Community

Balance and fairness to how we protect our water resources

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Last month, a berm failed at a dairy farm in Yakima Valley. Thousands of gallons of manure-contaminated water flooded nearby homes, rising a foot and a half before receding. In one video, a resident wades in water the color of chocolate milk—water polluted with fecal coliform, E. coli, and nitrates from manure on nearby fields that flooded when the berm failed. For a week, residents couldn’t use their tap water to drink, wash dishes or bathe.

Water pollution like this threatens our drinking water, shellfish beds, rivers, and beaches in communities across our state. This pollution comes from sources like stormwater runoff and industrial facilities, farms with poor manure management practices, leaking septic systems, and dog poop left on the ground.

Fecal coliform bacteria from animal waste is a major concern in Whatcom and Skagit counties. Rivers and beaches polluted with fecal coliform pose a public health risk. Fecal coliform pollution has caused decades of shellfish bed closures in Samish and Portage bays.

Nitrate pollution also poses serious risks across our state. Nitrates comes from animal waste seeping into groundwater—the only source of drinking water for many people in rural communities. When wells become polluted with nitrates, drinking the water can cause significant health conditions. The Sumas-Blaine Aquifer in Whatcom County has some of the highest nitrate pollution levels in the state.

In Yakima County, some of the poorest residents are forced to spend money on bottled water to avoid drinking from wells polluted with nitrates. Water pollution is not just an environmental issue, it’s a social justice issue that impacts poor and rural communities—people who depend on government agencies to protect their access to clean water.
RE Sources for Sustainable Communities has worked to protect water quality for decades, and we are committed to addressing pollution from all sources. Contaminated water impacts everyone, and it will take everyone to work collaboratively on solutions.

That’s why RE Sources and partners across the state recently filed a lawsuit appealing the Washington State Department of Ecology’s new permits for regulating large-scale livestock operations, known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). Whatcom County has the highest number of CAFOs in the state—an estimated 120 such operations. Yakima County has an estimated 60 CAFOs, but with a much higher number of cows.

Unfortunately, Ecology’s permits don’t do enough to protect our water from manure pollution. Despite receiving nearly 5,000 comments to strengthen permit provisions and uphold federal Clean Water Act requirements, Ecology instead ignored their own science, abandoned their mission to protect, preserve and enhance Washington’s waters, and caved to the pressure of Big Ag lobbyists.

In addition to pushing for better environmental regulations for all industries, RE Sources asks citizens to call on local government to do more to address water pollution—by requiring homeowners’ septic systems to be professionally inspected to ensure they don’t leak, by educating pet owners and preventing dog poop from being left in yards, on trails, and in parks, and by using best management practices to protect clean water on farms of all sizes.

We applaud those in our county who are already taking steps toward cleaning up our waters. The Portage Bay Partnership, a coalition of seven dairy farmers and the Lummi Nation, aims to reduce manure pollution from washing down the Nooksack River and contaminating shellfish beds. Thanks to the efforts of a volunteer citizens and farmers group, the Tenmile Watershed is now the county’s first lowland agricultural stream to meet both state water quality standards for fecal coliform. And in Drayton Harbor, more than two decades of dedicated cleanup work resulted in the reopening of 800 acres for winter shellfish harvesting.

We’re on the right track, but we all have to pitch in. We need proactive, science-based policies from state and local agencies that prevent fecal coliform from polluting our rivers and shellfish beds. Strong government action is also needed to stop nitrates from contaminating our drinking water and wells.

Everyone deserves a clean source of water. Viable agriculture and shellfish industries, clean drinking water and rivers—these can co-exist. But not until we have government agencies that do their jobs. As parents, farmers, recreationists and environmentalists, we’ve chosen to look the other way for too long. It’s time to bring balance and fairness to how we protect our shared water resources. Because without clean water, what’s left of our beautiful home?

Lee First is the North Sound Baykeeper at RE Sources for Sustainable Communities. RE Sources is a local nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the health of Northwest Washington’s people and ecosystems through the application of science, education, advocacy, and action.The North Sound Baykeeper is a member of the Waterkeeper Alliance, an international organization working toward people’s rights to fishable, swimmable and drinkable water. For more information, visit re-sources.org.

