Washington's Missing Streams, Uncounted Fish, and Ubiquitous Pipes
by Stephen C. Conroy, Ph.D.
Stephen C. Conroy, Ph.D. is the science and research director of Washington Trout
Many of Washington's native salmon, trout, char and steelhead stocks are depressed. Some are already extinct. And some, especially coho, chinook and Columbia River bull trout, are candidates for listing under the Federal Endangered Species Act. With many other stocks and species on the path to extinction we have to take action to protect the remaining stocks, and to promote the regeneration of the healthy wild fish habitats upon which our native fish stocks depend.
Unfortunately, in many places we are failing to provide even the most basic protection for our streams and salmon. This is partly due to a lack of county and state regulations requiring adequate streamside protection, especially in development and agricultural areas. However, there is a more insidious reason as well. Even when the laws are there to protect fish-bearing streams, the water type maps that are relied on to indicate which streams have fish in them are grossly inaccurate. Washington Trout's stream typing research has found that, on average, the Washington Department of Natural Resources' maps are incorrect more than 50 percent of the time. Hundreds of miles of streams do not even appear on the maps, and others are incorrectly deemed to have no fish in them. Streams that should be protected because of their importance to the survival of certain stocks are being degraded because of oversight and sloppy science. We are losing habitat every day, simply because of bad maps.
Studies by tribal biologists in the Olympic Peninsula and Hood Canal areas showed that current Department of Natural Resources water type maps underestimate the actual miles of fish-bearing streams by almost 50 percent (Baxter & Mobbs 1993, Baxter 1994, Bahls, & Ereth 1994).
In the Snoqualmie drainage, over 40 percent of the new fish-bearing streams that have been identified were not even present on Department of Natural Resources' base maps! This constitutes over 30 miles of fish-bearing water, in a single drainage, that were not afforded appropriate protection in law because the Department of Natural Resources did not know they were there.
Fish Found in Small Streams
The Department of Natural Resources set standards of minimum width and maximum gradient for a presumption of fish presence. Data from field surveys have shown these criteria to be grossly inadequate. Fish, both resident and anadromous, are frequently found in streams as small as two to three feet wide at the ordinary high water mark. The actual wetted width of some of these streams can be as little as one foot in the dry season, and some streams that contain important spawning habitat actually dry up in summer. State agencies are now recognizing that these tiny streams can in fact be fish-bearing and may actually constitute critical spawning and rearing habitat for cutthroat trout and coho.
In recognition of the magnitude of the mis-typing problem, the Timber, Fish and Wildlife process has implemented an emergency ruling designating that all streams currently typed as "four" [non-fish bearing] be treated as fish-bearing under the Forest Practices Rules, providing they are wider than two feet at the ordinary high water mark and are of 20 percent or lower gradient. This will in fact afford higher "Type three" riparian proteciton to the vast majority of fish-bearing water currently typed as "four."
Fish-Bearing Streams Not Mapped
While this proposed emergency ruling is a major step forward for fish, it will not address the fact that a great many of the state's fish-bearing streams are not mapped. Watershed analysis, touted as a fish protection process, does not require that stream type be verified. Therefore, despite the implicit aim of preserving fish habitat, the watershed analysis process does not even require fish habitat to be correctly identified. In view of the errors in the old stream type maps, it would be illogical to conduct any more watershed anlyses without requiring that stream type verification be conducted as an integral part of the process. Much habitat has been lost due to past errors in stream typing; some has been found again by retyping, but we cannot afford to lose any more.
We know we are incorrectly identifying fish habitat. It is essential that streams in areas slated for development be adequately surveyed for fish use. We must then give the streams protection from the adverse effects of development by establishing riparian buffer zones around these streams and ensuring that all road crossings be built to allow fish passage.
Major Factor in the Decline of Fish Populations
What is a major contributing factor to habitat loss and degradation and a factor that may be the most common limiting feature in the decline of fish populations in most of our streams? So common that we pass hundreds of these in-stream structures in our daily driving, and they have become such an accustomed part of our environment that we may not even perceive that they are there. We are talking about culverts. On your next drive to work, try to count how many culverts you pass. I think the number will surprise you.
When streams are typed incorrectly, they are then given no protection under the law. This means that not only are the adjacent lands left open to abuse, but developments in the streams, such as culverts, do not have to allow for fish passage (because they have wrongly concluded that no fish are present). The mapping and typing mistakes then become a self-fulfilling reality. Our research has found that more than 70 percent of all culverts currently block or impede upstream migration of anadromous [returning to breed in fresh water] and resident fish. As a result, thousands of miles of potential fish habitat are lost because the fish cannot physically get there.
Every road that crosses a stream needs a culvert (or bridge) to allow water to pass under the road, whether it be a major highway or a logging road high in the watershed. Likewise for every railroad that crosses a stream, including those railroads used in the past for timber harvest operations. Every drainage ditch needs a culvert to pass water under the road. Every irrigation system and water diversion system in agricultural lands also need culverts to pass water.
Thousands of Culverts Impede Fish Passage
How many culverts are there in Washington? No one knows for sure, but the number can be counted in the hundreds of thousands and perhaps over a million. Washington State Department of Transportation estimates there are 350 blocking culverts within their jurisdiction. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife estimated there were approximately 2,400 blocking culverts that prevented anadromous access to over 3,000 miles of salmon habitat statewide. King County Surface Water Management estimates that 45-50 percent of culverts in non-forested King County are an impediment to fish migration, demonstrating that the problem is not restricted to forest lands.
It might be argued that any culvert that limits fish migraiton contributes to a decline in water quality due to deprivation of that stream reach of marine-derived nutrients. It is now recognized that marine-derived nutrients are essential for the productivity of our stream ecosystems. Marine-derived nutrients can only be delivered to our streams in the form of salmon and steelhead carcasses. These nutrients have been shown to have a direct effect upon the ability of a stream to produce healthy populations of juvenile fish and the insect populations upon which they depend. Culverts that limit fish distribution affect entire ecosystems by impacting upon the many and varied animal, bird and aquatic insect species that depend upon fish and fish carcasses for forage. This list is long and diverse, but includes such species as eagle, bear, raccoon, wren, dipper, raven etc..
Culverts may also influence and contribute to a reduction in genetic diversity in our fish populations. Clearly, impassable culverts in areas of resident trout populations will restrict the breeding population to those fish that are present in a given stream reach. No further genetic input is possible within the reach from populations downstream. Since headwater cutthroat populations tend to be small and widely spaced, this can lead to inbreeding depression. It can render the population more likely to face extinction because of the limited diversity within the population.
In the anadromous zone, culverts that create impediments to fish passage may select for fish that are larger, in the case of velocity or perch barriers, or for fish that are smaller, in the case of depth barriers. Flow regimens may only allow passage within a narrow time window and therefore select for return time. These factors all contribute to a decrease in genetic diversity within the populations in a given stream, thereby reducing overall fitness of the population and reducing the effective breeding population in the stream reach.
Culvert Assessment Not Required
No state agency has yet to design or adopt a defined protocol for assessing culverts for fish passage, yet it is deemed illegal in Washington State to install a culvert that prevents fish passage. Neither Habitat Conservation Plans nor State nor Federal Watershed Analysis procedures require culverts to be assessed for fish passage, nor do they require remedial action be taken in the event a culvert is shown to be blocking fish passage.
Even the best habitat is of little use to the fish if they cannot reach it. Identification of fish blockages, and replacement of blockages with "fish friendly" culverts, is one of the simplest forms of habitat restoration and one of the most effective.
How to Design and Maintain Culverts That Allow Fish Passage
How do culverts prevent or impede fish migration? Here is a list of basic considerations that need to be addressed when designing, installing and maintaining the culvert:
1. Fish need to have adequate access to the pipe, e.g. sufficient plunge pool depth for upstream migration, with suitable pool configuration to allow sufficient from to initiate a jump. If fish cannot approach the culvert because of debris accumulation at the outfall, they may not be able to orient their jump to successfully enter the pipe.
2. The outlet of the culvert needs to be low enough to permit fish to enter the pipe, i.e. the perch height should not exceed the leaping capability of the fish. The leaping ability of fish varies with species, life history state, size and condition. A culvert that is passable to coho in the lower reaches of the stream may not be passable further upstream as the condition of the fish deteriorates.
3. There may be a cumulative effect of culverts upon the energy reserves of fish that can limit the extent of upstream migration. While each culvert may itself be passable, but an impediment to migration, the net effect is to limit the range of usable habitat within the drainage.
4. The water velocity within the pipe should not exceed the swimming capability of the fish. This is influenced by the type of structure, roughness characteristics and physical dimensions (length and diameter and slope) of the pipe and water discharge during the migration periods.
5. The culvert should have sufficient water depth to permit the fish to swim through the pipe. Water depths that support cutthroat migration may not permit adult chinook or chum migration. Wide culverts with low water depth may also inhibit juvenile migration during seasonal low flow periods.
6. The culvert should be free of blocking debris within the pipe, although in some cases debris may be beneficial by reducing water velocity within the pipe.
7. There should be adequate egress conditions at the upstream end of the pipe. Debris accumulation, bedload accumulation, or an acute angle between stream and culvert at the upper end of the pipe may induce hydraulic conditions that prevent the fish from exiting the pipe. Therefore the pipe should be designed to pass bedload material without excess accumulation in or above the pipe.
8. The culvert conditions listed above must be appropriate for the species and life history stage and physical condition of the fish in the stream. Juveniles need access to rearing habitat, and conditions that are passable to steelhead adults may not be passable to coho or cutthroat adults.
9. The culvert should be designed to permit migration under the mean flows expected during the migration periods for all of the fish species and life history stages present in the stream.
There are many examples of culverts that are clear blockages to fish passage. There are many, many more that are impediments to migration because the biomechanics of the fish have not been taken into account during the design and installation of these pipes.
Many People Unaware They Are Preventing Fish From Migrating
Landowners may not know that the culvert they installed is preventing fish from migrating to their spawning beds. They may not know that the lawn they have carefully cultivated to the edge of the stream is poisoning fish with pesticides and fertilizer, and that the lack of shade is raising temperature to lethal levels. Many landowners may be unaware that these lowland areas contain a high percentage of the rearing habitat for juvenile fish and that the populations can be remarkably sensitive to impacts in these stream reaches.
