Tribe takes a close look at mushrooms and water quality

Squaxin Island natural resources staff, along with the Mason Conservation District, are exploring whether mushrooms can help fight water pollution in Puget Sound:

Mushrooms might help treat one of the most widespread causes of water pollution — fecal bacteria from human and livestock waste in stormwater runoff. And if it works, the system can be used to protect the rich shellfish heritage of Puget Sound.

The Squaxin Island Tribe is teaming up with Mason Conservation District and Fungi Perfecti to test how well the vegetative growth (mycelia) of fungi filters fecal coliform bacteria out of running water.

“Several field studies have demonstrated that mushroom mycelia can capture and remove bacteria in running water,” said John Konovsky, environmental program manager for the Squaxin Island Tribe. “The Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe worked with Battelle Labratories on a large treatment system and found that fungi mycelia can reduce bacteria concentrations. We’re trying to figure out just how well it works on a smaller scale.”

Here is a King 5 report on the project:

Oakland Bay Improving, But Sustained Funding Needed

On 6/22, the Squaxin Island Tribe and other partners on an advisory committee made a report to the Oakland Bay Clean Water District Board of Directors (aka the Mason County Commissioners) on the status of Oakland Bay.  The review was generally positive, but cautious.  Below summarizes some of my and others comments.

Water quality has improved since 2005,  no portion of the bay is listed as “threatened” by DOH, and harvest restrictions have been removed for the fall-winter-spring months at the head of the bay.  The bacteria sources forcing the remaining summer restrictions still must be studied and corrected.

While  larger climatic/weather patterns certainly play a role  in the transport and fate of bacteria in the bay and consequentially, improvement of water quality, increased maintenance of septic systems around Oakland Bay helps.  In the last year, septic system inspection reports to Mason County have jumped by 26%.  This has occurred only in the Oakland Bay watershed; in other areas like Hood Canal and Case Inlet, reporting levels remained flat.

This difference between Oakland Bay and the rest of Mason County is the result of partial implementation of a social marketing plan the Clean Water District developed to encourage residents around Oakland Bay to check their septic systems.  The plan refocused messaging away from slogans like “Saving Puget Sound” to more personal consequences of poor water quality like threats to children’s health, property values, and local jobs.  The new messaging included straightforward suggestions for what to do and incentives to make doing it cheaper and easier.   With this new approach, the residents of Oakland Bay responded in quick order.

Today 63% of the residents around Oakland Bay are up-to-date with their septic maintenance, but that is not good enough in the long run.  As the local population continues to grow, we are going to need even higher levels of compliance to sustain the opportunity to harvest shellfish in Oakland Bay.

The bottom line is that we have a plan, the social marketing plan, to get beyond 63%.  It is only partial implemented and funding is the biggest impediment to further action.

The real problem is future funding.  So far we have gotten by on grants and other special funds.  The sporadic nature of this kind of funding won’t allow us to achieve our ultimate goal:  designation of all of Oakland Bay as “approved” without restriction for shellfish harvest.  To achieve that sort of water quality improvement, we will need a sustained, perpetual effort and that is going to take a reliable, predictable funding source.

Tribe appeals decision on Johns Creek

From the press release:

The Squaxin Island Tribe is appealing to Gov. Chris Gregoire the decision by the state Department of Ecology to reject a petition to protect Johns Creek. ”Ecology’s inaction does further harm to our treaty-based fisheries,” said Andy Whitener, natural resources director for the Tribe. “Salmon recovery should not have to bear a disproportionate share of the fallout from tough economic times.”

This is the second time in two years that Ecology has rejected the Tribe’s request to protect Johns Creek, citing the need for study on the connection between ground and surface water in the Johns Creek watershed. The Tribe’s petitions were based on a state law that closes a watershed to new well drilling activity if not enough information exists to establish that water is legally available.

If the Gov. Gregoire is serious about protecting the waters of Puget Sound, then she will direct Ecology to act. “Ecology’s excuse is the lack of resources. It takes a commitment to their responsibilities, not money, to close the basin,” said Kevin Lyon, the Tribe’s attorney. “The rule is simple: if you lack information, you don’t take water – especially when minimum flows are not being met.

Read more here.

Squaxin Island Tribe files second petition to protect Johns Creek

A news release this afternoon:

The Squaxin Island Tribe has filed a second petition with the state Department of Ecology (DOE) to stop all new water withdrawals, including permit-exempt wells, in the Johns Creek watershed near Shelton. The action was taken to protect several runs of salmon that spawn and rear in the creek.

“There isn’t enough water in Johns Creek to support salmon,” said Andy Whitener, natural resources director for the Squaxin Island Tribe. Likely because of withdrawals from hundreds of domestic and municipal wells, the creek does not meet state mandated minimum flows to protect salmon.

The tribe filed the petition under a state law that closes a watershed from future withdrawals if not enough information is available to justify those withdrawals.

This new petition comes almost two years after the state declined an initial call from the tribe to protect Johns Creek. With the original refusal came the promise that the state would work with Mason County to develop ways to achieve minimum streamflows. “That so-called ‘alternative path forward’ never materialized,” Whitener said. “Neither the state or Mason County took any action.”

Read the entire news release here.

Phil Anderson Chosen As Leader of WDFW

From Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission Website:

Anderson Good Choice to lead WDFW

The treaty tribes of western Washington look forward to continuing to work with Phil Anderson as director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

Anderson was named the department’s permanent director Saturday by the nine-member commission….(read more at NWIFC website).