Diving In – The Promise of Social Marketing for Storm Water Education

 

Kapalua Bay on Maui

Kapalua Bay on Maui. The West Maui Kumuwai campaign uses social marketing to protect a sensitive watershed.

Individuals have a direct influence on storm water quality in their communities, and regulators strongly emphasize public education and involvement campaigns in municipal storm water management programs. But how can leaders convince residents to pick up after pets, reduce lawn pesticide use, and wash cars without getting soapy water in storm drains? And how can they discourage commercial and industrial workers from dumping contaminated liquids down storm drains behind shops, and to use drip pans to keep oil off pavement? These behavior changes would have a direct positive effect on the coastal and inland water resources we enjoy.

In traditional environmental education campaigns, the message is often delivered through newsletters, brochures, public service announcements, and social media. Some effort may be made to reach a specific audience, but the focus is producing a good quality educational tool. The hope is that having a good message and delivering it well will make people listen, learn and act.

But experience in educational campaign history indicates otherwise. Simply handing someone a pamphlet does not mean that a person will act on that information.

Enter social marketing. Social marketing integrates marketing concepts and tools from social psychology to influence behaviors that benefit individuals and communities for the greater social good.  While social marketing campaigns sometimes employ social media, the two are not the same. Social marketing can use a variety of tools to influence behaviors. First used in the public health realm, the practice focuses on a specific community. Research and surveys identify real or perceived barriers to change, and campaigns are designed to overcome those barriers and reward desired behaviors.

A great example of social marketing in action is the West Maui Kumuwai (WMK) campaign in a sensitive watershed on Maui. WMK is a non-profit that shines a spotlight on the actions of everyday people to promote ocean health. Through community surveys, WMK identified landscaping activities as a community concern relative to storm water pollution. WMK’s Reef-Friendly Landscaper campaign invites landscapers and gardeners to “Take the Pledge” by agreeing to a set of ocean-friendly landscaping activities. WMK then promotes those companies on its website and through social media, to keep these companies engaged and committed.

If you’ve heard of other successful social marketing campaigns related to storm water education, please let us know with a comment.

For more information about storm water services for municipalities, construction, and industry, contact Janice Marsters at janice.marsters@hartcrowser.com.

Invasions Are Not Just Military

Atlantic Salmon

Atlantic Salmon. Photo: Maine Atlantic Salmon Commission

One of the most destructive forces on an ecosystem is a non-native species with no natural predators or other natural controls. These species can overtake their new home in an extraordinarily short period of time by multiplying, consuming prey, and colonizing, crowding out essential local species.

An invasive species is an organism (plant, animal, fungus, or microbe) that is not only foreign to a specific area or habitat but also has negative effects on its new environment and, eventually, on our economy, our environment, or our health. Not all introduced species are invasive; the distinction is how aggressively they interact with their new surroundings.

Why we Care

Invasive species are the second greatest threat to biodiversity (the first is habitat loss). Almost half of the species at risk of extinction in the United States are endangered directly due to the introduction of non-native species alone, or because of its impact combined with other processes. In fact, introduced species are considered a greater threat to native biodiversity than pollution, harvest, and disease combined. They threaten biodiversity by (1) causing disease, (2) acting as predators or parasites, (3) acting as competitors, (4) altering habitat, or (5) hybridizing with local species.

Invasive species are costly to both society and nature by:

  • Costing Americans more than $137 billion a year (Pimentel et al. 2000)
  • Impacting nearly half the species listed as threatened or endangered
  • Possibly devastating key industries including seafood, agriculture, timber, hydro-electricity, and recreation
  • Impeding recreation such as boating, fishing, hunting, gardening, and hiking
  • Spreading easily by wind, water, animals, people, equipment, and imported goods
  • Increasing the frequency of localized wildfires and adversely affect watering availability
  • Destabilizing soil and alter hydrology of streams, rivers, lakes, and wetlands

Washington State Invasive Species Examples

There are over 50 priority invasive species of concern in Washington State. Here are a few examples that threaten Western Washington.

Atlantic Salmon

Atlantic salmon (many genetically modified) are raised along the Washington and British Columbia coasts; escapes from these aquaculture operations concern fishery biologists and others working to restore native Pacific Northwest salmon runs. As of 2006, the Aquatic Nuisance Species Project states that there have been sightings of juvenile Atlantic salmon on the West Coast. The last reported sightings were on Vancouver Island in 2000.

In recent years there has been specific concern about the potential impact on wild salmon stocks from sea lice (Lepeophtheirus sp.), originating from net pens of Atlantic salmon in British Columbia. Sea lice can kill juvenile fish, even at low infestation levels.

