Tuesday, April 22, 2014

City Stormwater Sampled for Metals & PAHs

Citizens in Bellingham are largely unaware of the effects of stormwater pollution and their contribution to it. Well, that’s about to change.  One of the Baykeeper’s newest projects is the Neighborhood Clean Water Project.  This project began last year, when RE Sources staff and interns collected data from several urban waterways that showed high levels of metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from stormwater outfalls that drain downtown areas of Bellingham.   If you’re having difficulty tracking on what a stormwater outfall to the Bay looks like, here’s one of the big ones, at the terminus of C Street:

We chose to sample copper, zinc, and PAHs in stormwater because they are toxic to marine life, and because they are not routinely sampled by other agencies.  PAHs are widespread, complex organic pollutants that are found in fossil fuels, and are formed by incomplete combustion of wood, coal, and diesel fuels.  Like metals, they are common in urban stormwater and have been found in increasing concentrations in rapidly urbanizing areas.  They are carcinogenic to laboratory animals and are acutely toxic to some fish species.  Here’s our crew collecting samples from the C Street Stormwater Outfall.  We’re all smiles, but this place is not easy to access, and the water smells terrible.

Last month we presented our findings to a group of engaged citizens from the Columbia, Lettered Streets, and Broadway Park neighborhoods.  We asked for ideas about how to reduce stormwater pollution.  We loved their ideas, and we’re running with them.
Idea #1:  Get kids involved!  50 4th and 5th grade students labeled 60 storm drains in the Columbia neighborhood.  These kids worked hard and are enthused about stormwater. 

Idea #2:  Get volunteers to become “stormwater stewards” in their neighborhoods.  We’ve got three volunteers, and we’re headed out to talk with folks in the Columbia neighborhood this week.  Look for folks wearing bright orange vests that say “Stormwater Steward 

Idea #3:  Present information about the Neighborhood Clean Water Project at neighborhood association meetings throughout the City.  We’re on it – we’ve been to the Padden Creek Association Meeting, we’ve got dates for two more, and we’re looking for more opportunities.

Idea #4:  Conduct “Don’t Drip and Drive Events” this summer.  These are events where volunteers provide free car leak checks.  We’re planning these events, and the City Stormwater staff will help us.  Got ideas for locations?  

Please share your ideas with us, and come to our next brainstorming meeting:  Wednesday May 21, 5-6pm, at RE Sources.

Help us begin to stop this problem – we want your ideas!  A work group is forming called the Stormwater Work Group.  RE Sources will support this group by providing sample data, researching topics, leading discussions, and other tasks necessary to move forward with solutions.

In the first year, this project will focus on data collected from the C Street and Broadway Street outfalls on Whatcom  and  I & J Waterways, respectively.  These outfalls drain portions of the Lettered Streets, Columbia, and Cornwall Park neighborhoods.  RE Sources hopes to expand this project to include other urban watersheds in the years to come. 

Interested in becoming a stormwater steward in your neighborhood?  It's fun!  For more information, contact Lee First

Monday, February 24, 2014

Volunteers Wanted for Intertidal Trainings!

If you're interested in becoming a citizen scientist, here's your opportunity! Join your Baykeeper Team for a brand new series of Intertidal Trainings in Whatcom and Skagit County. These trainings will increase your understanding of our nearshore marine ecosystems and equip you to collect meaningful survey data of plants and animals in intertidal areas.  But most importantly, you'll learn and have fun.

In 2013, over 80 local citizens became citizen scientists when they joined our training programs last year. They participated and collected nearshore monitoring data on many of our beaches.  This project was co-sponsored by friends of the Cherry Point and Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve Citizen Stewardship Committees with support from RE Sources' North Sound Baykeeper.

Upcoming trainings and surveys will occur both in Whatcom and Skagit Counties. Participants are welcome to attend either training series and any of the surveys, regardless of location.  But before you can participate in the fun stuff (field work, critter identification, and beach strolling) a bit of classroom training is required so that the data we collect is consistent and high quality.

Whatcom County Trainings will occur Tuesday evenings on April 1, 8, and 15th from 6-8 pm, with an optional training on sea star wasting disease on April 22. All in-class trainings will occur at RE Sources Main room.  A field training will be held at Marine Park on April 19, from 1-5 pm.  Additional field sessions will be announced.

Skagit County Trainings will be introduced on March 27, as part of the Salish Sea Stewards Training Series from 5:30-8:00, at the Fidalgo Bay Resort, Fidalgo Bay Road, Anacortes. Training will resume on Sunday April 27, from 12:30- 5 at the Fidalgo Bay Resort, with field training 1230-5 at Washington Park, Anacortes.  Additional field sessions will be announced.

Trainers will include respected professionals in the field:  Doug Stark, Michael Kyte, Wendy Steffensen, and others. Surveys will take place on low-tide days during the summer.  Interested?  Got questions?  Contact Wendy at Wendys@re-sources.org or (360) 733 8307.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Citizens of Tenmile Watershed Rise to a Challenge!