Poorly installed culverts can also lead to incorrect streamtyping. In many cases, stream reaches upstream from the culverts are devoid of fish, solely because the culverts do not permit access to that habitat. Since the streams are no longer "fish-bearing" they could be water typed as such. Land use practices can then be conducted without regard for fish habitat. Although man-made barriers cannot, by law, be used to justify typing a stream as non-fish bearing, it happens. An insidious circle is thereby created that could easily migrate downstream, reach by reach, if culverts are not designed to pass fish.
Fundamental Questions Must Be Addressed
What can be done to mitigate the effects of culverts on our fish populations? The first steps towards the restoration and protection of our fish stocks require asking a number of fundamental questions and establishing a sound, logical approach to their resolution. These questions are: Where are the fish now? What was their historical range? Are their habitats accessible and contiguous, or are their historic habitats rendered inaccessible or fragmented by man-made barriers, and are those habitats protected?
Culvert Assessment Has Begun
Washington Trout has been conducting culvert assessment, at the basin-wide level, using a systematic and consistent methodology to examine man-made barriers in a number of watersheds throughout the state. Streams are first water typed to determine the extent of fish habitat within the system; then culverts are mapped and assessed. The culvert assessment procedure uses standard surveying techniques and is designed to record data in a manner independent of the time of survey or flow regimens and in a manner that can be used to predict fish passage capability under varying flow conditions. We have collected data on thousands of culverts and, while much of these data are still being analyzed, the results of our preliminary work clearly indicate the magnitude of the problem. Overall, approximately 75 percent of the culverts surveyed by Washington Trout are blockages or impediments to fish passage. If this is representative of most of our drainages, we have lost significant amounts of fish habitat statewide.
In Whatcom County, Hutchinson Creek on the Nooksack had thirty-three culverts analyzed. Ninety-four percent of the culverts surveyed adversely affect juvenile upstream migration. Eighty-five percent adversely affect adult upstream migration. Only six percent were passable for juveniles, and fifteen percent were passable for adults.
The identification and rectification of barriers to fish migration is one of, if not the most, cost effective habitat restoration processes. A clear advantage of this type of repair is that it is easily monitored and the benefits can be easily measured through increased fish numbers and increased spawning and rearing of fish in previously unavailable habitat.
Database on Culverts Being Compiled by Washington Trout
Washington Trout is assembling a database containing the physical measurements of all of the culverts surveyed. This database is compatible with a culvert analysis program that is being developed for Washington Trout which permits rapid analysis of culverts for their ability to permit fish passage under various flow regimens. This will be the only known program which can assess culverts for fish passage in relation to the measured physical parameters of the culvert and the known or estimated flow regimens for any given stream. The program will permit analysis of culverts by species, life history class, flow regimens and will identify those culverts which fall into the gray area of "impediments" to passage. The first version of this program is now being tested with data collected by Washington Trout field teams and, when thoroughly tested and debugged, it will be made available to interested parties at no charge.
The Path to Recovery
The first stage in salmon recovery should be to correct the maps that currently allow habitat destruction because they fail to identify where fish live. The next stage in the protection of both fish and fish habitat is the provision of more extensive streamside reserves throughout watersheds. These reserves help keep our waters clean, help protect fish from all varieties of land use practices and provide the fish with a safe place to live and grow. And finally, we must identify and remove or replace culverts that block fish passage. These three steps are essential if we are to have any hope of recovering the wild salmon of the Pacific Northwest.
Baxter, B. and Mobbs, M., 1993. Stream Type Verification Project, Quinault Indian Nation Division of Environmental Protection.
Baxter, B., 1994. Johns River Stream type verification Project, Quinault Indian Nation Division of Environmental Protection.
Bahls, P., and Ereth, M., 1994. Stream Typing Error in Washington Water Type Maps for Watersheds of Hood Canal and Southwest Olympic Peninsula. Kingston and Shelton, Washington, Point No Point Treaty Council, Technical Report TR 94-2.
This article was compiled by Helen Brandt, Ph.D. from technical reports by Stephen C. Conroy, Ph.D., "Habitat Lost and Found: How Mapping Errors and Bad Culverts Harm Washington's Salmon and Trout" TR-98-1 and "Habitat Lost and Found: Part Two" Vol. 7 No.1. The complete reports and further information, including opportunities for training through Washington Trout's Culvert College, may be obtained from Washington Trout (425) 788-1167. The material in this article is reprinted with the permission of Washington Trout.
Bellingham Planning Commission Approves Hotel for Squalicum Harbor
by Janet Willing
Janet Willing is a resident of Bellingham
In the late 1970's the Port of Bellingham used fill and dredged materials from the Squalicum Harbor expansion to create the Thomas J. Glenn spit. At that time, the shoreline was primarily used for industrial purposes. The port's new property was to be "intensively developed with mixed uses" at some point in the future. Since then the Coast Guard Station, the Marina Restaurant, gatehouse and restrooms at Gate 12 and the parking lot for the boat launch were built.
The port has now come forward with a Squalicum Peninsula Masterplan. This Masterplan, presented at two neighborhood meetings and before the City of Bellingham Planning Commission, received approval on its Permit for Shoreline Management Substantial Development from Patricia Decker, Director of the Planning and Community Development Department, on May 21, 1998. The Port of Bellingham now can move forward with the development of the 14.7 acre site in phases, beginning with a 45 room hotel and dock, underground utilities, road improvements, parking, walkway, plazas and a one acre park.
The later phases will include a mix of office, retail and residential space, a building site potentially for a conference/education center, a public dock and additional parking. The Coast Guard has purchased a portion of the peninsula along the I & J Waterway for a new station that will provide more direct access to the harbor mouth for quicker response time.
Many conditions were placed on the permit. (See map on page 13) Height restrictions were placed on buildings: 50' for A,B and C, 54' for the hotel, 35' for all other buildings. No residential units will be at ground level; there are a possible 18 planned residential units. A building pad (F) will be reserved for a conference/education/convention center although final determination to build the structure will require community interest and financing.
The port will assist with providing public access to the beach at the head of the I & J Waterway and work cooperatively with the city and community in making improvements to that beach as part of the first phase of development. Parking spaces will not exceed city code unless there is a demonstrated need and the city agrees in writing. The port will be sensitive to the effects of lighting on its residential neighbors, using low sodium lights, light shields or downward directed light among other choices.
The port will provide water quality treatment for site development including maintenance, monitoring, and corrections to stormwater treatment facilities necessary to perform design functions. Building alarms on the peninsula are not to include broadcast alarms.
The proposed 220' hotel dock is to be marked/staked out for 10 days to allow on-site monitoring by the city and public experience in accessing the adjacent marina prior to the building permit application process. Pilings shall be concrete or steel. Roof surfaces and elevations shall be reviewed to determine consistency with the design parameters of the Central Business District Neighborhood Plan of 1980. The waterside walkway shall be a minimum of 10' wide and connect to a trail for public access to the beach at the head of the I & J Waterway. A construction phase plan shall be submitted to the city for approval prior to any site construction.
Bill Hager of the port has computer generated/enhanced photos showing how the development will appear. He invites anyone who wants to view them to come down to the port offices for that purpose. He believes the port has been very sensitive to placement of buildings, ensuring "through-views" of the harbor and bay from any standpoint.
Kim Hyatt at the City of Bellingham Planning and Community Development Department is the contact person to obtain a copy of the Notice of Decision and Permit, as well as the packet of information describing the full masterplan in detail.
Logging Whatcom County's Steep Slopes
by John DiGregoria
John Di Gregoria is an ecologist living in Bellingham.
As the debates roll on concerning the impacts of environmental degradation, industry continues with business as usual. If we don't know the outcome of a land-use activity, industries' motto is "Let's do it."
Throughout Whatcom County forest practices continue to degrade the environment. Logging and road construction on unstable terrain continue to alter the hydrologic regime while reducing the amount of Large Woody Debris moving into aquatic systems. The last remnants of old-growth forests are scattered in areas that are considered potentially dangerous, such as above and on large deep-seated landslides, along the upper ridges of and within inner gorges, and on steep and unstable slopes. With the possible loss of Chinook salmon from the Nooksack watershed, how is it that we allow forest practices (industrial logging) to occur in areas that will negatively impact salmon habitat and/or downstream property owners?
Groundwater Management Zones
Industry wants to begin logging areas above deep-seated landslides and within the associated Groundwater Management Zone (GMZ). The GMZ is the area above a deep-seated slide where hydrologic processes, including surface and subsurface flow, direct water into the unstable slump. Cutting the area above and within the GMZ will decrease rainfall interceptors and increase the quantity of water moving downslope into the GMZ and the slumping earth. Increased soil saturation in deep-seated landslides can increase the rate of slumping. A supersaturated slump during an earthquake can result in the entire slump moving rapidly downhill and burying everything below. We know and understand that deep-seated landslides are active and unpredictable. We don't know the effects that deforesting the area above and within the GMZ will have on the rate of slumping and the overall stability of deep-seated landslides.
Industry argues that we must release all of the potential landslides associated with the inner gorges now in order to prevent future catastrophic landslides--once it blows out it's safe for a while. They argue that a catastrophic fire burns the entire landscape releasing all of the potential landslides immediately (within ten years) after the fire. This argument has some credence (fires do occur here and post-fire landslides can be catastrophic). The holes in this argument are obvious. If we release all of the landslides now, we create the exact situation we are attempting to prevent. With current firefighting abilities, we rarely have Westside fires burn entire basins or even sub-basins. Natural burn patterns of forest fires are mosaic; some areas burn while other areas don't. Some fires burn into inner gorges and along ridgelines while other fires jump past. It is highly unusual for a forest fire to burn all areas within the fire's perimeter. When we look temporally and spatially at the landscape, naturally occurring landslides add sediment and Large Woody Debris into aquatic systems, but at a slower rate than associated with current clearcutting.
Current forest practices include logging up to the steep slopes of the inner gorges. Since no buffer is left along the perimeter of the gorge, wind-throw landslides have resulted. These landslides have the potential to reach the streams below, increasing the sediment load and creating conditions for future problems to downslope property.
