Dairy Farm Pollution Costs Lummi Nation

An aerial photo shows a manure lagoon at a dairy farm adjacent to the Nooksack River. Courtesy of Kim Koon.
An aerial photo shows a manure lagoon at a dairy farm adjacent to the Nooksack River. Courtesy of Kim Koon.

By Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission 


Whatcom County’s booming dairy and agricultural industry has cost Lummi Nation shellfish harvesters millions of dollars already, and a recent closure of shellfish beds in Portage Bay is adding to the tally.

Manure from dairy cows is discharged either directly or indirectly into the Nooksack River, which flows into Portage Bay. In September, the tribe closed 335 acres of Portage Bay shellfish beds to harvest because of high fecal coliform levels that exceeded National Shellfish Sanitation Program standards. Continued poor water quality led to the closure of two additional areas in December, bringing the total to nearly 500 acres of shellfish beds that are unsafe to harvest. More areas may have to be closed in the coming months if conditions are not improved.

Lummi shellfish harvesters lost an estimated $8 million in revenue from 1996 to 2006, when 180 acres of Portage Bay shellfish beds were closed for the same reason. The Lummi Nation is pressing state and federal agencies to do a better job of keeping dairy farm manure out of the Nooksack River.

“The tribe has been working since 2005 to avoid this very situation from occurring,” said Merle Jefferson, Lummi Natural Resources director. “We do not have jurisdiction to enforce county, state and federal laws in the watershed so we must rely on Whatcom County, the Washington Department of Ecology, the Washington Department of Agriculture and the EPA to act. The federal agencies have a trust responsibility to ensure that the Lummi people can exercise their treaty rights to harvest shellfish in our usual and accustomed areas.”

Whatcom County is home to about 46,500 adult dairy cows, which can each generate 120 pounds of manure per day. Dairies store the waste in unlined lagoons that can leak 900 gallons of manure into the ground every day, according to a recent ruling under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) – defined as industrial-sized livestock operations that confine animals to barns or feed lots – are required by the federal Clean Water Act to have National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits that regulate how much waste they release into the water.

However, none of the dairy farms in Whatcom County have an NPDES permit.

Smaller farms don’t meet the definition of a CAFO unless they have a documented discharge. Most claim not to spill manure into the water supply, said Andrea Rodgers Harris, a lawyer with the Western Environmental Law Center. Nevertheless, manure is being discharged into the Nooksack River and the groundwater. The Sumas-Blaine aquifer in Whatcom County is the most contaminated aquifer in the state.

“Ecology has concluded that the high nitrate pollution in the aquifer is largely due to manure pollution from dairy farms,” Harris said.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is working with the state Department of Ecology, which administers the permits, to enforce the Clean Water Act to “the fullest extent possible using available resources,” said Dennis McLerran, EPA Region 10 administrator, in a Dec. 9 letter to the Lummi Nation.

McLerran said that a farm that contributes significantly to pollution, even if it does not meet the definition of a “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation,” can be required to get an NPDES permit. Animal feeding operations that are not significant polluters are covered under Clean Water Act provisions relating to nonpoint sources.

“We will continue to work with Ecology to take appropriate enforcement actions to bring such facilities into compliance with the NPDES general permit,” McLerran added.

The state is considering legislation, drafted at the direction of Gov. Inslee, to require all applicators of manure to be certified and licensed by the state

Another concern is pollution from Canadian dairy farms in British Columbia. A Vancouver Sun investigation learned that extremely high levels of fecal coliform bacteria are traveling across the border into Whatcom County via streams from the Fraser Valley.

In December, McLerran and EPA Deputy Regional Administrator Michelle Pirzadeh met with their counterparts in Canada to discuss updating a statement of cooperation between EPA and Environment Canada.

“During our meeting I stated the high priority EPA places on recovery of shellfish beds in Puget Sound, and specifically identified water quality problems and shellfish bed closures near the border as one of EPA Region 10’s highest priorities for our agencies to focus on in the coming year,” McLerran said.

In addition to working with EPA and Ecology, the Lummi Nation participates in the Whatcom Clean Water Program and the Whatcom County Portage Bay Shellfish Protection District, and is working to raise awareness about waste management practices.

Lummi also is seeking relief for fishermen affected by the closure. About 200 Lummi families make their living harvesting shellfish, and as many as 5,000 community members rely on the shellfish beds for ceremonial and subsistence purposes.


Puget Sound Restoration Gets a Boost from USDA

Local farms, shellfish, salmon and clean water will benefit.

Source: The Nature Conservancy

SEATTLE–Farms, shellfish, salmon and water quality in the Puget Sound Region will get a $9 million boost from a new federal conservation program included in the 2014 Farm Bill.

Awards come through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), a new program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“This is a big win for local people who are working together to maintain local sources of food, clean water and our quality of life,” said Mark Clark, Director of the Washington State Conservation Commission, which will manage funding for the Puget Sound project.

Governor Inslee included $4 million in his proposed budget for the non-federal matching funds required by the grant. It’s up to state lawmakers to approve the matching funds as part of the 2015-2017 biennial budget, which is under consideration during the 2015 Legislative session underway now.