An engaged group of citizens met at Bellewood Acres in Lynden last Wednesday evening to discuss a new project to voluntarily reduce fecal coliform pollution in the Tenmile Creek watershed.  The Tenmile Creek Clean Water Project is being led by the RE Sources’ Baykeeper team and is funded by the Rose Foundation.   Forty-two community members attended the first meeting and many of them signed up to participate in a stakeholder group.

Why are we doing this?   Fecal coliform levels have been increasing in many feeder streams in the Nooksack basin, and this effort is a forward step by citizen stakeholders to work with watershed neighbors to reduce fecal coliform levels on a voluntary basis. We decided to focus this effort in the Tenmile area because of a past success there. About 10 years ago, Tenmile Creek neighbor and co-owner of Bellewood Acres, Dorie Belisle, coordinated citizens in the Tenmile Creek watershed as they participated in a voluntary project to reduce levels of fecal coliform..  The project was a success for several years, but the creek is once again in decline.

High levels of fecal coliform in streams can cause disease, threaten agricultural viability, including downstream shellfish harvesting operations that Tribal and commercial communities rely upon.  People can also get sick from contacting water that is contaminated with fecal coliform. This trend is not unique to Tenmile Creek. 

Fecal coliform bacteria live in the intestinal tract of warm blooded animals and originate from animal and human waste.  In other words, the source is poop.  Sources could include failing septic systems, manure, birds, beavers, pet waste, and other sources.  The Tenmile watershed includes Tenmile, Fourmile, and Deer Creek.  Within this watershed are 2,642 on-site septic systems, 19 fields associated with dairies, 26 small farms, and populations of deer, waterfowl, beavers, and other wild animals.  What is the source of the poop?  Nobody knows for sure, but we’re going to do our best to find out where it’s coming from and which sources are the greatest contributors. This project is like solving a puzzle. 

After the first meeting, 20 neighbors joined us for a second meeting to start crafting solutions to the fecal coliform problem in Tenmile Creek. This stakeholder committee will work closely with RE Sources’ Baykeeper team, identifying sources of contamination and considering voluntary solutions to improve the quality of the creek. All meetings of this group are open to the public and community members concerned about their watershed are encouraged to attend.

This first meeting of the stakeholder committee brought about a number of questions that the Baykeeper Team will work hard to address before the next meeting:  Should we test for additional water quality parameters?  Should we measure stream flow while we’re out there? How do fecal coliform levels in Tenmile compare with pristine streams? What effect does sunlight, algae, and decaying leaves have on fecal coliform levels? How many samples should we collect? Should we take samples during storm events too?  What influence does Deer Creek have on fecal coliform levels in Tenmile Creek? Answers to these questions should become clearer as the project evolves.

If you’re curious about this project, you are welcomed to attend the next meeting, which is on Wednesday, December 11th at Bellewood Acres. To learn more about the project, visit www.re-sources.org.  

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Cornwall Avenue Landfill is getting ready for a cleanup!

Ensure that the planned waterfront park and marine areas get cleaned up - come learn how to comment on the RI/FS, the decision document that will guide how the Cornwall Avenue Landfill gets cleaned up!

What:  Cornwall Landfill Public Forum & Comment Writing Workshop with North Sound Baykeeper Staff and other experts
When:  Sept 17th, 6:30pm
Where:  Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship (BUF), 1207 Ellsworth Street

 Decision-makers must consider the public’s opinion before finalizing this cleanup – your voice matters!

This cleanup is important; it is one of the first that will form the basis of our new waterfront. The cleanup will occur both on land and in the water.  Come learn about the plan and about how to make a difference through your comments.

RE Sources is offering a special opportunity to learn about the proposed cleanup options for the Cornwall Avenue Landfill.

The Cornwall Avenue Landfill is a 26-acre site on the Bellingham waterfront that has been used for sawmill operations, a solid waste landfill, and log storage and warehousing operations.  Extensive sampling across the site found potentially harmful levels of hazardous substances in the groundwater, soil, and sediment.  The site is located within the Waterfront District redevelopment area, which is currently undergoing extensive planning efforts.  Current plans call for the site to be developed primarily as a waterfront park.

The Port of Bellingham, with Ecology oversight, has just published an environmental report called A Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study. (RI/FS). This report contains a history of the site, comprehensive details about previous site investigations, a description of 4 cleanup alternatives and identifies a preferred cleanup alternative.  The public has three weeks to prepare comments on the report and the proposed cleanup option (the comment period ends on September 20th).   

We want a high quality, long-lasting cleanup that will be protective of public and environmental health.  We are concerned that the cleanup option that the Department of Ecology has dubbed, “the preferred alternative” (Alternative 2) may not be the best choice.  Because the project is on such a tight timeline and because we think it is so important for the public to get involved, we’re offering this special public form and comment writing workshop on September 17th.

For more information, view a recent presentation from the 8-28 public meeting:  https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/gsp/DocViewer.ashx?did=21919

The full report, “Public Review Draft Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study for the Cornwall Avenue Landfill” is available online here: https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/gsp/DocViewer.ashx?did=21821

We hope you assist our efforts us by preparing comments for this important project.  Please contact Wendy Steffensen if you want to get involved, or have questions.  Contact Wendy at wendys@re-sources.org or at 733 8307.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Celebrate Water Weeks - Special Events!

