Tuesday, March 20, 2012

First Day of Spring in Olympia

Above: Julia Crane-Jacobs, 4 1/2 years old, gets some help from her mother, Tamara Crane, while blowing bubbles today on the first day of spring.

First Day of Spring in Olympia

by Janine Unsoeld

A 20 year tradition continued today as kids of all ages welcomed the first day of Spring at Percival Landing in downtown Olympia. Come wind, rain, snow, sleet, hail and yes, sun, the show goes on, and gathers both those who have participated for years, and newcomers alike. Today, the weather cooperated beautifully during the noon hour celebration.

Above: Gita Moulton makes sure the garland is just right on The Kiss statue this morning on Percival Landing.

Above: Alejandra Marroquin of Boston couldn't resist posing with The Kiss, while her friend, Ilse Romero of Mexico, takes her picture today.

Friday, March 16, 2012

A LOTT More to Learn About LOTT

Above: The LOTT Clean Water Alliance was looking a little surreal today.

A LOTT More to Learn About LOTT

By Janine Unsoeld

The LOTT Clean Water Alliance board of directors will meet at 9:00 a.m., Saturday, March 17, at LOTT, 500 Adams St. SW, for a day-long retreat to discuss public accountability, contemporary issues, board goals and policies, and updates to LOTT's strategic business plan. The retreat is expected to adjourn no later than 3 p.m. The public is invited, but comments from the public will not be allowed.

An agenda detailing the retreat’s subject matter was distributed to the public and board members by LOTT executive director Mike Strub at a work session of the board Wednesday night. LOTT is at the end of its current six year business plan and will take time to develop a new strategic business plan for 2013 – 2018.

LOTT is a regional water and wastewaste treatment organization representing Lacey, Olympia, Tumwater and Thurston County. The LOTT board is composed of Cynthia Pratt, Lacey city councilmember, Steve Langer, Olympia city councilmember, and Sandra Romero, Thurston County commissioner. Tom Oliva, Tumwater city councilmember, is currently representing Tumwater.

At Wednesday night’s LOTT board meeting, board members and staff honored the recent passing of Tumwater city councilmember and LOTT board president Ed Stanley with remembrances and a moment of silence.

Among other business, board members heard a variety of staff requests for expenditures having to do with infrastructure, an operations control room remodel, a motor control center upgrade, and an electrical room audit and equipment replacement plan. LOTT board members actively engaged staff with questions and approved the requests. As noted by LOTT board member Steve Langer, “It’s not glamorous work, but important work.”

A new board president was not chosen due to the absence of Tom Oliva, who had another meeting to attend. Lacey city councilmember Cynthia Pratt serves as vice-president and is acting president until a president is chosen at next month’s meeting.

Getting To Know Cynthia Pratt

Above: Lacey city councilmember Cynthia Pratt today.

Earlier this month, Pratt attended LOTT’s recent science symposium on compounds – contaminants – of emerging concern. (See March 5 article, “A LOTT of Concerns About Drinking Water Quality and related articles at www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com.)

Asked later what she learned that was new to her at the symposium, Pratt, a retired fish and wildlife biologist, said, “What I learned was that even saccharine shows up in effluent. Is it dangerous? Well, as the toxicologist stated, it depends on dosage and susceptibility. People with the least robust immune systems are at risk. And yes, this is how risk is determined---or at least that is how my pesticides class at TESC defined risk.”

Pratt received her Master’s in Environmental Science in 1992 from The Evergreen State College.

“Also, it was noted by one or two presenters that California uses not only tertiary treatment plus ultraviolet but then reverse osmosis then puts it into their drinking water reservoir where it gets contaminated again by birds and animals! Someone in the audience thought this was commendable, but it seemed strange to me.”

Asked whether or not our society can be a little too risk averse, Pratt responded, “Well, I must admit, my daughter and grandchildren live in Zambia where, occasionally, snakes end up in the toilet, and when you go to the villages, there are open sewage ditches with planks you walk across to get to the other side!”

Helping Lacey and Thoughts About LOTT

Lacey is a member of the National League of Cities, and Pratt was recently accepted by the League onto the Energy, Environmental, and Natural Resources steering committee. The committee meets four times a year.

Pratt just returned this past weekend from a League meeting in Washington D.C., where she heard a presentation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency speak about energy efficiency and weatherization, and water infrastructure, repair and maintenance.

