With the assistance of WSU Beach Watchers volunteers, the quality of water at Mission Beach is being monitored weekly. So far this summer, the water has been sampled seven times. Samples are analyzed at the Tulalip Water Quality Lab.
From Valerie Streeter, Stormwater Planner in Tulalip Natural Resources:
“This year is the first time Tulalip Natural Resources with WSU Beach Watcher Volunteers have monitored the water at Mission Beach for safe swimming conditions so we weren’t sure what we would find. It’s great to see that beach water is clean so far! The weekly water monitoring will continue until August 30.”
The results show that bacteria levels in the water are below the threshold limit for swimming, which means that the water is clean. The graph below shows the average result from the three beach sampling stations. The red line shows the bacteria threshold limit and the blue line is the water quality data.
With the good news of Mission Beach having clean water with safe swimming conditions, be sure you make a trip before summer is over.
By Lorraine Loomis, Chair, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission
Water – how much we have and how clean it should be – is on the minds of many these days as the drought rolls on in western Washington and state government remains stalled on updating decades-old water quality standards.
Tribal insistence on more restrictive salmon fisheries this year has turned out to be the right call as the hottest and driest summer we’ve ever seen continues, threatening salmon throughout western Washington at every stage of their life cycle.
With no snowpack, record warm weather and little rain, our rivers and streams are running low, slow and hot. That’s bad news for both hatchery and wild salmon, which depend on plenty of cool water for their survival.
Many returning adult salmon died last year before they could reach spawning grounds or a hatchery, while thousands of out-migrating young salmon died before they could reach the ocean. The deaths of those salmon will be felt by all fishermen several years from now when fewer fish return.
Water temperatures 70 degrees and higher can be lethal to salmon. Many streams already have reached those temperatures with a lot of summer left. Warm water can also create a thermal barrier that prevents salmon from reaching hatcheries and spawning grounds. In addition, salmon are more susceptible to diseases when water temperatures are high.
Salmon are getting some relief from tribal and state hatcheries that use cooler groundwater for incubating and rearing fish. These hatcheries are providing sanctuaries to help salmon survive the drought and fulfilling their role as gene banks to preserve salmon for the future.
The outlook for many tribal fisheries is growing steadily darker as week after week slips by with no improvement in weather conditions. We hope enough salmon will return to our fishing grounds so that we can feed our families and preserve our cultures and communities.
It wasn’t easy for the tribes to convince the state co-managers that tougher fishing regulations were needed this year to protect salmon. In fact, the Puget Sound sport-fishing industry was prodding the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to expand fisheries this summer. But salmon management is not a popularity contest and the effects of our drought are getting worse.
The treaty tribes in western Washington will continue to insist on the highest level of responsible fisheries management and hatchery operations to ensure all of our children have a future that includes salmon.
On the water quality front, the state legislature adjourned a triple overtime session in June without approving Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposal for new water quality standards as part of a statewide toxics reduction program.
State water quality standards already are more than 40 years old. The state admits that current standards don’t adequately protect any of us, especially those of us who eat a lot of fish and shellfish. The state has missed every deadline to update the standards as required by the federal Clean Water Act.
Inslee’s toxics reduction program is a good idea. It’s a lot easier and cheaper to prevent poisons from ever getting into our waters than to clean them up afterwards. But to be effective, such a program must first be based in a strong rule of law that will drive the compliance and innovation needed to meet those standards.
The governor is expected to propose a new set of water quality standards in early August. If not, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will step in to help.
It is important to remember that all natural resources are connected. Water quantity and quality are two sides of the same coin. Both are fundamental to the health of people and salmon.
Protecting and restoring salmon habitat improves the overall health of our watersheds, making them more resistant to drought and able to bounce back more quickly from its effects.
To truly protect our water quality and quantity – and to protect and restore the salmon resource – we must continue to work together to restore salmon habitat. At the same time, we should develop strong rules that can support a statewide toxics reduction program with realistic, truly protective water quality standards that are implemented over time.
LUMMI RESERVATION — Commercial shellfish harvesting is being banned on nearly 500 acres of Portage Bay for about half the year because of worsening water quality caused by fecal coliform bacteria, the Washington state Department of Health announced Tuesday, March 24.
Portage Bay is home to Lummi Nation’s ceremonial, subsistence and commercial shellfish beds.