Early-action projects in the Puget Sound region are:

  • Farmers in Thomas Creek, a sub basin of the Samish River, will be eligible for voluntary incentives to reduce runoff that impacts shellfish beds. There is also $500K for a farmland protection project along the Samish River (Skagit Conservation District).
  • Farmers in the Snohomish and Skykomish river valleys will receive assistance to manage nutrients and restore riverfront land, as part of Snohomish County’s Sustainable Lands Strategy. (Snohomish Conservation District)
  • Dairy, livestock and crop farmers along Newaukum Creek, in King County’s largest agricultural production district,  will be eligible for voluntary incentives to  plant vegetation and install fencing to keep livestock out of the creek. (American Farmland Trust)

“This new program furthers the broad-based work that we need to engage in for Puget Sound recovery,” said Martha Kongsgaard, chair of the Puget Sound Partnership Leadership Council. “Thanks to our congressional delegation, particularly Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Suzan DelBene, for their leadership in securing this new funding source for Puget Sound. We also greatly appreciate the opportunity to work with NRCS as they bring these new resources that will strengthen the collaborative restoration and protection efforts around Puget Sound.”

“The Tulalip Tribes, as part of the Sustainable Lands Strategy, was delighted to hear that we have been included in the RCPP funding,” said Terry Williams, Tulalip Tribes Treaty Office. “Building partnerships between farms, fish, and environment has proven to be a game changer here in Snohomish County.  Working together to understand the problems we are all facing has helped us find mutual solutions.”

“We all have a stake in a healthy Puget Sound, clean water, and thriving local farms and other food producers,” said Heidi Eisenhour, Pacific Northwest Regional Director of American Farmland Trust

“This is significant recognition and support for locally-led conservation efforts, and a testimony to the power of the diverse coalition of farm, shellfish, tribal and conservation interests that has come together to support this effort,” said George Boggs, of the Puget Sound Natural Resources Alliance. “Thanks to The Nature Conservancy for its leadership in bringing this coalition together to advocate for this program.”

The Puget Sound Natural Resources Alliance will serve as the advisory committee for this project. The Alliance is a collaboration of agriculture, aquaculture, business, conservation groups and tribes working together to protect the lands and waters of Puget Sound and strengthen the long term viability of our natural resource industries and tribal treaty rights. The Nature Conservancy is a member of the Alliance and will also serve on the steering committee.

“In Washington state, we know how critical it is to protect our natural resources, not only for the environment, but also for our economy,” said Senator Murray, D-WA.  “This funding from the Regional Conservation Partnership Program will support local farmers and build on the great work being done to restore the Puget Sound region, grow the economy, and create jobs.”

“I’m thrilled that this proposal was awarded. The Regional Conservation Partnership Program was made possible through the Farm Bill, and I am pleased to work with such a great coalition of partners to support this proposal,” Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA-01) said. “The project will help improve water quality and habitat for many species, as well as the overall ecosystem, while preserving the beautiful nature of the Pacific Northwest.”

RCPP is a public-private partnership designed to focus conservation efforts on the most critical watersheds and landscapes. Under the program, local partners propose conservation projects specific to their region to improve soil health, water quality and water use efficiency, wildlife habitat and other natural resources on private lands.

See the USDA announcement of award recipients here.

Lummi Nation closes shellfish harvesting in part of Portage Bay because of pollution

Ralph Solomon holds clams at the sea sea pond on the Lummi Reservation in this 2003 photo, shortly before the tribe reopened shellfish beds closed in 1997 due to poor water quality. Fecal coliform contamination has again led Lummi Nation to close 335 acres of shellfish beds in September 2014.THE BELLINGHAM HERALD
Ralph Solomon holds clams at the sea sea pond on the Lummi Reservation in this 2003 photo, shortly before the tribe reopened shellfish beds closed in 1997 due to poor water quality. Fecal coliform contamination has again led Lummi Nation to close 335 acres of shellfish beds in September 2014.


By: Bellingham Herald

LUMMI RESERVATION — Lummi Nation has closed 335 acres in Portage Bay to shellfish harvesting because of worsening water quality caused by fecal coliform bacteria.

The tribe consulted with the state Department of Health and volunteered to do so Sept. 3 after levels exceeded federal standards for commercial shellfish harvest.

Portage Bay is home to Lummi Nation’s ceremonial, subsistence and commercial shellfish beds.

Fecal coliform bacteria come from human and animal feces. The bacteria enter Whatcom County’s waterways in several ways — horse and cow manure, pet and wildlife waste, and failing septic systems — and indicate there could be pathogens absorbed by the shellfish that may sicken people who eat them.

The closure affects about 200 families on Lummi Reservation who make a living harvesting shellfish and as many as 5,000 tribal members who rely on Portage Bay shellfish for ceremonial and subsistence needs, according to the tribe.

This isn’t the first time the tribe has closed its shellfish beds in Portage Bay because of fecal coliform pollution. They did so in 1996 because of high levels of fecal coliform in the Nooksack River and streams that empty into Portage Bay.

At that time, the state Department of Ecology and the Environmental Protection Agency led a cleanup plan using state legislation approved in 1998 that required dairy farms to undergo routine inspections and create written plans for how they would contain manure and prevent it from washing into public waterways. Before 1998, dairy farms were inspected only if a complaint was made about a farmer.

Failing septic systems and municipal sewage systems also were addressed.

The effort cleaned up the Nooksack River and its tributaries and allowed 625 acres of tribal shellfish beds to reopen in 2003, and the last 115 acres to reopen three years later.

