What treaty tribes are saying about clean water

Cross posted at Northwest Treaty Tribes

Treaty tribes spoke out loudly against Washington state’s proposed new water quality standards. In summary, the standards aren’t nearly high enough. You can read all the public comments on the standards here.

Jamestown S’Klallam Chairman Ron Allen pointed out that standards earlier proposed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency are much better:

The Department of Ecology’s draft rule proposes other human health criteria that do not incorporate best available science and fails to account for other sources of toxic chemicals. Therefore, we recommend adoption of the criteria proposed by the EPA. The Department of Ecology’s proposal will allow the criteria for several highly toxic chemicals including PCBs, arsenic, and dioxin to remain at status quo or to get substantially worse.

Leaders from several tribes pointed out that the state standards are not nearly enough to protect tribes and their unique relationship with fish.

Sauk-Suiattle Chair Norma Joseph:

Ethnocentric fish consumption and cancer prevention rates, which are based primarily upon consumption by those who only consume the flesh or fillets of fish, may be highly inadequate to protect people such as those of the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe and other tribes and tribal elders who consume every part of the fish. Salmon is the mainstay dietary source of food for the Sauk-­Suiattle people. There are songs, stories, ceremonies and dances that commemorate its place in our lifestyle. The salmon is consumed in various ways: canned; smoked; dried; boiled; cooked over open flame with alder; fried steaks; baked with simple seasonings. We eat every part of the salmon and many other species including the fish heads; the backbone; the tips; the head­; eyeballs; soft bones; cheeks; tails and certain internal parts or organs. The fish head and backbones are seen by our elders as an especially feasting part of the salmon. Even the salmon eggs were dried and cooked over open fire and were seen as the parts reserved for the special guests at the table.

Lummi Nation Natural Resources executive director Merle Jefferson Sr.:

Contamination of finfish and shellfish habitat, just like reduced instream flows due to out-of-stream diversions, fish-passage barriers, elimination of functioning riparian areas, and other factors have put our treaty rights and our Schelangen (way of life) at risk.


It is morally and legally wrong for the state to allow large private companies to profit at the expense of the environment and the citizens of the state.

Tulalip Tribes Chairman Mel Sheldon Jr.:

For Tulalip, as with many other tribes across the country, rates of diabetes, obesity and other chronic diseases have become epidemic among our people. In an effort to combat these alarming health trends, we have established several tribal programs aimed at encouraging individual tribal members to return to a healthier diet, including a diet richer in traditional foods. For Tulalip people, that means eating a lot of fish and shellfish. We want to be able to eat fish at levels that are more consistent with our traditional diet and what public health experts recommend. As you know, fish have been an integral part of our traditional diet since time immemorial.

At the center of the debate is the fact that even at their best, the water quality standards represent a compromise for tribes.

Quileute Chairman Charles Woodruff:

Tribes entered this discussion many years ago with their concerns that the existing fish consumption rate of 6.5 grams per day grossly under-represents tribal fish consumption. The harvest and consumption of fish and shellfish remains at the heart of tribal communities, and is a cultural, nutritional, and economic necessity as well as a treaty right. The proposed FCR of 175 g/day is low compared to fish consumption rates at many tribes.

Speak out on the state’s proposed water quality standards

There are two competing approaches on the table to protect human health through water quality standards in Washington State. The first was issued by the EPA in September, 2015, the other by the state Department of Ecology in February.

You can contact state officials before April 22 here.

Here are some ideas about what to tell the state

1. The EPA version is more protective for approximately 80 percent of the regulated chemicals

  • Both EPA and the state have now met tribal minimum goals for a fish consumption rate of 175 g/day and a cancer risk rate of 1 in one million covering most of the regulated chemicals.
  • However, the state continues to tweak the standards in the direction to make them more leneint. They’ve updated some of the EPA criteria that move the dials in the direction of leniency (such as body weight, toxicity factors), while keeping others at older values (relative source contribution and bio-accumulation).