State health officials last week changed the classification of nearly 500 of the 1,300 commercial shellfish harvesting acres in the bay from “approved” to “conditionally approved” because of water quality. That means harvesting in the conditionally approved area will be closed each year April through June and again October through December.
Those are the months when tests show the bay is affected by polluted runoff from the Nooksack River carrying higher levels of bacteria into the shellfish harvesting area, the state said.
The partial closure will remain until water quality improves, said Scott Berbells, manager of the growing area section for the department’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety.
The state’s action follows one taken by Lummi Nation in September, when the tribe closed 335 acres in Portage Bay to shellfish harvesting.
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.
Those 335 acres are within the 500 acres downgraded by the state.
“This closure is devastating for the approximately 200 families on the Lummi Reservation who make their living harvesting shellfish,” Lummi Nation Chairman Timothy Ballew II said in a news release.
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.
This isn’t the first time the tribe has closed its shellfish beds in Portage Bay because of fecal coliform pollution. It 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.
“During the last 10-year closure, the tribal community lost jobs and millions in revenue. Ultimately, the closure affects all Lummi people because this shellfish area is sacred to our people and critical to our way of life,” Ballew said.
In recent years, the Lummis have expressed concern about water quality once again degrading because cuts to budgets and enforcement created regulatory gaps.
“We’ve seen declining water quality in Portage Bay since about 2008. A number of stations have been steadily getting worse,” Barbells said.
Cleanup efforts are once again underway in the watershed.
In 2014, Whatcom County received funding from the EPA to strengthen a locally led effort to identify and clean up pollution sources.
Lummi Natural Resources, Whatcom Conservation District, and the state departments of Health, Agriculture and Ecology are working with Whatcom County and the Portage Bay Shellfish Protection District on the Portage Bay cleanup.
Read more here: http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2015/03/24/4204838_pollution-partially-closes-nearly.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy
BELLINGHAM — Bellingham City Council is considering asking the state for tighter pollution rules protecting water and the fish people eat.
On Monday, March 23, the council will discuss signing a letter to the Department of Ecology that would request tighter water quality standards than what the department is currently proposing as part of a years-long update process.
That would go against the grain of many other cities around the state that support the plan from Ecology and Gov. Jay Inslee as a compromise on health standards and strict pollution guidelines that affect wastewater treatment plants.
Ecology is looking at increasing the average amount of fish that state rules assume each person eats from 6.5 grams per day, about one 7-ounce meal per month, to 175 grams per day, about 6 ounces per day, to closer match the amount of fish folks in the Pacific Northwest actually eat.
Raising that number would mean more stringent controls on pollution, because if people are eating more fish, they could be consuming more toxins.
Under the proposal, Ecology also would lower the acceptable risk of getting cancer from the current rate of one in 1 million if someone were to eat the average amount every day for 70 years, to one in 100,000 for many of the toxins.
Those two measures fall under the umbrella of what are called human health criteria, which dictate exactly how much pollution is allowed into the state’s waterways. The current levels were set in a 1992 federal rule applying to 14 states that had failed to meet the requirements of the 1972 Clean Water Act.
For some, including Bellingham City Council members Roxanne Murphy and Michael Lilliquist, lowering the cancer risk rate seems like taking a step backwards.
“Primarily my concern is that Native Americans and Asian communities, for example, can often consume 10 times the amount of seafood that other communities might take in,” Murphy said. “I really want to bring light to how a higher cancer risk will affect everybody. I don’t think it’s the right approach for everybody’s well being.”
Lilliquist said the state shouldn’t downsize the cancer guidelines currently in place, even though it might cost more.
“There’s been some resistance to tighten the rules from city governments,” Lilliquist said. “No one’s against clean water, but if we have to redo all of our stormwater drains, prevent more water pollution, it would be quite expensive. My hope is that state officials will see that strong water quality standards are not up for debate.”
Even with lowering the cancer risk tenfold, the new standards would be more protective for about 70 percent of toxins, and in cases where it would be less protective, the state will maintain the stricter standard, as explained in a policy brief from the governor’s office.
Still, increasing the acceptable risk rate above the current one in 1 million is shocking to Dr. Frank James, medical officer for the Nooksack Indian Tribe, health officer for San Juan County and an assistant professor of public health at University of Washington.
“I think if the public understood, maybe they wouldn’t agree that that’s a good idea,” James said. “It’s the most common standard in federal regulation and in all state regulation. Us varying from that is a very odd thing.”
Council will consider signing its letter and submitting it on the last day Ecology is taking public comment on the proposed rule.
