host a rain garden will be given the opportunity to work out the details (such as size and plant palette) with City staff. Now is your chance to learn more!

Check here for details about RE Sources' next free rain garden tour in Bellingham, on January 16th, 2016.

Find out more about rain gardens in our area: 12,000 rain gardens.

Find out if your property is within the proposed project area.

Read the details about this project. 

Contact Larry Scholten, Project Engineer

Thursday, September 3, 2015

New water quality standards for Washington State

BREAKING NEWS: New water quality standards for Washington State
by Wendy Steffensen

EPA just released a pre-publication proposed rule for the State of Washington’s water quality standards for human health. What does it mean and …
  • Why is the State of Washington getting new water quality standards?
  • What is in the rules?
  • Why did EPA release the rules, and not Ecology?
  • What happens next?
  • What does RE Sources think about these rules?

New water quality standards: The State of Washington’s water quality standard for human health have not been updated since 1992. Both the state and the federal government acknowledge that these rules are out-of-date. One of the biggest concerns lies with one of the variables used to set water quality standards:  the fish consumption rate. The amount of fish people consume is directly tied to how many contaminants they ingest from fish. If people eat more fish, they get more contaminants. The lower the fish consumption rate used in the water quality standard formula, the higher the amount of pollutants allowed in the water. Currently the state of Washington uses the low fish consumption rate of 6.5 grams per day (a cracker size serving), but we have known for years that Washington state is home to people who eat lots of fish.

The new rules: EPA’s proposed rule updates water quality standards based on new research and information on toxicity, and uses a fish consumption rate of 175 grams of fish per day and couples it with a protective allowable cancer rate of 1 in 1 million in the water quality standard formulas. This is in line with State of Oregon standards. While 175 grams of fish per day may seem like a lot of fish to some people, many sports and subsistence fishers and tribal members eat more than that.

EPA releases the rules, not Ecology: Early this year, Ecology finally published a long-awaited draft rule for water quality standards. The proposed standards were based on the assumption that people ate 175 grams of fish a day, a vast improvement over the current 6.5 grams of fish per day. Ecology’s acknowledgement of the need for a more protective fish consumption rate was, however, coupled with a less protective cancer rate, increasing the allowable cancer rate from 1 in 1 million to 1 in 100,000. Ecology’s draft rules were never finalized because they were tied to a legislative package designed to reduce pollutants at the source; the legislative package never made it through the Senate.
When the state does not act, it is EPA’s duty to step in to ensure the health and safety of the people.

Next: The proposed rule will be formally published in the Federal Register. After this, EPA will take public comment for 60 days. If the State submits a proposed rule before EPA finalizes its rule, EPA will review and act on the State’s new rule. If EPA approves a new state rule, it will stop its corresponding rules for Washington State.

Stay tuned:  We will alert you to the opportunity to comment on the new EPA rule.

RE Sources position: We are excited that EPA has released these rules. This sets in motion long-awaited updates to our current water quality standards. We hope that EPA has set the bar and the State will follow suit.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

You are invited to a forum - Bellingham Bay Habitat: Past, Present, and Future

Time: Wednesday Feb 25th, 7-9pm
Place: Bellingham Public Library Main Lecture Room, 210 Central St.

RE Sources for Sustainable Communities hosts an educational forum looking at the transitions of habitat in Bellingham Bay from pre-industry to today. Hear from experts on the history of Bellingham Bay, how development has impacted habitat over the years, and ongoing efforts to restore habitat in the Bay. Having a greater understanding of our Bay’s habitat in the past can illuminate habitat restoration decisions today. Learning about current habitat restoration projects is important for Whatcom County citizens interested in future waterfront redevelopment plans.

The evening will begin with a look at what Bellingham Bay was like pre-industry. Long before European settlement, Whatcom County was home to Northwest Coast Indians – the Lummi, Nooksack, Samish, and Semiahmoo – who harvested shellfish and fish from the area.  We will discuss which species and habitat were present, and how they helped people thrive in and around what is now Bellingham’s downtown waterfront.

Speakers from the City and Port of Bellingham will present on how some of the habitat that was lost through industrialization is now being restored. City of Bellingham staff will highlight several past habitat restoration projects, future plans for restoration, and talk about marine nearshore study results. The restoration plan at Little Squalicum Creek involves creating a pocket estuary at the mouth of the creek; removing a concrete culvert that has been a fish passage barrier; and restoring critical salt marsh habitat for salmon, shorebirds, and small mammals listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Port staff will describe efforts to restore habitat in Bellingham Bay, such as an estuary at Squalicum Creek and removing fish passage barriers at the mouth of this creek. The Department of Natural Resources has already removed a derelict pier and creosote pilings from the areas adjacent to the creek mouth. Restoration efforts aim to improve habitat for salmon.