2. Timing: The state has a history of delay and deferral on this issue, and it is an open question whether they will complete the process this time.

You can contact state officials before April 22 here.

3. The restrictions on several important chemicals fall short in the state’s new proposal.

  • PCB’s remain the same under the state’s proposal.
  • Arsenic changes to a drinking water standard – sounds good but it doesn’t account for accumulation in fish tissue. EPA’s version is 500 to 2,000 times more stringent. The state’s concern is the presence of arsenic in regional natural geology, but the proposed change is drastic.
  • Methylmercury: This is a new standard implemented by EPA, which the state has deferred indefinitely.
    Dioxins, PAH’s, Thalates, and Pesticides: These are all important chemicals that accumulate in fish through the food chain.

4. The state proposes implementation tools that will allow more leniency in complying with water quality standards for longer periods of time.

  • Variances and compliance schedules will allow permittees to violate water quality standards for potentially long, and unspecified amounts of time.
  • The implementation tools provide Ecology with too much discretion to determine what levels of pollution control will be acceptable and for how long during these interim periods of allowed non-compliance.
  • The tools reduce accountability of Clean Water Act permits by allowing permits to be based on narrative statements, instead of specific numeric limits.

You can contact state officials before April 22 here.

Existing rule Proposed State Rule Proposed EPA Rule
Timeline WA State has been under Federal National Toxics Rule since 1992, amended in 1999. The NTR represents status quo. Unless the state delays rule-making again, the state is scheduled to issue a final rule in August 2016, which would then go to EPA for a likely 6 months review EPA could issue a final rule as early as April 2016
Fish consumption rate FCR of 6.5 grams-per-day FCR of 175-grams-per-day FCR of 175-grams-per-day
Risk rate for cancer causing chemicals 1 in 1 million 1 in 1 million 1 in 1 million
Relative Source Contribution value for non-carcinogen chemicals This factor considers sources other than water and fish when estimating exposure. The existing standard calculates water related exposure at 1.0 or 100 percent. 1.0 or 100% (no consideration of other potential sources of exposure) Values ranging from 0.2 to 0.8 or 20 to 80 percent
Bioconcentration Factor (BCF) This factor considers how toxic chemicals accumulate in fish tissue. The existing rule uses the BCF method, with values from the National Toxics Rule Used BCFs found in the National Toxics Rule. None were updated. EPA uses newer scientific methods, known as Bioaccumulation Factors (BAFs), which measures how pollution moves through the food chain to higher level organisms like salmon and Dungeness crab.
PCBs 0.00017 ug/L 0.00017 ug/L (no change to existing standard) 0.0000073 ug/L

The EPA proposal is 23 times more protective than the state proposal.

Health effects include acne-like skin conditions in adults and neurobehavioral and immunological changes in children. PCBs have been shown to cause cancer in animals.
Arsenic Freshwater: .018 ug/L (inorganic) Marine: 0.14 ug/L (inorganic) 10 mg/L (total) and a pollution minimization plan Freshwater: 0.0045 ug/L
Marine: 0.0059 ug/LThe EPA proposal is approximately 1,500 times more protective for freshwater and 2,000 times more protective for marine water than the state proposal.
Health effects: The inorganic form of arsenic is the most toxic. Adverse health effects include skin and internal cancers and cardiovascular and neurological effects.
2,3,7,8-TCDD (dioxin) 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin Freshwater 1.30E-08 Marine: 1.4E-08 Freshwater 6.40E-08 Marine: 6.4E-08 Freshwater 5.84E-10
Marine: 5.86E-10The EPA proposal is approximately 109 times more protective than the state proposal.
Health effects: EPA has classified 2,3,7,8- TCDD as a probable human carcinogen. It is known to be a developmental toxicant in animals, causing skeletal deformities, kidney defects, and weakened immune responses in the offspring of animals exposed to 2,3,7,8-TCDD during pregnancy.

Statement by Lorraine Loomis, Chair, NW Indian Fisheries Commission, Regarding Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposed water quality standards

Statement from Lorraine Loomis:

Draft water quality standards released today by Gov. Inslee are a step forward but not as protective as those already put forth by EPA.