Damage From Forest Practices
In the past, forest practices have included a number of methodologies that have caused severe environmental damage. Cutting right up to the stream bank eliminated large areas as salmon habitat for many years after. Roads built on steep slopes with the cut-fill technique have resulted in mass wasting events. Roads built without culverts (or with poorly designed culverts) have led to road blowouts and loss of salmon habitat. In fact roads in general have drastically altered the hydrologic regime of all basins and sub-basins. We see this in increased peak flows, transformed aquatic sediment regime, and the loss of access for salmon into smaller aquatic systems. Most of these detrimental forest practices of the past have caused changes in forest practices rules, regulations and methodologies with the intention of reducing negative impacts to both the human and natural environment.
If we continue to allow industry to conduct experimental deforestation in areas where we don't know the outcome--yet common sense dictates that severe degradation will be the results--then we as a community will continue to lose. Industry (this includes some of our state agencies) must be held responsible for their careless attitude towards the communities in which they operate.
Listening to the Heart of the World:
A Journey to Renewal
By Emily Farrell
Emily Farrell is a psychotherapist and ecopsychologist in private practice in Bellingham.
Amid cherry and apple blossoms, tulips and dandelions, knee high grass and baby maple leaves, I am caressed by soft, dreamy winds under warm sunshine. I feel intoxicated with the sensuous, joyful beauty of spring. Soil in my garden is soft and warm, ready to receive and nourish seeds. My hands are in the dirt, and I am happy. In the world of my garden, in the local parks and greenbelts, life unfolds and all appears well. This is a good thing. We know, however that it is not the whole story. Without going into a litany of facts about the very serious social and environmental difficulties faced by our local community, not to mention the greater whole, I would like to bring them to your awareness for a moment or two.
In the anguish people feel when they see special places destroyed or developed, in the fear, worry and sorrow of encountering the toll environmental degradation can take on the health of loved ones or neighbors, abstract concepts become a personal, highly emotional experience. The emotional impact of environmental degradation can lead to a profound despair about the future. We have at times an inexplicable intuition of the overwhelming risk at which humanity has placed the earth as a whole, and of the suffering of humans and other creatures. How to live with integrity and compassion in the face of this reality, without being overwhelmed by guilt, anger, helplessness and despair, is one of the central challenges of our times.
Retreating to a Cave
One wet summer day in an old mining cave outside of Glacier I was touched unexpectedly deeply by the community of life of which we are a part. Hidden on a hillside of second growth fir and cedar, above a rushing creek at the edge of the wilderness, this cave looked like an ideal place to retreat into the wild earth, to be nourished in heart and soul by the vibrancy of life and its exquisite beauty. I am often frightened by caves, probably because I was fed too many stories as a child of goblins, gnomes and wild beasts; but this cave drew me in. Slowly overcoming my fear I made my way into it, and sat in the entrance looking out over the world. As my mind quieted and my heart opened, I began to move my awareness inward, seeking that inner place where we are all united, and the silent center of my own heart.
I found myself unexpectedly hit, like a blow to my stomach, with a profound awareness of the wounding of the earth. This feeling of illness and loss was beyond all that I knew intellectually about losses to biodiversity and the suffering of people. It was as if I was experiencing all of it at once, as though it was all happening to one being, whose loss was overwhelming and irreplaceable, and whom I loved. A huge black cloud of despair settled over me. Despite appearances in my immediate environment, I knew, in my heart and in my gut, that the living systems of the planet as a whole were imperiled, that we have, in profound ways, become lost as a community, as a species. And I grieved. My life became meaningless in the face of that despairing grief.
Much of the direction my life has taken since that day has been in response to that despair, and in response to the undeniable fact of my personal experience of the being of the Earth. Acknowledging the reality of that experience, refusing to pass it off as some kind of fantasy, living with its implications, and beginning to find ways to share in community feelings about specific losses to land, have returned clarity, a sense of purpose and renewed meaningfulness to my life. Where there is grief there is also love, but it can only be felt by moving through the heart of the pain.
How do we, as a community of concerned humans, grieve? How do we make a place in our lives for grief about something so vast yet so personal, without becoming immobilized by it?
The magnitude of despair for the earth as a whole, and the intuitive way in which it is often perceived, make it especially difficult to find a way through. But each loss is connected to all losses. My experience is that grief for specific losses to the earth can light the way through overwhelming despair. Grief shared strengthens community and is healing. Unshared, grief creates isolation and powerlessness.
The Process of Grieving
Because loss is one of the primary experiences of life, and because it carries so much weight in the human psyche, there are some common threads in the process of grieving that many researchers have highlighted, and which are well-described by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her work with the dying and their families. Three main stages are commonly identifiable, although, of course, each person's way through them is unique. These stages dovetail Joanna Macy's work with despair and empowerment quite neatly. They are: 1) Shock and denial; 2) Emotional realization of loss; 3) Acceptance or peace. Taken together they can provide a kind of map, or series of guideposts through this territory deep in our hearts.
Stage 1: Denial. Denial of the facts is a natural human response when the implications feel overwhelming. This normal tendency is exaggerated in our culture by a kind of misplaced self-sufficiency which demands that our pain be private, and that the face we show to the world be one of consistent cheerful activity and prosperity. Our normal human tendency to numb and avoid pain is greatly supported by the isolation in which we commonly bear our sufferings. Denial of the facts then becomes a first and highly defended response to emotionally charged issues.
Joanna Macy is a Buddhist, environmentalist and teacher who has done a great deal of work around despair for the world and the way to its gift of empowerment. In her book, "Despair and Personal Power in the Nuclear Age" (New Society Publishers, 1983),she speaks about our tendency to deny information about losses to biodiversity. She says that the repression of grief about the earth tends, in and of itself, to create a sense of isolation and powerlessness. This then leads to a vicious cycle where people experience an increasing need to avoid awareness. Then "information by itself," Macy says, "can increase resistance, deepening the sense of apathy and powerlessness." How often do you put down the newspaper because it depresses you? How often do you turn away from information about major environmental issues because of feeling helpless to do anything in the face of their complexity? I know that I do it all the time. Sometimes it is from an appropriate filtering of disturbing information; sometimes it is so that I can think things are okay.
Denial is Different From Lying
Denial may be at play where there is insistence that there be no change in the way that decisions around development, water usage and land use are made, and where the finger is pointed at the source of the warnings (i.e. environmentalists). It is important to understand that this kind of denial may not be consciously deliberate. It is not the same as lying; a person in denial truly cannot take in the information. This kind of denial complicates the political, social and economic issues involved in protecting and restoring natural areas.
Stage 2: Emotional realization of loss. Once people's initial denial is past, the emotional realization of what is happening occurs. This is where people grieve, and where anger, sorrow, and guilt pass through in waves. If allowed to proceed in a natural fashion, this grief comes to its own resolution. If not, it can become waylaid or distorted. People's emotional life may become mired in fear, immobilized by pain, or burnt out by anger, and then numbed. It then becomes very difficult to take effective action.
Our society on the whole does not support the expression of feelings associated with loss well, even on a personal level. How much more so when the feelings are about a place, or something seemingly as abstract as "the earth"? Yet these feelings are fundamental indications of the profound relationship humanity has with all life, with the ground from which we have grown.
It is the recognition and understanding of our complex interrelationships, on every level, that will enable us to create a positive future for our community and our world.
Just as denial is a way to protect ourselves from pain that seems overwhelming, so persistent anger can be a way to create a sense of power and control when grief brings vulnerability and hopelessness. When I read the hostile criticisms between various subcommunities in the national environmental movement about whether or not someone has "sold out," I am struck by the intensity of the rage. When I read suggestions that people use their frustration about a current situation as energy to work harder, or that "there is no time for despair," I see burnout coming. There must be time for despair, or there will be no power.
Sharing our grief brings people closer, is healing, and creates an opening for creative energy, new inspiration, and vitality. The world desperately needs creative energy. It cannot be found on the angry side of despair.
At a workshop with Joanna Macy I experienced a simple but deeply affirming opportunity to share our collective pain about our world, by listening and by speaking,. The clear response from a circle of compassionate witnesses, "We hear you," offered to each participant respectful acknowledgment. By some magic of relationship this acknowledgment permitted the next step to occur. The profound connections between people that were built out of this deep sharing provide ongoing nourishment. I remember that I am not alone.
Stage 3: Peace. The third stage, which I am calling "acceptance or peace" does not mean resignation. Obviously, "extinction" and "acceptance" do not go together! This stage is unlike any of the other stages. It has its own meaning, and it comes of its own time when sorrow is given its place. It comes sooner when sorrow is shared. Somehow we become connected with a deeper mystery.
Peace allows a person to weather the waves of despair that wash over when things get worse. If grief about the earth is one side of our connectedness with the web of life, then this peace, and the power that it holds, is another. It brings one to a still center out of which one can work with clarity, compassion and unyielding commitment, without blame or hostility. It provides an avenue for creative power to emerge.
Having embraced the grief and despair, having shared my heart in community, I could then listen more deeply inside. What then does my heart ask me to do? My creative energies were unlocked, and I began to find hope that was not separate from my pain.
Peace is found when all the other feelings accompanying mourning are acknowledged, given their place and allowed to move on. It is important to recognize, as well, that there will continue to be waves of intense anger, guilt and sorrow. Our grief about the planet will continue as long as we humans continue to act in disregard for our deep connections to the land and life around us.
Looking out over a thriving thicket across the street from my home, I am heartened by its abundance. Only a few square yards in area and yet it is home to many birds and small animals. The resilience of the natural world and its constant intrusion into our attempts to control it offer me hope. I lay down the burden of concern and commitment for a time, and walk over to my garden. There I relax in the warm spring sun and nourish the living things there, planting carrots and dreaming contentedly of raspberries warmed by summer sunshine.
Forestry Hits Home in Whatcom County
by Nooksack Forest Watch
Nooksack Forest Watch is a loosely knit group of concerned citizens living in the Nooksack Watershed.
Salmon and water quality issues seem highest on the list of environmental priorities for most folks in Whatcom County, and throughout Washington. In the Nooksack Basin, all forks of the Nooksack River are impaired in some form (as expressed by the DOE 303(d) list) together with a number of tributaries. Temperature, low in-stream flow and fine sediment are the main upper watershed problems which, together with a loss of habitat and overfishing have led to the proposed federal listing of the spring Chinook. We've got some real problems.
Now we are told to come together and do what needs to be done to bring back the salmon and avoid federal intervention. We must pool together our resources, make the tough decisions, and take the strong actions to allow for salmon's recovery. State and local regulators, tribes, industry and the community all have to do their part to ensure we clean up our waters (and protect them!) and help the salmon. Let us truly try.