Spartina

Spartina

Spartina flowering in estuary
Photo: Washington State Magazine

Spartina species are aquatic grasses that grow on the mud flats and marshes of Puget Sound and our coastal estuaries. The plants tend to grow in circular clumps called ‘clones’ and are bright green. One particular species, Spartina anglica, was introduced either in shipments of oysters from the East Coast or as packing material in ships’ cargo. It creates large monocultures that outcompete native plant species for space, including rare and endangered plant species, reducing marsh biodiversity and ecological functions.

European Green Crab

European green crab

Juvenile green crab began showing up in Washington waters in 1998. Photo: Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife

The European green crab is a small shore crab that is not necessarily green like its name implies. It typically is found in high intertidal areas and marshes in coastal estuaries and wave-protected embayments, and can live on a variety of surfaces including sand, mudflats, shells, cobble, algae, and rock. It is an opportunistic feeder and aggressive invader. It is native to the eastern Atlantic from Norway to North Africa.

The European green crab is a ravenous predator that eats small crustaceans and many other plants and animals, and can have dramatic negative impacts to native shore crab, clam, and oyster populations. First introduced to the East Coast of the US, green crabs are believed to have caused the collapse of the soft-shell clam industry in New England; their digging habits also have slowed eelgrass restoration efforts. One green crab can consume 40 half-inch clams a day, as well as other crabs its own size. On the West Coast, green crabs were introduced to San Francisco Bay either via ballast water or through the lobster trade. Further invasion north is facilitated by strong advective currents that are associated with El Nino events. The 1998 event brought crabs as far north as Vancouver Island; luckily populations have not established yet. This year’s El Nino may prove strong enough to bring crab larvae into Puget Sound and British Columbia again. How severe the invasion will be, only time will tell.

Scotch Broom

Scotch Broom

A member of the pea family, Scotch Broom has pretty flowers but an aggressive demeanor. Photo: King County

Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius) is an upright shrub with yellow flowers in the pea family. It grows primarily in open, dry meadows and along roads. It is an aggressive early colonizer and typically shows up in recently disturbed areas. A European native, scotch broom crowds out native species and negatively impacts wildlife habitat by creating vast monocultures. It can form dense, impenetrable stands that displace farmland and/or prevent native species from colonizing. Scotch broom also produces toxic compounds, which in large amounts can cause mild poisoning in animals such as horses.

Coming up: in Part II, we will discuss how invasions happen and what can be done to stop them.

For more information, contact Jason Stutes at jason.stutes@hartcrowser.com.

References: Pimentel, D., Lach, L., Zuniga, R., Morrison, D., 2000. Environmental and economic costs associated with non-indigenous species in the United States. BioScience 50 (1), 53–65.

Shaken and Stirred: Northwest Earthquake and Tsunami

Washington 9.0 earthquake--Are you ready? Oregon 9.0 Earthquake--Are you ready?Suddenly the Pacific Northwest is on the national stage for its earthquake and tsunami vulnerability, thanks to a New Yorker article. “The Really Big One,” by Kathryn Schulz, has triggered attention from dozens of local papers and news sites. Yet even before the New Yorker shook the Northwest (pun intended), Oregon Public Broadcasting had been featuring Hart Crowser engineer Allison Pyrch in its “Unprepared” series, to alert the region to the impending disaster in hopes that we will get prepared.

Also, Allison recently gave a presentation for the Lake Oswego Sustainability Network: “Surviving a 9.0, Lessons Learned from Japan and Beyond.” If you are involved in emergency management or just plain interested in massive disasters and their aftermaths, settle in for some powerful visuals and easy-to-follow explanations about earthquakes in Japan and Chile, how the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami will happen in the Pacific Northwest, and what you can to do to be resilient.

Watch the whole “Surviving a 9.0” video to get unusual insight into what’s ahead, or if you’re pressed for time, skip to one of these minute points:

  • 9:00 Jan Castle introduces Allison Pyrch 10:56 Allison Pyrch’s presentation begins with how the Pacific Northwest 9.0 earthquake will happen
  • 14:25 Comparing the Japan and Chile quakes “It didn’t stop shaking for a day”
  • 21:45 Fire damage/natural gas 22:30 Water, wastewater, and electrical systems; liquid fuel; natural gas
  • 24:25 Lifelines/infrastructure/airports “PDX will not be up and running”
  • 28:35 Port damage/economics
  • 31:45 How prepared is the Pacific Northwest? When will it happen? “We are 9 ½ months pregnant”
  • 35:00 What will it look like?
  • 37:32 What you can do
  • 40:30 What businesses can do
  • 42:11 Can you be sustainable without being resilient?
  • 43:33 What about a resiliency rating system similar to LEED?
  • 53:30 Will utilities, transportation, hospitals be useable after the 9.0? “We’re toast”
  • 1:01:30 End of Allison’s presentation; additional information from Jan Castle on how to prepare
  • 1:19:19 How sustainability measures in your home lead to resiliency

Applying Net Environmental Benefit Analysis to Contaminated Sites

Exxon Valdez oil spill site

Exxon Valdez oil spill site.