Celebrate the importance of our water resources by signing up for one of these free Whatcom Water Weeks events!  We’re collaborating with our partners (City of Bellingham, Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association, Yeager’s Sporting Goods, Everybody’s Store, Refuse and Disposal Services, and the Surfrider Foundation) to offer these events.  Find out more info about Whatcom Water Weeks here: http://whatcomwin.org/www/

1.  Rain Garden Bike Tour in Bellingham: Saturday September 7, 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Dust off your bike and join us for a fun ten mile ride to view rain gardens and stormwater treatment facilities in Bellingham.  This tour will primarily showcase rain gardens, but we’ll also visit some of the brand new super cool stormwater facilities installed by the City of Bellingham.  We’ll discuss pollution prevention and offer homeowners and business owners an opportunity to consider new ways to help prevent stormwater pollution on their property.

Meet us at Bellingham Technical College (BTC), at 3028 Lindberg Avenue, at 10:00 a.m. We will gather on the south side of Building G, which is next to the Campus Center.  After viewing rain gardens at BTC, we will visit rain gardens around town, as well as stormwater facilities installed at private homes at businesses, and in public right-of-ways.  We’ll travel on bike paths and side roads whenever possible, at a slow to moderate speed.  The tour will end at Western Washington University by 1:00. Participants should be familiar with safe bicycling techniques.  Children under 8 years old must be on their parent’s bike (trailer, seat, or trail-a-bike).  The route will be less than 10 miles in length.  The tour is free, but registration is required.  For more information or to register, contact leef@re-sources.org, or call (360) 733 8307.

2.  Little Squalicum Creek Restoration Work Party:  Saturday September 14, 9:00 a.m. to noon.

Bring your kids and join us for a few hours of weed pulling!  We’ll remove invasive weeds, mulch new seedlings, meet new friends, and have fun.  This work is needed to ensure that the Creek and its wetlands continue to provide high water quality and habitat. 

Meet us at 9 a.m. in Little Squalicum Park near the entrance from the lower parking lot of Bellingham Technical College. This location has free parking.  Dress for weather conditions, and we’ll provide tools, gloves, and snacks.  Please bring your own water bottle.  For more information, contact Wendy Steffensen, wendys@re-sources.org, or call (360) 733 8307.

3.  South Fork Nooksack River Cleanup:  Saturday September 14, 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., 

Prepare to get dirty and work hard on this event, because there’s a lot of trash out there.  Because we expect low water levels, most volunteers will be asked to walk one or two miles along the river to pick up trash.  We’ll divide up into small groups and get ‘er done.  Canoes will be used to move the trash to the pick-up locations. Our favorite folks at RDS will pick up the trash!  Afterwards we’ll party down at Everybody’s Store.

This event requires advance registration.  To find out the details or register, contact Dylan Reese, at Yeager’s Sporting Goods.  He can be reached at yeagerskishop@hotmail.com, or (360) 733-1080.  

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Rain Garden Tour de Bellingham, Saturday, June 1, 9:30 am to 12:30 pm

          By Jane Billinghurst, WSU Skagit County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer

Prepare to be inspired by the functionality and beauty of the diverse selection of rain gardens on this tour. From homeowner installations as part of the Lake Whatcom Homeowner Incentive Program to rain gardens in co-housing sites and at Western Washington University, you will see how these gardens can be designed to fit a variety of sites and aesthetics.

All the rain gardens on this tour work to reduce the quantity and improve the quality of stormwater that runs off roofs, lawns, and driveways in the heavy winter rains of the Pacific Northwest.

Packed with native plants to attract birds, this 
rain garden makes a lovely urban retreat - a
vast improvement over the grassy berm that used
to run along this narrow backyard.

What Is a Rain Garden? A rain garden is essentially a stormwater processing facility. It is a shallow depression that captures fast-moving stormwater and then releases it slowly into the surrounding landscape.

Stormwater Quantity: Unchecked stormwater causes flooding and erosion, and causes problems with combined sewer systems. A primary goal of rain gardens is to interrupt and slow the flow of stormwater.

Stormwater Quality: Stormwater picks up pollutants and washes them into local water bodies, and, in the case of Lake Whatcom, into a source of drinking water. Pollutants include pet waste, pesticides, and excess fertilizers from landscapes; and oil, copper, and zinc from cars. Rain gardens help remove these pollutants from stormwater.

Stormwater Processing: Even in heavy storm events, the rain gardens on this tour drain quickly. Instead of having water rushing down storm drains or along ditches, or water levels rising close to homes, rain water puddles in the gardens and then soaks into the specially designed soil
This rain garden helps process water from a co-
housing project while providing a landscape feature that is 
safe for children to play around and that attracts
beneficial pollinators for the veggie gardens beyond.
and gravel mixes through pore spaces opened up by plant roots and soil microbes. The plants and microbes then get to work breaking down or sequestering organic pollutants and heavy metals in the stormwater. A layer of mulch on exposed soil surfaces—usually arborist chips—keeps the weeds down and aids in processing and trapping pollutants.