The Role of Industrial Forestry
Industrial forestry is one of a number of land uses which has brought us to where we are today. Everything from poor road building to riparian clearing to stream cleaning has had tremendous effect. Loss of shade and habitat, landslides, sediment erosion from logging roads and clearcuts, floods and increased peak flows are some of the results. Some of these practices have been curtailed over the years; many persist to this day.
The Forest Practice Board recognizes that cumulative effects from forestry is the problem, defining it as "the changes to the environment caused by the interaction of natural ecosystem processes with the effects of two or more forest practices." (WACÉ). Through the Timber-Fish-Wildlife (TFW) agreement, the regulatory program of Watershed Analysis tries to address some of these effects, though with industry driving the discussion, change is not coming fast. TFW negotiations are inching along, though the problems we face in our watersheds (and the federal time-clock) are declining too rapidly to wait.
Pressures brought on by steelhead listings in southern Washington have caused the Forest Practice Board to adopt emergency rules. Commissioner of Public Lands Jennifer Belcher summarizes by stating that "We can't wait any longer. The TFW process is a good process, but it's too slow." (The Bellingham Herald, Tuesday, May 5,1998) The following week, after passing the emergency rule to bring greater protections for salmon (and hence water quality), Belcher said: "We're going through an incredibly difficult process just to take this first step." (which she later termed "...a baby step for salmon recovery.") "It shows how hard it's going to be in this state to do the things that have to be done for salmon." The (Tacoma) News Tribune, May 14, 1998.
John Mankowski of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife concurs: "This is just a Band-Aid approach to stop the bleeding while we deal with the less obvious impacts." There is so much more to be done.
Crown Pacific Enters Whatcom County
Late last year, Crown Pacific acquired roughly 50,000 acres of Whatcom County forestland from Trillium (see "Trillium Cashes Out: Crown Pacific Is Whatcom's New Forest Boss, Whatcom Watch, December 1997, page 4), including many of the sensitive and unstable forests still standing on private lands. Crown's great debt-load from its recent acquisition is causing it to follow an aggressive cutting schedule. Exacerbated by poor timber prices, this publicly traded company holding roughly 800,000 acres is cutting at an accelerated rate and pushing the envelope of current regulation. Some of its practices result in habitat degradation and water quality deterioration, though most are currently acceptable by law. With the eminence of far-reaching rules in the name of salmon recovery, these practices may soon be outlawed. Until then, Crown appears ready to cut to the legal limit and get in there while it still can. Examples include cutting over Type 4&5 waters (thus reducing wood recruitment to streams and exacerbating sediment delivery and transport), building new roads across streams, inducing mass wasting by leaving windthrow susceptible buffers which are likely to blow down, and cutting on the groundwater recharge zones of deep-seated landslides.
The Problem or the Solution?
In response to the public outcry over proposed logging in Canyon Lake Watershed, Crown Pacific called a public meeting on May 14 at the Welcome Fire Station. Crown heard an earful from an angry crowd of local residents and members of the environmental community about its aggressive program. Crown representative Russ Paul countered that the economic realities of the company necessitated a quick cut. He did offer that "it's a shame" that Crown is in such a position. After hearing mostly passionate and angered words from local residents a representative of the Nooksack office of the Department of Ecology spoke out on the issues. After detailing his history as a former employee of Crown Pacific, he suggested that "Crown Pacific is part of the solution" to our problems in the Nooksack.
This classic example of regulatory complacency with the status quo is more troubling than the words of Crown Pacific and underscores the lack of environmental understanding and political will needed to create a solution. The chumminess of industry with regulators is not unrecognized (see "Our Department of Apology" Whatcom Watch, March 1998, page 1). Our Department of Ecology representative also tried to comfort the crowd by offering that Crown Pacific did better than most other timber companies. This may very well be true. But when an environmental regulator feels that Crown Pacific management practices are adequately protecting (and restoring) the environment, we can be sure that what we've found is not the solution, but the problem.
Economics Versus Recovery
Industry's economic paradigm, together with regulatory complacency and a weak state law, place in doubt the state's ability to develop and implement a recovery plan. While there is general agreement that it is in the best interest of all to maintain local control over resources, local government and industry do not appear willing to make the necessary sacrifices and are practically begging the federal government to step in. The wake-up call has come in, and now is the time for the community to demand action. It will take proactive strategies to bring about the protection and recovery we need. The fish, the water, the forests and the people of Whatcom County will not be sacrificed to greed, the whims of the timber market, or the inability of our government officials to do what needs to be done.
The Masters of Illusion: Local Governments "Protect" Lake Whatcom with an Interlocal Agreement
by Sherilyn Wells
Sherilyn Wells is president of the Watershed Defense Fund.
Is there reason to believe that Lake Whatcom, an irreplaceable drinking water reservoir for half the county's population, is finally going to get the protection it deserves? The entities who control land use in the watershed have failed for decades to collaborate and implement a coordinated plan for protection of this water supply. Is the "interlocal agreement," prepared in response to a decision of the Growth Management Hearings Board, the missing link?
Probably not, because the cozy relationship that has developed between the "managers" of Bellingham, the county, and Water District #10 (which has been a strong advocate for further high-density development around Lake Whatcom) has apparently led to a behind-the- scenes handshake agreement not to oppose significant new urban development before state-mandated analyses are completed of the comprehensive, cumulative threat to the lake.
Damn the Public, Full Speed Ahead
Since 1994, county government has been dominated by a pro-development-at-any-cost segment of the development community. These "Looking Out for #1" special interests have gotten what they've paid for, as, for the same length of time, county government refused to comply with the Growth Management Act, which requires fiscally and environmentally responsible planning for future growth.
In 1996, the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board ruled that the county had not adequately studied the impact of development on Lake Whatcom and had not assessed the full costs of serving urban levels of development in the watershed. The Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board ruled that further urban growth in the watershed was illegal until those studies were done and county government could justify putting an irreplaceable resource at further risk.
In 1997 and again in 1998, the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board upheld its earlier decision, finding that Whatcom county continued to be in violation of the Growth Management Act with regards to Lake Whatcom.
Violating the Constitution
The state constitution allows local governments to enact and enforce only those local laws and regulations which are not in conflict with state law (Article 11, Section 11).
When the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board ruled that much of Whatcom County's local development regulations were invalid (illegal because they actively interfered with accomplishing the goals of state law), Whatcom County responded by continuing with "business as usual," even publishing an announcement to that effect in the Herald last September.
Although none of those comprehensive studies required by the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board exist, Whatcom County has been handing out watershed development permits "hand over fist" in the meantime. They've also supported Whatcom County Water District #10's efforts to provide additional sewer infrastructure to Geneva and Sudden Valley so that a massive amount of additional urban growth can take place.
Geneva and Sudden Valley: The Key to Public Health
The Institute for Watershed Studies, which releases annual reports on Lake Whatcom, has found a "smoking gun": the lake's degrading water quality may now be definitively linked to residential development, independent of the effects of climate and pollution from the past.
Geneva sits directly above the city's water intake, so drainage from Geneva's development impacts city water quality. Bellingham's treatment plant processes don't address many types of urban pollution, such as organic chemicals.
Sudden Valley straddles Austin Creek, the major natural tributary to Lake Whatcom. Tributary water quality obviously plays an important role in lake water quality, but Austin Creek's health is especially important, due to its size and its location (draining into the largest basin of the lake). Future lake health may largely depend on a healthy Austin Creek.
So, what is the status of Austin Creek? Aside from horrendous damage from logging, there have been astronomical fecal coliform levels recorded in Austin Creek as a result of urban runoff from Sudden Valley (currently at only 1/3 of its potential size).
The most recent watershed monitoring report also identified the presence of cryptosporidium in Austin Creek, a pathogen which can be deadly for certain segments of the population (the very young, the very elderly, those with compromised immune systems, etc.), as 104 fatalities in Milwaukee demonstrated in 1993.
Increasing development increases the risk of more extensive cryptosporidium contamination, and cryptosporidium can be frustratingly elusive at water treatment plants, resisting both chlorination and filtration.
Of Toilet Bowls and Crutches
If you keep flushing the toilet, you don't have to look at the poop. However, take away the flush and what does the toilet bowl look like?
Lake Whatcom water quality is significantly enhanced by a diversion of water from the Middle Fork of the Nooksack River. However, the Nooksack River system has low instream flows at certain times of the year, making the system inhospitable for fish, and scientists monitoring the Middle Fork have observed redds (salmon nests) being dewatered when the diversion was turned on.
As endangered salmon issues in the Nooksack emerge, the diversion may very well be dramatically reduced. The diversion has been a crutch, historically used by local governments to disguise the impacts of watershed development on the lake, so that public officials could pretend there was no need to change idiotic land use decisions.
With a significant change in availability of the diversion, ergo its flushing action, what may happen to lake water quality?
Interlocal Agreement to the Rescue?
Into this story now rides the interlocal agreement, a response to the Growth Management Hearings Board's decision and a product of collaboration between Bellingham Mayor Mark Asmundson, Whatcom County Executive Pete Kremen, and Water District #10 Manager Sandy Petersen (the Lake Whatcom Management Committee), who have been meeting behind closed doors for some time.
Is the agreement cause for optimism? Only if the proper sequence--analysis before decisions--were being observed. Unfortunately, behind-the- scenes deals have apparently been struck by the Management Committee to allow a significant amount of the watershed to be developed prior to the necessary impact and cost analyses being produced.
To rubberstamp a massive amount of new watershed development, then promise to fund studies of the lake and look at stormwater management (despite the complete failure of Bellingham's pilot stormwater facility) is analogous to stabbing someone in a dark alley, then dragging them into the lighted street to make sure their wounds are covered by bandages (and that the passersby notice and praise the assailants for tending to the victim). The damaging blows have already been struck in secret...the remedial activity is low-level triage with questionable effectiveness, but a high public profile.
Acquiescing to "the Inevitable"
Is buildout of any part of the watershed "inevitable?" To listen to the Management Committee's elected officials, you would deduce that it is. However, state laws permit local government to revisit bad planning decisions, including platting, and make changes to reflect present needs. This is particularly true when public health and safety issues exist.
So, if local officials developed a backbone and gave more than lip service to public health and safety, further development of the watershed would not be inevitable.
