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Public forums address sea level rise, health of Washington waterways

“We do not inherit the earth from our parents, but rather borrow it from our children.” – Squaxin Tribe

Protecting water resources as the sea level rises

Global sea levels have risen about nine inches in Olympia since 1880, and the rate is accelerating. It is estimated that another 2 – 7 feet of additional rise will occur by 2100. We are already feeling the impacts of climate change on our area, from increased storms and wetter winters to drier summers, increased forest fires and ocean acidification.

Delve into the details with the Squaxin Tribe on March 6

The Squaxin Island Tribe will present a talk on the subject of sea level rise. Candace Penn, Climate Change Ecologist for the Tribe’s Natural Resources Dept., and Brian McTeague, Geographic Information Services (GIS) Specialist, are working on future modeling to assess the effect of sea level rise on salmon, shellfish and forage fish habitats in the Tribe’s territory. They have created an interactive website to show the impacts of sea level rise and the strategies they are devising to mitigate its effects.

Hunting, shellfish harvesting, fishing for salmon, and harvesting other traditional foods are vital to the Squaxins, who are known as the “People of the Water.” These activities form part of their cultural heritage and the basis for a subsistence economy. Water quality and intertidal habitats are critical to the continued health and preservation of shellfish resources. Members of the Squaxin Tribe have been preparing ways to protect water quality. One mitigation strategy will be to preserve and restore intertidal areas such as estuaries that act as natural buffers to sea level rise and storm surges.

A lively and informative presentation will help the public understand what is at stake and what can be done to preserve our natural resources.

Ensuring sufficient clean water for future generations

Though 2019 was the driest year since 2001, Thurston County was shielded from the worst effects of drought. First, groundwater was at normal levels, so much of the groundwater was already stored. Also, summer rainfall was unusually well-spaced throughout the season, keeping moisture in surface soils. Streams throughout the County, however, were very low, six of them at their lowest cumulative discharge since at least 2008. Groundwater levels also declined to their lowest recorded levels in many wells.

We owe this information to Thurston County’s Water Planning Annual Report for the 2019 Water Year. The report discusses volumes and quantities of water, rather than water quality. Results in the report are based on data collected from 74 monitoring stations throughout the County that measure atmospheric conditions, streamflow, groundwater and lake levels. The millions of data points collected per year.

This photograph is from a display created by the League of Women Voters as part of their continuing study and public discussion of Thurston County water issues.

Refine your understanding of our water status on March 26

Quantity and quality of our local water supplies will be the topic at a second water forum.

Kevin Hansen, Thurston County’s hydrogeologist, Art Starry, Thurston County Director of Environmental Health, and Julie Rector, City of Lacey Department of Public Works Water Quality Analyst, will present the latest findings from recent water studies.

Thurston County Environmental Health (TCEH) has been sampling ambient water quality in streams since 1983. In its Water Report for 2017-2018, the department monitored 35 sites. Staff sampled them once a month throughout the year and compiled the results into a Water Quality Index (WQI) for each stream, which then receives a score. Each stream is also classified based on designated uses including recreational, public health and aquatic life.

In Thurston County, aquatic life use is further classified to describe conditions for spawning, rearing and migration salmonid habitat, and for core summer salmonid habitat. High temperatures detrimentally affect salmonid survival at all life stages. For most stream sites analyzed, water temperature increased over the 11 seasons considered, and the concentration of dissolved oxygen, also vital to aquatic life, declined.

For 33 Thurston County monitored streams, the average score was 68, or “moderately impaired” on a scale where one is the most polluted and 100 the least. Seventy-three percent (73%) of the sites were classified as being of moderate concern. Nutrient enrichment, largely caused by septic system and stormwater runoff, was widespread. Ninety percent (90%) of sites were impaired by high concentrations of phosphorus and 74% were polluted by excess nitrite and nitrate. Most trends pointed to continued degradation of our surface water resources.

Esther Kronenberg volunteers with the LWV water study.

Public forums

Sea Level Rise, presented by the Squaxin Tribe, March 6, 5:30-7:30 pm, Olympia Center, 222 Columbia St. NW

Water Quantity and Quality in Thurston County, March 26, 5:30-7:30 pm, Olympia Center, 222 Columbia St. NW

Speakers are scheduled to begin at 6 pm. View past forums at League of Women Voters Water Study.

To get a taste of the League’s ongoing efforts or to volunteer, come to Coffee with the League, Tuesday mornings at 10 am at Mud Bay Coffee, 1600 Cooper Point Rd. SW.

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