That decade cost the tribal community about $8.5 million in revenue, Lummi Nation said in a news release.

But in recent years, the Lummis have expressed concern about water quality once again degrading because cuts to budgets and enforcement created regulatory gaps.

“Everybody knows the reason that this is happening is there’s a lack of compliance and a lack of enforcement,” said Merle Jefferson, director of Lummi Natural Resources Department.

Lummi Tribal Chairman Timothy Ballew II echoed those concerns.

“Failure of our upstream partners to follow the policies developed to respond to the last closure has led to this disaster,” Ballew said in a news release. “Immediate actions are needed to right the problem. We are committed to doing the work required that will reopen the shellfish beds.”

Multiple agencies at the federal, state, local and tribal level are once again coordinating their efforts to lower fecal coliform in Whatcom County’s waterways, with county officials saying that the levels in the Nooksack River and Portage Bay have increased in the past five years.

That push includes a proposal for the County Council to create a locally driven, and ongoing, effort called the Whatcom County Pollution Identification and Correction Program. It goes before the County Council on Tuesday, Sept. 30.

“We feel like we’re making progress,” said Doug Allen, manager of Ecology’s Bellingham field office. “I’m still confident that we’re going to turn this around. It’s going to take all of us working really hard to do it.”

Read more here: http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2014/09/26/3879712_lummi-nation-closes-shellfish.html?sp=/99/100/&rh=1#storylink=cpy

Quilcene Bay shellfish show lethal levels of PSP biotoxins

By Rob Ollikainen , Peninsula Daily News


PORT TOWNSEND — Lethal levels of marine biotoxins that cause paralytic shellfish poisoning have been detected in shellfish taken from Quilcene Bay, Jefferson County health officials warned Monday.

Quilcene and Dabob bays have been closed to the recreational harvest of molluscan shellfish ­— clams, oysters, mussels and scallops — since Sept. 8.

Paralytic shellfish poisoning, or PSP, concentrations have risen to more than 6,000 micrograms per 100 grams of shellfish.

That’s 75 times the 80-microgram closure level, and twice the levels detected last week.

“It keeps climbing,” said Michael Dawson, water quality lead for Jefferson County Environmental Health.

A combination of warm weather and calm water may be contributing to the elevated levels of PSP, Dawson said

Additional samples from Quilcene Bay and surrounding areas were collected Monday.

“Right now, we’re mostly wanting to check and see if it might be spreading,” Dawson said.

“So we’ve been checking down the Hood Canal.”

The state Department of Health is warning the public that eating shellfish with such high amounts of toxin is potentially deadly.

Symptoms of PSP can appear within minutes and usually begins with tingling lips and tongue moving to the hands and feet, followed by difficulty breathing and potentially death.

Danger signs have been posted at public beaches warning the public not to eat the shellfish, Dawson said.

Marine biotoxins are not destroyed by cooking or freezing.

The closure does not apply to shrimp.

Crabmeat is not known to contain the biotoxin, but the guts can contain unsafe levels.

To be safe, clean crab thoroughly and discard the guts, health officials say.

Commercially-harvested shellfish are tested for toxins prior to distribution and should be safe to eat.

Areas closed to the recreational harvest of all species of shellfish in Jefferson County are Quilcene Bay, Dabob Bay and Discovery Bay.

Kilisut Harbor, including Mystery Bay, and the Port Ludlow area are closed to the recreational harvest of butter and varnish clams only.

Jefferson County Public Health will continue to test affected beaches and will notify the public when shellfish are safe to harvest, officials said.

In Clallam County, the recreational harvest of butter clams is closed from Cape Flattery to Dungeness Spit.

Varnish clams are closed along the entire North Olympic Peninsula.

Sequim Bay is closed to all species of shellfish.

Seasonal closures are in effect for the Pacific Ocean beaches.

Recreational shellfish harvesters can get the latest information about the safety of shellfish on the state website at www.doh.wa.gov or by phoning 800-562-5632 before harvesting shellfish anywhere in the state.

Recreational shellfishers also should consult state Fish and Wildlife at www.wdfw.wa.gov.

Shellfish Tell Puget Sound’s Polluted Tale

By Ashley Ahearn, KUOW


A mussel is opened for analysis at the WDFW lab. Volunteers and WDFW used mussels to test for contaminants at more than 100 sites up and down Puget Sound. | credit: WDFW
A mussel is opened for analysis at the WDFW lab. Volunteers and WDFW used mussels to test for contaminants at more than 100 sites up and down Puget Sound. | credit: WDFW


SEATTLE — Scientists used shellfish to conduct the broadest study to date of pollution levels along the shore of Puget Sound.

And in some places, it’s pretty contaminated.

This past winter the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife put mussels at more than 100 sites up and down Puget Sound.

After a few months, volunteers and WDFW employees gathered the shellfish and analyzed them for metals, fossil fuel pollution, flame-retardants and other chemicals. The WDFW just released the results.

“The biggest concentrations of those contaminants were found in the highly urbanized bays – Elliott Bay, Salmon Bay, in the Sinclair Inlet, Commencement Bay we found much higher contaminations than we did in the rest of Puget Sound,” said Jennifer Lanksbury, a biologist who led the study for the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

PAHs – or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons – were found in mussels at every single test site. PAHs come from fossil fuels – spilled oil, wood stove smoke and engine exhaust, mainly. The particles can be deposited through the air or get washed into Puget Sound when it rains. Some PAHs are carcinogenic.