What's really missing is genuine political will to take on powerful special interests and do the right thing for the general public.
Your Taxes at Work: The Half Million Dollar Attack on State Law
Why can't we believe that local governments really want to do the right thing at last?
First, the county has continued to mount a full-scale attack on the Growth Management Act and the hearings board's decision. Within a few months, the county may well have spent close to half a million taxpayer dollars fighting the state law to plan responsibly for future growth....and there's no end in sight to their willingness to use taxpayer funds to subsidize their defiance of state law.
Their attack goes far beyond challenging the decision of the state board and into an aggressive assault on the constitutionality of the Growth Management Act itself. No sooner did out-of-control Chelan County come to its senses, elect responsible officials, and drop similar challenges, than Whatcom stepped in to fill the "lunatic fringe" vacuum.
The "Whoops. Guess It's Too Late" Syndrome
Although the interlocal agreement calls for additional watershed studies, the county is aggressively (and hypocritically) challenging the state hearings board's requirement for such studies.
What's the difference?
In the case of the growth management hearings board's requirement for a study, the studies were to precede decisions about allowing further urban growth around the lake.
In the case of the interlocal agreement, the studies come after local jurisdictions have already rubberstamped a tremendous amount of additional development, which naturally increases the risk to public health and safety. This "cart before the horse" approach also sharply limits further options to protect the lake and, in all likelihood, will cost taxpayers two to six times more than a protective approach would have.
Analysis before action...is it too much to ask of local officials?
Bellingham Is Conspicuously Absent
Throughout this continuing, full-scale county attack on good planning, Bellingham has been oddly silent. Its attorney has argued only in favor of designating more of the watershed as an urban growth area. Why?
Although Bellingham claims to be a better manager of the watershed, the lake basin in the most trouble is completely controlled by Bellingham. Bellingham has repeatedly declined to do much in the way of reducing its own watershed development, as mother/water quality activist Dr. Susan Kane-Ronning can describe in frustrating detail.
Additionally, despite urban runoff studies showing that developing at Geneva's zoning levels would be disastrous for water quality, and despite the fact that existing Geneva development is at less than half of its potential (leaving plenty of room to reduce development, ergo to reduce impacts on the lake), Bellingham has promised not to reduce Geneva's development potential. This is a completely irrational decision, as this area drains towards Bellingham's water intake.
Of course, Bellingham can always choose to move its intake into the largest lake basin instead of finally tackling watershed development issues. That would allow our current local governments to continue, for a while longer, the local tradition of procrastination, complacency, denial, and passing the buck to future generations.
Former Bellingham Mayor Tim Douglas Looks the Other Way
The county's blatant defiance of state law continues unabated [e.g., after the Growth Management Hearings Board declared Planned Unit Development illegal in Geneva, the county approved a Planned Unit Development in Geneva and increased the number of lots onsite by 70 percent] . However, when local citizens wrote to the Governor, the Attorney General, and Tim Douglas (former mayor of Bellingham, now the head of the state agency charged with overseeing growth management) for help in stopping this illegal activity, state officials deferred to Mr. Douglas.
Unfortunately, despite clear evidence of lawbreaking, Tim Douglas declined to do anything more than continue to talk about the county's role under growth management, which should remind us that, "The only thing necessary for [lawlessness] to triumph is for good people to do nothing."
If anyone feels that the state's [non]response is vaguely analogous to the appeasement approach Chamberlain, the pre-World War II English prime minister, adopted towards Germany's outlaw activities before Churchill took over and stopped catering to criminals, well...if the shoe fits....
State Departments of Health and Ecology Help Violate the Law
The State Departments of Health and Ecology have been even worse than Tim Douglas' agency, as they are actively involved in promoting further Lake Whatcom development, in contradiction to the Growth Management Hearings Board's decisions and other state laws. In a truly schizophrenic move, the Department of Ecology is even paying some of the costs of further development.
It's episodes like this that remind you why the federal Environmental Protection Agency had to take over from Ecology in order to see that dairy waste pollution laws were actually enforced.
Whatcom County Water District #10, long an advocate for development in the watershed, has just received approval from the Whatcom County Hearing Examiner for Phase One of a proposal to provide significantly more sewer capacity for Sudden Valley and Geneva. This will eventually result in full buildout of this area, where the most intense urban development potential in the watershed exists and sewer overflows have been occurring on a fairly regular basis. The district's proposal was only designed "not to make the problem of sewer overflows worse," as opposed to actually solving the problem.
In other documents, Bellingham has verified that the traffic from these areas will overwhelm its transportation system and lead to horrific gridlock (hold onto your purses, all you Bellingham taxpayers).
Bellingham again chose to remain silent when it could have spoken up for its citizens. Why?
Pretending Stormwater Management Will Be Sufficient Protection
The original Lake Whatcom Watershed Goals and Policies, adopted in 1992 when courageous, farsighted leaders like Ken Henderson and Larry Harris sat on the County Council, strongly emphasized reducing watershed development potential and increasing public ownership of watershed land.
Part of the reason for this emphasis on changes to land use was the cost and limited effectiveness of stormwater management systems. Bellingham's pilot stormwater system project, which could charitably be described as a failure, is verification of how difficult effective stormwater control can be.
Nonetheless, the interlocal agreement comes down heavily on the side of stormwater management versus reducing the dense platting in the watershed, which is where the major amount of risk to the lake is found. State law clearly gives local government the right to change platting, particularly when public health and safety issues are involved.
A government genuinely dedicated to the public good would not hesitate to revisit these difficult issues, but local governments are instead doing everything they can to ram through the infrastructure for buildout of all urban densities on the west side of Lake Whatcom. Both local governments then pretend that thinking about temporarily limiting further subdividing of watershed land to 1 home per 5 acres ("Runaway Fives" as the growth management hearings boards have called them) is a meaningful response, in the absence of any information as to whether even that density will protect the lake.
When can we expect the local media to expose this contradiction between officials' rhetoric and the reality of their actions?
A Pro-Development Special Interest Is Given More Influence
According to the agreement, the triumvirate (Asmundson, Kremen, Petersen) will listen to citizen testimony, then agree on appropriate watershed programs.
First, this gives a tremendous amount of influence to the unelected manager of a water and sewer district whose policies are largely controlled by pro-development commissioners installed by Sudden Valley. How will the broader public interest in a protected water supply be promoted by this arrangement?
Second, Whatcom County government represents about 150,000 people and Bellingham represents about 60,000 people, but the Water District has a service population of a few thousand. Handing such power over to such a small percentage of Whatcom's population smacks of special favors for special interests.
Third, local governments have broad mandates, requiring them to balance or prioritize a number of their responsibilities to the public, such as protection of public health, safety, and welfare versus development. A sewer district has a much narrower mandate under state law, primarily providing infrastructure so that development can take place.
Given that the district has historically been a strong proponent for watershed development, how open will they be to watershed program suggestions which do not support that agenda?
You Can Still Make a Difference
As long as local government continues to act as though special interests are in control, as long as our local leaders continue to say one thing and do another, as long as laws are violated and the state looks the other way, government must be held accountable by its citizens. The Watershed Defense Fund is the only organization on the front lines, fighting to protect public health and safety.
These local government decisions to allow significant new watershed development are being appealed, but the costs are considerable. Copying the record of a lengthy hearing, which is necessary before an appeal can be heard, can run into a few thousand dollars. The costs of photocopying and mailing a response to the county's legal maneuvering may cost several hundred dollars per response, without attorney's fees included. One day of an attorney's time takes a minimum of one thousand dollars.
The Watershed Defense Fund has a sustaining donor program in which you send an amount of your choice to WDF on a monthly basis. only by having a guaranteed monthly income can the Watershed Defense Fund afford the costs of fighting effectively on your behalf.
Please pledge your ongoing support now--time is running short to challenge these rubberstamped decisions. Send a donation to the Watershed Defense Fund, 1020 Geneva St., Bellingham, WA 98226.
Bellingham Herald Editorial:
Education Won't Save Lake Whatcom
Reprinted with permission from the April 3, 1998 issue.
The recently launched state program to teach residents how they can help stem pollution of Lake Whatcom is a welcome addition to the effort to protect Bellingham's drinking-water supply.
But it would be a mistake to assume that education alone can save the lake.
The cornerstone of the $250,000 "Whatcom Watershed Pledge" campaign is a 23-page booklet that outlines ways to help keep the lake clean and suggests 49 pledges people can make to help the cause.
Anyone who agrees to take any of the pledges will receive a ceramic plaque to display on a home or fence- something organizers hope will get other residents interested and involved.
During kick-off ceremonies, Whatcom County Executive Pete Kremen and Bellingham Mayor Mark Asmundson vowed to stop using fertilizers on their lawns.
Unfortunately, informational booklets, plaudit plaques, and personal pledges from politicians aren't sufficient to stop the continuing degradation of the lake.
The Bellingham City and Whatcom County councils need to take aggressive, politically unpopular regulatory steps to guard the shared watershed.
At the top of the list is the need to impose a moratorium on new development around the lake until a definitive study of the cumulative, long-term impacts of new housing on water quality has been conducted.
Since we suggested that action last November, the county and city have continued to process permit requests for new houses, all of which have the potential to add to lake contamination through storm-water runoff, fertilizer usage and pet excrement.
To help combat those major sources of pollution, lawmakers ought to:
- Ban the use of harmful fertilizers, pesticides and detergents in the watershed. That's a logical extension of current laws that outlaw the dumping of oil, antifreeze, pesticides or other toxic materials down storm drains or on the ground. There are many environmentally friendly products available for lawn and garden care and household chores. People should be using them.
- Boost cat and dog licensing fees for watershed residents. The higher fees should help reduce the number of pets, which translates into less poop being washed into the lake and the streams that feed it.
Lawmakers also should:
- Set stringent storm-water standards that greatly reduce the amount of impervious surfaces and force as much runoff as possible into the ground. Single family homes should be held to the same kinds of standard as apartments, duplexes and clustered housing projects.
- Require detention ponds for runoff to be large enough to prevent overflows during heavy rains. Ponds also should be monitored after they have been build to gauge their effectiveness and adequacy.
- Impose a boat-launching fee on all non-county residents that would be used to help fund water-quality programs.
Education and voluntary guidelines are good. But the reality is that most people won't change environmentally harmful habits until they are forced to.