First, do no harm….

Or at least don’t do more harm than good.

That’s the idea behind NEBA—Net Environmental Benefit Analysis—as applied to the cleanup of contaminated sites. As defined by a vintage 1990s Department of Energy paper on the subject, net environmental benefits are:

“…the gains in environmental services or other ecological properties attained by remediation or ecological restoration, minus the environmental injuries caused by those actions.”

Spills like Exxon Valdez Spurred the NEBA
The NEBA concept originated with the cleanup of large marine oil spills. One of the first formal considerations of Net Environmental Benefits was the cleanup of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska in 1989. After the spill, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) looked at whether high-pressure, hot water washing of unconsolidated beaches might actually do more harm to the intertidal habitat—and the plants and animals that depend on it—than just simply letting the oil degrade naturally.

Since then, NEBAs have been used for a few other types of cleanups, including metals contamination in wetlands and organic contamination in sub-tidal sediment, but only infrequently and on an ad hoc basis.

No current NEBA Guidelines, However…
Formal consideration of net environmental benefits has not been more widespread in cleanup decisions, probably because federal and state cleanup frameworks, such as Washington’s Model Toxic Control Act (MTCA), do not explicitly allow consideration of the harm of the cleanup itself and don’t provide guidelines for when the process would apply and how the benefits and impacts should be evaluated.

But that might be changing. At least it is in Washington State, where the Department of Ecology thinks that the NEBA’s time has come. Ecology is working on new draft Terrestrial Ecological Evaluation (TEE) guidance that, for the first time, lays out the implementation of NEBA at cleanup sites under MTCA.

NEBA and Abandoned Underground Mines
In conjunction with Ecology, Hart Crowser has already “test driven” the NEBA concept as it applies to the cleanup of abandoned underground mines. Many of these sites pose risks to terrestrial plants and animals because of the toxic metals such as copper and zinc left behind in tailings and waste rock.

Although the risks to individual organisms living on the waste material might be high, the overall risk to plant or wildlife populations are often fairly low because the extent of the waste material is so small. Nonetheless, the remedy selection process under MTCA would typically lead to a decision to cap the contaminated material with clean soil or to dig it up and haul it away to be disposed of elsewhere.

Bringing Common Sense into Cleanup Decisions
But what if the cleanup involved building an access road? Through mature forest? Or up a steep, exposed mountain side? Or across a stream or wetland? How are those habitat or ecosystem injuries balanced against the benefits of the cleanup itself? Ecology’s upcoming NEBA guidance should go a long way to addressing these dilemmas and bringing some common sense into certain cleanup decisions.

“Especially Valuable Habitat”
The new guidance is expected to introduce the concept of “Especially Valuable Habitat” and how to use it as a threshold for judging whether or not a NEBA may be appropriate for a particular site. It’s also expected to allow some flexibility regarding how injuries and benefits are quantified and balanced.

In the meantime, check for updates on when the new guidance is expected at Ecology’s website.

eDNA: A Powerful Tool for Scientists and Managers

Sampling eDNA in a stream

Using a pump to filter stream water to get an eDNA sample to determine whether salmon are in the stream.

Detecting the presence or absence of a species of interest is a common challenge for scientists and fisheries managers. Whether you’re interested in protecting an endangered species or removing an invasive species, knowing where they are or are not is crucial. Many techniques can be time-consuming or damaging to the local environment, and they don’t always work on more cryptic species. An emerging technique has the potential to address some of these pitfalls: environmental DNA, or eDNA.

eDNA is DNA fragments found in the environment (usually in soil or water) that come from an animal. Animals shed cells from their bodies through routes such as mucous, feces, or skin flakes. Each cell contains a full set of nuclear DNA and many copies of mitochondrial DNA. As these cells break down, the DNA is released into the environment. A researcher can collect samples (such as water or soil samples) and analyze any DNA present (typically mitochondrial DNA) for a match with the target species.

