Orca protection Gov. Inslee? You need more state water protection laws and some enforcement teeth

Along with the arguments about Clover Creek’s demise, the creek people of Pierce County have been lamenting the lack of laws, enforcement, or possibly downright laziness in the State Department of Ecology. At present, Washington State really has no legs to stand on to protect those orcas. As small as their numbers are already, this is really bad news to hear.

Tires, garbage, effluent, prescription drugs, fluoride, stormwater runoff, factory pollution all find their way into our wastewater and much of it, on into the rivers and Puget Sound. As you will see in these emails, standards are missing for fresh water sediments. Enforcement is also non-existent. Lawyers do exist, but who can afford them?

Here is the commentary thread:


Ironically the Federal CWA and ESA and State RCWs, WACs, GMA and SMA comprise the State’s, County’s and City’s stakeholder/stewardship manual.  As you state much of what they mandate is ignored by the governmental agencies so charged with this responsiblity.

The one thing that citizen driven watershed Council can do is to produce and promulgate a stream side and lake shoreline private property owners stakeholder/stewardship manual that provides those with the greatest investment to take care of what they cherish the most, i.e., the value of their property, its full beneficial use by their family, their fellow citizens and salmon and incidentally permit their informed demand that our governmental agencies do likewise.

My thoughts.
Don (Russell)

And from Kurt: (TDML = Total Maximum Daily Load, DO = Dissolved Oxygen)

Regarding TMDL, the program’s shortcomings haven’t gone unnoticed by others. A General Accounting Office (GAO) report is here: https://www.gao.gov/products/gao-14-80; along with a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report here: https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/R/R42752. Figure 4 in the GAO report (p. 19) summarizes the TMDL process. It gives you a sense of how nebulous it is for nonpoint source pollution.

Our own Ecology Department’s assessment of Clover Creek is given here: https://ecology.wa.gov/Water-Shorelines/Water-quality/Water-improvement/Total-Maximum-Daily-Load-process/Directory-of-improvement-projects/Clover-Creek. It’s helpful to read their “Status of the project” section. They’ve basically left things up to Pierce County. A cynical person might conclude this is just CYA to make it look like the government is doing something. Additional documents are at: https://apps.ecology.wa.gov/publications/SummaryPages/1303109.html and here https://apps.ecology.wa.gov/publications/SummaryPages/1603039.html

[BTW, I believe the second report covers the data collected by Kardouni et. al. at Lakewood’s Springbrook Park]

Unfortunately, while DO, fecal coliform, and temperature are certainly issues in this watershed, these are certainly not the only pollution contaminant problems, and also may not be the most serious. For example, the attached spreadsheet shows the results of sediment sampling carried out in the creek at my neighbors (data downloaded from Ecology’s EIM servers). You can see a wide range of chemical constituents, which includes quite a few different PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl) and PBDE (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) species. The former has been banned but the latter might be from the flame retardants used in furniture and clothing. The quantities are quite small but these are highly persistent chemicals and subject to biomagnification. They may be ingested at sublethal levels by tiny invertebrates but those animals are in turn ingested by larger animals like fishes (cottids or sculpins, brook lamprey, even small salmonids, etc.). Because the chemicals persist and accumulate in lipid tissue, they can have effects on reproductive and endocrine systems. It’s not clear to me that a program like TMDL will ever get at the root causes of this pollution.

This is just a tiny snapshot of one location at a point in time. And just in the sediments. And probably just the chemicals they were looking for. When the analysis was carried out, they didn’t even know about 6PPD quinone (the toxic rubber tire chemical). How many other man-made toxic chemicals are there? We also don’t know what the concentrations were in the water column above these sediments at different times of the year. There could also be areas of lower or higher contamination in different watershed creeks.

I’m skeptical that a TMDL program that looks at a very small range of pollutants is going to have much effect. I suspect you’re not going to make any progress until you adopt a more holistic approach to controlling runoff pollution and other nonpoint source problems. I suspect that something like the soil filtering methods developed at the Puyallup Stormwater Center are what’s really needed.

Kurt (Reidinger)

And from Derek Faust PhD at Clover Park Technical College, noting the lack of state freshwater sediment quality standards:

Hi Kurt,

Thanks for providing this dataset of contaminants from sediment sampling.  This testing was very comprehensive in the number of parameters examined and likely cost tens of thousands of dollars.  I did want to provide some further context from a toxicology standpoint.  The spreadsheet does not have a column with WA Department of Ecology sediment quality standards.  I found WAC 173-204-340, but I am not sure what the statement “Reserved: The department shall determine on a case-by-case basis the criteria, methods, and procedures necessary to meet the intent of this chapter.”  Perhaps they are still working to develop freshwater sediment standards? 