Map of PAHs in Puget Sound Shellfish
Map of PAH levels in Puget Sound. Credit: WDFW


The mussel samples all contained PCBs as well. Flame retardants and DDT were found at more than 90 percent of the sites – with the highest levels in more urban bays.

“This is showing that these contaminants are entering the nearshore food web and they’re likely being passed up to other higher organisms and people eat mussels too,” Lanksbury added.

The state Department of Health does rigorous testing for toxic algae and bacteria in shellfish – the kind of stuff that makes you sick immediately. But it doesn’t regularly test shellfish for metals and other contaminants that can harm human health over longer periods of exposure.

“PAH is a difficult issue,” said Dave McBride with the Department of Health. “They are widespread in the environment. We probably get a lot greater exposure to PAHs from the food we eat on the grill, hamburgers or smoked salmon. It’s all relative. Some of the PAHs are considered carcinogens so it’s definitely on our radar.”

Shellfish harvest, in general, is limited in dense urban areas – where the DFW’s mussel study showed the highest levels of contaminants. However, this past winter China banned all imports of shellfish from much of the west coast after finding elevated levels of arsenic in some shellfish harvested near Tacoma.


Mussel Watch Volunteers
Volunteers Jonathan Frodge, Chris Wilke and Paul
Fredrickson gather mussel samples at Discovery
Park in Seattle. Credit: Tom Foley


Lanksbury says that she still feels safe eating mussels and other shellfish from Puget Sound. And, she adds, there are things people can do to lower pollution levels.

“When they say, don’t let your car drip oil, support low-impact development where they’re having rain gardens, don’t wash your car on the side of the road – all of those kinds of things spare Puget Sound from contaminants that we produce on a daily basis by burning fossil fuels,” Lanksbury said.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife hopes to keep the mussel monitoring program going, with the continued help of more than 100 volunteers and citizen scientists from around Puget Sound.

Ocean’s Rising Acidification Dissolves Shellfish That Coastal Tribes Depend On

ThinkstockThe ocean's acidity is rising and dissolving seashells, which could spell doom for Northwest tribes' way of life as well as their livelihood in the shellfish industry and sustenance harvesting.
The ocean’s acidity is rising and dissolving seashells, which could spell doom for Northwest tribes’ way of life as well as their livelihood in the shellfish industry and sustenance harvesting.


Terri Hansen, Indian Country Today, 8/14/14


The ancestral connections of tribal coastal communities to the ocean’s natural resources stretch back thousands of years. But growing acidification is changing oceanic conditions, putting the cultural and economic reliance of coastal tribes—a critical definition of who they are—at risk.

It’s a big challenge to tribes in the Pacific Northwest, said Billy Frank Jr. (Suquamish) back in 2010, addressing the 20 tribes that make up the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

“It’s scary,” he said in a video posted at the fisheries commission website. “The State of Washington hasn’t been managing it. The federal government hasn’t been managing it. We’ve got to bring the science people in to tell them what we’re talking about.”

What they were talking about are the decreases in pH and lower calcium carbonate saturation in surface waters, which together is called ocean acidification, as defined by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Some 30 percent of the carbon, or CO2, released into the atmosphere by human activities has dissolved straight into the sea. There it forms the carbolic acid that depletes ocean waters of the calcium that shellfish, coral and small creatures need to make their calcium carbonate shells and skeletons.

Its impacts are felt by Native and non-Native communities in Washington State that rely on oysters and shellfish. Disastrous production failures in oyster beds caused by low pH-seawater blindsided the oyster industry in 2010, prompting a comprehensive 2012 investigation by Washington State. Earlier this month Governor Jay Inslee took the issue to the media in order to jump-start climate change action in his state, The New York Times reported on August 3.

The Quinault Indian Nation on Washington’s coast is part of one of the most productive natural areas in the world and is especially involved in the ocean acidification issue. The rivers in Quinault support runs of salmon that have in turn supported generations of Quinault people. The villages of Taholah and Queets are located at the mouth of two of those great rivers. The Pacific Ocean they flow into is the source of halibut, crab, razor clams and many other species that are part of the Quinault heritage.

“Since the summer of 2006, Quinault has documented thousands of dead fish and crab coming ashore in the late summer months, specifically onto the beaches near Taholah,” Quinault Marine Resources scientist Joe Schumacker told Indian Country Today Media Network. “Our science team has worked with NOAA scientists to confirm that these events are a result of critically low oxygen levels in this ocean area.“

The great productivity of this northwest coast is driven by natural upwelling, in which summer winds drive deep ocean waters, rich in nutrients, to the surface, Schumacker explained. This cycle has been happening forever on the Washington coast, and the ecosystem depends on it.

But now, “due to recent changes in summer wind and current patterns possibly due to climate change, these deep waters, devoid of oxygen, are sometimes not getting mixed with air at the surface,” Schumacker said. “The deep water now comes ashore, taking over the entire water column as it does, and we find beaches littered with dead fish—and some still living—in shallow pools on the beaches, literally gasping for oxygen. Normally reclusive fish such as lingcod and greenling will be trapped in inches of water trying to get what little oxygen they can to stay alive.”