Attractive Wildlife Habitat: Native plants adapt well to rain garden conditions and attract a host of beneficial insects and birds. Extra color and diversity can be added by including some hardy cultivated varieties of plants that enjoy growing conditions in the Pacific Northwest.
When I was checking out these rain gardens, I saw hosts of beneficial insects on columbine, camas, and spirea. There were birds perching in ninebarks and hazel, and bathing in attractively designed bird baths. Despite a few days of heavy rain (and a downpour while I was visiting!), none of the rain gardens had standing water. All were beautiful.

The plantings in this colorful rain garden with abuzz with bees.

On the Tour: Homeowners will be on hand to explain the process of installing their gardens and how they have benefited from the Lake Whatcom Home Incentive Program. Rain garden experts from the City of Bellingham and WSU Extension will explain how rain gardens work and what steps you can take if you are inspired to install a rain garden of your own.

Rain Garden Tour de Bellingham is from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm on Saturday, June 1. The $20 fee includes lunch and transportation. Register online at http://raingardentour.brownpapertickets.com.  The tour is co-hosted by RE Sources, City of Bellingham, Sustainable Connections, and WSU Whatcom County extension. After the tour, you are invited to stick around for the Watershed-Friendly Project Expo at Bloedel Donovan Park from 1 to 3 pm. 

To find out more about home owner incentives in the Lake Whatcom watershed, download the Homeowner Incentive Program Brochure (PDF).

To find out more about WSU Extension’s rain garden resources for homeowners, visit www.12000raingardens.org

All photos by Jane Billinghurst

Thursday, May 23, 2013


By Matt Schwartz, North Sound Baykeeper Intern

            What it means to be a citizen is shifting by the seaside. Largely because the seaside is under fire. ‘Oceans on Acid’, ‘Plastic Soup’ and ‘Sea Level Rising’ are familiar phrases buzzing around the media these days. Oil spills, collapsed fisheries, seabird die offs and the threat of more massive coastal development projects hardly round out the story. Nonetheless, if hope is an action that must be practiced, then alas, hope abounds on a rainy Saturday morning in Whatcom County! At Marine Park, thirty three local volunteers successfully completed field training as citizen scientists for the Aquatic Reserve Intertidal Monitoring Program. These volunteers will participate in important beach surveys throughout the summer at Cherry Point, Fidalgo Bay and Boulevard Park. Between Whatcom and Skagit counties, seventy two women and men are enlisted in this project. They will be equipped with the skills to document the intertidal zone at a scientifically sound level.  By measuring beach profiles and counting intertidal plants and animals year after year, this project aims to gauge changes to our shorelines and all of its creatures.  

“Break, break, break,
On thy cold gray stones, O sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me.”

-Alfred Lord Tennyson

            The intertidal is hopelessly romantic…

It is a musing enchantment that pulls many of us to the seashore. When you get to know her, the intertidal is quite the fanciful dreamer. Here are some basics: tides generally operate on semi-diurnal cycles in this part of the world, as commanded by the gravitational pull of the moon (and to a lesser extent, the sun). They take two deep breaths a day. Breathe in and water drains out from all of the arms and fingers of the sea that penetrate the land- hold- and breathe out to fill them back up. On cue, tides swell and heave their way up the beach, submerging every last mussel in its path. Salty spray quenches the lichens plastered on the bedrock outcrops in the high intertidal zone. Waves lap at the cobbles below. All this effort, only to about-face and the tide slinks away like a dog with its tail between its legs, leaving all of her creatures exposed. Thousands of subdued colors bend knee to the white cloud layer so heavy it barely holds itself up. Flip over a rock (gently)[1] and you might find any number of slinkers, crawlers, creepers or oozers. Whether you sit and stare, or stand up, face the water and close your eyes, the salty breeze runs its hands through your hair, beckoning.  As Annie Dillard once said, “The sea pronounces something, over and over, in a hoarse whisper; I cannot quite make it out”.

Photo credit:  Doug Stark

…And hopelessly peculiar. 

Intertidal organisms usually take their time. The mossy chiton is a good example. Suctioned to a rock you might see this beautifully designed 8-plated shell with a chinstrap beard protecting a shriveled vienna sausage. This little sausage is the chiton’s foot and it remains virtually glued to rocks like a suction cup for its whole life. The Haida (southeast Alaska native) word for chiton is Çuunçuugiiga, ‘he who lays face down forever’. Keep looking and you will find creatures at all rates and states of flux. Peek under a rock and you might find a wriggling eel-like fish having a hyper-speed seizure (the ‘rockweed gunnel’). A purple shore crab scuttles hurriedly by on her way to somewhere clearly important and that thieving hairy hermit crab just outgrew its shell and helped himself to a new one. A bit higher up in the intertidal zone, crops of greenish-brown rockweed (fucus algae) shrivel as they slowly dehydrate, waiting ever so patiently for tide to return. Once it does, check right below the surface of the water. Those acorn barnacles have just opened up- frantically waving their ghostly little feet, catching particles of food brought in by the flooding tide. Picture thousands of organisms in motion: crawling, burrowing, seeping and worming their way around the sand, rocks and lapping waves. The intertidal zone is an infinite amusement park treasure hunt that could entertain us for hours- but there is work to be done… 

Enter the Citizen Science Brigade. 