“I feel really pleased to do this, and give input, because it can help get funding into municipalities, and of course, Lacey really cares about that. And we’re hoping to get money for repairs, because leaking sewer pipes are a major source of non-point source pollution,” said Pratt.

To clarify the role of the LOTT board, Pratt explained that the board does not provide environmental oversight. “It is accountable to ratepayers, ensure financial solvency, and makes sure it follows its interagency agreements.”

Asked about the groundwater study LOTT is beginning, to examine the issue of increasing the recharge of our groundwater with reclaimed water, Pratt said the study’s scope of work will definitely include public involvement.

“If we did determine that any change to what we're doing now is the way to go, it would have to be based on sound science. If you have to go with something that’s going to cost ratepayers more, they need to be involved.”

“I’m hoping we don’t have to go to reverse osmosis – the process takes a lot of energy and there’s no easy place to put the brine,” Pratt concluded.

“I am looking forward to the study that LOTT will do, but the question is, will it then be believed if it shows that LOTT doesn't contaminate our drinking water? Probably not. We need to do the study - don't get me wrong - but what are we going to do then, if it does show an effect? We certainly can then take aggressive action to eliminate contamination,” Pratt said.

Asked whether or not LOTT should have a citizen’s advisory committee to help provide input, Pratt said, “You know, LOTT is a funny entity. There isn’t an advisory committee. It isn’t set up that way. It’s not a municipality – it has a business model like the Economic Development Council (EDC) or a public utility district. It’s not that you can’t have one, and I’m not against having one,” said Pratt.

Pratt noted that she is a proponent of open government. She, along with Thurston County Commissioner Sandra Romero, has long advocated that LOTT board meetings be televised on cable television. LOTT has so far been reluctant to do so.

Pratt noted that as a Lacey city councilmember, she and fellow councilmember Andy Ryder recently succeeded in getting Lacey city council meetings to be streamed on the city of Lacey website, for those who do not have television. As a councilmember, she also hosts informal monthly breakfasts for the public to speak with her about various concerns.

Regarding the LOTT board retreat meeting tomorrow to develop a new strategic business plan, Pratt says, “This is an opportunity (for LOTT) to do more.”

For more information about LOTT or the board retreat, go to www.lottcleanwateralliance.org or call the LOTT Clean Water Alliance at (360) 528-5719.

To reach Lacey Councilmember Cynthia Pratt, contact her at cpratt@ci.lacey.wa.us, or at her Lacey city council office, (360) 491-3214.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

County Planning Commission Removes Reclaimed Water Language from Draft CAO

Above: The southernmost tip of Budd Inlet features downtown Olympia, the Port of Olympia and the LOTT Clean Water Alliance in this aerial file photo from 2006.

County Planning Commission Removes Reclaimed Water Language from Draft CAO

By Janine Unsoeld

In a meeting Wednesday night March 7 of the Thurston County Planning Commission, the commissioners discussed groundwater infiltration of reclaimed water and its regulation, then followed a staff recommendation to remove several pages of its language from the draft Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO).

The action of removing the reclaimed water language from the draft CAO prohibits its use in critical aquifer recharge areas.

The county planning commission is a nine member citizen’s advisory committee to the county commissioners. The county's CAO has not been updated since 1994 and several chapters are being rewritten, one of which regards Critical Aquifer Recharge Areas (CARA). Infiltration of reclaimed water is not currently regulated by the existing CAO.

"If it’s not mentioned, it’s prohibited," says Andrew Deffobis, county associate planner who worked hard on the draft language. "We put a lot of time into it, and it’s all good in theory, but it’s a topic that will benefit from significant public input. This was a way to make that happen," said Deffobis in a recent telephone interview.

Placeholder language, based on the outcome of further study and public process, says the CAO could be amended at a later date to include standards regarding reclaimed water.

Informed by this reporter of the county planning commission's decision to remove the reclaimed water language from the draft CAO, Romero commented on Saturday, "It's good to take a cautious approach - there's too much at stake."

Language from work conducted by the planning commission would have required water to have been processed through advanced treatment such as reverse osmosis or nanofiltration.

Strictly worded language also stated that, "when a federal or state standard or management recommendation is established…reclaimed water will not contain emerging contaminants at levels documented as having harmful effects on salmonids when it enters the surface water body…."