The Quinault, working with University of Washington and NOAA scientists determined these hypoxia events were also related to ocean acidification.

“Now Quinault faces the potential for not just hypoxia impacts coming each summer, but also those same waters bring low-pH acidic waters to our coast,” Schumacker said. “Upwelling is the very foundation of our coastal ecosystem, and it now carries a legacy of pollution that may be causing profound changes unknown to us as of yet. The Quinault Department of Fisheries has been seeking funding to better study and monitor these potential ecosystem impacts to allow us to prepare for an unknown future.”

Schumacker noted that tribes are in a prime position to observe and react to these changes.

“The tribes of the west coast of the U.S. are literally on the front line of ocean acidification impacts,” he said. “Oyster growers from Washington and Oregon have documented year after year of lost crops as tiny oyster larvae die from low pH water. What is going on in the ecosystem adjacent to Quinault? What other small organisms are being impacted, and how is our ecosystem reacting? We have a responsibility to know so we can plan for an uncertain future.”

Scientists from NOAA and Oregon State University studied ocean waters off California, Oregon and Washington shorelines in August 2011, and found the first evidence that increasing acidity was dissolving the shells of a key species of minuscule floating snails called pterapods that lie at the base of the food chain.

Their study, published in the April 4, 2014, edition of the British scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, found that 53 percent of pterapods “are already dissolving,” said NOAA’s Feely.

“Pteropods are only a canary in this coal mine,” the Quinault’s Schumacker said. “They are a critical component of salmon diets, but what other creatures in the ecosystem are being affected?”

It’s a concern too, for the Yurok Tribe on the northern California coast. Micah Gibson, director of the Yurok Tribe Environmental Program, told ICTMN, “We’ve done some research, but no monitoring yet.”

The Passamaquoddy Tribal Environmental Department in Maine is monitoring ocean acidification, according to a letter the tribe sent to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). They reported that the pH of Passamaquoddy, Cobscook Bays and the Bay of Fundy was around 8.03 during the 1990s and had dropped to 7.92.

The lower the pH value, the more acidic the environment. If, or when, the Passamaquoddy letter stated, the level in bays falls to 7.90, shellfish—including clams, scallops and lobster, all economic mainstays—will die.

In Alaska, coastal waters are particularly vulnerable because colder water absorbs more carbon dioxide, and the Arctic’s unique ocean circulation patterns bring naturally acidic deep ocean waters to the surface, according to recent research funded by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) awaiting publication in the journal Progress in Oceanography.

Ocean acidification spells even more trouble for the Inuit subsistence way of life.

“New NOAA-led research shows that subsistence fisheries vital to Native Alaskans and America’s commercial fisheries are at-risk from ocean acidification,” NOAA said in the report. “Emerging because the sea is absorbing increasing amounts of carbon dioxide, ocean acidification is driving fundamental chemical changes in the coastal waters of Alaska’s vulnerable southeast and southwest communities.”

The pH of the ocean’s surface waters had held stable at 8.2 for more than 600,000 years, but in the last two centuries the global average pH of the surface ocean has decreased by 0.11, dropping to 8.1. That may not sound like a lot, but as of now the oceans are 30 percent more acidic than they were at the start of the Industrial Revolution 250 years ago, according to NOAA.

If humans continue emitting CO2 at the level they are today, scientists predict that by the end of this century the ocean’s surface waters could be nearly 150 percent more acidic, resulting in a pH the oceans haven’t experienced for more than 20 million years.

The ocean acts as a carbon sink, greatly reducing the climate change impact of CO2 in the atmosphere. When scientists factor in our increasingly acidic oceans their studies show that global temperatures are set to rise rapidly, according to a study of ocean warming published last year in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

These frightening scenarios illustrate the point made by Frank in his talk on ocean acidification: Humanity must meet this challenge. So too must Inslee’s persistence in trying to place a high priority on climate change in Washington DC.

RELATED: Obama’s Climate Change Report Lays Out Dire Scenario, Highlights Effects on Natives

We are moving into the Anthropocene Age, a new geological epoch in which humanity is influencing every aspect of the Earth on a scale akin to the great forces of nature, according to the journal Environmental Science & Technology. The Anthropocene challenges American Indians, but if traditional knowledge could foresee the tremendous challenges posed by ocean acidification, Indigenous knowledge can surely find solutions to the impacts of climate change, starting with how we use energy, and how much carbon we emit.

“Have a little courage, and get out of some boxes,” the environmentalist and writer Winona LaDuke told ICTMN. “Put in renewable energy and re-localize our economies, from food to housing, health and energy.”


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/08/14/oceans-rising-acidification-dissolves-shellfish-coastal-tribes-depend-156395?page=0%2C1


How Ocean Chemistry Threatens The NW Oyster Industry



By: Kathryn Batstone-Boyd, Ben Stone, and Karina Ordell, OPB


NETARTS BAY, Ore. — Mark Wiegardt steps slowly through knee-high water, pausing over some jagged lumps of brown-gray shells with a bent flat-head screwdriver.

He picks up a clump of oysters and rests it on his thigh, stabbing and wrenching until the shellfish crack apart.

The creatures inside are more valuable than ever, so Wiegardt tries his best to make them look nice by bashing off the sharp edges.

