Plastic Pollution Legislation in Colorado

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Advocacy, Clean Water, Plastic, Policy

This year Colorado is taking steps to reduce plastic pollution in the state through three legislative measures. First, SB 10 would have overturned a plastic preemption measure—essentially a ban on bans—that barred local governments and communities from creating their own bans on plastic items or regulating any plastic products within their jurisdiction. The bill was heard in the Local Government Committee on February 4th. Melissa, the Inland Ocean Coalition’s (IOC’s) new Community Engagement Manager, provided testimony highlighting the importance of reducing plastic here in Colorado, and that as a headwaters state, this would send positive ripple effects downstream to the ocean.

The IOC carried out a pilot study in 2017 with scientists from the Shaw Institute which found evidence of microplastics in high alpine mountain tributaries above 11,000 feet—what we would generally think of as pristine ecosystems. This highlights that plastic pollution is not a big city issue or far away problem: It’s something that affects all of us, from the mountains to the coasts.

Unfortunately, the bill, sponsored by Senator Kerry Donovan of District 5 in Eagle, Delta, and Pitkin counties, was voted down 3-2. This means it did not pass through committee to the Senate floor. Telluride Mayor DeLanie Young said, “It’s extremely disappointing. Our community has been patiently waiting…for elected officials to take action on this erroneously outdated language.”

However, there are still two upcoming bills that could still help reduce plastic production, use, and pollution here in Colorado. HB1162 would eliminate polystyrene (aka Styrofoam) use and and HB1163 would implement a single-use plastic bag ban for the entire state. These bills will be heard by the Energy & Environment Committee on February 24th. We plan to attend and again testify to the harmful effects of polystyrene and single-use plastic on our land, waterways, wildlife, climate, human health, and ocean. We anticipate that these bills will pass through committee and be heard by the whole floor in the upcoming months.

Stay tuned for updates! If you’d like to support these bills you can: 

The Meaning of Salmon

Posted 2 CommentsPosted in Advocacy, Clean Water, Watersheds, Wildlife

By Stephen C. Curro, Inland Ocean Coalition Volunteer

Say the word “salmon” and different people think of different things. To foodies, salmon is a tasty meal rich in omega-3s. To anglers, it’s a gorgeous fish to fool on a line. To Native Americans and First Nations Peoples, it’s an important part of their culture and the web of life itself. To naturalists and adventure seekers, it’s a symbol of the wild.

Salmon are remarkable creatures. Depending on the species, they can be over three feet in length and weigh around thirty pounds. They feed on zooplankton when they’re young and seek out smaller fish as they grow. They live most of their lives in cold Atlantic and Pacific waters and swim upstream into rivers to spawn. During these salmon runs they leap up waterfalls and brave hazards like grizzly bears just so they can give the next generation a chance to taste the open ocean.

In the spawning season, and indeed other seasons, salmon are a critical food source for bears, eagles and a number of other terrestrial and marine animals. Salmon are even responsible for contributing nutrients to riparian ecosystems when they travel upstream. When predators eat salmon, they disperse nitrogen and phosphorus into surrounding lakes and foliage, increasing plant growth by up to three times the normal rate! By nourishing predatory animals, salmon help to nourish the entire riparian ecosystem.

But it’s not just the animals that benefit from the salmon. During these salmon runs, billions of dollars are generated and thousands of jobs are supported through fishing, angling and ecotourism. Commercial fishing greatly benefits from the bounty of salmon stocks, supplying the filets to your own supermarket. Many indigenous tribes have depended on salmon as a primary source of food for thousands of years.   When one considers these facts, it should be apparent why salmon are considered a keystone species; a linchpin that holds an entire ecosystem together.

Companies and politicians that want to exploit mineral resources in the far north—namely Northern Dynasty’s proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska—seem to fail to understand why people are resistant to their plans. It’s true; such a mine would yield billions of dollars and provide jobs. But such development is only skin-deep. In time the coveted gold and copper will run out and the jobs they supported will end. What will be left is a scar in the land and a torrent of toxic runoff dumped into the surrounding waters.