We can't afford to wait another 10 years to take significant steps to protect Lake Whatcom. Lawmakers and residents alike need to feel a sense of urgency to stop and prevent its pollution.
Response to Editorial:
Saving Lake Whatcom Begins With Education
by The Watershed Team
This article was written as a response to the above editorial. The Bellingham Herald did not print it.
The April 3 "Our View" column, reflecting the view of the Herald editorial board, quickly turned its focus away from the Whatcom Watershed Pledge Program to what our lawmakers "need to" and "ought to do" to save the lake. We agree with the Herald that it's time for politicians to step up to the plate and make tough decisions to ensure clean water for future generations. We feel however, that pledges to take personal responsibility for actions in the watershed are a very important and meaningful first step. We hope that city and county residents, pledging to make real lifestyle changes--for the sake of water quality--will send a potent message to decision makers.
The Whatcom Watersheds Pledge Program is an effort to involve individual citizens in protecting our City's water resources, from Lake Whatcom to the Bay. A booklet with 49 recommendations to improve water quality was presented. The Pledge Program asks local residents to tell us about positive lifestyle choices they already make, and then pledge to incorporate additional actions. The pledge book reviewed activities related to Run-Off and Storm Water, Weeds and Pests, Lawns, Watering and Fertilizing, Use and Disposal of Toxic products, Septic Systems, Animal Waste, Limiting Impervious Surfaces, Use of Automobiles, and Boat Use on the Lake.
"Pledgers" will receive a ceramic and copper plaque for display outside their homes to demonstrate their participation, as well as fact sheets, invitations to workshops and newsletters. Indications from the pledge cards received this first month show a lot of very interested, concerned and aware citizens.
RE Sources, the City of Bellingham and the Department of Ecology designed the Pledge Program, and see it as an innovative way to encourage and reward personal responsibility for actions taken in the watershed. For years, a lot of hair pulling has been done on how to educate our adult population. The children of our community get field trips and talks at the Water Treatment Plant, the Wastewater Treatment Plant, the Maritime Heritage Park, and participate in water quality poster and essay contests, stream restoration projects and more. But our adult population was out of the loop. We see the Watershed Pledge as an important way to educate adults and families about the impacts of their actions.
The Watershed Pledge offers no-nonsense, easy to understand ideas and recommendations of actions that each of us can take to lessen our impact. When people take personal responsibility seriously by educating themselves, making lifestyle changes, and educating others they become community leaders. The cumulative effect of hundreds of people making these choices will generate a wave that local, state and federal officials must pay attention to.
"Where are my people, I must follow them for I am their leader," goes the famous quote. As our elected officials are pushed by community involvement and action, then we will see action taken on our water quality issues. Take the Pledge. Show your children, your neighbors and your elected officials that you know what needs to be done and are willing to do it. Encourage your elected officials to make the tough decisions that will protect our water quality, and thus, our watershed and its inhabitants. A pledge for all of us to take is "I pledge to vote in every election." Attend city and county council meetings, write your elected representatives and express your views. Every action counts.
Education itself will not save the lake, but education combined with right actions will protect water quality. Do you remember being amazed at the amount of water that can collect from one drippy faucet over a 24-hour period? All of our efforts--when combined--can dramatically improve our resources.
We are pleased that this program is being taken seriously by those who live in the Lake Whatcom and Whatcom Creek Watersheds. Grass roots action taken by all of us will lead to effective results. Have you taken the Pledge?
For more information contact: The Watershed Pledge Program--738-7308
Where Pollution is Concerned, Everyone Has Waterfront Property
by The Watershed Team
Amid the dire facts about our city's water resources continuing degradation--in the paper and elsewhere--there are arguments about water quality. There are arguments for and against development around Lake Whatcom. There have been lawsuits filed and political agendas aired. There are renewed concerns about salmon being listed under the Endangered Species Act and the state of the watershed in general, overall things can look pretty glum. but...
This community has the great good luck to have many of its agencies and governmental bodies cooperating on an ever-growing project to prevent, reduce or eliminate pollution from entering our waterways. The project targets residential, commercial and industrial sources of pollution and is taking steps to preserve and restore fish habitat within Whatcom Creek watersheds.
Local matching funds and donations (such as from the Dudley Foundation) are combining with a $250,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant received by the Dept. of Ecology for this work. And work it is. Cooperators presently include the City of Bellingham, RE Sources, Whatcom County, Western Washington University, the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association, the Nooksack Recovery Team, Greenways and the Department of Ecology. The Project is divided into four teams, each addressing a different segment of the problem, and each seeking and receiving further funding to expand their reach and their results.
The Bellingham Herald reported on the Whatcom Pledge Program, kick- off in March. The pledge is built around the idea that--neighbors talking to neighbors--is a more effective way to address residential pollution problems than a more traditional regulatory approach. If residents can demonstrate their willingness and ability to keep pollution out of our shared waterways, there is no need for additional regulations. The pledge is a way to demonstrate that more regulation is simply not needed when a self-educated population takes responsible actions that lead to clean water.
Residents pledge to take one or more of the 49 suggested actions in the Whatcom Watersheds Pledge book and are awarded a beautiful copper and ceramic plaque. The plaques are posted where friends and neighbors can see them, ask about them thereby creating opportunities for word of mouth pledges.
The Neighborhood Stewards program is designed to encourage neighborhood generated projects to address localized water quality problems. Beyond word of mouth, an advertising campaign is also underway. Advertising includes a downtown banner, billboard, and images flashed at the movies all encouraging responsible actions in the watershed. Over 300 families have pledged thus far, with more cards coming in daily. The good news is that we have many concerned, informed adults, who are willing to take responsibility for their actions that affect our water resources.
This team is developing a Business Pledge program that will address Hazardous Waste, Solid Waste and Stormwater problems within the commercial and industrial sectors of Whatcom Creek watershed. EnviroStars is a hazardous waste and pollution prevention assistance and recognition program for businesses that generate hazardous waste. Milnes Auto Repair is the first EnviroStar business to be certified since the Industrial team launched on April 25. A door-to-door Business Pledge campaign will be launched this fall. If enough businesses can demonstrate willingness and ability to prevent pollution, the need for additional regulations to preserve our salmon can also be reduced or eliminated.
Over the next two years this team will be sampling, analyzing and monitoring creeks, water, sediment, tissues and biological health of the watersheds. Sampling will attempt to determine what contaminants are in the watershed. The sampling plan has been designed to build on existing data and where necessary fill information gaps. Monitoring will address longer-term effectiveness of the personal pledge approach to pollution prevention. Changes in pollutant levels will be tracked, analyzed, and reported back to the community.
Urban streams create many challenges for salmon. The greatest challenge is the dramatically increased stream flow rates. All of our impervious surfaces funnel more water faster into streams creating the equivalent of 100 year storms--four or five times a year. These flash flows scour out salmon eggs, babies and their food sources. The Restoration Team is hoping to take advantage of existing wetlands along Whatcom creek to provide a safe harbor for baby salmon. The Restoration team plans to purchase these wetlands and restore off-stream salmon habitat. The team has pursued and received funding through the US Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. Combine these efforts with pollution prevention from residents and business owners and we have a good chance of creating the stable, clean, cool water that salmon need. If we are successful, Whatcom Creek will be used as a national example of how people can live with sensitive ecosystems in an urban setting.
The Whatcom Watershed Project is a huge undertaking that will require our community's long-term commitment and involvement. If enough people can meet the challenge of self-education and responsible action this community can avoid new regulations, create healthy watersheds for our children and enjoy clean water without the bitter taste of divisive politics.
Information on the entire Whatcom Watersheds Project is available from any of the following.
Robyn duPre, RE Sources: 733-8307
Industrial Team (EnviroStars)
Ravyn Whitewolf, Whatcom County: 676-7695
Bruce Barbour, Dept. Of Ecology: 738-6250
Kim Hyatt, City of Bellingham: 676-6982
A shorter version of this article appeared in The Bellingham Herald May 20, 1998.
State Legislative Session
1998 Washington Legislature Typified by "Happy Talk"
by Josh Baldi
Josh Baldi is state policy representative for the Washington Environmental Council.
The 55th Legislature adjourned March 12, following 60 days of interesting, sometimes bizarre, behavior. A total of 1500 bills were introduced; 376 bills were passed and sent to Governor Locke, who vetoed 28 (7.4 percent) and partially vetoed 41 (10.9 percent). While legislators made bold proclamations about progress made on dairy waste reform, fertilizer regulation, salmon recovery, and other environmental issues, serious questions remain as to the effectiveness of the new laws. That steps were taken to address environmental problems cannot be denied. However, many of the bills touted as achievements are merely initial steps, lack sufficient funding, or rely heavily on untested processes. Moreover, while legislators talked a good game about the environment, they simultaneously pursued bills that contradicted or undermined the very environmental progress they professed to embrace.
"The session was interesting because there were less overt attacks on environmental safeguards than in year's past," notes Washington Environmental Council (WEC) Executive Director Joan Crooks. "And on salmon recovery in particular, there was even a glimmer of bi-partisan cooperation," noting that some legislators suddenly seemed to have gotten salmon religion. "Apparently, they've picked up on the fact that the public strongly favors protecting wild salmon." Cynical observers note that this enthusiasm is largely driven by a desire to avoid intervention by the federal government, which has repeatedly warned that salmon recovery in Washington will take much more than "happy talk."
The largely voluntary, cooperative and incentive-based measures that recently became law fall far short of what wild salmon need. However, as Joan says, "The laws passed this session can play an important role in salmon recovery if legislators use them as building blocks for the stronger measures that are needed. Only then can we accomplish real wild salmon reforms.
Legislators Entertain Taxpayers
"Incidents on the bizarre side of the ledger included Senator Jim West's (R-6) alleged "death threat" to a builder industry lobbyist. Senator Pam Roach (R-31) threw a widely publicized tantrum when someone removed roses from her desk. And, in a lighter moment in the House, Representative Hans Dunshee (D-39) gave a comical denouncement of the "dairy nutrient" bill (see below under Pollution and Public Health). In reference to the increasingly euphemistic language used by legislators, Dunshee cast the lone no vote against the dairy waste reform bill exclaiming that he was sick of all the legislature's "bull nutrient." These, combined with other incidents, prompted one media pundit to rate the session an A+ for entertainment value.
