Letters to the Editor

CAPR looks forward to producing boots-on-the-ground conservation actions that make a real difference

Recently Mike Kaill, president of Friends of the San Juans, submitted a letter suggesting that the presence of surfactants in stormwater and other runoff is a justification for what he considers to be appropriate setbacks from the shoreline for development on shoreline properties.

Surfactants, or more properly, surface active agents, are substances that reduce the surface tension of liquids. This reduction in surface tension allows the liquid to spread out, rather than collecting in droplets. There are thousands of surfactants used for this purpose throughout the product lines of thousands of manufacturers. Some of these do have adverse impacts on marine life, and there is an argument to be made for controlling the release of those into marine environments. However, this does not translate into a valid argument for a one-size-fits-all system of buffers and setbacks for the use and enjoyment of private property.

Detergents contain surfactants, but are not surfactants in and of themselves. In some jurisdictions, certain surfactants have been banned for use in detergents. In order for those detergents to be useful for cleaning, though, the banned surfactants have to be replaced by others.

Mike’s concern over surfactants in lawn chemicals, such as fertilizers, is noted, and he might wish to lead the Friends of the San Juans in actively supporting Senate Bill 6289, "Protecting lake water quality by reducing phosphorous from lawn fertilizers," currently before the Washington State Legislature. It’s a bill most of us can get behind and support.

While some surfactants are long-lived in the environment, many others are not. While some can “lock” onto particles in sediment, many others do not. While some can harm fish gills, many others do not. While some are toxic, many others are benign ... in fact, there are many naturally-occurring surfactants that are absolutely critical to the biological processes of all living things.

Mr. Kaill’s use of the presence of product-residual surfactants in the marine environment as justification for wide separation between human activity and the shore is alarmist in nature and inappropriate as a basis for prescriptive regulation. CAPR, its members, and other concerned citizens are not acting out of "ignorance" or "stubbornness" in advocating for the application of the common-sense test in our regulatory processes. We firmly believe that any regulatory restrictions on the use and enjoyment of property be based on the very best science possible, and we are not convinced that all of the science being used as justification for the provisions of San Juan County’s upcoming Critical Areas Ordinance and Shoreline Master Plan meet that criterion.

In contrast to Mike's assertion, “We don’t need a peer-reviewed study ...“, we believe that every study, synthesis and assessment used to support and justify the provisions of these programs must be subjected to independent and rigorous peer review. There’s a lot to be said for the concept of “Trust, but verify.” As citizens, we deserve the full validation of the science used to drive restrictions of our activities. Independent peer review is something that our scientists should welcome, not fear.

I agree with Mike that there are many chemicals getting into our stormwater as a result of the way they are used by some. It’s something we should look at as a community. Surely we can come up with ways to work on these issues without acrimony.

Recent Nobel Prize winner Dr. Elinor Ostrom was awarded her prize for her work on the commons. Her findings are that the users of natural resources are far better stewards of those resources than government. I agree with her and I fervently believe that property owners love their property and will do whatever it takes to properly maintain it and protect it for their children’s use. If we are educated on which surfactants are dangerous to our marine life, we can voluntarily take the necessary steps to keep those substances out of the marine environment.

I am encouraged by the research that indicates that we are continually making progress in cleaning up our water bodies. It’s something that often seems to get lost amidst the “sky is falling” rhetoric. CAPR looks forward to producing boots-on-the-ground conservation actions that make a real difference without taking the right to use and enjoy property from our citizens.

Please join us for our monthly educational presentations.

Frank M. Penwell
Citizens Alliance for Property Rights
San Juan Island

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