Many of the Port and City restoration projects are priorities identified through the planning efforts of the Bellingham Bay Demonstration Pilot, A multi-agency initiative coordinating Bellingham Bay cleanup, source control, habitat restoration and land use projects.

The evening will conclude with a panel Q & A about habitat and habitat restoration in Bellingham Bay.

Hosted by RE Sources Clean Water program, using science, policy and education to reduce pollution and toxics in the Salish Sea and its uplands. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

We've Got Signs!

Sign overlooking the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve at Gulf Road, with Bill Beers, Cherry Point Committee, and Baxter Seguin, Puget Sound Corps. Photo by Jamie Kilgo, DNR

By Wendy Steffensen, North Sound Baykeeper

I have worked with the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve Citizen Stewardship Committee for the past 3 years. They are a dedicated bunch of individuals who reach out to the community to educate others about the reserve, so designated by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to help highlight and protect its unique and intact habitat. The committee’s passion is infectious, their reasoning is rigorous, and their persistence is dogged.

But, to educate about the reserve, we need to first let people know that it exists. In order to do this, the group has held educational forums, talked to citizen groups, tabled at events, and hosted citizen science workshops and surveys. One of the simpler and more straight-forward tasks, posting place-based signs, has also been in the works.

We’re excited to announce that three signs will be posted at access or view points to the Reserve. The first sign has already been placed at the Gulf Road viewpoint – also the proposed site for the Gateway Pacific Terminal. The next two will be placed at Birch Bay and Point Whitehorn access points.

We hope that people will be inspired to learn more about the reserve, once they know it exists, and they will work to protect it, once they know it is a special place.

Thanks also goes to the DNR, who designated Cherry Point an Aquatic Reserve, helps support the committee in education and outreach activities, and designed and installed this sign and those to come!

To learn more about the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve Citizen Stewardship Committee, click here. If you are interested in joining the committee, contact Wendy at

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Public Comment Wanted on Proposal for Unsafe Water Quality Standards

Waterkeepers Washington and the North Sound Baykeeper ask the public to comment on proposal for unsafe water quality standards

Thursday, January 15th 

On Monday, the Department of Ecology proposed new rules to update its water quality standards, which are still the lowest in the nation due in part to the outdated assumption about how much fish Washingtonians consume (called the fish consumption rate). The proposed rule would increase the fish consumption rate but would also increase the “acceptable” risk of developing cancer, called the cancer risk rate. These two equations are intended to work together to limit the amount of toxic pollution allowable in Washington waters. But increasing the protectiveness of one, while decreasing the other is sleight-of-hand math that accomplishes virtually nothing in the end.

Photo Credit:  Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission
Our government has an obligation to protect us and our water from dangerous pollution, not play politics to skirt around the issue. The standards to protect families from mercury and PCBs, two of the most long-lived and toxic chemicals in our waters, have not increased at all. This continues to put our youngest generations at risk.

The new rule also makes it more likely that industry will be granted permission to exceed these standards thereby allowing potent neurotoxins and cancer-causing pollutants to remain at current levels.

To his credit, Governor Inslee has said that the new proposed rule is directly linked to a companion toxics package that must be passed by the Legislature.  According to the governor’s office, the toxics package will strengthen existing programs to prevent releases of toxics, reduce the impacts of toxics in the environment, and develop safer chemicals for use in products. The toxics package is a great idea, but it, too, falls short. Passing the buck to legislative action and funding does not guarantee that water quality standards will be consistent or long term. Furthermore, the toxics package is being used to compensate for the shortcomings of the proposed water quality standards. Both must be strong enough to stand on their own.

The federal Clean Water Act requires states to have current and accurate water quality standards. One part of the standards tells us how clean our waters need to be in order for citizens to consume locally-harvested fish and shellfish safely. The North Sound Baykeeper and the Waterkeepers Washington coalition, continue to request strengthened water quality standards for our state’s health, in concert with tribal peoples, fishermen, and concerned families who regularly eat fish.  The draft proposal released by the governor and Ecology is inadequate in protecting human health.

Photo Courtesy of Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission
Your comments are needed on this draft proposal. Please tell Governor Inslee and the Department of Ecology that Washington deserves greater protection.  We are encouraging the governor to:
  • Decrease the risk of allowable cancer from 1 in 100,000 to 1 in 1 million.  The proposed rule actually increases your risk of cancer by increasing the cancer risk rate. We expect our government to help safeguard our health, not endanger it. We would like Washington to adopt the same standards as Oregon, with an appropriate fish consumption rate of 175 grams/ day and a cancer risk at 1 in 1 million.
  •  Disallow the expansion of variances. A variance can change the use and water quality standard for a segment of or an entire water body, allowing the water to be polluted for years, even decades.  The new rule expands how industries can get variances, increasing the likelihood of long delays in reducing water pollution.