The power of citizen science is rather infinite.  The bottom line: it’s cheap, it’s local, it’s potentially everywhere. Interpreting our natural world is a job for everyone.  With specific, focused training programs, ordinary citizens can gain the skills to observe planet earth in detail. Incredible discoveries and enormous pools of credible data can be gathered by the greater populace. Take the NASA citizen scientists who recently discovered the first known four star planet. Impressive. The Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count has been a pillar of citizen science for 113 years.  Yes.
The scene at the Aquatic Reserve field training was chock full of measuring sticks, tide markers, clipboards and rain boots. Quadrats- handheld grid squares, made of PVC and string- are placed at random locations on the beach, where volunteers analyze any plants or animals that lie inside them and count anything alive.  “Citizen science is a great idea. More eyes for better monitoring and data. The old truism is ‘to know it is to love it’. Once people know how wonderful the natural world is, the more inclined they are to protect it,” says beach naturalist Marie Hitchman, who has been observing Cherry Point since 2000 and the San Juan/Gulf Islands by sailboat since 1968.
The local intertidal surveys gather a baseline of data that will help us understand how unique each beach really is. Taking measurements and vital signs of a particular shoreline can show how it responds to change over time and to different environmental conditions.  With a solid grasp on the health of a beach and all of her critters, it is possible to gauge transformations, should an oil spill, a restoration project, or an increasingly acidic ocean happen upon her.  The truth is that numbers talk. Credible quantitative data that spells out the health of a specific marine environment can warrant important decisions, funding and actions for that area[2]. Nonetheless, as a strong group-centered effort, citizen science embodies a spirit that speaks beyond the data sets. It taps into the heart of a community. John Stockman is a local high school science teacher and co-trainer for the intertidal project. He describes citizen science as “an excellent way to get people involved in a real project. The data can be very useful to recognize slow changes in ecosystems. But we must not forget that it is not just about the data; it is also about the researchers who have volunteered to collect the data.”
This brings it back to you- the volunteer, the donor, the backbone of “what have you done for your country, lately?”. If you spoke seastar you’d know- Pisaster ochraceous thanks you.

"Intertidal Biotic Monitoring at Cherry Point, Fidalgo Bay and Boulevard Park” is a joint project of RE-Sources for Sustainable Communities, the Marine Resources Committee, Washington Environmental Council, and the respective Cherry Point and Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve Citizen Stewardship Committees. It is complemented by the citizen science “Aquatic Reserve Bird Surveys” program.

[1] Tidepooling etiquette 101: if ever flipping over a rock do so gently. Roll the rock back over just as you found it.
[2] The Washington Department of Natural Resources and collaborating partners (see below) will be utilizing the data from this project and it will also be made available online to the public.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Fix That Leak!

Don’t Drip and Drive – Fix That Leak!

As a “welcomer” volunteer at the free auto leak check event at WWU, my job was to wear an oversized I love Puget Sound t-shirt and hand arriving drivers a card that said “Yes!  Please check my car for leaks!”  Cars arrived in droves, without slowing down to get a card, in a hurry to get to class on time.  So instead of politely standing at the entrance of the parking lot, I made haste and ran after the cars as they parked, and waited for each driver to open their door.

Most arriving students didn’t see me standing by because they were engaged in a variety of activities, from texting to hair brushing to makeup applications to adjusting things in their ears.  By the time they noticed me I was grinning from ear to ear waiting to blurt out “We’re doing free leak checks today!!”  And “  We won’t touch your car and you don’t need to do anything - can we PLEASE check your car for leaks while you’re in class today?”  Few people declined.

One person arrived in a large truck with huge oversized tires, and declined my offer for a free leak check.  As soon as he declined, he tossed a burning cigarette butt out his window, which landed near me.  I moved towards the butt, intending to pick it up. Guilt ridden, he beat me to it.  Then we had a brief conversation about the fate of litter in streams.

The decliners muttered “I’m very mechanical, so I know if my car is leaking” to “this car only has 30,000 miles” to “I just had the car serviced” to “this is a company car so it’s not leaking” and “I’m only here for one hour.” 

Meanwhile, the other volunteers unfurled a special white vinyl sheet under the engines of the cars whose owners agreed to the leak test.  The sheet was left in place for about half an hour.  Then the sheet was removed, and the color and approximate amount of drips on a post card counted.  The tally was written up and left under the windshield wiper with the discount coupon and tips for getting the leaks fixed. In six hours we checked 305 cars and found 57 leaks.

Why check car leaks?  Pollution from vehicle leaks and exhaust is one of the primary sources of toxic pollution to the Salish Sea.  In Washington State, we release 7 million quarts of motor oil into our lakes, rivers, streams, and the Salish Sea every year.  Oil causes harm to wildlife through physical contact, ingestion, inhalation and absorption. Floating oil can contaminate plankton, algae, fish eggs, and the larvae of various invertebrates. When fish feed, they can subsequently become contaminated through ingestion of contaminated prey or by direct toxic effects of oil. Larger animals and humans consume contaminated organisms as they feed on these fish.