If allowed, Northern Dynasties will dig a hole 4,000 feet deep. To contain toxic runoff, the company will construct a tailings dam three miles long and 740 feet high. That’s larger than the Hoover Dam! All of this will happen in the heart of salmon country. The size and scope of this operation will place the surrounding waters at risk of contamination from 10 billion tons of toxic waste rock. Once dug and abandoned, the gold and copper mines will need constant maintenance just to keep the runoff in check, and not all of it will be caught. The contamination will be even worse if an earthquake strikes the region or the tailings dam breaches.

All five species of salmon, including the coveted sockeye salmon, are found in abundance in the Bristol Bay area. These are not just blip populations; we are talking over 50% of the known fishery. Unnecessary mining in the area will devastate this concentration of salmon, and as a result cripple the global population. That would be a severe blow to ecotourism, angling and commercial fishing. Worse yet, it would disrespect and damage the cultures of native peoples who revere salmon, who depend on salmon for physical and spiritual sustenance. It would strain animal populations that all depend on salmon for food, on the land and in the sea, and fracture the web of life in ways we cannot yet predict. Such a breakdown would further impact food stocks, further impact culture and tourism, and so on. These are consequences that will outlive any mine by far, consequences that cannot be easily reversed, if at all.

So what is the lesser of two evils? Choosing to not exploit viable mining, or sacrificing a critical natural resource that in all likelihood cannot be replenished?

How should America regard salmon? A food source? A draw for tourism? A facet of indigenous culture?

The answer is all of the above, and that’s a treasure worth more than precious metals.

The Army Corps of Engineers plans to release the draft Environmental Impact Statement on or before the 22nd of February and there will be a 90 day public comment period. Stay tuned for how to make your voice heard on this critical issue. 

What’s the Fishue with Orca Whales?

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Advocacy, Clean Water, Policy, Wildlife

By Taylor Shedd, Inland Ocean Coalition Policy Manager

Some of you may know that June is orca awareness month. Few of you may know that there is a unique population of orca whales that live in the Pacific Northwest called the Southern Residents that are critically endangered. Even fewer of you may know that I, Taylor, am the Inland Ocean Coalition’s newest staff member serving as our Ocean Policy Manager. I am also an orca whale researcher in Washington state and am the Program Coordinator for the Soundwatch Program at The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor. Soundwatch is on-the-water education and research that mitigates risk and disturbance away from the Southern Residents in the heavily trafficked Salish Sea. If some of this is starting to sound familiar to you, it may be due to this whale, and this photo.

This is a photo of J-35 ‘Tahlequah’ who carried her deceased calf for 17 days last summer. I actually took this photo and monitored J-35 for 12 days over 1,000 nautical miles (5 days the whales were out in open ocean). This photo made it around the world and back again, and brought attention to the plight of the Southern Resident orca whales. However, this is not a new story.

The Southern Residents are estimated to have numbered around 200 individuals pre-exploitation. In the 1960s, the possibility of holding orca whales in captivity to make a profit was realized with the successful capture and care of Namu in Biritish Columbia, then housed on the Seattle waterfront. Namu did not survive for long, and the search for a replacement quickly lead us to the Southern Residents. Around this time researchers had just figured out how to identify individual orca whales, and realized that pods are made up of strong family and social bonds. In 1972, the last live capture of orca whales in the United States took place in Penn Cove in Washington where 47 Southern Residents were removed from the populations. Five did not survive the capture, and the rest were sent around the world to theme parks. The whales returned to the wild were mostly older individuals and males, since young females were targeted by theme parks for their reproduction potential. In 1975, there were only 71 Southern Residents left in the wild. Today there are 76.

In the late 90s there was an increase to 98 individuals in the population, but since then there has been a steady decline in the Southern Resident population. This decline lead to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration listing the Southern Residents as a distinct endangered population under the Endangered Species Act. In this listing, three main threats to the populations where listed as vessel disturbance, prey availability, and contamination. 

Great efforts have gone into reducing these risks to the whales with the most recent rendition being taken by Washington state Governor Jay Inslee. In March 2018, Inslee signed an executive order creating an Orca Recovery Task Force that would produce legislation to further aid in the recovery of the Southern Residents in a years time. Last summer was a difficult time for the whales and we had three high profile losses in the population: J-35’s calf (unnamed), J-50 ‘Scarlet’, and L-92 ‘Crewser’. A year has passed, so what’s changed? Four bills passed through the state legislature that came from the Task Force. Most of these changes focus on vessel disturbance, increasing approach distance by vessels from 200 to 300 yards, introducing a speed limit of 7 knots within a half mile of whales, and including Be Whale Wise information into state boater testing. 