Oysters are biologically simple. But nothing is simple about the water in which they live. The Pacific Northwest’s ocean chemistry is changing. A phenomenon known as ocean acidification has shocked the Northwest oyster industry, causing farmers and hatchery owners to modify decades-old ways of cultivating oysters and to reconsider the murky future of their industry.

“Our business has definitely been altered by this changing water chemistry,” Weigardt said.

He understands the concern surrounding ocean acidification better than almost anyone. Wiegardt’s a fourth-generation oyster farmer and one of the managers of Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery in Netarts Bay, Oregon.

Like many hatcheries on the West Coast, Whiskey Creek grows Pacific oysters — a Japanese species introduced to America in the early 1900s. Farmers grow oysters in enclosed waters connected to the ocean, known as estuaries. But the coastal waters of the Northwest are too cold for Pacific oysters to spawn naturally. So, oyster seed suppliers like Whiskey Creek act as incubators.

Whiskey Creek houses huge vats of seawater that serve as swimming pools for young oyster larvae to develop. When the larvae are mature enough, the hatchery packs them in balls of paper towels before sending them to independent oyster farmers along the coast.

The farmers take the oyster “seed” to their nurseries and dump it into giant tanks, where the larvae “set” onto vacant oyster shells. When they are mature enough, the farmers remove the shellfish from the tanks and chuck them into the bay. The oysters will stay here for a couple years, fattening up by filtering algae and other nutrients out of the water. Eventually, the farmers will return and gather their harvest so the full-grown oysters can be bagged and sold.

Why Are The Larvae Failing?

In the late summer of 2007, the oyster larvae at Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery didn’t make it to the bay. Without warning, the larvae began to fail by the millions inside the vats.

“Everything was dying. The larvae were pink. Every larva in the place was not feeding,” said Sue Cudd, owner of Whiskey Creek.

Whiskey Creek couldn’t supply its customers with seed. No one could understand why the larvae were dying.

“The changes were so dramatic, we thought there was a very strong possibility that we were going to go out of business,” Wiegardt said.

A year after the first die-offs, Whiskey Creek engineer Alan Barton scrambled for clues explaining why Whiskey Creek’s methods were suddenly not working. Barton discovered that an upwelling of ocean water with unusually high acidity was corroding the oysters’ shells, causing the larvae to die while trying to form an exoskeleton. He was eventually able to stem the die-offs by adapting simple aquarium chemistry to equalize the pH in Whiskey Creek’s tanks.

Since then, Whiskey Creek has learned to sustain healthy brown larvae in its vat water with a system that constantly buffers the water. However, the effectiveness of buffer chemicals is limited to hatchery tubs.

The die-offs made 2007 a defining year for West Coast oyster farmers.

Hedging Bets In Hawaii

Kathleen Nisbet, a manager of Goose Point Oyster Company in Willapa Bay, saw the die-offs as a signal to change. In 2009, Goose Point began constructing its first oyster hatchery in Hilo, Hawaii, in order to lessen its dependence on hatcheries like Whiskey Creek, which draw water from the Northwestern tides. Though the Nisbets had long done business with Whiskey Creek, and still do, they felt they had to set themselves apart geographically to insulate their business from the acidic waters.

“I employ 70 employees; I’m responsible for 70 families. That’s a big deal to me,” Nisbet said. “I can’t just say, ‘We’ll figure it out.’ I’ve got people I have to feed and it was our responsibility to look at what we needed to do.”

But even as one crisis seems resolved, another one looms. There’s a new concern that mature oysters may soon be at risk. Roberto Quintana, an engineer at Ekone Oyster Company on Washington’s Willapa Bay, has begun to see health defects in oysters out in the bay that he can’t correlate with natural events.

“Last year was when I first heard some of the old-timers from around here who were like, ‘We don’t know what the hell happened,’” Quintana said.

There is no consensus on what to do if water chemistry in the bays turns inhospitable for mature oysters. Quintana says there are a few options: genetically engineer a more hardy oyster species; try to apply buffer chemicals directly into the bays; or perhaps just give oysters more time in their safe nursery tanks.

Can The Oyster Industry Survive?

But for some, the thought of such dramatic changes to old farming techniques makes them question the long-term survival of the Northwest oyster industry.

“Those are big, philosophical questions,” Jambor said. “Do you get out of this business because you think it’s going to go down in 30 years? I don’t know.”

Whiskey Creek’s Wiegardt, however, is not about to idly watch the Northwest oyster industry go down in his lifetime. In the last few years, he has travelled many times with other Northwest shellfish producers to Washington, D.C., to tell their stories and ask lawmakers to pay for monitoring stations that would measure the water’s acidity.

“Farmers in general, I think we all like to complain a little more than we should,” he said. “[But] any time you know a little bit about something that may have a huge impact, you need to communicate that.”

Wiegardt thinks he has been well received in the Capitol, and he accepts these trips as his responsibility to the small community of Northwestern oyster farmers who know each other by first name.

“It’s not all doom and gloom,” Wiegardt said. “We’re solving a problem here as we speak.”

Kathryn Batstone-Boyd, Karina Ordell and Ben Stone are students in the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication. This report was produced as a class project. Video produced by Batstone-Boyd; photography by Ordell; article written by Stone.