Leak check was sponsored by the City of Bellingham with funding from the Washington State Department of Ecology.  It was mostly staffed by volunteers.  We had a good time, got inspired, and learned to how to check for car leaks.  If you want to check your own car, it’s easy.  But most of all, it’s important.  While your engine is still warm, put a sheet of cardboard under the engine, and check it in an hour.  If you find leaks, please get them fixed. Finding and fixing leaks is a great way to keep your car on the road longer, and keep help prevent water pollution. We all need to pitch in for clean water.

Want more info about how to check for leaks?  Check here:  www.fixcarleaks.org
Want more pollution prevention tips?  Check here: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/hwtr/p2/sectors/p2sb.html

Thanks, City of Bellingham, for hosting this event!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

RDS & the road to MRF

The staff and owners of Recycling and Disposal Services (RDS), a locally owned recycling, garbage and waste disposal center, recently opened their facility for a public tour.   Attendees included solid waste and stormwater professionals, consultants, families, government staffers and interested citizens.  There was much to see – waste separation for recycling, stormwater systems, imposing machinery for compacting and sorting garbage, huge containers, grinders and mountains of ground up wood, pulverized toilets, and the best for last – a materials recovery facility – also called a “MRF.”

Let’s take a step back, examine the road to the MRF, and the unofficial short history of garbage handling in Whatcom County.  Before landfills and transfer stations, garbage was dumped into ravines and various places.  For 20 years beginning around 1950, one or two barge loads of wood and mill waste from the Georgia Pacific Mill was dumped into Bellingham Bay every week, and between 1953 and 1965, garbage from the City of Bellingham was collected in garbage trucks and dumped off the terminus of Cornwall Avenue into Bellingham BayPhoto courtesy of Phil Robbins.  Between 1950 and 1971 there were 21 garbage dumps that operated around the county: in Acme, Bellingham, Lynden, Lawrence, Pt Roberts, Sumas, Ten Mile, Y Road, Van Zandt, Custer, Glacier, and other locations.  Open burning was common at these dumps.  For a few years, burning garbage at two incinerators was the fashion.  Solid waste regulations evolved, small landfills filled to capacity, and large regional landfills with leachate and methane gas systems opened up near the Columbia River in central Washington and OregonWhatcom County became the first county in Washington to ship garbage to these regional landfills via rail.  In a typical year, RDS sends approximately 75,000 tons of garbage to the Columbia Ridge landfill, owned by Waste Management, in Arlington, Oregon.  Whatcom County produces approximately 150,000 tons of garbage annually.

RDS entered the scene as a garbage transfer station in 1996, and was required to gain coverage under the Department of Ecology’s industrial stormwater general permit (ISGP).   Businesses engaged in transportation, recycling, fabricating metal, refrigerated storage, and other endeavors with outdoor processes exposed to rain and stormwater are required to gain coverage under this permit if they discharge stormwater.  The permit is part of the National Discharge Elimination System (NPFES) permit system required by the federal Clean Water Act.  Read more about NPDES permits here.

RDS was issued a stormwater discharge permit, and subsequently re-issued revised permits in later years. They concentrated on finding new ways to separate waste for recycling, and did not pay special attention to their stormwater discharges.  They found markets for yard waste, concrete, and lumber, reconfigured their yard to allow for separating these from garbage, and continued to offer accept glass, aluminum, cardboard, newspaper for recycling at no cost.  They figured out new waste streams to recycle and divert from the waste stream, and expanded in size and complexity.  Buildings were added, traffic flow changed, special containers and systems invented to expedite sorting, both for customers and staff.  Business was good, population was growing, and so it went.  

Business as usual ended suddenly in July 2009 when RDS received an intent to sue letter from the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, southern counterpart to the North Sound Baykeeper, and a founding member of the Waterkeeper Alliance.  The letter stated that RDS was in violation of the Clean Water Act and its NPDES permit, and listed all the violations. The owners of RDS immediately agreed to improve stormwater practices, settled out of court, and paid a fine.  They took immediate actions to change their practices in order to clean up their stormwater discharges.  The actions included hiring a sweeper truck to regularly clean and vacuum their paved surfaces, parking heavy machinery under cover, creating and maintaining stormwater treatment vaults and redesigning their stormwater treatment bioswale.  They also installed new stormwater
catch basins and pipes, regularly employed catch basin filters (shown at right) and regular catch basin cleaning regimes, altered traffic flow, installed additional pavement, and more.  RDS became a clean stormwater innovator, which is what many permit holders have to do in order to prevent discharging polluted stormwater. 

