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.

Sugar Ray
Past Columns
Salish Sea Science

January 23, 2019

Cherry Point Amendments

January 16, 2019

Invest in the Future

September 26, 2018

A Desperate Call

August 29, 2018

Criminalizing Protest

July 18, 2018

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
A Forest of Words Poetry Competition

10:00am|Whatcom County

Skagit Birding Adventures

9:00am|Skagit Valley

Literacy Council Seeks Volunteers

10:00am

Makerspace Classes

5:00pm|Bellingham Makerspace

Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival

7:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

The Addams Family

7:00pm|Ferndale High School

Shakespeare in Love

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

West Side Story

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Wild Things

9:30am|Whatcom Falls Park

Wild Things

9:30am|Interurban Trail

Deep Forest Experience

11:00am|Rockport State Park

Peace Vigil

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Fourth Friday Art Walk

5:00pm|Historic Fairhaven

Bellingham Youth Jazz Band

7:00pm|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

The Book of Help

7:00pm|Village Books

Always...Patsy Cline

7:00pm|Conway Muse

Salish Sea Early Music Festival

7:30pm|St. Paul's Episcopal Church

Heavy Metal

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Concert Hall.

Richard III

7:30pm|Phillip Tarro Theater

Cupid's Arrow

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Serial Killers, Episode Four

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Village Books
Tomorrow
A Forest of Words Poetry Competition

10:00am|Whatcom County

Skagit Birding Adventures

9:00am|Skagit Valley

Literacy Council Seeks Volunteers

10:00am

The Addams Family

7:00pm|Ferndale High School

Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival

7:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

Shakespeare in Love

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

West Side Story

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Deep Forest Experience

11:00am|Rockport State Park

Always...Patsy Cline

7:00pm|Conway Muse

Cupid's Arrow

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Richard III

7:30pm|Phillip Tarro Theater

Fragrance Lake 50K

6:00am|Larrabee State Park

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #154

Smelt Run

9:00am|La Conner High School

Children's Literature Conference

9:00am|Performing Arts Center

Community Work Party

9:00am|Squalicum Creek

Whatcom Falls 5K

10:00am|Whatcom Falls Park

Assistance League Anniversary Sale

10:00am|Assistance League

Kids Cooking Class

11:00am|Chuckanut Center

Recreation Northwest EXPO

11:00am|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Hearty Party 5K

11:00am|Max Higbee Center'

Wildlife Photography with Andy Porter

11:00am|Padilla Bay Estuarine Research Reserve

Deep Forest Experience

11:00am|Rockport State Park

Tax Help Available

12:30pm|First Congregational Church

Wine Tasting with Duckhorn Vineyards

2:00pm|Seifert & Jones Wine Merchants

"Beatlemania/Beatlemedia

2:00pm|Blaine Library

Forestry and Wildlife Panel

2:00pm|Ferndale Library

Waterway Tour

2:00pm| I & J Waterway

Wildfire and Resilience

3:00pm|Deming Library

The Fellowship of Fire

4:00pm|Village Books

Dancer Panel

5:00pm|Museum of Northwest Art

Contra Dance

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Visions from Cape Breton and Beyond

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Bayshore Symphony

7:30pm|St. Paul's Episcopal Church

An Evening with Steve Mayo

7:30pm|Lummi Island Library

Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Village Books
Sunday
A Forest of Words Poetry Competition

10:00am|Whatcom County

Skagit Birding Adventures

9:00am|Skagit Valley

Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival

7:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

Deep Forest Experience

11:00am|Rockport State Park

Deep Forest Experience

11:00am|Rockport State Park

Bayshore Symphony

7:30pm|St. Paul's Episcopal Church

Rabbit Ride

8:30am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Langar in Lynden

11:00am| Guru Nanak Gursikh Gurdwara

Deep Forest Experience

11:00am|Rockport State Park

Drag Brunch, Celebrity Impersonation

11:00am|Rumors Cabaret

History Tour

12:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Seabirds of the Salish Sea

1:00pm|REI

Audubon at the Museum

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

Interfaith Music Festival

3:00pm|First Congregational Church

Art of Jazz

4:00pm|The Majestic

Heavy metal Hollywood

4:00pm

Clover Group Reading

4:00pm|Village Books

see our complete calendar »

Kinky Boots MacMaster and Leahy Trove Web Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Village Books