To affect the legislative debate in Olympia, WEC employed one full-time lobbyist and one contract lobbyist whose efforts were complemented by the involvement of board members and the participation of the 250-member Green Tree activist network. Amidst salmon reverence, death threats, and missing roses, WEC believes we fared relatively well with minimal backsliding and some baby steps forward on environmental protection.
Following is a synopsis of the environmental debate, organized according to three of WEC's four issue areas. There was no notable action on forest issues in the 1998 session, primarily because the Timber, Fish & Wildlife forum was negotiating the more controversial aspects of forest management.
Land Use and Transportation
"While there were far fewer explicit attacks on the Growth Management Act (GMA), Governor Locke ultimately faced six bills that would weaken good growth planning," explains Josh Baldi, WEC's state policy representative. "This was disturbing because we should be improving land use rules to better protect wild salmon habitat." Lawmakers introduced several bills designed to limit environmental review of land use decisions, including a constraint on the Department of Fish & Wildlife's authority to review activities along streamsides. "Many of the land use bills in particular made us question the legislature's commitment to salmon recovery," notes Josh.
One of the more threatening bills was SHB 2542, which would have allowed any county with a population of less than 50,000--and that either opted into GMA planning, or originally had the opportunity to opt out of GMA--a new opportunity to remove itself and its cities from GMA requirements. Saying it "would go too far," Governor Locke vetoed the bill and noted that the rapid growth rates of the affected counties exceeded 20 percent, requiring them to plan under the GMA anyway.
Land Use Bills Vetoed
Other land use bills that the Governor vetoed, included the following: 2ESB 5185, an attempt to substantially weaken the authority of the Growth Management Hearings Boards; SSB 6497, a "takings lite" bill, which would have required local and state governments to make written findings on land use decisions that might constitute a taking of private property; and, SHB 2977, a bill proposed as a simple fix for two conflicting statutes that actually would have allowed developers to sub-divide their lots to any size through the Condominium Act.
"Despite the Governor's general affirmation of growth management, a couple of bills were signed that WEC believes erode GMA protections," explains Josh.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment was SHB 3099, which expands a pilot program to Grant, Lewis, and Clallam counties without having assessed the results of the original pilots for Clark and Whatcom counties. The law allows industrial development in rural areas, providing a set of criteria are met.
Governor Locke also signed ESHB 2596, which allows "master planned resorts" to share infrastructure and services with local jurisdictions. WEC expressed concern that infrastructure corridors to resorts will be tempting areas to expand urban growth in the future, likely causing growth creep in rural areas.
The Governor also signed the worthy portions of SHB 2830, which embodied portions of the Land Use Study Commission's (LUSC) consensus recommendations. The pieces that became law included an extension of the 120-day permit processing requirement, and a mineral lands package that increased neighbor notification and authorized GIS mapping of the state's mineral lands. WEC continues to be active in the LUSC's deliberations and supported the package. Governor Locke expressed disappointment that the legislature did not authorize continuation of the LUSC, but gave no indication that he would call for a renewal of the forum.
The transportation debate was very contentious with the legislature choosing to bypass the Governor by sending Referendum 49 to the people for a vote in November. Also bypassed was Senate Transportation Committee Chair Senator Eugene Prince (R-9) who opposed the package. The $2.4 billion stop gap measure would primarily fund roads through a combination of bonds and general fund money. In addition to questions about what types of projects would be funded and the financial integrity of the package (it would result in the greatest debt in state history), WEC expressed concern about the diversion of general fund money from environmental programs.
Water and Fish
As expected, salmon dominated much of the environmental debate in Olympia. On April Fools Day, the Governor signed six salmon-related bills, including ESHB 2514, the "watershed planning" bill. "Watershed planning was a focal point for both salmon and water management issues," explains Judy Turpin, WEC's contract lobbyist. "WEC maintained from the outset that watershed planning is a good concept, but in order for it to be effective, sound scientific studies and clear resource objectives must be established up front." She added, "You simply need good data to serve as the basis for water management and fish recovery decisions. After all, how can you expect to save fish if you haven't figured out how much water they need?" WEC believes that ESHB 2514 fails to address such critical salmon recovery decisions in a timely fashion.
In signing ESHB 2514, Governor Locke acknowledged that salmon recovery would rely heavily on the watershed planning process. Consequently, he said that if progress was not being made the state was prepared to utilize existing authority to protect water and fish habitat. "Exercising existing authorities may well be necessary," says Judy. "Among other concerns, the watershed planning process may postpone decisions about the setting of instream flows for up to eight years." Another concern relates to tribal participation. "Last minute changes regarding tribal involvement threaten the success of planning," concludes Judy. "With tribes often holding the oldest rights to water, their support is critical to the long term success of watershed efforts."
Governor Locke did veto two water bills that would have made it more difficult to secure adequate water for fish. ESSB 5527, a "water spreading" bill, would have allowed water right holders who conserve water through efficiency to apply that water to new parcels of land, or sell or lease it to others. WEC has maintained that water gained through conservation should be reassessed for beneficial uses, particularly keeping it in the streams for fish.
ESSB 5703 was similar to an "amnesty" bill that the Governor vetoed in the 1997 session. ESSB 5703 would have allowed a person using water illegally to continue using that water on an interim basis, until a court adjudicated the water right, or the Department of Ecology (Ecology) granted a water right based upon the completion of a watershed management plan. "Amnesty bills raise an equity problem, granting one class of water users preferential treatment over others," explains Judy. "In this case even preferring those who did not obey the law over those who did."
On a more positive note, the legislature made progress on funding and establishing a system to restore sites that will result in the greatest benefits of improved salmon habitat.
People for Puget Sound's review of past restoration work in the region has shown that restoration dollars have not always been spent on the best projects. HB 2496, while not perfect, creates local planning committees and technical assistance groups to recommend the best restoration sites to fund. Their recommendations will be reviewed by a science panel appointed by the Governor and state agencies will fund those projects they approve of. HB 2496 was signed into law by Governor Locke.
We gained a major victory early in the session with a coalition of state agencies and other interests when we defeated SB 6556, a bill that undermined the state Shoreline Management Act. The Shoreline Management Act is the principal tool available to citizens for protecting the shoreline of Puget Sound from further degradation.
SB 6556 would have completely eliminated state oversight of local planning and permitting and made citizen enforcement of the Act much more difficult by eliminating the Shorelines Hearings Board. The bill died in the Senate Rules Committee. Discussions on how better to integrate the Shoreline Management Act with other land use laws and how to improve protections under the Act will continue in a number of forums over the next year.
We lobbied successfully to amend HB 2339, which authorizes wetland "mitigation banks" whereby a developer could destroy wetlands in one area by creating or restoring wetlands in another area. Our amendments prevent exchanging saltwater for freshwater wetlands and require that the restored estuarine wetland be in close proximity to the area degraded. However, given the experimental nature of this type of work, we still opposed HB 2339 because it could result in a net loss of wetlands over time.
The bill unexpectedly passed both houses in the final hour of the legislative session and was signed into law by Governor Locke.
We also opposed HB 1692, which transferred management of certain state-owned aquatic lands from the State Department of Natural Resources to some ports and cities. The bill was vetoed by Governor Locke.
Finally, we supported passage of SB 6114 to begin work to prevent introduction of the Green Crab, a non-native invasive species, into state waters. The Green Crab is moving up the Pacific Coast from the south and has already been found in Oregon waters. It can cause significant harm to other shellfish and to the ecosystem as a whole. Governor Locke signed SB 6114.
Salmon Recovery Efforts
Amongst the numerous salmon recovery bills, ESHB 2496 was the most significant in its breadth, establishing a salmon recovery office, an independent science panel, and regional councils designed to facilitate habitat restoration projects. The bill also mandates adaptive management strategies. Many of these ideas emerged from the Joint Legislative Salmon Restoration Task Force which had conducted a series of meetings last fall. Representatives Jim Buck (R-24) and Debbie Regala (D-27) worked hard to generate not only bi-partisan support, but support from the tribes, environmental community and commercial interests. The bill passed both chambers unanimously.
"While $36 million was budgeted for salmon, we need to carefully examine what it's actually buying," cautions WEC President Dave Mann. "There continues to be a tendency to label a broad range of environmental programs and legal obligations as 'salmon recovery.' Meanwhile, some basic programs that could really benefit salmon failed to receive adequate funding."
Pollution and Public Health
With the exception of salmon, it was pollution issues that most galvanized media and legislative attention, particularly dairy waste and toxics in fertilizer. Funding for water quality programs was also on the table, but while the legislature purportedly found millions for salmon, they failed to allocate the $900,000 estimated for the state to meet its clean water obligations as mandated by a court order. "The failure to fund clean water programs was yet another indication that the legislature had difficulty moving beyond happy talk," says Dave.
Cleaning Up The Dairy "Nutrients"
SSB 6161, the bill that inspired Representative Dunshee to declare "bull nutrient," was an industry-supported bill designed to appease EPA and lessen media attention on the dairy industry, which is considered the leading contributor to water pollution in the state. "The dairy industry not only was intent on reforming the law, but on cleaning up its image," explains Josh. "Thus, you have the characterization of dairy waste as 'nutrients.'" WEC did support elements of the law, including the requirements that all dairies register with the state, be inspected within two years, and develop a management plan.
WEC's concerns focused on provisions that raise the legal bar to determine if dairies qualify as a public nuisance and on lax penalties for failure to have a plan. Moreover, the legislature failed to allocate the necessary funds to carry out all the inspections. "The dairy reform bill perhaps best typifies an area where progress was made, yet, in proportion to the problem, more could have been done," says Josh.
Recycling Toxic Wastes to Fertilizer
Hailed as the toughest law in the nation, SSB 6474 (see article on page 12) is in fact the only law aimed at regulating the levels at which certain toxic wastes can be recycled into fertilizer. Prompted by The Seattle Times series that chronicled the practice, Governor Locke requested legislation that passed both the Senate and House by wide margins. WEC was part of a broad environmental coalition opposed to the legislation. "We believe it is important to know that waste products are safe and beneficial before being approved as fertilizer additive," explains Josh. "It is very disconcerting that the new law puts into statute the practice of recycling unknown wastes into fertilizers. WEC simply could not support legitimizing this practice, nor encouraging markets to dispose of toxic wastes in this manner."