Past Columns
Threshold Fund

June 13, 2018

Imprisoned Splendour

May 9, 2018

Pathways to Homeownership

April 25, 2018

Yes on I-1631

April 11, 2018

Divide-and-Conquer

October 11, 2017

Schools and Planning for Growth

September 27, 2017

Electronic Home Monitoring

September 13, 2017

Events
Today
Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Bellingham Dance Company's Hunchback

7:00pm|Majestic

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Vanya, Sonia, Masha and Spike

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Open Air Summer Rep

7:30pm|Maritime Heritage Park

Chuckanut Writers Conference

9:00am|Whatcom Community College

Lummi Stommish Water Festival

10:00am|Lummi Nation

Whatcom Cultural Arts Festival

5:00pm|Historic Fairhaven

Keys for Kids

5:30pm|Stepping Stones Garden

Off Broadway

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Musicals and Brawls

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Plant Hike

8:00am|Hannegan Pass Trail

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Hall

Padden Triathlon

8:30am|Lake Padden Park

March Point Run

9:00am|Andeavor Refinery

Mount Vernon Farmers Market

9:00am|Riverwalk Park

Twin Sisters Market

9:00am|Nugent's Corner, North Fork Library

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am| Depot Market Square

Welcome to Chickenlandia

10:00am|Blaine Library

Lynden Farmers Market

10:00am|Centennial Park

Lummi Island Saturday Market

10:00am|Islander Grocery Store

How to Renovate an Older Urban Garden

10:00am|Roeder Home

Imagine This! Home & Landscape Tour

10:00am|Whatcom County

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|H Street Plaza

Sumas Writers Group

10:00am|Sumas Library

Inside the green building scene

10:00am

Apps & Snaps for iPhone Gardeners

11:00am|Christianson's Nursery

A Novel Affair with Nancy Pearl

11:30am|Maple Hall

Ice Cream Class for Adults

12:00pm|Lynden Library

Concrete Saturday Market

1:00pm|Concrete Community Center

Lynden Cemetery Tour

1:00pm|Lynden Cemetery

Tuesdays with Morrie

2:00pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Nooksack River Walk

3:00pm|Horseshoe Bend Trailhead

Seafood Boil

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Seafood Boil

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Saturday Seafood Boil

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Chuckanut Writers Conference Open Mics

7:00pm|Village Books Reading Gallery, Evolve Chocolate and Cafe, Lovitt Restaurant, and Magdalena's Creperie

Musical Reunion

7:00pm|YWCA Ballroom

Dudestock

7:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

An Evening with Ira Glass

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Trove Web
Tomorrow
Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Bellingham Dance Company's Hunchback

7:00pm|Majestic

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Lummi Stommish Water Festival

10:00am|Lummi Nation

Off Broadway

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Brunch on the Bay

10:00am|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Skagit Symphony Garden Tour

10:00am|Mount Vernon

Junk in Your Trunk

10:00am|North Fork Library

Edison Farmers Market

10:00am|Edison Granary

La Conner Live

1:00pm|Gilkey Square

Women on the Water

1:00pm|Community Boating Center

Audubon at the Museum

1:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Trivia Time

3:30pm|Boundary Bay Brewery

Way North Comedy Triple Header

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Take Me to Church

8:00pm|Rumors Cabaret

Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Village Books
Monday
Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Rainbow Reads

12:00pm|Lynden Library, Ferndale Library

Plant Diagnostic Clinics

5:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Hammocking Basics

6:00pm|REI

Hammocking Basics

6:00pm|REI

Monday Night Pizza

6:00pm|Ciao Thyme Commons

Cuban Salsa

6:00pm|Bell Tower Studios

Orca Month Kayak Tour

6:00pm|Zuanich Park

Books on Tap Two

6:30pm|Tino's Pizza & Pasta Co.

Open Mic Night

7:00pm|Village Books

Guffawingham

9:00pm| Firefly Lounge

see our complete calendar »

2018 Cascadia Kids Trove Web Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Village Books