Ecology holds Clean Water Strategy public hearing; 2nd version focuses on ‘human’ caused problems for the watershed

by Sue Forde, Citizen Review Online

Sequim, WA – April 30, 2002 – Approximately 30 citizens and 10 people from various agencies showed up at the public hearing for the next phase of the Clean Water District’s “Strategy” at Guy Cole Convention Center at Carrie Blake Park.   The agency representatives offered refreshments to the community members as they explained the various charts and maps that had been set up around the room.

Promptly at 7 p.m., facilitator San Butler began the formal presentation, and everyone dutifully seated themselves before the screen where the slide show presentation with explanations would be made.

Butler explained that this Clean Water Strategy is just one small piece of the WA State Department of Ecology’s (DOE) larger local project.  We have players and partners here, she stated – a “great partnership.”

Laurie Mann of the Seattle EPA [the federal Environmental Protection Agency] said she works with 12 people known as the “Watershed Restoration Unit.”  It’s their job, she explained, to review and approve all the watersheds’ cleanup plans, and they cover the entire western region including Oregon, Washington, Alaska and other western states.  The federal agency has listed 643 waterways on the “303d” list – meaning they need to be cleaned up, she said.  The Clean Water Act, passed by Congress, mandates that state governments write a “plan” to comply.  The law has been ignored for 20 years, she said.  Then, in the 80’s, environmental groups started lawsuits, and they resulted in a settlement in which the states have to produce their plans over a 15-year period.  Some 1,566 “TMD’s” have to be done by the year 2013, she added, and approximately 400 have been started.  She commended DOE on the “great job” they’ve done.

“Is EPA furnishing money for this because of the mandate?” one citizen wanted to know.

“I wish we had money to give…we have a little, but no, we don’t have much money,” she responded.

“How many times has water quality changed since 1972?” another citizen queried.

“I don’t know…” she answered.

“When we reach a ‘standard’, is it going to change?” the questioner pressed.

“Yes, the standards will change,” she said.

Debbie Sargeant of the DOE, jumped in to add that the standards may change to a different indicator bacteria.

Are those numbers available? Another citizen wanted to know.

He was referred to the DOE website for an answer to the question.

Sargeant then made her presentation about the TMDL [Total Maximum Daily Load] studies she did for Matriotti Creek.  One member of the audience asked if the presenters could speak louder, as there were no microphones. 

Sargeant said that there is high bacteria is Matriotti Creek, and that it’s been on the “impaired water quality” list since 1996. “Bacteria can cause illness or disease”, she added, but didn’t offer any statistics about how many, if any, people had become ill or died from the bacteria in the creek.

How do we measure? She queried.  It’s difficult to measure it all – so we use fecal coliform.  There are different numbers in different areas; the shellfish areas have lower standards, she added.

How much bacteria can be in the water and still be protective of human health? She asked.  They’ve taken 18 samples, once a month, and more often in irrigation and wet seasons.  Between 40-45 freshwater sites have been sampled, she said.  The areas sampled include the Dungeness River downstream of the Ward Road Bridge; Matriotti Creek, Hurd Creek, Meadow Brook Creek and Slough, and Golden Sands.  Most didn’t meet water quality standards.

She said the Ward Road Bridge area is “pretty clean”, but where Hurd Creek and Matriotti Creek come in, the river needs a 2% reduction at the most.  Matriotti Creek didn’t meet water quality standards; it needs a 78% reduction.  Hurd Creek meets standards.  Meadowbrook Creek and slough needs a 59% reduction; and Gold Sands needs at 82% reduction, while Cooper Creek needs a 28% reduction.

Valerie Wilson of Clallam County joined Lyn Muench from the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe to educate the audience on the next phase: The Clean Water Strategy – Part 2.  (This is the second phase; the first was presented November 2000 when the original Clean Water District was formed in the Dungeness Watershed.)

Wilson explained that “we’re just two of the people working on the strategy”.  She said the focus of the group’s work is Non Point Pollution – also called “runoff pollution.”  We look a lot at land use, she stated, including humans, animals and birds.  The Strategy addresses freshwater streams and Dungeness Bay, she said.

This second strategy plan is part of DOE’s implementation plan; “we’re combining state and local effort,” she said.  “It’s a collaborative effort.”

She showed a chart of the chain of command: At the top was the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; next came the state agencies: Department of Ecology; Department of Health; and the Puget Sound Water Quality Action Team.  At the local level, she showed landowners and residents, and Clallam County, the tribe, and a number of other agencies and groups including the Dungeness River Management Team.

