For years now, we’ve been working hard here at EEC Forest Stewardship to restore a buffer of dense, native forest around our salmonid stream. It’s the largest investment in restoration on the land so far, including many days of hard work fencing to keep livestock out. Even with six foot woven wire field fence, we can’t keep every threat at bay. Last week, I noticed soap suds in the water. Earlier that day I had also seen a neighbor washing her car in her front driveway, near the headwaters of our creek. There were too many suds in the water to have come from just the car washing, and after a chat with county water experts, we decided to take a sample to find out what’s in the water.
My concern was the volume of soap running in the stream. I’ve seen suds once in a while during major runoff periods, but nothing like this on a normal flow day. The most likely culprit- inappropriate tie in of laundry facilities too close to the stream. It’s one of the most common hazards to wild water in our county. So much bad runoff like this occurs, that the county will not make an official report until summer, during the driest period of the year, when there is little runoff to track from the creek back to the source. My local water ecologist said it was not enough runoff to address with legal action, but what about a formal site visit to fix the runoff? Nope, not without serious concern. It was hard to hear this, knowing more laundry would be draining into Weiss Creek.
Mindful design can prevent this pollution, but people often overlook ecological sensitivity when developing. Here in Western Washington, water is abundant, on the surface, and reflects the health of our ecosystem in plain, often painful sight. In Puget Sound, where this creek water will eventually end its journey to the sea, orcas are going extinct, wild salmon populations have crashed, and shellfish regularly test positive for methamphetamines because of the high concentration of sewage overflow into wild waters. Last month, we had major flooding in our county, and millions of tons of sewage poured into Lake Washington and Puget Sound. Local beaches were closed, and shellfish harvesting put on hold, actually, it was already on hold because of toxic algae blooms that have started happening in winter as well as summer due to warming ocean currents in The Pacific. People, it’s getting bad, and our pollution has been expanding, along with population.
What can we do? Be aware- of the limits our ecosystem can endure. Think about where your water is going after it disappears down the drain, or down the street. One huge action you can take right now? Stop buying toxic soaps and cleaners. I get sick walking down a cleaning isle in the supermarket- the smell of highly concentrated chemical compounds is noxious. Why these chemical agents are still legal is beyond me. Since we live on a septic system here at EEC, all products must be biodegradable. We do have a couple of grey water catchment systems- with limited use, and discharge stations into properly engineered catchment basins with sand and gravel filtration. They are also set back far away from any major water sources, from our well to the creek.
There is soap in our wild water at EEC right now, because someone is operating laundry facilities right next to the creek, with no awareness of ground saturation. The runoff is minimal right now, but over time, will lead to alterations in the creek’s chemistry, affecting our endangered fresh water muscles, salmon, trout, and any other living cells which rely on clean water to survive. This single laundry source will not kill off everything, but it’s the first of many to be found along this water’s path to the ocean. By the time this water reaches Puget Sound, its got a long list of possible pollutants which can be found here. Needless too say, our small part in keeping toxins out of wild water makes a difference. Hopefully, this sudsy mess clears up, but until the laundry being run upstream moves away from the creek, these bubble troubles will continue to persist.