What goes into your garbage?  Dog poop, kitty litter, baby diapers, and other unsavory items – toss it, right?  Once your stuff and everyone else’s is dumped onto the tipping floor, it sticks onto the garbage truck tires, then the slop flows to low areas on pavement, into catch basins, and into one of three stormwater treatment vaults on the RDS property.  I’ve watched RDS staff load a variety of filter “media” into the vaults, including compost mixtures, sand mixtures, and oyster shells, and combinations of these (photo above).  Pollutants adhere onto these media, which keeps them from getting discharged into Silver Creek, the nearest stream.  Silver Creek flows to the Nooksack River and is listed on the Washington State 303(d) list for impaired waters.  Because Silver Creek is already polluted with high levels fecal coliform bacteria, RDS has to comply with unusually low allowable discharge level for fecal coliform -100 colonies per 100 mL.  In order to comply with their ISGP, they take quarterly samples for turbidity, pH, zinc, oil sheen, copper and fecal coliform from their final disharge point – where water discharges from their stormwater treatment bioswale. 

As part of their efforts to increase recycling of waste, RDS added this new sorting system called a materials recycling facility, or MRF, in late 2012.  The lucky guy shown above is loading garbage for sorting onto a conveyor belt system.  Along the belt, a newly hired team of people sort waste as it moves along the belt:  cardboard, wood, wire, metal, and plastic is removed and place it into bins for recycling. 

RDS recycles cardboard, mixed paper, newspaper, glass bottles & jars, plastic containers, tin and aluminum cans, televisions, computer monitors, computers, and laptops free of charge.  For a fee RDS recycles yard waste, wood, concrete, scrap metal, dirt/sod, appliances, tires, porcelain toilets & sinks, lawn mowers, propane tanks, and car batteries.  We are so fortunate to have these recycling options – thanks RDS!

We applaud the efforts that RDS takes to keep their facility clean to protect water quality, as well as their work to offer so many recycling options.  RDS is a stormwater super hero!  Thanks for all your great work.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Cherry Point by Kayak. Mid-February 2013

Cherry Point by Kayak.  Mid-February 2013.
By Matt Schwartz, Baykeeper Intern
There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.”
Wendell Berry, Given

Cherry Point must be tired.  Since the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliot[1] called for the Lummi Nation to relinquish much of its homeland, the years have been hectic.  It seems that even the Strait of Georgia and the Puget Sound are pulling her in two.  Cherry Point, known to the Lummi people by its ancestral name Xwe'Chi'eXen, has a contentious history of proposed oil drilling, clean water regulations, herring fishery openings, herring fishery closures, refinery construction and court cases.   
We are a small crew of North sound Baykeeper kayakers today and the expedition begins in a cautious state of mind.  Georgia Strait can be quick to anger and often funnels heavy wind and waves straight towards Cherry Point.  As we set out from Birch Bay State Park, however, the paddle gods and goddesses must be howling somewhere else- moody Georgia Strait is behaving nicely.  The water is glassy calm and the sun is making appearances. We paddle for a few hours spotting surf scoters, Brant ducks, Saturna and Orcas Islands and a tanker appearing to be offloading crude oil at the BP refinery pier.  A sign says "Do not approach within 100 yards of a tanker at dock. Security Zone Regulations.”   So we keep our distance, but still manage to scope out the gigantic boom they have in place in case of a spill.  Eventually, we pick out an inviting cobbled beach and land our kayaks in between two black bear-sized boulders.  We walk along the beach and thousands of shades of cobblestones jostle underfoot.  Dark greys, pearl whites, speckled scarlet and gold, jet black striped with orange, sandy brown splotched with purple.  If a rock could show off, these cobbles are sure trying their hardest.  As the incoming tide rinses over them the colors come to life.  We stop for lunch and a quiet moment.  I try to picture the last several hundred generations of Lummi ancestors gathering plants and berries, collecting shellfish and reefnet fishing in this very spot.  I try to imagine paddling a monstrous cedar dugout canoe.  Yup, this place is cool.     

Two questions beg some attention.

What’s so sweet about this Cherry?

Try to picture it.  A steep intertidal gradient- this means that the shore quickly drops off into deep water.   This deep water is nutrient rich.  Currents churn and sweep this water up towards the surface in a process called upwelling.  These nutrients become dinner for plankton, the little guys of the food chain.  Towering above sections of the beach are tall bluffs, which over time, either gently erode or abruptly calve off[2], feeding the beaches with sand and gravel that forage fish like to spawn in.  Fine sediment washes in from the Fraser River helping to fertilize the underwater vegetation.  Variable wave action hammering and caressing the beaches and moderate tides also contribute to a rich soup of mixed algae, kelps and eelgrass.  The forage fish love that stuff.  They can lay eggs in it, hide amongst it and find plenty of delicious plankton to eat.  The salmon sure like that.  And the Salish Coast People sure liked how they like that.  Seasonal waterfowl, marine seabirds, land mammals, and thousands of marine invertebrates round out this dizzying food web.  These gastronomical relationships have supported a broad ‘homeland’ in which the Lummi people subsisted and traded for thousands of years.  The Lummi had established villages of multi‐family cedar‐plank longhouses but would migrate seasonally up, down and across the north Puget Sound, from the Fraser River in British Colombia down to Seattle, including much of the San Juan Islands.  Cherry Point connected land to sea as an entryway from inland routes to the islands in the original homeland territory of the Lummi people.  