Inslee Water Quality Plan Too Little, Too Late

Note: Being Frank is the monthly opinion column that was written for many years by the late Billy Frank Jr., NWIFC Chairman. To honor him, the treaty Indian tribes in western Washington will continue to share their perspectives on natural resources management through this column. This month’s writer is Russ Hepfer, Vice Chair of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe and an NWIFC commissioner.


“Being Frank”

Inslee Water Quality Plan Too Little, Too Late

By: Russ Hepfer, Vice Chair of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe


Russ Hepfer
Russ Hepfer

More delay is about the only thing that any of us who live here in Washington can count on when it comes to a badly needed update of state water quality standards to protect our health.

After decades of foot-dragging  by previous governors, Gov. Jay Inslee recently unveiled his plan to revise our state’s ridiculously outdated water quality standards. While the plan offers a small increase in protection from 70 percent of the toxic chemicals regulated by the federal Clean Water Act, it maintains the inadequate status quo for the other 30 percent.

At best Inslee’s plan offers minimal progress in reducing contamination; at worst it provides a tenfold increase in our cancer risk rate.

Water quality standards are based in large part on how much fish and shellfish we eat. The more we eat, the cleaner the water needs to be. Two numbers drive our water quality standards: our fish consumption rate and our cancer risk rate from pollution in our waters.

Inslee’s plan rightly increases our fish consumption rate from the current 6.5 grams per day (about one serving of fish or shellfish per month) to 175 grams per day (at least one meal of fish or shellfish per day).

Support for that amount is a huge concession by tribes. Most tribal members, as well as Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders eat far more than 175 grams of fish and shellfish per day. Current studies show daily consumption rates of 236 to 800 grams. Even those numbers represent suppressed rates. If more fish and shellfish were available for harvest, more would be eaten.

While giving a little with one hand, Inslee takes away a lot with the other, increasing our “acceptable” cancer risk rate tenfold, from one in a million to one in 100,000. Do you think anyone who gets cancer from the pollution in our fish and shellfish would find that risk rate acceptable? Would you?

That one in a million rate has protected all of us for the past 20 years. By increasing the cancer risk rate Inslee effectively cancels out most of the health benefits and improved water quality provided by the increased fish consumption rate.

The fish consumption and cancer risk rates are supposed to protect those who need it the most: children, women of childbearing age, Indians, Asian and Pacific Islanders, sport fishermen and anyone who likes to eat local fish and shellfish. When the most vulnerable among us is protected, so is everyone else.

To make up for the loss of protection under the cancer risk rate, Inslee proposes a statewide toxics reduction effort that would require legislative approval and funding. While the idea of a large toxics reduction program is a good one, it is not a substitute for an updated state water quality standards rule that carries the force of law.

No one knows what the Legislature might do, but two things are certain. There will be more delay and more opposition to Inslee’s proposal. Boeing and other opponents to improved water quality rules will likely engage in full-strength lobbying during the session to block any meaningful change, claiming that it will increase their cost of doing business.

The state has a clear duty to protect the environment to ensure that our treaty foods such as fish and shellfish are safe to eat. If not, those rights are meaningless. We will not put our hard-won treaty rights or the health of our children in the hands of the governor or state Legislature.

Our treaty rights already are at risk because most salmon populations continue to decline. The reason is that we are losing salmon habitat faster than it can be restored. What good is restored habitat if it does not include clean water?

Washington could have joined Oregon as a leader in protecting human health and natural resources. Oregon two years ago increased its fish consumption rate to 175 grams per day and kept the one-in-a-million cancer risk rate. Now Oregon has the highest standards of protection in the United States.

Meanwhile, the Oregon economy hasn’t suffered and not one company has gone out of business as a result. Don’t we all deserve the same level of protection as Oregonians?

Any kind of justice that is delayed is justice denied. That includes both social and environmental justice. Further delays and weak water quality standards only worsen the suffering of many. Inslee’s plan is too little, too late.

Obama Signs Northwest Lawmaker’s Bill For Toxic Algae Research

Algae bloom in the Pacifi Northwest.  credit: Ashley Ahearn, 2012
Algae bloom in the Pacific Northwest. credit: Ashley Ahearn, 2012

By David Steves, OPB

A Northwest lawmaker’s battle against toxic algae blooms won the support of President Barack Obama Monday, when he signed into law a bill aimed at controlling such outbreaks.

Oregon congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici and Florida Sen. Bill Nelson co-sponsored the bill, which authorizes $82 million dollars for new research meant to control toxic algae blooms nationwide.

The advocacy group Ocean Champions applauded the effort from Congress and the White House. The group’s president, David Wilmot, issued a statement saying it costs the nation about $100 million dollars a year to deal with toxic algal blooms.

Bonamici said during her floor testimony in the House that she got behind the legislation after learning that toxic algal blooms were leading to yearly die-offs of Dungeness crabs in Oregon. She also said climate change was making the problem worse.

“This will become increasingly important as coastal populations increase and changes in the environment, such as warmer water temperatures, have the potential to alter the growth, toxicity and geographic distribution of algal blooms,” Bonamici told her House colleagues.

Northwest waters have been hit by a number of these outbreaks in recent years. Toxic algae has contaminated Washington’s Puget Sound and several lakes in Oregon, including Fern Ridge and Lost Creek reservoirs.