The treaty Indian tribes in western Washington are encouraging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to stay strong in their oversight in the development of water quality standards that protect everyone who lives in Washington.

The federal agency stepped in last year after the state failed to update water quality standards as required by the Clean Water Act. The state admits that the current 20-year-old standards don’t adequately protect our health. Tribes are especially concerned because tribal members routinely consume far more fish and shellfish than most residents.

EPA’s proposal would more strictly regulate some of the most toxic chemicals such as PCBs, arsenic and mercury. These three chemicals are responsible for many fish consumption health advisories in the state.

EPA’s proposal also uses the best available science and follows the most recently updated federal guidance on those toxins.

Inslee’s proposal is based on outdated science, especially in accounting for all sources of toxins and how toxics move through the food chain.

If the state adopted EPA’s proposal we would have a rule that protects everyone. Instead, Inslee is proposing a rule that is less protective and allows more pollution.

Given the state’s track record, we are not confident that Inslee will successfully complete this rulemaking effort. That is why it is still important for EPA to complete their rulemaking as soon as possible.

Seattle Times: State water-pollution proposals not tough enough for fish and human safety, critics say

Lynda Mapes in the Seattle Times put together a nice summation of where we are on the state’s proposed water quality standards released yesterday:

The EPA’s version regulates more pollutants more tightly and does not provide the same tools for permit holders that could in some cases provide more time to implement the rules or variances from them.

“You could draw some Orwellian references to say these implementation tools are for nonimplementation,” said Chris Wilke, executive director of Puget Soundkeeper, a nonprofit in Seattle dedicated to cleaning up Puget Sound.

Wilke said he has given up on the state writing rules that are tough enough and at this point would rather see the EPA’s proposed rule go into effect. His group has filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue to speed up its implementation.

Tribes also were critical of the state’s proposed standards. The rule is based on 175 grams of fish consumption — up from the present level of 6 grams — which tribes emphasize is already a big compromise for some communities. Surveys show many Indian people eat far more: At Lummi Nation, some tribal members surveyed in 2013 said they were eating 918 grams — or a little over 2 pounds of fish and shellfish a day.

That makes it even more important that levels of pollutants the state will allow are set lower, tribal leaders said.

“I have to hide the smoked salmon in our house or the kids will eat it all,” said Jim Peters, council member at the Squaxin Island Tribe, near Olympia. Setting tighter pollution levels benefits not only tribal members, but everyone who enjoys harvesting fresh fish from local waters, Peters said.

The state has been working for several years to update the standards — so long the EPA in the meantime moved in 2015 to make federal requirements more strict.

“They have delayed so long the EPA has moved the bar,” said Paul Lumley of the Yakama Nation and executive director of the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission. “They have recommended stricter standards and Washington knows the new rules and that their proposed rule is not good enough for EPA’s updated criteria.”

In a prepared statement issued Wednesday, the EPA’s northwest regional office noted managers are still hopeful the state will draft its own rules that the agency can accept, rather than doing it for them.

Fran Wilshusen, director of habitat services for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, said the state still has a long way to go. “You are talking about eliminating toxics from the environment and that requires that strong regulatory piece,” Wilshusen said. “That is where tribes are, and we have said it over and over again.”

EPA should stay the course on water quality standards

Cross posted at NW Treaty Tribes

“Stay the course.” It was one of our late chairman Billy Frank’s favorite sayings. It was his way of encouraging us to keep moving toward our goals, regardless of who or what stands in our way.

We hope the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will stay the course in the fight for more protective water quality standards for everyone who lives in Washington.

The federal Clean Water Act requires states to develop standards that ensure our waters are clean enough to provide healthy fish and shellfish that are safe to eat. EPA had to step in more than 20 years ago to develop human health standards for the state.

Now EPA has stepped in again to revise those standards to make sure they are fully protective of Washington’s residents. The state has tried to revise its standards in the last several years, but has repeatedly started, stopped, and delayed that work.