At two presentations earlier this month, a wide variety of elected officials, state, city and county agency staff, and community members heard several scientists speak to the issue of aquifer recharge with treated wastewater, the presence of compounds - also known as chemicals or contaminents - of emerging concern, and the high cost of advanced treatment facilities. The event was sponsored by the LOTT Clean Water Alliance and the state Department of Health.

County Commissioner Sandra Romero, Thurston County’s representative to LOTT, attended a presentation, and heard the scientists state that, based on current science, such absolutes ensuring that human and aquatic life will not be harmed by the infiltration of treated water into our groundwater are not yet possible. When asked, the scientists also expressed their opinions that an advanced treatment plant here was not necessary, and that technologies work very well to meet current drinking water standards.

The county commissioners also serve as the county’s board of health.

Concerns expressed to the planning commission late last year during public hearing testimony on the draft CAO, and the CARA chapter specifically, factored into the decision to delete the language.

Rich Hoey, now the public works director for the City of Olympia, testified to the planning commissioners that while the city of Olympia shares the county’s interests in protecting drinking water, the draft requirement for advanced treatment of reclaimed water goes too far to address as yet undefined risks. The city recommended that the CARA section on reclaimed water be placed on hold until LOTT’s groundwater study is complete.

LOTT’s Reaction to Planning Commission Action

LOTT has just begun a four year study exploring putting treated wastewater into the county’s groundwater aquifer as part of its plan to deal with wastewater and meet future drinking water needs. LOTT identified several barriers contained in the county’s draft CAO language that would hinder their plans in managing future volumes of wastewater.

On Friday, Mike Strub, LOTT’s executive director, was asked to comment on the county planning commission's decision.

"For us, the glass is 98% full…. We at LOTT have no problem waiting to build a groundwater infiltration recharge basin – the next one was planned near Tumwater, technically in the county in the growth management area. It wasn’t going to be completed until 2018 anyway. We are in agreement to not permit that until we have data with the groundwater study to inform that decision, but as far as taking out the whole language, to prohibit reclaimed water use, that may have unintended consequences," said Strub.

Strub expressed concern for several small Class A plants in the county. "Tenino just built a new one, Yelm has one, Grand Mound has one, and Rainier is considering one - they’re on septic tanks and things are in tough shape there - so, this may have a broader impact than they (the county planning commissioners) were thinking…."

"But we have time to consider minor modifications and suggest changes. My feeling is that most of what we recommended – to do additional science, do additional work and let that guide future permits and regulations – was heard, but we think there are other ways we can achieve our (mutual) goals," Strub added optimistically.

The county planning commission will forward their recommendation to the county commissioners for final approval. When this will happen, Deffobis says, is the "million dollar question." He estimates that the draft critical areas ordinance will be forwarded to the county commissioners in about two months, then more public hearings will be held.

For more information about the draft Critical Areas Ordinance or the Critical Aquifer Recharge Area chapter, contact Thurston County Associate Planner Andrew Deffobis at (360) 786-5467 or deffoba@co.thurston.wa.us or go to www.thurstonplanning.org.

The next LOTT board meeting is Wednesday, March 14, 5:30 pm, 500 Adams St. NE, Olympia. The LOTT board retreat is Saturday, March 17, 500 Adams. St. NE. They will discuss their strategic business plan for 2013 - 2018. For more information, contact Lisa Dennis-Perez at (360) 528-5719 or go to www.lottcleanwateralliance.org.

Monday, March 5, 2012

A LOTT of Concerns About Drinking Water Quality

Above: Pharmaceuticals, above, are Compounds of Emerging Concern (CECs) in our drinking water.

A LOTT of Concerns About Drinking Water Quality

By Janine Unsoeld

About 150 state and local government officials, staff, scientists and members of the public participated in a scientific symposium at LOTT Clean Water Alliance last week to discuss pharmaceuticals, personal care products and other contaminants - compounds - entering the environment through reclaimed water and the discharge of treated water into Budd Inlet.

Sponsored by LOTT and the Washington State Department of Health, the event was just the beginning to educate the community about the issue as LOTT, a regional organization comprised of the cities of Lacey, Olympia, Tumwater and Thurston County, starts a four year study on groundwater aquifer management.

Lacking surface water options, Thurston County uses groundwater for its drinking water. After wastewater treatment, the water is discharged into Budd Inlet. In recognition of our region's limited water resources, LOTT is exploring the idea of increasing the recharge of our groundwater with reclaimed or highly treated water.