I did find WAC 173-204-320, which are the marine sediment quality standards.  While there are differences between freshwater and marine sediments, for the purposes of this exercise, we only have the marine and I think they are suitable for what I want to demonstrate.  I compared the concentrations for various parameters from the Clover Creek dataset to the marine sediment standards.  No parameters exceeded the standards; in fact, they were all at least 10X lower than the standards.  You have to be careful when comparing the sample concentrations to the standards because the units differ.  These marine sediment standards “correspond to a sediment quality that will result in no adverse effects, including no acute or chronic adverse effects on biological resources and no significant health risk to humans.”  To give an example, the Total Individual PCP’s from the sample was 0.011721 ug/g (ppm), which is 1000X lower than the Total PCB’s standard of 12 ppm.  So individually, we would not expect these contaminants to have adverse effects.  However, standards for combined/mixed effects of the various contaminants (known and unknown) do not exist, primarily because scientists are still trying to figure out effects of contaminant mixtures.  Honestly, I don’t know that it will be figured out in my lifetime because it is a difficult question. 

So, what do we do?  Currently, TMDLs for DO, fecal coliform, and temperature issues are in place for many waterbodies in the region.  I agree that TMDLs have questionable efficacy for non-point pollutants.  I also know non-point source pollutants are not as easy to deal with as point sources.  You suggest a holistic approach for non-point source pollutants, specifically controlling or treating runoff.  I agree that 1) better controlling, and then 2) treating stormwater runoff is a good approach.  I do not think there is anything saying that a TMDL plan cannot take this approach.  I do know that constructed wetlands can treat (or at least sequester) many contaminants.  In such an urbanized watershed, constructing wetlands or using natural wetlands to treat runoff may not be feasible on a large scale due to lack of space and the large funding necessary.  However, it is the sediments and plants that sequester contaminants in wetlands, so perhaps the soil filtration methods you mentioned hold promise.

In short, I appreciate you sharing this dataset.  I agree that stormwater runoff treatment would be very helpful for improving both water and sediment quality. 

Derek R. Faust, Ph.D.
Faculty, Environmental Sciences and Technology

And from Don Russell regarding enforcement


I for one appreciate your interpretation of available historical data.

However, I leave it to other history buffs (Kris, Kurt, Al) to comment on their respective views of the data and its interpretation that you have provided.

My interest is in developing a plan of action for the restoration of a fit habitat for Coho salmon and its current indigenous and immigrant residents who want to reside in what is left of a restorable and manageable Chambers-Clover-Spanaway/Morey Creek and Sequalitchew Creek precipitation/infiltration/groundwater discharge driven watershed. 

I contribute my knowledge of the problems of our watershed and financially to the Northwest Environmental Advocates.  But I leave it to them and its supporters to file law suits that result in enforcement of current CWA, ESA, et al, environmental laws.

I have participated in the activities of the CCWC as a former Executive Committee member.  I resigned from that role because I did not subscribe to the notion that the role of the CCWC was passive listening to its chosen speakers who tell us assembled members what they are, or are not, doing to define and address our watershed’s real problems, i.e., shallow aquifer groundwater discharge diminished/deprived, nutrient polluted (Fe,N,P)  groundwater water fed, sediment fouled streams and lakes exacerbated by the existence of State poorly written and unenforced environmental laws. 

I have advocated that a CCW Stewardship Manual be drafted and promulgated that provides CCW environmental advocates, stream side and lake shoreline private property owners, Tribal members and governmental agency personnel the requisite information to become effective and active CCW Stakeholder/Stewards.  This approach so far has failed to attract the necessary citizen and governmental agency support.

My advice to you is to devote your knowledge, passion and personal energy to assist which ever of these groups best align with your interests.  It is obvious, as I have come to realize, it is not the CCWC.  So go in peace, affiliate and support the NEA lawyers.

You and I merely piss off PCSWM, City SWM, Ecology, WDFW managers and personnel and some CCWC members by advocating that the truth be told about our watershed and that adherence to current (but poorly written by the State Legislature) environmental laws be observed and enforced.

Don (Russell)

And again from Don Russell:

Derek, et al,

The pollutants that adversely impact water quality and aquatic life in freshwater are difference from those in marine sediment environmental settings.

The significant pollutants in freshwater that adversely impact aquatic life are soluble ammonia-nitrogen, nitrate-nitrogen, phosphate-phosphorus (SRP), ferrous iron, sulfate and sulfide concentrations.  

Washington State water quality standard for the protection of aquatic life, with the exception of ammonia-nitrogen, do not exist.  Yet Washington’s water quality standards are the criteria for monitoring the extent to which any freshwater body is a fit habitat for algae, aquatic plants, salmon, wildlife and humans. 

TMDLs are based upon two assumptions.  (1) Point source pollution discharge into a water body and (2) that water quality criteria for the pollute of concern actually exist. 

Neither assumption is correct when TMDLs are applied to address non point nutrient pollution of the shallow aquifer groundwater that discharges and is released from nutrient polluted sediment into our streams and lakes.

Furthermore, as Derek points out, many of the pollutants listed in the sediment samples taken and analyzed are far below the concentrations that adversely impact aquatic life. As a matter of fact, many of those pollutants listed are inactivated by assimilation by bacteria, algae and aquatic plants and/or atmospheric or dissolved oxygen and not present in sufficient concentration to affect higher life forms.

Bottom line: Nitrate-nitrogen discharges into marine waters fosters excessive aquatic algae growth (sea lettuce) and their decay low DO dead zones.  Phosphate-phosphorus discharged into fresh waters foster harmful cyanobacteria blooms that poison all who live in or are exposed to cyanotoxin laden water.  Yet no water quality standards exist for either pollutant! 

Don (Russell)   

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