Journal of the San Juan Islands


State of storm water run-off? Still can deliver a lethal dose | As I See It

August 10, 2013 · Updated 3:28 PM

Mike Kaill / Journal file photo

By Mike Kaill, Ph.D.

Dear Governor Inslee:

I am a retired fish and game biologist and former professor of biology.

For the past 10 years or so, I have managed a 400-gallon aquarium, for the Port of Friday Harbor, on a dock in Friday Harbor. About five years ago, we noticed that many of the creatures were dying. I obtained a test kit and found high levels of toxics in the stormwater that enters the harbor from town streets.

Plumbing modifications were made in some local businesses, and the problem was markedly improved — Friday Harbor stormwater was not doing harm to the aquarium.

In recent years, the problem has reappeared, but I am unable to make any headway in getting corrective action.

For several reasons, I have cut back my testing to turbidity, which is a good catch-all for other problems. Turbidity measures the amount of “stuff” suspended in the water, which might include heavy metals, grease and other car gunk, silt, animal waste, and more. The other test that I do, when suds are evident, is detergents (surfactants).

Surfactants are quite toxic to many animals, including fish. I have filed an ERTS (Environmental Report Tracking System, #460900) report with the Department of Ecology.  I understand that department has undergone extensive cutbacks, and so I am reluctant to nag them to take action on my behalf.

They probably have very serious issues to deal with (though of course I think my situation is serious, too).

Here is my case:

I do not recall ever taking turbidity data, during rain, that was not above the DOE violation level of 5 FTU. Readings are commonly well above that.  During two rain storms at the end of June (the last significant rain), turbidity levels were over 200 NTU, over 40 times the violation level.

The surfactants that I measured were around 3.0 p.m., twice the amount needed to kill a rainbow trout (LD50) [Practical Fish Toxicity Test Report, 2007; Environmental Partners, Issaquah.]

Salmon, closely related to trout, use the near-shore for shelter and forage. There is a lot of water coming from the storm drain during heavy rains. The silt settles to the bottom with all its toxic load, as can be seen in the aquarium.

Administrators of the Town of Friday Harbor have maintained that there is no problem. For comparison, I took some samples into the town water treatment laboratory, and ran them with the town technicians. The differences were a few units, not significant at the magnitudes of the data.

If it was raining, turbidity was in violation by both town and my test results. Here is what I would like to see happen:

Straw, cloth, or other material to slow and filter high-flow stormwater. This especially at construction sites.

Low impact stormwater pollution control designed into new/reworked street and building projects.

Apply for grant funding to pay for stormwater control projects. DOE has offered help with this.

Begin comprehensive planning to deal with stormwater pollution. Planning was initiated when the first rain garden was begun, as a community project. It is not clear where this is now.

Governor Inslee, it seems that I have been engaged in this struggle for half my life. In fact, it is over 10 years, and I am tired. I am going to quit. As a last gasp (I am pretty old) I am writing you.

If you chose to help me and my cause, thank you. In any case, thank you for the good job you are doing.

— Editor’s note: Friday Harbor’s Mike Kaill has managed the aquarium at Spring Street Landing under contract with the Port of Friday Harbor for the past 10 years.


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