Our overall goals are three-fold, she said.  (1) To remove the source of pollution; (2) to inform the public about what we’ve done; and (3) to find more sources of pollution.

“Removing human influence sources,” is a key goal, she said.  The Clallam County Conservation District is working with the Environmental Health Division; and the state DOE offers their “enforcement arm” to assist.  She introduced Lisa Rosmand as the enforcement office – the same woman who had greeted people at the door and asked for their signatures on a sign-in sheet.  “She’s been around the valley to get farmers to keep their animals out of streams,” she said.

Why focus on humans? Wilson queried.  She answered that there has been a 16% increase from 1900-2000 in this watershed.  “We’re hardening our landscape,” she said.  “We’ve done that a lot as humans.”

She talked about the Septic 101 classes that have been held around the county.  How much pollution is contributed by septics? She asked.  She explained that the group has been doing a “paper survey” – checked permit plans, paper files and assessor’s information.  The identified systems with no septic information, those that are more than 10 years old; and those with a history of repairs.  These are now considered “septics of concern.”

“We still need to figure out what the deal is – we’re not saying they’re failing,” she assured the audience. They have reviewed 338 parcels; 40 along Matriotti Creek; 19 along Mud Creek; 29 along Meadowbrook Creek; and 36 along Golden Sands.

“We’ve held meetings with landowners, but “didn’t get a whole bunch of turnout” she said.  Are the systems failing?  That is the question, she added.

Muench added that there “could be other septics- eventually, we want to target anyone who may have a failing septic, she said.  The county hasn’t “fully embraced going door-to-door”, she said.  She talked about a grant the tribe has recently been given by the federal government for the purpose of “incentives”.  It’s for inspections and repairs, she said.  “We think it’s really important to get a ‘jump-start’ on the problem.”

“We’re going to ask you to have your septic inspected… you have to have a designer inspect your system,” Muench stated.  The money will be for installing risers, for pumping and repairs.  The program hasn’t begun yet, but will soon, she added.  She mentioned that the conservation district has a “cost-sharing” program to help with fencing and riparian vegetation.

The two talked about “Best Management Practices” (BMPs), which include

  •     Installing gutters and downspouts

  •     Fencing off livestock from streams

  •     Creating filter strips along ditches and streams; and

  •     Manure management.

Public Outreach has been by way of neighborhood meetings, with more planned; a newsletter mailed to every resident in the watershed; workshops on landscaping, horse care and others; presentations to local organizations, like the North Olympic Land Trust, and public hearings.

In connection with animal keeping practices, DOE enforcement “maintains a presence”; the Conservation District is working with landowners and cost-sharing is available.

Plans include identifying more pollution sources; an ongoing study of Dungeness Bay; continued water monitoring; locating specific pollution problems, and considering DNA analysis and other new methods for identifying sources.

Muench said “We’ll consider any other scientific options…anybody with an idea can all the county and complain, or…”

Facilitator Butler took over the meeting again, and stated that “other counties have found that community involvement and support was the most important aspect” of getting things done. 

One citizen pointed out that the seals are increasing in numbers and account for much of the pollution problem.  Wilson, the Clallam County Natural Resources Division’s person, countered that she had information to the contrary.  “The Dungeness River may or may not have something to do with the pollution,” she said.  “We’re looking at that [the seals] as a possible source; and how that compares with humans.  Muench added that there are “no seals in Matriotti Creek”, and that, for this meeting, we’re talking about Matriotti Creek.

One citizen suggested investigating the green crab situation that’s coming from Victoria, BC.  Muench said that Jan Newton, a local expert, said that the flow from Victoria doesn’t come this far.

Muench said that the Clean Water District is a new big district because of the nitrate problems and groundwater problems.

Several people wanted to know who sets the qualification for Class A water; Muench said she was pretty sure it was the DOE.  Cynthia Nelson of the DOE was called upon to respond to these questions.  She skillfully steered away from the original question, and answered that the DOE is changing their standards.

There was concern by one citizen that changing standards again after they were set once would create more rules.  Muench responded, “I’m an outsider to this whole process…what I think you’re talking about is ‘raising the bar’.”  The change that Val [Wilson] is talking about is just changing the terminology, she said.  “I don’t think the thing you’re particularly worried about is going to happen.”

The facilitator asked for public comments; there were none.  She said “This is a wonderful example of a community that gets involved,” as she closed the meeting.


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