Other bills targeted habitat restoration for salmon and forage fish, and increasing hatchery production in an effort to provide more prey for the Southern Residents. The Task Force is set to meet again in 2019 to establish longer term recovery efforts for the Southern Residents.

If you’d like to learn more about the Southern Residents, or be a part of the naming process for the two new calves, visit The Whale Museum’s website. If you are in the area and would like to volunteer for Soundwatch you can find information there as well. For those who would just like to help the whales there are many things you can do. Being informed and educated is a great first step, and even if you do not live in the Pacific Northwest there are things you can do everyday to help these whales. Being eco-friendly and using less single-use plastic benefits that environment as a whole. Purchasing truly sustainable seafood is a great way to reduce bycatch and impacts to the ecosystem. Being a part of the Inland Ocean Coalition, helping to educate your community and representatives, and sharing your voice can make the biggest difference. We’re excited to share our passion with you, and hope you share yours with us, so we can best protect all that we love.

Algal Blooms and Protecting Waterways

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Clean Water, Watersheds

By Gregory Knight

The summer is approaching and it’s easy to notice the vegetation around us becoming more green. The days are longer and the weather is warmer. During the warmer part of the year we may also take notice of harmful algal blooms (HABs) in ponds, waterways, and lakes. HABs are present in all 50 states and harm aquatic ecosystems. With an increased understanding of the problem, we can take steps in the community to reduce this environmental stressor. This in turn can help protect the ocean.

Algae refers to a group of marine and freshwater organisms that photosynthesize. These organisms may or may not be related. Seaweed and kelp are examples. Algae is common in the environment; however, an abundance of algae is harmful. It impacts aquatic habitats, drinking water, and the economy.

Algae found growing in a pond on the University of Colorado’s East Campus in Boulder.

Certain varieties of algae produce toxins. Illness and even death may result from consuming contaminated fish or shellfish. Oxygen depletion can also result in HABs. This may suffocate animals or force them into migration. Economies are impacted by the decrease of consumable fish and recreational beaches are impacted with HABs.

Harmful algal blooms are continually being researched and explored today. Algal blooms happen for a number of different reasons and can have lasting effects on our environment. If we seek to reduce HABs in landlocked states we can have an impact in protecting the ocean.

During these warmer months when HABs are likely to occur we can take precautions to reduce the likelihood of occurrences. Nitrogen and phosphorus, for instance, lead to more outbreaks of HABs. It’s essential to use only the recommended amount of fertilizers or use organic and natural fertilizers strategically to reduce nutrients from running off into waterways. If we make sure our septic systems are maintained we can prevent wastewater contamination in waterways.

Understanding water quality issues like HABs can help establish cleaner waterways in local communities. Cleaner local waterways can result in a cleaner ocean, and through understanding we can help to enact regulations that will provide us with healthier aquatic and marine ecosystems.

 

Works cited

Davenport, Coral. “E.P.A. Blocks Obama-Era Clean Water Rule.” The New York Times, 31 Jan. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/01/31/climate/trump-water-wotus.html.

MacDonald, James. “The Problem With Algae Bloom.” Science & Technology, JSTOR. 24 Oct. 2017, daily.jstor.org/the-problem-with-algae-bloom/.

“Algal Blooms.” Colors of an Algal Bloom | CeNCOOS, www.cencoos.org/learn/blooms/habs/impacts.

“Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB)-Associated Illness.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13 Dec. 2017, www.cdc.gov/habs/prevention-control.html.

Conservation Under the Trump Administration

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Clean Water, Policy, Take Action

By Jacob Villalobos, trained Ocean Ranger and Inland Ocean Coalition volunteer

The Trump administration has a very different definition of conservation.

Following the December announcement that the sizes of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments of Utah will be greatly reduced, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke released the next step for “responsible extraction” of America’s oil and gas resources along the nation’s coast.