In early September, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy provided necessary leadership by advancing a federal rule to update Washington’s outdated standards. The proposed rule reflects our region’s high level of fish and shellfish consumption and the best available science.

EPA stepped up to the plate after the state missed repeated deadlines. Gov. Jay Inslee has now ordered the state Department of Ecology to start rulemaking again.

Given the state’s track record, we do not have confidence that they will successfully complete this rulemaking. The state Legislature last year shot down Inslee’s water quality proposal, and could frustrate efforts again next year.

Meanwhile, EPA’s clock is ticking.

Under the Clean Water Act, once the agency determines that new standards are necessary to protect water quality, it is required to act promptly.

In addition to increasing the fish consumption rate to 175 grams per day and keeping the current cancer protection rate of one in one million, EPA’s proposal would more strictly regulate some of the most toxic chemicals such as PCBs, arsenic and mercury. These three chemicals are responsible for most fish consumption health advisories in the state. EPA’s proposal also uses the best available science by following the most recently updated federal guidance on these toxins.

In the few details the governor provided about his proposed plan, he would leave PCBs and mercury at their current levels and provide a more lenient standard on arsenic. Preserving the status quo for some of the worst pollutants and weakening standards for others will not get us where we need to be. While tribes support Gov. Inslee in his efforts to control pollution at the source, we believe a strong water quality rule should be the cornerstone of any such effort.

It is uncertain when or if the state will complete its rewrite of water quality standards or what those standards will look like. One thing seems to be certain – they won’t be as protective as the federal rule that is ready to be implemented.

That’s why the treaty Indian tribes encourage the EPA to proceed decisively with rulemaking. If the state is able to develop standards acceptable to the EPA, then the agency can rescind its rule in favor of the state standards.

In the meantime, every day of delay increases the impacts of toxins in our waters by slowing development of rules we know are necessary to protect the human health of everyone who lives here.


Lorraine Loomis is the chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

For more information, contact: Tony Meyer or Emmett O’Connell, (360) 438-1181.

Eating large amounts of Port Angeles Harbor crab could raise risks of cancer and why that matters

The Peninsula Daily News recently covered the release of a study that points out, unsurprisingly, that eating crab and other shellfish from Port Angeles Harbor could give you cancer:

Eating a lot of crab from Port Angeles Harbor could increase the risk of cancer, according to 13-year-old research presented to the Clallam County Board of Health on Tuesday.

The report issued in February 2005 stems from samples taken in 2002 mostly off the old Rayonier mill site, a firmer pulp mill that became a cleanup site in 2000.

In 2007, a health warning against eating crab or shellfish from the harbor was issued.

The Lower Elwha Klallam tribe sought an update on the warning, but neither the state departments of Ecology nor Health had funds to take new samples or evaluate them, according to Amy Leang, health department toxicologist.

The story pointed out that no one actually eats shellfish exclusively from Port Angeles Harbor, so the increased risk of cancer is only potential at this point. But, pointing that out misses the point, according to the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe.

Because tribes are limited by treaties with the federal government to where they can harvest fish and shellfish, cutting off any source of food is catastrophic. This is why the Lower Elwha Tribe spent over a century to remove dams on their river. The dams cut off access to a vital food source for them, the tribe couldn’t pick up and move somewhere else to fish.

The same is true for pollution in Port Angeles Harbor (pdf link):

The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe wants to be able to fish and harvest shellfish in Port Angeles Harbor as their ancestors did, to achieve this goal this much more robust consumption rate than the (lesser, more general) default must be used.

The Tribe is trying to increase consumption in an attempt to improve over all tribal health. The Tribe The Tribe is trying to survive. is trying to survive.

The Elwha are not asking for special treatment, they are asking for equal protection from contaminants. The default rates are considered to be safe for the average consumer. The Elwha consume much more than average and therefore require a more thorough cleanup for equal protection.

