Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Brainstorming for Clean Water at the Alger Community Hall – Got Ideas?

What happens when a dozen farmers, a half dozen interested citizens, a shellfish farmer, a Skagit County Commissioner, staff from Skagit County Public Works and the Skagit Conservations District, and a couple environmentalists all get together? A lot of ideas are generated!

This happened during a recent meeting at the Alger Community Hall hosted by the Skagit Conservation District. The purpose of the meeting was to give everyone a chance to talk about ways to solve fecal coliform pollution in the Samish River caused by animal waste.

After an introduction by Carolyn Kelly, Skagit Conservation District Director, Skagit County’s Water Quality Analyst Rick Haley took the stage and explained that although water quality in the Samish has shown a lot of improvement over the last year, fecal coliform pollution is ongoing. The water is periodically unsafe for shellfish harvesting, and unsafe for family recreation. Following this update, the 25 or so attendees divided up into two groups. Once in the groups we brainstormed possible answers to two questions: “What is causing the fecal coliform pollution, and what should be done to solve this problem?”

Everybody offered up their ideas, and a moderator listed them on a poster board. Then each group presented their ideas to the entire group. A few of the ideas resulted in some audible grumbling, but everybody was civil and seemed genuinely interested in new ideas. Here’s an unadulterated list of what both groups came up with:

  • Uncovered piles of horse manure should be covered so they don’t become a source of pollution.
  • More farms should follow farm plans.
  • Hobby farmers should be required to get farm plans.
  • Farm plans are great, but someone should field verify that they’re being followed.
  • The many large drainage pipes that connect ditches and drain tiles to the Samish River should be tested to see if they are sources of pollution.
  • Neighbors should talk to neighbors and try to stop pollution problems amongst themselves, without regulators.
  • More peer to peer pressure, less regulations are needed.
  • Regulators should stop blaming farmers.
  • Everybody in the community would benefit from more education, in short courses, such as at local feed stores or Grange Halls.
  • There needs to be more education about pet waste.
  • Compliance inspections should be more consistent.
  • Inspectors should look for all sources of pollution, not just from horses and cows.
  • Inspectors should test the water every 10’ until “they” figure out where the problem is coming from.
  • Stop looking for problems, start focusing on positive steps that have been taken.
  • Publicize the places that have been fixed, and write articles about them.
  • More small meetings, such as this, in local grange halls and kitchen tables will help to keep this conversation alive.

The best thing about this meeting was that a diverse group of people sat down together in a room and voiced their ideas. All of us want a clean river, and this is a great way to get everyone's ideas out in the open. Even though some people disagreed with a few of the ideas, everyone listened. I’m looking forward to more of these meetings, in the grange halls and other meeting places. Have any more ideas to add to the list? Thanks to Skagit Conservation District for hosting this meeting!


  1. I do. Be sure all livestock is WAY away from ditches and streams so the manure does not wash along and along and eventually into the Samish River!

  2. Thanks, Rabbits Guy! Here's a few more from the "official list" collected at the meeting:
    - Train citizens to talk with their neighbors using a beachwatcher model.
    - New landowners in the watershed should receive a special informational packet when they move in.
    - Some farms have too many animals for the land to support.
    - Wood shavings were used in the past as animal bedding, but they're too expensive now. Help citizens find alternatives.
    - Regular editorials about this issue should be written for the newspaper.

    If anyone wants the complete list of ideas from the meeting, just let me know at