A useful application of this technology is to learn when and where endangered/threatened salmonids are present. Knowing which drainage systems these fish spawn and rear in is essential to managing and restoring their populations. Scientists can take water samples along river and creek systems where they suspect salmon will be. They then analyze the water samples for salmon DNA, and generate maps of fish distribution. If sampling is repeated over time, temporal trends along with spatial trends in salmon populations can be mapped, providing powerful information to managers and policy-makers.

In the future, eDNA may also help determine how many of each species of interest are in a given area. Research into the relationship between quantity of eDNA obtained and population numbers is ongoing.

For more information on eDNA methodologies, see this USGS factsheet.

Emerging Contaminants – Perfluorinated Compounds

Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS)

The EPA identified Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS)—used in stain repellants—as an emerging contaminant.

You could say that perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) are the Superheros of chemicals. They resist heat and other chemicals, have dielectric properties, make things slippery, and repel grease and water. That’s why they’re used in fire-fighting foams, semiconductor manufacturing, medical implant devices, pharmaceutical tubing, non-stick cookware, and coatings for carpet, clothing, and food packaging. In fact, they are so useful, in 2013 the global market value reached $19.7 billion, and global manufacturing of products that either contained PFCs or used them in processing reached more than $1.2 trillion (FluoroCouncil, preliminary estimate, January 2014).

Because of so much use, PFCs are now found everywhere throughout the world—in soil, groundwater, lakes, rivers, etc.—and also in human beings (detected in blood and breast milk). They also have a tendency to stick around in the environment, so there is concern about bioaccumulation/biomagnification in people and in animals and the potential for long term health effects.

Although there are hundreds of different PFCs, none are identified as a pollutant or contaminant under the Clean Air Act (CAA), the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), or the Clean water Act (CWA); nor are any identified as a hazardous or toxic constituent or substance under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), or the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

However, the EPA has identified two of the most commonly found PFCs as “emerging contaminants” and in 2009 established “provisional short term health advisory levels” for drinking water at 400 parts per trillion for Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and 200 parts per trillion for perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS). These concentrations are equivalent to adding less than a quarter teaspoon into an Olympic-size swimming pool.

Given the widespread occurrence of PFCs in the environment and the extremely low concentrations of concern being considered by EPA, this group of chemicals will likely have significant future impacts on industries involved with water treatment, wastewater treatment, and contaminated site remediation.

Top Ten Reasons to Take a Tablet

Remote-Jobsite2

There aren’t many photocopiers at some of our jobsites. This is just one of the reasons to carry a tablet into the field.

Paper? Don’t talk about paper. Are you kidding me? Paper?

Many engineering firms document field work using paper. However, using computer tablets improves communication and quality, and cuts cost. As with everything on the Internet, this requires a top 10 list.  Here are our top 10 reasons to take a tablet into the field.

 1. Fewer Hours Charged to the Client

When an employee saves time by using a tablet, that time can be allocated to other tasks or eliminated altogether.

2. Better Integration of GIS Capabilities

Taking a GPS point, geotagging a photo, and describing field conditions with a single device is more efficient than using several devices.

3. Consistent Data Entry

When staff handwrite field notes on standard forms, headings and other information must be rewritten on each page. Not so with electronic forms, which can be easily copied forward.

4. Richer, More Informative Field Reports

With a tablet, we can add geodata, attach photos, and include other information with ease.

5. Ability to Stream Site Video

Using video capabilities, a field representative with a question can show the site to project engineers no matter where the engineer is. This is more informative than a phone call. Plus, work can progress with minimal delay.

6. Quality Assurance

We can require fields in electronic forms to be filled in and time stamps automatically applied. Drop-down lists can limit potential input errors.

7. Access to Information in the Field

Tablets allow a new plan set to be sent to the field rep in real time–at a size that can be reasonably viewed.

8. Real Time Data Delivery

Our projects are often under a tight schedule. Getting data from the field as it’s collected allows us to better direct the field representatives, and begin making our designs and recommendations sooner.

9. Fewer Trips Back to the Office

Returning to the office at rush hour to get that piece of paper back to the office can add cost to the project. Plus, after a long day of work in the field, it’s nice that an employee can go directly home.

10. Automatic Backups

Automatic backups make sure that information isn’t lost if a tablet is damaged. However, we don’t expect much damage, because our tablets are dressed in invisible rain gear and they wear nearly as much armor as this guy.

Beyond the Go-To Microbe

Microbes Feeding on Petroleum

Microbes Feeding on Petroleum

Rapid, cost-effective complete genome sequencing (CGS) has opened a universe of possibilities.  New discoveries. A better understanding of life. New ways to solve modern problems.  The new advances could some day show the innovation of CGS technology to be as important as the discovery of fire.