Currently, the downtown Budd Inlet plant reclaims about one million gallons per day that is used for irrigation purposes. Newer treatment plants on Martin Way and Hawks Prairie produce reclaimed water, some of which is already returned to our aquifers.

Using reclaimed water to recharge our drinking water sources is part of a national trend. Scientists at the LOTT symposium gave two case examples of systems in Arizona and Southern California that already feature direct potable water reuse - a pipe to pipe system.

At issue is the presence of compounds of emerging concern (CECs) in the environment, the potential impact to public health and the environment, and what happens to CECs during wastewater treatment and when reclaimed water is infiltrated to groundwater.

Five nationally and internationally recognized scientists discussed the margins of exposure, the transport of CECs during managed aquifer recharge, and regulatory issues and efforts focused on water reuse. Each presented charts and graphs showing their research and work in the engineering, toxicology, and water quality fields.

"Emerging does not mean that these chemicals are new - it’s just that modern chemistry and technology can detect them at lower and lower levels," said Robert Bastian, senior environmental scientist with the Office of Wastewater Management at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Washington D.C.

This detection, however, has raised concerns about potential effects to human health and ecosystems, along with concerns about the adequacy and accuracy of studies.

The levels of biodegradability and persistence of chemicals, many of which are commonplace in most people’s everyday use, was compelling information.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has concluded that these compounds are not much of a problem and the organization is not going to produce guidelines, said Joseph Costruvo, Ph.D., who is a member of the WHO Drinking Water Guidelines development committee and was director of the Criteria and Standards Division of the U.S. EPA’s Office of Drinking Water. The Environmental Protection Agency is thinking of producing guidelines, he said.

The scientists repeatedly described that the margin of exposure through drinking water as minimal, and, using the example of drugs, compared the exposure to the therapeutic dose actually prescribed by doctors and ingested directly. These drugs, both prescribed and illicit, also include caffeine, antibiotics, veterinary medicines and vitamins. Personal care products also include a variety of chemicals.

Several drugs that many people have in their medicine cabinets, such as gemfibrozil, carbamazepine, and primidone are troublemakers for wastewater treatment plants and are considered “persistent,” meaning they are not biodegradable.

Another persistent compound, triclosan, is a common ingredient in name brand toothpastes such as Total and Colgate. Other troublemakers are sucralose, sugar substitutes better known by name brand products such as Sweet N Low, Splenda, and Equal. They are made to not be absorbed by the body and are thus excreted as waste into our water supply systems.

Some CECs, however, are not drugs, and are not biodegradable, such as flame retardants. Some of the chemicals discussed also included known endrocrine disrupting compounds, called EDCs. Some chemical sources are natural, and are included in food and dietary supplements.

Local Reactions

After the program, local public officials and agency staff expressed a great deal of interest and concern about the issue and what they were learning.

Tom Oliva, Tumwater city councilmember and Tumwater’s representative to LOTT since the recent passing of Tumwater City Councilmember Ed Stanley, wondered what the appropriate process was for what the region wants.

"Do you want to spend this much money or that much money? There’s a rush to want to treat to zero contamination – what the scientists here said is that kind of water doesn’t exist in the first place. I want to drink clean water, but how dirty is it? Technology is going to change within our generation. The scientists here aren’t overwhelmed by local political baggage, so let’s make an informed decision, not a hasty one.”

Oliva said Tumwater has a big stake in the issue of reclaimed water, as it will begin use 600,000 gallons of it starting next year to irrigate the Tumwater Valley golf course.

“I learned a lot – the science involved, the chemicals, methods and standards for exposure. It’s a pretty complicated subject,” added Oliva.

Above: Personal care products are compounds of concern for wastewater treatment plants.

Diana Yu, MD, health officer for Thurston and Mason counties, also expressed concern and passion about the information she heard.

“What they (the scientists) did for me was put things into perspective…if we want to rid the world of CECs, we need to stop using those products. People and industries need to stop relying so much on chemicals and medications, from fertilizers to weed control to contraceptives, antibiotics and pain killers - do we really need all that? What goes into our bodies, comes out the other end and has to be disposed of,” said Yu.

"A lot of what they said made sense...The biggest issue will be about the "unknown." How will it affect us? What about our children's future? The air we breathe is laden with chemicals. The foods we eat may also be exposed to chemicals. In the past, potability of water was based on it being free of pathogens. We still use that as a surrogate measure. As technology gets better, we will find more and more things in the water, not because they were not there before but because our technology has improved so much we can quantify small amounts," Yu continued.