Public comments will be accepted through public hearings and through letters submitted by mail or email. All public comments are due by March 23rd, 2015.

Email:                          Department of Ecology:

Mail:                           Cheryl Niemi
Washington State Department of Ecology
Water Quality Program
P.O. Box 47600, Olympia, WA 98504-7600

Governor Jay Inslee
Office of the Governor
PO Box 40002
Olympia, WA 98504-0002

Public Hearings:          March 3rd: Spokane, Washington 
March 4th: Yakima, Washington

March 12th: Lacey, Washington

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Meeting the farmers of the tide flats

When Mark and Steve Seymour, co-owners of the Drayton Harbor Community Oyster farm, invited the members of the Tenmile Creek Clean Water Project on a boat tour to view the oyster farm, it didn’t take long to fill the boat.  Why?  Because members of the Tenmile Clean Water Project (a citizen-driven project coordinated by RE Sources’ North Sound Baykeeper Team) are working hard to improve water quality in Tenmile Creek, a tributary of the Nooksack River.  Their goal is to lower fecal coliform bacteria levels in their watershed, and keep them low.

The Drayton Harbor Community Oyster Farm represents a long standing effort to restore clean water and shellfish harvesting in Drayton Harbor, by reducing fecal coliform levels.  In 2001, volunteers seeded oyster larvae in Drayton Harbor’s waters that were prohibited to all shellfish harvest due to chronic bacterial contamination.   These volunteers were fully aware that before any oysters could be harvested, measurable improvements in water quality would need to be achieved.   In June 2004, as a direct result of Puget Sound Restoration Fund’s intensive efforts to reduce pollution, 575 acres were conditionally re-opened to shellfish harvest and the community feasted on Drayton Harbor oysters for the first time in ten years.

Levels of fecal coliform bacteria in Tenmile Creek, and almost all the Nooksack River tributaries have been slowly worsening, and two marine sampling stations adjacent to Portage Bay are currently failing state standards.  Official closure of the Lummi Nation’s shellfish beds is imminent, and the consequences are dire.   We’ll post more about this in the future.

Back to the tour.  These tiny flecks shown above are oyster larvae  Our farmers of the tide flats purchase these babes, and incubate them on a floating barge for their first months.  While in the nursery, they’re closely monitored and protected from predation.  Here’s the floating nursery: 

After a couple of months in the incubators, the larvae have grown into recognizable baby oysters, and they’re ready for life in the tideflats.  

As we motored out towards the tideflats, we learned a lot about past water quality efforts.  One of the people aboard had been involved many of these efforts, which included upgrading Blaine’s sewer system, monitoring industrial discharges to the harbor, requiring septic system inspections in the watersheds that drain to Drayton Harbor, working with farmers to adopt farm plans that included installing buffers and other methods to prevent manure from reaching streams, establishing a network of water quality monitoring stations, and establishing an effective landowner education and outreach efforts.  These efforts worked.

Many of us working in the Tenmile watershed are worried about the imminent shutdown of the Lummi Nation’s shellfish beds, so it was especially interesting to hear how a successful outcome was achieved in the Drayton Harbor watershed.  And just as we approached maximum enjoyment of the water and boat ride, we reached the oyster growing area and waded to it.  We learned that young oysters are placed into these net bags for up to one year.  The bags are anchored with ropes, and as the tide ebbs and floods, the oysters thrive.  Inside the bags, the oysters are safe from predators, and they’re easy to monitor. 

Once the oysters reach the desired size, the bags are moved to a floating barge in deeper water.  Here, they’re lowered into the water column, where they continue to feed.  As they filter the cooler, deeper water, they develop the clean ocean taste that makes oysters so tasty.  

The folks on the tour were really curious, and full of questions.  Our tour guides were most gracious.  We departed feeling even more inspired to work for clean water.  Could what worked in Drayton Harbor work in Tenmile? Could we help turn around water quality so that oysters from the Lummi shellfish bed could safely be harvested?

Want to learn more?  Want to help us?  There’s a lot going on this week for Whatcom Water Weeks.  Check it out for all kinds of local tours and opportunities that will help educate you about water quality.  Find out more about the Drayton Harbor Oyster Farm

Interested in joining the Tenmile Creek Clean Water Project?  All are invited.  We meet on the second Wednesday of each month at Bellewood Acres, 6:30pm.  Join us in our work for clean water - it's going to take all of us.  Besides, oysters are delicious!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Georgia Pacific West: where do we go from here?

