Here in the South Sound, we are surrounded by beautiful forests and clear running streams. Wildlife abounds on land and water. We have clean air and bountiful food. So what could be wrong?
If you look beneath the surface all is not well. If you ask people who have lived here for years, like the people of the Squaxin Tribe or even residents from just 50 years ago, you will hear how our environment has been degraded, and that the degradation continues. What we enjoy today may be only a memory if actions are not taken.
Understanding that many residents are unaware of serious problems in the County, and the lack of action by the current Board of County Commissioners to address them, the League of Women Voters is sponsoring an exhibit of portraits of Thurston County residents – most of them just someone who wants to live in a clean and healthy place. With each photograph there is a quote about the importance of some aspect of our environment to that person—accompanied by a related fact. The exhibit will be shown at Traditions Café during Art Walk and after.
Some of the photographs come with a description of actions taken to solve problems, from using solar power and green building design to planting trees for carbon sequestration. Some point to policies the County must adopt and promote to stop degradation. Others flag areas where the County has failed to act or even contributed to problems:
Wells have gone dry as permitted developments pump water from the aquifer.
Thurston County is home to 12 threatened or endangered species.
Salmon runs are down to 10% less than historic numbers and declining.
Thurston Co lost 50% of its farmland between 2001 and 2007.
500 species of plants and animals in the County are of conservation concern.
Septic system leaks are contributing to toxic algae blooms in lakes around the County.
The County does not monitor 53,000 septic systems regularly.
Our unique prairie habitat remains unprotected from development.
Budd Inlet, the Deschutes Rivers and Capitol Lake are on the EPA’s list of impaired and threatened waters. The Clean Water Act requires that they be cleaned up.
A look at the record of the current Board of County Commissioners (Board, or Commissioners) also suggests some areas of concern:
- The Board has expedited the drilling of private wells since October 2016, even though a court decision (Hirst) required counties to guarantee water availability before issuing well permits. While the legislature has granted counties more time to complete hydrogeological studies, Thurston County has stopped doing water availability studies.
- The Board rejected a $10 annual homeowner fee proposed after lengthy study by the Dept. of Public Health. The fee that would have financed inspections of the 53,000 on-site sewage systems in the County. Faulty septic systems are the major contributing cause to toxic algae blooms that have increased dramatically over the past 5 years and also plays a role in groundwater contamination.
- The Commissioners failed to enact a Habitat Conservation Plan to preserve Thurston County’s last 5% of remaining prairie. In negotiations with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, they reduced the number of inspections and decreased the size of buffers, bringing down the cost of the HCP to the County. They have questioned the science behind the Endangered Species Act and the amount of acreage necessary to preserve the ecosystem and the several endangered species that depend on it.
- The Commissioners have not awarded conservation futures funds for an approved plan. They have frozen awards for new projects to allow them time to explore using most of the funds for the Habitat Conservation Plan. As a result, projects of the South Sound Farmland Trust and Capitol Land Trust go unfunded.
- They allowed an asphalt recycling proposal by Lakeside Industries to be placed on the 2018 docket. Recycled asphalt contains contaminants that would pollute the Nisqually Valley when (not if) the river floods again.
They’ve made little progress on Thurston County’s 2009 Sustainability Plan which seeks to reduce County facility energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.
The County Fund Balance has dropped from 15.5% of expenditures to 5%. The Commissioners have indicated they would like to issue more building permits and increase commercial development as a means to fund an increase in their budget.
- The Commissioners reluctantly agreed to invest $5,000 in joining with the cities of Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater in the preliminary development of a Regional Action Plan to address climate change, as long as it did not come from the general fund.
- They changed the name of the Resource Stewardship Department to Community Planning and Economic Development.
- The Commissioners unanimously voted themselves a raise.
True to its mission of education and empowerment, the League hopes the exhibit will motivate people to get involved in County policy-making and undertake the citizen participation essential to preserve and sustain our resources. The exhibit offers people an opportunity and a means to remind the Commissioners that their first responsibility as Executives is to protect the public health and our natural resources. Our fate is tied to the life of the land.
Esther Kronenberg is a member of the Thurston League of Women Voters Observer Corps