A draft of the letter states that the council is in support of the governor’s comprehensive approach to improving water quality, but there are concerns about loosening the allowable cancer risk rate.
The letter also states that Bellingham council is aware that stronger standards will make it harder for the city to comply with pollution and stormwater controls, and that serious conversations about financial assistance are needed at the state level.
Those concerns are part of the reason the Association of Washington Cities, a nonprofit that lobbies for Washington cities and towns at the state level, supports the compromise presented by the governor.
Carl Schroeder, government relations advocate for the association, said it has looked at the issue and worked with the governor’s office and Ecology to set achievable goals.
The concern for some toxins is that changing the standards to a rate lower than what is already found in the waters of the state would mean that anyone discharging into that water, such as a municipal wastewater treatment plant, would need to meet the “ultra low standard right at the end of the pipe,” Schroeder said. The technology doesn’t exist to meet some of those low rates, he said.
“If you put a new standard out there that ratchets it down, and there’s no technology to do it, you drive a bunch of expense and utility rates go through the roof to put on the newest technology that doesn’t even meet the standard,” Schroeder said. “That’s been addressed largely on this risk rate discussion, which does increase the protections for 70 percent of the toxins. It doesn’t roll anything back, it just moderates the stringency.”
Read more here: http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2015/03/21/4197262_bellingham-council-could-weigh.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy
“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.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell invoked not only tribal sovereignty but also environmental expertise when she spoke to MSNBC’s José Díaz-Balart about the Keystone XL pipeline, which many tribes oppose.
“I think the fact that the tribal nations are standing up saying, ‘We are concerned about this. We are concerned about water quality. We’re concerned about tribal sovereignty. We’re concerned about what this pipeline may do for our lands and our rights,’ needs to be heard,” she said when he asked her to put tribal opposition to Keystone in context.
“In my role as secretary of the interior we will make sure that there’s a platform for those tribal voices to be heard,” she said. “And I think they will make a very effective case because they know their lands better than we do.”
In the end it will all come down to the State Department, she said, which will make the pipeline decision “by listening to all of the facts and information they have,” including tribal voices.
Jewell also spoke about Native youth, the centuries of oppression that have led to the current state of affairs regarding mental health, education and poverty, and on how it is time to make things right.
“We have destroyed much of the hope and the pride and the future for a lot of Native youth,” she said. “This is the time to turn that around.”
Her full chat with Díaz-Balart can be seen at MSNBC.com.
The pipeline threatens many tribal lands, especially Sioux territory in South Dakota, given that the proposed route traverses the Rosebud Sioux Reservation. Last month tribal President Cyril Scott said that if the pipeline passes it would be considered “an act of war,” and promised to fight it all the way.
The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC) has come out in favor of the bipartisan congressional conference report on pending legislation that would enable direct cooperation between the Army Corps of Engineers and tribes.
“The Columbia Basin tribes and the Corps have long mutually agreed that acquisition of such authority would substantially advance project expertise and efficiency and allow the Corps to meet its statutory obligations by accessing tribal expertise,” the CRITFC said in a statement, adding that the language in the relevant section, 1031, was “short and simple but will remedy prior inefficiency in projects such as cultural resources protection, water quality monitoring and lamprey passage research.”
Lamprey passage has been an issue for the tribes in the northwestern United States, to whom they are a cultural icon. Dam construction has impeded the fish’s ability to spawn.
Section 1031 “authorizes the Corps of Engineers to carry out water-related planning activities and construct water resource development projects that are located primarily within Indian country or impacts tribal resources,” the conference report stated. “Previous Water Resources Development Acts have authorized individual Tribes to carry out these activities. This section is intended to provide this authority generically so that all Tribes may benefit.”
The commission also gave a hat tip to Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, calling him “instrumental” in getting the Cooperative Agreement Authority language included in the bill that passed the Senate in 2013. The tribal organization also noted the contributions of House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster and Ranking Member Nick Rahall, who “were integral to affirming House commitment to the policy improvements.”
A final vote on the bill is pending.
“We look forward to swift passage of WRRDA in both the House and Senate and look forward to working with the US Army Corps of Engineers to quickly implement this authority,” said CRITFC Executive Director Paul Lumley in the statement.
Maia Bellon, director of the Washington State Department of Ecology, addresses the Tribal Habitat Conference in Port Angeles, discussing the state’s role in toxic cleanups, water quality and human health indicators among other issues.