A disaster called Clover Creek

Since 1853, when Washington became a Territory, Clover Creek has been diverted, dammed, dug up, relocated, culverted, drilled back into the ground and had vast amounts of pollutants dumped into it. The creek was named by Christopher Mahon who settled a Donation Land Claim there, where the Brookdale Golf Course was later sited. Their home was considered the end of the Naches Trail, northern leg of the Oregon Trail.

North Fork of Clover Creek by Mayfair Park

Washington State Department of Ecology’s website says, “Tests show that its water quality is impaired by low levels of dissolved oxygen, warm water temperatures, and bacteria. “

The Chambers Clover Creek Watershed Council has existed for several years. A few members have been focusing on stewardship, but much of the time, the organization has speakers at their meetings, (currently online zoom meetings), and the talk about the condition of the creek and things that have happened to it over the years.

Yet the creek system continues to degrade. Development continues along it nearly unchecked except for a dozen or so houses that were removed with Federal Funding due to flooding. The portion of the creek east of Pacific Avenue is being further impacted by the development of the Brookdale Golf Course into 388 homes and a large number of homeless people living along its banks. It also has new resident beavers who some say were trucked in from King County by a landowner.

Beaver dam on Clover Creek

A huge project on McChord Field took place during 11 months in 2020, to replace the broken culverts that guide the creek under the runway, taxiway and infield.

Culvert replacement for Clover Creek passage, 2020

Documents exist online citing problems with Clover Creek. This excellent study by PLU professors was from 1973 and has several historic photos of the creek flowing in its original bed through the PLU campus.

This week, editor Marianne Lincoln was nominated and voted onto the Clover Creek Watershed Council (CCWC). She has been south after for some time because of her writing skills and penchant for rousting action on issues. You may recall a Pierce Prairie post (PPP) article a few months ago with a simple title and no content, “Clover Creek is Dead.” This is the follow up.

Since the January meeting of the CCWC, Lincoln has stirred some pent-up passions within the group. First, her comments regarding the new FRED2310 development beside the Boeing Wing Plant in Frederickson were directed in a reply to the entire CCWC mailing list, with a “Whatcha gonna do about this?” message. That note got reactions from Barbara Ann Smolko of the Pierce County and Al Schmauder, long time creek stewardship chair, who invited Lincoln to speak up at the meeting about the 4 million square feet of parking lots and warehouse roofs (impervious surface) replacing trees and grass in the watershed.

Al Schmauder, Don Russell, Bob Warfield of the CCWC and Cindy Beckett, Certified Watershed Manager at United States Environmental Protection Agency, have been exchanging some very passionate emails over the past couple weeks. The PPP has been given permission to share some of the exchange.

In a conversation with Schmauder on Thursday, he confirmed that after 30 years of planting trees, clearing garbage and other stewardship efforts, the creek is in even worse condition from the encroachment of population growth and pollutants in the area. The addition of sewers has actually directed a considerable amount of local aquifer recharge water into Puget Sound rather than back into the ground. With each toilet flush, laundry load, shower, bath or dishwasher load, that water goes to Chambers Bay Sewage treatment, not into the aquifer.

Following that conversation Al Schmauder wrote (2-17-22):

I have concluded that legal actions are a good tool for citizens to make their voice heard with our agencies who are tasked to protect our waters.  It seems like a better investment to donate to legal actions than plant trees along a dry creek bed.

An excellent example is the recent case where NW Environmental Advocates asserted Washington Dept. of Ecology failed to adopt or revise aquatic life water quality standards for decades. (This means salmon and orcas are not protected from harmful pollutants).  Don has also complained about this issue for years.

On 29 Dec 2021, a senior district judge agreed that WA Dept of Ecology was not complying with the Clean Water Act and that the US Environmental Protection Agency must play its backstop role and step in to determine what Ecology needs to do.  The judge gave EPA 180 days to comply.  The judge’s conclusion to the case is below:

CONCLUSION  (Case NO C20-1362 MJP)

The CWA relies on states to take the lead in implementing aquatic life Water Quality Standards. But this does not mean EPA serves as a mere bystander. It must play a backstop role and step in when states refuse or are unable to act in compliance with the CWA.

 Here, NW Environmental Advocates has identified EPA’s failure to meet its statutory obligation to play its backstop role and make a necessity determination as to Washington’s outdated aquatic life WQS. Even under the highly deferential standard of review, EPA’s denial of NWEA’s petition to make a necessity determination lacks any defensible rationale, and the Court finds that it is arbitrary, capricious, and incompatible with the CWA.  

As such, the Court VACATES EPA’s denial and REMANDS the petition to EPA to make a necessity determination. Given the exceptional circumstances presented in this case, the Court ORDERS EPA to issue its necessity determination within 180 days of entry of this Order unless it obtains leave of Court for additional time consistent with this Order. On this basis, the Court GRANTS in part NWEA’s Motion and DENIES EPA’s Motion. 

 –Marsha J. Pechman, United States Senior District Judge

Cindy Beckett describes that her research has uncovered that the Tribe that actually has authority over the Clover Chambers system is the Squaxin Tribe, not Nisqually or Puyallup. She goes on to describe her frustration with the current County Executive who, when elected, was president of the local Master Builders Association and until this January 1, the County Hearings Examiner was actually in the business of helping developers get their proposal through the planning process that includes the Hearings Examiner. Her conclusion is there have been a myriad of missteps and conflicts of interest within the County Planning Department for years, that have led to the degrading of the watershed. Her words of warning, “Find a backbone, find a voice, and for goodness sake, speak up!”

Don Russell wrote, “I believe that all of us need to accept the present impaired condition of our watershed as a “development” accomplished fact and then move on to determining what “we” all, working collaboratively, are going to do to “Make our watershed a fit habitat for Coho salmon and its indigenous and immigrant people… Until and unless we wise up and begin to encourage, instruct and reward responsible land and water stewardship, all hope for our watershed’s restoration is lost.”

Bob Warfield added his perspective:
Furthermore, WHAT amount of stewardship is needed?
• Our water for stream flow in Clover Creek is declining,
• Surface water is too polluted with phosphorus and nitrogen,
• Lakes suffer from toxic algae and weed growth,
• Groundwater is not getting recharged enough,
• Sewers are removing too much water from the ground, and
• The newly discovered tire pollution (6PPD) kills our Coho.

My agreement is with Al and Cindy’s assessment about the ineffectiveness of our governmental agencies and failure of oversight by our elected representatives to apply and enforce the “protect, preserve and RESTORE” provisions of CWA, ESA, RCW, WAC, SMA and GMA environmental regulations. These regulations require that the State’s fresh surface water and groundwater resource be management in a manner that assures its safe beneficial and equitable use by salmon and our State’s indigenous and immigrant people.  This is not happening as stated by Al and Cindy.

With a new Hearings Examiner and a different perspective within a few on the County Council that began in January, there may be some renewed passion for the condition of the watershed. If you have that passion, please feel free to comment to this article or contact the PPP. If you are interested in the CCCWC, their meetings are on the third Wednesday of the month at 3:30 p.m. Barbara Ann Smolko can add you to the mailing list (barbaraann.smolko@piercecountywa.gov).


One Comment Add yours

  1. Alyce Warren says:

    Thank you for the information. It would be wonderful to see Clover Creek restored to good health.

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