About drinking reclaimed water, Yu said, "I do not think I am quite ready to drink out of the pipe directly, although it seems like some of the experts have done so. I have to do some more thinking about the information I received. The bottom line is how can I weigh the perceived risks to health without being paralyzed by fear. We do need water to live. In our lifetime, how much of the minute amounts of whatever we encounter in the water will actually affect our health?"

How much does Thurston County want to spend?

LOTT operates two Class A reclaimed water facilities that filters out a majority of CECs. The Thurston County Planning Commission wrote into their draft critical areas ordinance many protective measures, including an advanced treatment plant using technologies such as reverse osmosis or nanofiltration, prior to groundwater recharge. When asked about this, the scientists at the symposium said that this is not necessary, in their opinion, and that water can be overtreated.

"Pure water is not good for you. Fish cannot live in pure water. Overpurifying anything is not good, as it robs you of essential minerals," said Shane Synder of the University of Arizona.

"Is it worth it? No, not in my opinion," said Robert Bastian of the U.S. EPA. Describing the examples of two very advanced treatment facilities in San Diego and Los Angeles, he added, "Now we know why California is bankrupt - they like to spend money....There are several barriers to take compounds out, and overall, technologies work very well and meet all drinking water standards," he added.

The quantities of these compounds in water were described by the scientists as being very small. For example, CECs in treated wastewater are measured in parts per trillion. One part per trillion is one drop in 16 Olympic swimming pools, said Shane Synder, Ph.D. of the University of Arizona. CECs in drinking water are present in even smaller amounts, sometimes not even detectable by today's instruments.

"We can do anything to water. What’s your goal? It must be determined case by case and is site specific. All do a pretty good job to easily meet drinking water standards – it’s all doable, it just depends on how much you want to pay,” said Jorg Drewes, Ph.D., professor of Environmental Science and Engineering at at the Colorado School of Mines.

Drewes gave case examples - Orange County, California is spending $450 million, supported by the community through a bond measure, to build a full range treatment plant. Orange County is facing a shortage of water and found this option was cheaper than shipping water from the Colorado River.

Audience member Maria Victoria Peeler, an engineer who works for the state Department of Ecology, is responsible for developing policy for some persistent bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) chemicals, primarily mercury. As co-chair of the international mercury reduction initiative for state regulators, she has been working at the international level for five years.

Commenting after the program Peeler expressed some disappointment with the program, saying, "PBTs is one of the biggest problems we have in the state. What I didn’t hear about, and of concern to me, is nanotechnology, the science of manipulating matter at the atomic and molecular level. There has been a spark of activity in the last 10 years within the business and industrial community to produce products created by nanotechnology and process waste at a municipal level, products like batteries, mascara, lipstick, and other consumer products. Pharmaceuticals are no doubt a big issue. We can detect them, track, and control them, but that’s not the case with engineered nanoparticals,” said Peeler.

Another attendee, Jim Casebolt, president and operator of the Pattison Water Company in Lacey which services about 1,600 homes since 1964, expressed concern with LOTT’s plans. LOTT has acquired property within the area where he gets his water from several wells and is concerned about chemicals and pollutants in reclaimed water.

"Listening to the people who presented, they sounded pretty good, but they are representing the reclaimed water industry. I’m pretty sure you could round up a group of other scientists who could present a great deal of concerns," said Casebolt.

What's Next?

After the program, LOTT’s executive director Mike Strub was asked about the scope of LOTT’s groundwater recharge study. He said the scope of the study has not yet been determined, "but we want to add to the science, take advantage of science around the nation so that it’s safe and meets the intent of beneficial use. There are different conditions within the whole watershed: rural, urban/industrial, and urban. We want to take a global approach to our watershed – this study will inform those lofty goals. The first several months (of the study) will be very active, and include community input. This is good timing to start talking about some of the topics and we welcome comments."

What You Can Do For Starters:

Properly dispose of your prescription medicines, including narcotics, over-the-counter drugs, and vitamins, so they don’t end up in the water system. Several secure drop boxes, installed in 2010, are located throughout Thurston County. Go to www.ThurstonTOGETHER.org for a list of locations.

For more information about the Compounds of Emerging Concern Science Symposium held March 2, 2012, go to: www.lottcleanwateralliance.org. To receive information about LOTT's groundwater recharge study and public involvement opportunities, email LOTT or leave a message with your name, mailing address, and/or email address at (360) 528-5716.