Algal blooms have also made shellfish unsafe to eat and have been harmful to salmon. Public health agencies have had to close beaches to shellfish harvesting and issued no-swimming restrictions for lakes in the Northwest because of such outbreaks.

Climate Disruptions Hitting More and More Tribal Nations

Associated PressKivalina, Alaska is one of several Native villages that are compromised by rising waters.
Associated Press
Kivalina, Alaska is one of several Native villages that are compromised by rising waters.


Terri Hansen, Indian Country Today


Native Americans have long had a close relationship with their lands and waters—sacred places and resources that define their lives. The disruptions wrought by a warming climate are forcing abrupt cultural changes on peoples with a long reliance on a once stable ecosystem.

Among the special issues affecting tribes, the 2013 Assessment of Climate Change in the Southwestern United States (SWCA) cited “cultural and religious impacts, impacts to sustainable livelihoods, population emigration, and threats to the feasibility of living conditions.”

RELATED: Climate Change Hits Natives Hardest

The Hoh, Quinault, Quileute and Makah nations inhabit low-lying land along the west coast of Washington State, and face similar threats as rising sea levels and the other impacts of climate disruptions endanger their villages.

”The area is relatively vulnerable,” Patty Glick, senior global warming specialist and author of a 2007 National Wildlife Federation report, ”Sea Level Rise and Coastal Habitats in the Pacific Northwest,” told Indian Country Today Media Network in 2008. Higher wave action, wave force and destructive storm surges will increase in the coming decade, Glick said, and destructive storms such as the hurricanes will become more frequent.

RELATED: Olympic Coast Tribes Face Rising Ocean Levels

The Hoh road to the beach has washed out, and the ocean has destroyed the homes that once lined their beach. In Quinault, a passing storm tossed gigantic logs onto the school grounds. These events intensified both tribes’ agenda to get higher ground returned from the Olympic National Park beyond their tiny reservation boundaries.

The Makah and the Quinault nations have large reservations, but their seaside villages are at risk, as evidenced by the recent state of emergency at Quinault headquarters in Taholah, which faced an increasingly dangerous situation with sea level rise and intensified storms, which breached a sea wall causing serious damage.

According to Climate Central, which uses data from NOAA and the USGS, there is a greater than one in six chance that sea level rise, plus storm surge, plus tides, will raise sea levels by more than one foot before 2020 along the coastline and in the Puget Sound region, where another eight tribes are situated. The Shoalwater Bay sits nearly out to sea in southwest Washington.

Rising sea levels will affect Washington’s shoreline habitat for vegetation, animals, birds and fish, according to Glick’s report. Marshes, swamps and tidal flats will be significantly affected, and salmon and shellfish habitat are expected to be significantly affected, Glick reported.

Along Alaska’s northwestern coast, melting sea ice has reduced natural coastal protection. Increased coastal erosion is causing some shorelines to retreat at rates averaging tens of feet per year. In Shishmaref and Kivalina, Alaska, severe erosion has caused homes to collapse into the sea, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, forcing these Alaska Native Village populations to relocate in order to protect lives and property.

RELATED: Alaskan Native Communities Facing Climate-Induced Relocation

Moving inland, “Climate change is slowly tipping the balance in favor of more frequent, longer lasting, and more intense droughts,” states the SWCA. The Navajo Nation is experiencing annual average temperatures warmer than the 1904-2011 average, cites a climate report released in March 2014. Latest figures show their drought continuing beyond 2010 studies into July 2013, indicating the drought continues.

RELATED: New Report Aims to Help Navajo Nation Cope With Climate Change

Perhaps among the worst of those impacts are the runaway sand dunes it has unleashed, which extend over one-third the 27,000-square-mile reservation. During the 1996-2009 drought period the extent of dune fields increased by some 70%. These dunes are moving at rates of approximately 35 meters per year, covering houses, burying cars and snarling traffic, degrading grazing and agricultural lands, contributing to the loss of rare and endangered native plants, and when they occur contributing to poor air quality, a serious health concern for many of the reservation’s 173,667 residents.

RELATED: Climate Change, Drought Transforming Navajo’s Dunescape to a Dust Bowl

Intertribal organizations around the U.S. are recognizing climate change and variability as a significant factor that can impact tribal resources, livelihoods, and cultures, cites the latest tribal climate report. The National Tribal Air Association notes that “perhaps no other community of people has experienced the adverse impacts of climate change more than the nation’s Indian tribes.”

The struggle will soon come to more tribes. Sea level rise projections do not bode well and may already be a cause of concern for the tribes along Louisiana’s Gulf of Mexico—the United Houma Nation, the Atakapa-Ishak Nation, Pointe-au-Chien Tribe, and the Biloxi-Chitimacha’s Isle de Jean Charles Band, Grand Caillou/Dulac Band and Bayou Lafourche Band. In Florida—the Miccosukee, and some locations of the Seminole Indian Reservations. Ocean residing tribal nations in California include the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla, Cahto, Chumash, Hoopa, Karok, Kumeyaay, Luiseño Bands of Indians, Maidu, Miwok, and some bands of the Pomo Nation. Some are more at risk than others.

RELATED: 6 Tribal Nations Taking a Direct Hit From Extreme Weather


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/05/07/climate-disruptions-hitting-more-and-more-tribal-nations-154747?page=0%2C1