The National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program will potentially open up 90 percent of the Outer Continental Region of America’s coastlines to “exploration and development,” regions of American marine ecosystems that were originally set aside for extended preservation and recovery by previous administrations. “Responsibly developing our energy resources on the Outer Continental Shelf in a safe and well-regulated way is important to our economy and energy security, and it provides billions of dollars to fund the conservation of our coastlines, public lands and parks,” said Zinke.

Zinke and the Department of the Interior, in a press release in Late December, went on to say that the administration is leaving behind a “Conservation stewardship legacy, second only to Roosevelt,” while simultaneously placing emphasis on the expansion of hunting and fishing in ten wildlife refuges where such activities are currently strictly regulated. Despite the continued outcry against the reduction of America’s refuges and monuments, the Trump administration continues to reframe the definitions of conservation to include the potential for heavy resource extraction, a disregard for biodiversity, and ultimately, a strong emphasis on the acquisition of profits.

In response to the announcement by Zinke, 2.8 million Americans submitted public comments to the White House urging the administration to reconsider reductions to the sizes of the many monuments that are up for review, which Zinke promptly ignored.

The pushback from American mayors from states along the coastline was swift, with the majority directly opposing the proposal, citing the importance of fishing, the wellbeing of marine biodiversity, and tourism revenue, which provides coastal communities and the economy at large with billions of dollars every year. The move, if finalized, would expose vast swaths of coastline to further risk of extraction accidents as well as to the threat of seismic survey technology, a practice in petroleum and gas exploration in which sound waves are used to discover untapped oil and gas reservoirs. The practice has been highly criticized by scientists and activists, citing severe harm to migratory species who utilized sound for communication and navigation purposes, among other issues.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management open comment period ends March 9th, and we need as many voices as possible to create a conservation chorus based upon compassion, science, unity, and truth. Together we can protect the entirety of the US coast from further exploitation and unnecessary, long term damage to precious marine life and delicate ecosystems. Together, we cannot be ignored.

Please join us

Living Near Clean Waterways Provides Health And Wellness Benefits

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Clean Water, Policy, Watersheds

By Kris Lindhal, realtor and water enthusiast from Blaine, Minnesota

The importance of clean, vibrant water cannot be understated. The environment constitutes our home and the arteries that deliver life-sustaining elements should be treated as sacred. But many people may not realize that these resources can also have a profound impact on our everyday health and wellness. Consider these positive effects of living near a clean lake, stream, river or sea, and how you can help keep them pure.

Ocean Air Combats Free Radicals

When we are exposed to secondhand smoke, exhaust fumes and industrial pollutants, free radicals can damage the cells in your body that may lead to cancer. Spending time by large water sources such as the ocean and breathing in the negative ions associated with sea air helps the body acquire oxygen and fight off free radicals. This healthy state helps improve our cognitive powers and brings serotonin levels into balance.

Psychological Effects of Natural Waterways

Few would dispute the fact that spending time by the water has a calming effect on the mind and spirit. While the high levels of negative ions in the air helps balance out serotonin levels, the sounds of waves breaking on the shore or the trickle of a stream flowing over rocks can relieve significant stress. Like calming music sounds can have a powerful impact on everyday moods. Repetitive sounds, such as the soft sounds of moving water can have a meditative effect.

How Homeowners Can Help Keep Water Clean

Legislation such as the Clean Waters Act was established to protect the environment from the harmful actions of industry. But the average home also has a significant impact on water purity. In addition to reducing our carbon footprint at home, consider these simple things homeowners can do to help protect our waterways:

Manage Hard Surfaces: Things like driveways and walkways tend to be pathways for pollutants to travel into storm drains. Use more gravel and materials that allows water to return to the Earth directly. If unavoidable, install a trench or catch area to capture water.

Watch What You Flush: Hard materials and products should never be flushed down the toilet. These pose a problem for treatments plants and can end up in waterways. Chemicals and medications should also be limited to trash disposal.

Proper Disposal: Automobiles use a variety of environmentally harmful compounds such as oil, gasoline, antifreeze and others. Home car care should be conducted with a plan to prevent spillage and collection in mind. Once these dangerous chemicals hit the ground, they will find their way to the water table.

Environmentally Friendly Products: Switch to all-natural and environmentally friendly dish soaps, laundry detergents and other products that routinely find their way down the drain. When purchasing items to keep your home clean and fresh, consider adopting a philosophy of do no harm in your daily life.