Mine Waste Allowed in Streambeds and Wetlands
WEC also opposed SSB 6203, a bill that demonstrates how well-intentioned legislation can be exploited. The bill emerged out of task force recommendations that sought to encourage the laudable practice of recycling beneficial solid wastes. Mid-way through the process, however, the bill became severely compromised by the grandfathering of questionable exemptions. "WEC requested a veto of the bill, contending that recycled wastes should meet a beneficial use standard," explains Dave. "Some current exemptions on the books have not met that test." WEC was also concerned that the bill would be used to facilitate approval of the proposed large-scale cyanide gold mine in Eastern Washington. "Unfortunately, our fears were well grounded," says Dave, explaining that within two weeks after the bill was approved Okanogan County took advantage of a loophole to evade all of its permitting requirements for the solid waste mine tailings and waste rock.
Because Okanogan County acted prior to the effective date of the new law its exemption is now grandfathered and becomes valid by default. Consequently, mine proponents no longer have to secure certain county permits. Of the experience Dave concludes, "A law designed to encourage waste recycling and re-use was abused to allow the permanent disposal of massive quantities of mine waste in a streambed and wetlands. It's the slick use of loopholes like this that remind us how important it is to remain vigilant in Olympia."
For a run down of Governor Locke's veto messages, check out his web page (http://www.wa.gov/governor/) or go directly to the bill action page (http://www.wa.gov/governor/98leg/bills/billact.htm). Please contact WEC's Seattle office should you have any specific questions about the bills. (206) 622-8103
This article was reprinted with permission from the Washington Environmental Council publication, Voices, Spring 1998. The portion on HB1692, 2339, 2496, SB6114 and 6556 was from the People for Puget Sound newsletter Sound & Straits, May 1998, by Bruce Wishart.
Bills Before the Washington State LegislatureIntroduced Passed Vetoed Partially Vetoed Democratic Governor, Republican Legislature 1998 (60 days) 1,500 376 28 (7.4%) 41 (10.9%) 1997 (120 days) 2,400 519 63 (12.1%) 62 (11.9%) Democratic Governor, Divided Legislature 1996 (60 days) 1,540 347 22 (6.3%) 27 (7.8%) 1995 (140 days) 3,199 456 17 (3.7%) 41 (9.0%) Democratic Governor and Legislature 1994 (64 days) 1,403 324 7 (2.2%) 27 (8.3%) 1993 (116 days) 2,130 561 8 (1.4%) 35 (6.2%) Democratic Governor, Divided Legislature 1992 (60 days) 1,255 247 7 (2.8%) 26 (10.5%) 1991 (126 days) 2,223 406 9 (2.2%) 45 (11.9%) 1990 (84 days) 1,539 342 8 (2.3%) 37 (10.8%) 1989 (126 days) 2,414 468 18 (3.8%) 65 (13.9%)
New Law Falls Short on Farmworker and Consumer Protection
by Laurie Valeriano
Laurie Valeriano is the industrial toxics coordinator for the Washington Toxics Coalition. This articles is reprinted from the Spring 1998 issue of Alternatives, the quarterly newsletter of Washington Toxics Coalition.
This legislative session Governor Locke and the Washington State Legislature passed a real stinker of a bill, making it perfectly legal and acceptable for toxic waste to be made into fertilizer.
In our fall edition of Alternatives [Whatcom Watch, December 1997, page 6] we highlighted the toxic-waste-to-fertilizer practice that a group of farmers and former Mayor from Quincy, Washington helped uncover. The Seattle Times broke the story in their "Fear in the Fields" series. Toxic wastes from steel mills, paper mills, and other major polluting industries that contain significant amounts of lead, cadmium, and dioxin are being turned into fertilizer and spread onto food-producing lands in Washington state and elsewhere in the nation. Shockingly, our governor and legislature responded to the public outcry over this practice not with a ban on toxic waste in fertilizer, but with an industry-sanctioned bill that allows the practice to continue.
State Is Leader in Turning Toxic Waste to Fertilizer
Before the Washington law was passed, many industries were taking advantage of loopholes in state and federal regulations in order to turn their wastes into fertilizer. During the legislative battle, a report was released by the Washington Toxics Coalition, Washington Public Interest Research Group, and the Washington D.C.-based Environmental Working Group, revealing the huge scope of the problem in our state. Between 1990 and 1995, Washington ranked second in the nation-just behind New Jersey-in the total amount of toxic waste shipped from out-of-state sources for use by fertilizer plants. The vast majority of the waste came from two steel mills in Oregon and included 1.8 million pounds of lead and lead compounds. The steel mills used a loophole in state and federal rules that exempts the steel mill-waste from all hazardous waste testing, management, and tracking requirements if it is used as fertilizer. Washington's new law will not close this glaring loophole and will help to maintain Washington's status as a national leader in turning toxic waste into fertilizer.
How did we wind up with a law that does not stop toxic waste from being made into fertilizer?
From the beginning, the governor and his agencies downplayed the hazards associated with turning toxic wastes into fertilizer and made claims of fertilizer safety with little evidence. Despite the Washington Toxics Coalition's participation on a fertilizer advisory workgroup, which made recommendations for the governor's legislation, the governor delivered a bill that was just what the industry asked for: adoption of the Canadian standards; labeling that would not disclose fertilizer contents; and assurance that this practice would continue.
Agency testing of fertilizer products and wastes revealed high levels of metals and dioxins in some fertilizers, making it clear that the governor's bill would not ensure the safety of fertilizer. In fact, a sample of the fertilizer made from steel mill waste revealed levels of lead over 10,000 ppm, meaning that the product was more than one percent pure lead. In addition, agency staff largely dismissed scientific research on the ability of plants to take up metals and on the health concerns related to toxic chemicals such as lead and dioxin. The goal of the governor seemed to be to rush through a bill so that this issue would disappear rather than to solve the problems using all available information.
During the legislative session, the Washington Toxics Coalition, along with Washington Public Interest Group, Sierra Club (Cascade Chapter), Waste Action Project, United Farmworkers, and a coalition of more than 50 organizations and individuals, opposed the governor's bill. We supported a ban on turning toxic waste into fertilizer, full disclosure of fertilizer contents on labels, and standards for all fertilizers that would protect soils for the future.
New Law's Requirements
The bill passed by the legislature is a far cry from what was needed. Here is what it requires:
1. Adoption of the Canadian Standards: The law sets into motion Canada's standards for fertilizer, standards that most fertilizers used in Washington state currently meet. Even the steel mill waste, at one percent lead, meets the Canadian standards because the standards do not set limits on concentrations of metals in fertilizers. Instead, they establish how much lead, cadmium, arsenic, cobalt, mercury, molybdenum, nickel, and selenium can be added to the soil each year until it is non-productive. The standards do not even address dioxins and the thousands of other chemicals that can show up in industrial wastes from paper mills, steel mills, and cement kilns. The governor and legislature chose a backward approach when they should have stopped lead and dioxin from being added to our soils and food supply.
2. Useless information on fertilizer labels: The law's labeling requirements will continue to keep farmers and consumers in the dark about the fertilizer they use. It merely requires the label to list metals covered by the standards and a statement of whether or not the fertilizer meets the standards. In the final hours of the session, a requirement was added for some additional information to be available on an Internet Web site. But, in reality, it is not feasible for a consumer to rush home from the store and check the Internet before grabbing the bag of fertilizer that happens to be on sale while they are shopping for other items. In most cases the information a consumer or farmer really needs in order to make an informed decision won't even be available on the Internet. And what about the people who aren't connected to the Internet?
The real issue here is that farmers, farmworkers, and consumers have a basic right to know what is in the products they buy, where it comes from, and whether or not any precautions should be taken. Gov. Locke should have directed the Department of Agriculture to use its existing authority and require that labels fully disclose fertilizer contents, levels at which they exist in the product, whether the fertilizer was derived from waste, and any health warnings where appropriate.
3. Studies on dioxin in fertilizer and plant uptake of metals: The taxpayers of Washington state will be shelling out more than half a million dollars for these studies. First, dioxin tests were already performed on a number of fertilizer-destined wastes that came from paper mills, cement kilns, and steel mills. Dioxin was found in all the samples, and the paper and steel mill waste had dioxin levels at five to more than 100 times the cleanup standard for dioxin at toxic waste sites in Washington state. Dioxins are among the most harmful chemicals known, and the Environmental Protection Agency has found that dioxin levels in the average human are already at levels known to cause adverse health effects. Wastes containing dioxins should have been prohibited from use as fertilizer without further study.
This metals study is extremely limited and will only look at whether plants take up heavy metals. It will not address major concerns about worker exposure in manufacturing and applying fertilizers, impacts on residents of farming communities who can be exposed through air pollution and house dust, and livestock ingestion of metals and organochlorines that pose immediate public health threats. This two-year study on plant uptake will give us limited information and is a poor use of resources.
This new law will not protect the health of children, farmers, and farmworkers in Washington state from harmful poisons in fertilizers made from toxics wastes. In taking the approach that was eventually passed into law, the governor and the agencies decided to ignore public interest groups, farmers, and many rural residents who said a ban was the way to solve the problem. They are now giving the public both a half-million-dollar bill to pay to "study" industry's practices and regulations that ensure these practices will continue. Clearly, the fight to end the poisoning of our farmland with toxic waste has only just begun.
Fertilizer Industry Whines to Pulitzer Committee
As though getting this sweetheart deal were not enough, The New York Times reported ("Press Critics Strike Early at Pulitzers," April 13, 1998, page C1)that Washington state's Far West Fertilizer and Agrichemical Association lobbied the Pulitzer Prize committee to not grant the "Fear In the Fields" series the most esteemed award in journalism. The "Fear in the Fields" series made it to the final three in the public service category. Duff Wilson, the author, deserves tremendous credit for uncovering the "best-kept" secret of major polluters who dispose of their hazardous waste in fertilizer and for stimulating a national debate on the policy issues. People who would lobby against a journalist obtaining one of the highest honors of their career and squelch public debate on a critical public health issue deserve public scorn and their own "Sour Grapes" award.
The Washington Toxics Coalition will continue to call for a halt to the practice of adding toxic waste to fertilizer, full disclosure of fertilizer contents, and standards that protect agricultural soils for the future. The practice has not been proven safe and it just does not make sense to turn wastes that contain significant amounts of dioxins, lead, and cadmium into fertilizer. If you want to join the fight, please call Laurie Valeriano or Erika Schreder at the Washington Toxics Coalition at (206) 632-1545