Russ Hepfer, the vice-chair of the Lower Elwha tribal council, talked about why a robust fish consumption rate matters to him and his tribe:

Roundup of EPA’s big announcement yesterday

KUOW: Feds Propose Tougher Clean Water Rule For Washington, Holding Line On Cancer Risk

Chris Wilke, executive director of the non-profit Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, says controversy had swirled around the state’s proposal to loosen the allowable levels of carcinogens.

“The state was walking back the cancer rate, from one in a million to one in 100,000. And alarmingly so for a class of chemicals that is extremely pervasive in the environment: PCBs,” Wilke said.

“The state was walking that all the way back to one-in-25,000 risk factor. And the EPA is holding strong at one in a million. So that is a significant step forward.”

The EPA’s latest proposal retains that lower cancer rate, setting pollution levels based on a consumption rate of about one serving of fish per day. That’s the same rate Oregon adopted four years ago.

Northwest Treaty Tribes: Treaty Tribes Welcome EPA Action

The 20 treaty Indian tribes in western Washington today praised the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for taking a leadership role to ensure our state’s water quality standards meet requirements of the federal Clean Water Act and protect human health.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy signed a proposed rule Monday that updates the current water quality standards for Washington’s waters to reflect the region’s fish consumption.

The federal Clean Water Act requires that states develop water quality standards to ensure our waters are clean enough to provide healthy fish that are safe for us to eat. But the state has been operating under outdated and inadequate standards developed more than 20 years ago, and has missed every deadline since then for updating them as required by federal law. The state admits that its current water quality standards don’t adequately protect any of us.

“This action by EPA Administrator McCarthy and Regional Administrator Dennis McLerran demonstrates true leadership. They clearly recognize the federal government’s trust responsibility to protect the health and treaty rights of the tribes, which also benefits everyone else who lives here,” said Lorraine Loomis, Chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

CRITFC: Washington State Gets Stricter Water Quality Standard

“The need to update human health criteria and water quality standards throughout the Columbia Basin has been a huge struggle for tribes in the region. Today’s decision by the Environmental Protection Agency is a monumental step forward. It signifies a shift for the state’s residents and the communities who rely heavily on the region’s fish and shellfish for their diets and need protection from toxics in their food,” stated N. Kathryn Brigham, Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission Chair. “Its consistency with Oregon allows us to take a regional approach to improving the water quality of the Columbia River and throughout the Pacific Northwest.”

Everett Herald: EPA seeking tougher water quality rules for Washington

Federal regulators aren’t waiting any longer for Washington to update its water quality standards.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday it is moving ahead to impose tougher rules for discharging pollutants into the state’s waterway.

A proposed rule will be published this month. Then there will be 60 days of public comment and months in which officials review and respond to those comment before any changes would take effect.

But EPA officials know the state has spent several years working on drafting its own clean water rules without success. So if state officials launch another effort soon, the EPA is prepared to take a timeout in its work.

“We have made clear our preference was and continues to be for the state of Washington to develop its own standards,” said Dan Opalski, director of the EPA’s regional office of water and watersheds. “If they come forward with a new proposal we would pause our process.”

EPA steps in and offers better water quality standards to Washington State

Details are still coming, but it looks like the federal Environmental Protection Agency is delivering some good news for Washington State:

From the Longview Daily News:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is following through on its promise to propose a new clean-water rule for Washington, in case the state doesn’t come up with its own plan in time.

The agency is set to publish its proposed rule in mid-September. It posted an early copy on its website Wednesday.

In early August, Washington was on track to adopt a major rewrite of the state’s clean water rules, known as the “fish consumption rule.” But Gov. Jay Inslee put that rule on hold and directed the state Department of Ecology to reassess its approach.

The EPA says it would halt its own process if Washington submits a plan to them.

Under federal law, rivers and other water bodies must be clean enough so people can safely eat fish from those waters. The issue has been a contentious one, pitting tribes and environmental groups against businesses and cities.

More details can be found at the EPA website. But, in short, it looks like the EPA proposal would increase the fish consumption rate to a protective 175 grams a day and not allow an increase in the cancer risk rate by 10 fold.