By Wendy Steffensen, North Sound Baykeeper

After a spirited meeting last night (Tuesday, August 12), our team again reflects on where do we go from here. 

At last night’s informational meeting, Lee First and I presented facts and information about the clean-up of Georgia Pacific West. Our goal was to educate participants about the toxics, the clean-up options, and how to make comments. Now folks are asking us whether their comments really make any difference.

The answer is maybe. Often, Lee and I have written comments which we believe to be solid, only to be rebuffed by the Department of Ecology (Ecology). We also have asked ourselves whether this work matters, and we have decided that it does. 

Good technical and procedural comments do make a difference, and we have caused change in some aspects of cleanups over the years. Is it easy? No. Does it take a lot of time? Yes. Is it worthwhile to be educated about the decisions that affect the cleanup of the sites on our waterfront? We believe it is. Is it worth your time to write a comment letter on any specific cleanup before you? It depends. Ask yourself if what you have to say is grounded in science or the law. Is your perspective unique? Do you have the time and energy to commit to understanding part or all of the cleanup? If the answer to any of these questions is “yes” you should write a letter. Will it make a difference? Maybe. 

Ecology’s process is frustrating and tightly prescribed. Ecology and the Potentially Liable Party (PLP) work together to decide the potential cleanup options. Ecology’s role is to ensure that the process and cleanup are compliant with state cleanup law, the Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA).

Public participation is solicited at four discrete instances, which correspond to the release of the following documents:
1)       After the Agreed Order, a legal document where the PLP “agrees” to conduct a Remedial Investigation (RI), Feasibility Study (FS) and other needed cleanup actions,
2)       After the RI/ FS, where the amount, extent, and type of the contamination are identified (RI) and where potential options for its cleanup are presented (FS),
3)       After the Cleanup Action Plan and Consent Decree, where the preferred option is further defined and a legal agreement is made committing the PLP to the cleanup, and
4)       After the Engineering Design Report, which lays out the designs and specifications needed to ensure the chosen cleanup.

The PLP usually hires a consultant to conduct the RI/FS, and a preferred cleanup alternative is also selected by Ecology in the FS. This cleanup alternative, by law, is the least expensive option which achieves cleanup under MTCA.

The real action of deciding the type of cleanup that will happen occurs between the Agreed Order and the release of the RI/FS. These are closed door meetings between Ecology and the PLP. These two parties have negotiated the cleanup, so it is not surprising that a third party, the public, often has little influence after the plan, the draft final, has buy-in from the regulator and the regulated.

This is not to say that we have no voice and no power. As I said before, we have made positive changes to cleanups. We also need to make sure that Ecology knows that we are watching and that we care.

An audience member asked, “Can we do this differently – can we make a difference before we are given the draft final proposal? Before the cleanup solution is basically a done deal?” Again, it's a maybe that we have discussed here at RE Sources before, and with so many people engaged in our cleanups and feeling frustrated with the process, perhaps we can forge a way forward together that will result in better cleanups. 

If you are interested in working on this, send me an e-mail ( and we will set up a work group for the fall to move mountains or to make the cleanup law and liable parties more accountable to citizens.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Citizens Document Decline of Sea Stars in Whatcom County

                By Wendy Steffensen

The numbers are in. The common purple (and sometime orange) sea star has declined by 85-92% in two plots in the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve within 2 months, and is no longer so "common".  This rapid decline mirrors that which has been found throughout the region and up and down the coast.  Read more here:

When the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve Citizen Stewardship Committee heard about sea star wasting syndrome and the associated monitoring program, by MARINe, the Multi-Agency Rocky Intertidal Network, they wanted to know more and get trained. The Committee hosted Melissa Miner of MARINe to conduct classroom and field trainings and adopted two sites to monitor sea stars and wasting syndrome in the Reserve. 

Observing sea stars on May 17, 2014 at Cherry Point
Luckily the Committee surveyed in May, before sea star wasting syndrome really took hold in our area. In June, anecdotal reports started coming in that stars were being wiped out; the group decided to go back out and survey at the next low tide in July. The anecdotal evidence was startling, and the hard numbers backed up what beach-goers have been witnessing. Our sea stars are being assaulted by a serious disease. 

Same location on July 14, 2014 

The Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve Citizen Stewardship Committee is comprised of volunteers committed to protecting the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve through education, scientific surveys, and assessment of projects that may negatively impact the Reserve. Members of the committee were glad to assist in collecting data that will be useful to scientists, but sorely grieved to witness the death of so many sea stars. The Committee will work to host additional trainings and monitoring events, in addition to their ongoing activities. 

To learn more about the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve and Citizen Stewardship Committee, contact Wendy Steffensen at  Read more about this project here.  New members wanted!