One problem faster CGS is solving is confirming that the “right microbes” are present for environmental cleanup. Until CGS, scientists had only classified 10% of microbes in nature, guessing how the unculturable microbes related to each other.  Supercomputers are changing this limitation.

Over the past five to ten years, bioremediation practitioners have increasingly used specialized microbial strains to help them with environmental cleanup, termed “bio-augmentation.”  For example, various strains of Dehalococcoides ethenogenes have been the go-to microbe to treat chlorinated ethenes (at dry cleaning sites, for example).  This was largely because it was one of the first species to be successfully cultured and shared among researchers.  CGS and other genetic tools have revealed numerous additional microbes are able to perform some of the specialized reactions. We can now pick a sequenced gene, check for the simple presence of that gene, and then see if that gene is present in any microbes in a soil or groundwater sample.

While the newest tools have helped us, one critical fact remains the same. Give the microbes the food, nutrients, and growing conditions they need, and they will degrade contamination into something less dangerous to people and the environment.  We continue to work with nature to fix our transgressions against it.

11 Things You Didn’t Know Were Under Your Feet

Dirt

Unless you are a geotechnical or environmental engineer, or have similar reasons to be interested in such things, you tend not to think about what may be underground. You may know that sewers, pipes, and other utilities are down there. Underground oil storage tanks are also very common—sometimes undocumented and/or leaking. But what else might you find when you dig in the right (or wrong) place? Hart Crowser staff have been involved with projects where the following items were buried:

Cars. Squashed, in an old landfill.

Houses. Also squashed, with primarily the foundations and chimneys remaining.

Arsenic and lead from a historic glassworks factory. In the 1800s, toxic materials were used to color glass. The contaminants seeped into the soil, coloring it yellow, red, and black. This material was taken away so the property could be redeveloped.

Antique bottles and jars. Cold cream jars, cosmetic jars, medicine bottles, and others.

Burning coal. Thousands of underground coal fires are burning around the world right now. Since these fires can ignite spontaneously (by lightning) and burn for years, any exposed coal mine site is vulnerable.

Melted glass from the 1889 Great Seattle Fire. Fist-sized and iridescent, with impurities.

Skid Road Logs. In the 1800s, workers greased timber and slid it downhill to a sawmill in Seattle’s Pioneer Square. Some of these logs are in the fill in downtown Seattle.

A brick wall. While digging near Seattle’s Pike Place Market. The joke went:
“We hit a brick wall.”
“What’s wrong?”
“No, literally. We hit a brick wall.”

Golf balls. Found on the edges of a municipal waste landfill. One was a “gutta percha” ball dated just after the turn of the 20th century.

Petrified/fossilized wood. Found in a downtown Seattle excavation.

Medical waste. Needles, animal carcasses, and other appealing items found during a cleanup at a site on a river.

What’s Your Poison?

Effluent sampling

Environmental scientist holding colorimetric filter paper for effluent sampling

It’s poisonous, corrosive, and invisible. Volcanoes spew it. Swamps burp it up.

But you don’t have to be on Gilligan’s Island to encounter hydrogen sulfide. You can find it in right in your neighborhood…in the sewers. Highly toxic and potentially corrosive, this compound has a characteristic rotten egg odor (althought there is no odor at the most dangerous concentrations). It can build up in sewer lines, particularly when the effluent is stagnant in pipelines between sewer pumping cycles. Utility providers need to know when it’s there in order to protect their facilities.

Understandably, testing sewer systems for hydrogen sulfide requires precautions. The sampler wears a Tyvek suit, two pairs of gloves, and eye protection. Special equipment is used to test for explosive and poisonous gases in the atmosphere around the manhole. If that is clear, gas levels can then be measured in the manhole. If gas levels are high, then masks and ventilators may also be required. To prevent a fall into the sewer manhole (never a good time), the sampler uses a fall arrest system with a body harness and a self-arresting retractable lanyard, shown on the environmental scientist in the photo above. If he were to fall wearing this safety gear, he would hang high and dry (whew…) and then climb out by ladder. He also brings shaving equipment along in case he needs to wear a respirator, to ensure a good seal.

The effluent sampling is decidedly unsophisticated and basically involves collecting effluent from the base of the manhole using a plastic cup attached to a rod. The sewage is then placed in a container with colorimetric filter paper and effervescence tablets (aka Alka Seltzer!). The filter paper is then compared to a color chart and hydrogen sulfide concentrations can be determined.

The result? The utility provider now has the data to determine whether there is a problem, how serious the problem is, and what the next step should be.