If you’re interested in local food, you have to wonder “Who wants to eat contaminated seafood?”

Two huge voices in the local food movement, Kevin Davis (co-owner and executive chef at Steelhead Diner and Blueacre Seafood) and Julie Kramis Hearne (cookbook author and former restaurant owner) wrote a scathing oped on the governor’s proposal to increase the risk of cancer from eating seafood 1,000 percent.

As longtime restaurateurs, sports anglers, sustainable food advocates and concerned parents here in the Pacific Northwest, we understand exactly how much people in this region value local fish and shellfish. Whether on the Washington coast, in the Puget Sound region, Hood Canal or Columbia River Basin, fishing, crabbing, clamming and harvesting oysters are ways of life and part of the heritage that makes life in Washington so rich and special. It is also one of the reasons why we are so concerned with the quality of our state’s streams, rivers and other water bodies.

The state Department of Ecology has an opportunity right now to better protect those resources and the health of everyone in Washington who eats local fish and shellfish. Last year, the department proposed a long-overdue update to Washington’s water-quality standards. The current rule is inadequate and out of date, lagging behind our neighbors in Oregon, despite our strong fishing economy and culture.

Read the entire piece, it is well worth your time.

Now that the governor’s toxics bill is dead, now what do we do? Russ Hepfer explains why we need a strong rule

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Russ Hepfer is the vice-chair of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe and sits on the Leadership Council of the Puget Sound Partnership. He explained in a piece published in the Peninsula Daily News why we’ve always need a water quality rule that protects human health, whether or not the governor was able to get a toxics package through the legislature.

We need a strong rule of law and we need to be smart in how it’s implemented to break the stalemate in updating our state’s outdated and weak water quality standards.

State government has wrestled for decades with updating the standards that are supposed to protect us from toxics in our water that end up in the food we eat. The more fish and shellfish we eat, the cleaner the waters must be.

But Washington continues to use the same outdated and inadequate water quality standards developed about 40 years ago. Current water quality standards really don’t adequately protect any of us, the state admits.

That’s because business and industry, led by companies like Boeing, have successfully stalled any progress in updating the standards, claiming it would increase their cost of doing business.

A rule proposed recently by Gov. Jay Inslee would have properly increased our fish consumption rate from an embarrassing nationwide low of 6.5 grams per day (about one bite) to 175 grams per day, the same as Oregon’s. But that improvement would have been canceled out by a tenfold decrease in protection under the current cancer risk rate, from one in one million to one in 100,000.

Further complicating the issue, Inslee tied the rule to a $12 million statewide toxics reduction proposal requiring legislative approval. Legislators promptly stripped the most protective parts of a funding bill (HB 4217) for the program, leaving us all pretty much where we started: Unprotected and still waiting.

That’s too bad, because a toxics reduction program is a good idea. But to make it truly meaningful, it must be anchored by a strong rule of law.

Cities were one of the groups that Boeing and others said would feel the pinch of new water quality standards. They claimed higher standards would make water and sewer bills skyrocket.

But in a letter to Inslee, Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville wrote: “We believe in setting the bar high, and then establishing realistic and affordable milestones to achieve our goals. Clean water and fish that are safe to eat cannot be accomplished over night, but that does not mean that we should settle for dirtier water and unsafe fish.”

The treaty tribes and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have been clear from the start about what we want to see in updated state water quality standards: A fish consumption rate of 175 grams per day and a cancer risk rate of one in a million. Anything else is unacceptable.

The 175 grams per day fish consumption rate represents a huge compromise by the treaty tribes, whose members routinely eat far more, as do Asian and Pacific Islanders and others, including local anglers who like to eat what they catch. When those who eat the most fish and shellfish are protected, so is everyone else.

EPA has been keeping a close eye on our state’s lack of progress in updating water quality standards. The agency said it will set a strong water quality rule this summer if the state is unable or unwilling.

There’s still time for Gov. Inslee to do the right thing and write a strong rule of law. He doesn’t need legislative approval for that.