Who wants a slice of Cherry Point?

 Today, an insoluble mix of interests mangles the greater Cherry point area.  These include private residences, the Lummi Reservation, an aquatic reserve run by WDNR[3], Washington’s largest oil refinery (owned by BP), a major aluminum smelter (Alcoa) and a second oil refinery (Conoco Philips).  
Big business wants Cherry Point.  That steep intertidal gradient means that large vessels can come close to shore without the need to dredge out shipping channels or berthing areas.  Major water-dependent industries have already located on the shores and a hotly contested proposal for a major coal terminal is on the table.

The Lummi Nation wants Cherry Point… left alone.  “These adverse impacts potentially affect our past, present, and future generations by way of steady encroachment on any and all waterways and uplands of our ancestral homelands like Xwe'Chi'eXen” , states the Lummi Nation Awareness Project[4]Inherent, Inherited and Treaty rights protect sacred burial sites, traditional medicine and other plant gathering, underwater traditional cultural property and archaeology and fishing rights for the Lummi.  Salmon is historically the most important food source for the Lummi, the ‘People of the Sea’.  Because salmon migration is cyclic, their lives and migrations revolved around the fish.  Knowing that fish on spawning runs would rise toward the surface as they neared underwater reefs, the Lummi figured out a brilliantly successful technique for catching a lot of fish, called ‘reef netting’.  Reef nets are designed to simulate a natural reef or an obstacle that the salmon must swim across.   The fish are funneled towards the surface as they swim up the ‘reef’, and are netted.  “The Lummi are salmon people; salmon is culture, and culture is salmon,” says Merle Jefferson, director of the Lummi Natural Resources Department.[5]

The Washington Department of Natural Resources has a management plan in place for the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve.  Included is the understanding that “the aquatic environment of Cherry Point provides essential habitat and irreplaceable biological and ecological functions; is a portion of Treaty-protected Usual and Accustomed grounds and stations of local Native American Indians, and are used by the Indians for commercial, ceremonial, and subsistence purposes.”[6]
Cherry Point has a deep cultural, historic, and spiritual significance to the Lummi people who have a longstanding history of opposing development of the property.  It’s worth consideration that Cherry Point is located within the usual and accustomed areas of several federally recognized tribes, including the Lummi, Nooksack, Swinomish, Suquamish and Tulalip Tribes as well.  Xwe’chi’eXen was also the first site in Washington State to be listed on the Washington Heritage Register and is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. 

All this being said, I want Cherry Point too.  It has been a glorious day of paddling and aside from the oil tanker and a few beach walkers combing the shore it has been a quiet and peaceful day.  It would be hard to picture a bustling coal port here on this land.  It would be hard to for these waters to absorb hundreds of super-sized ‘Panamax’[7] ships rolling in and out every year, in addition to all of the vessel traffic present from the industry already here.  My kayak is 17’ and weighs 300 lbs on a good day so I’ve got nothing on a 950 foot Panamax.  As the light starts to dim we slowly paddle home, trying to stretch the day out as long as we can.  I feel a heavy sigh come on and feel Cherry Point’s tired eyes on my back, shaking her head, “oh, you silly humans”.

November 2010. Cherry Point Environmental Aquatic Reserve Management Plan.  WA State Department of Natural Resources. http://www.dnr.wa.gov/Publications/aqr_cp_mgmt_plan_2010.pdf
Stark, Ann. February 2008. Lummi Nation Atlas. Lummi Natural Resources Department.
Background Information on the Lummi Nation. National Museum of the American Indian Education Office.  http://nmai.si.edu/environment/lummi/Homeland.aspx
1974. Document: Boldt Decision. Center for Colombia River History. http://www.ccrh.org/comm/river/legal/boldt.htm

[1] Consistent with the Federal Indian Law and Policy of the day, the Lummi and other Coastal Salish peoples were commonly relegated to reservations and promised cash, schools and health care in exchange for fishing, harvesting and hunting rights.  The signatories of the treaty long protested the government’s failure to uphold their end of the bargain and respect fishing rights.  The issue made it to the Supreme Court in the landmark Native American civil rights case: United States v. Washington.
[2] Erosion is a natural process but without vegetation on a hillside or a bluff there is not a lot to keep soil in place.  We see a lot of staircases built from the private residences descending the bluffs and in these cases where the construction cleared out vegetation, the bluff is clearly melting away.  From our kayaks we can see that many of the staircases along the shore have fallen and smashed below, been abandoned or are dangling by a thread as the bluff that once supported them has given way. 
[3] Washington Department of Natural Resources
[4] http://lnnr.lummi-nsn.gov/LummiWebsite/Website.php?PageID=235
[5] P.1 NMAI. Background Information on the Lummi Nation
[6] p.4-5 WDNR. Cherry Point Environmental Aquatic Reserve Management Plan
[7] The proposed coal terminal wharf would be able to accommodate vessels too large to transit the Panama Canal (known as Cape-sized ships) and Panamax ships with capacities up to 250,000 dry weight tons.  Cherry Point’s shoreline already receives 850 annual transits and the proposed terminal would hundreds more.