East Fork rehab plan OKed by EPA

Work a result of wide-ranging agency partnership


Work to restore the East Fork Lewis River watershed hit a milestone last month as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency formally accepted a plan to address bacteria and water temperature issues.

On Nov. 16, the EPA sent a letter to the Washington State Department of Ecology notifying the agency that the East Fork Lewis River Alternative Restoration Plan (ARP) had been accepted. The plan lays out strategies, actions and best management practices to deal with water quality issues in the watershed, stated a release from Ecology announcing the acceptance of the plan.

As the name implies, the ARP is an alternative to another assessment known as total maximum daily load (TMDL.) The TMDL determines the total amount of a pollutant a body of water can receive while still meeting water quality standards.

Washington State Department of Ecology Water Quality Implementation Specialist Devan Rostorfer said TMDLs are usually used where there is point source pollution such as factories or wastewater treatment plants. Those aren’t issues in the watershed, however, as high levels of bacteria and high water temperatures have been identified as impacts to water quality.

“When you’re working with bacteria and temperature, most of the concerns associated with those pollutants are associated with nonpoint source pollutants,” said Rostorfer, who is the author of the ARP, which makes it difficult to assign limits on a specific facility or property. “In the East Fork Lewis River there is not one or even two or any facilities that we can definitively point to and say that this facility’s discharge is why water quality standards are not being met.”

Nonpoint sources included agriculture, septic systems, stormwater and degraded tree cover on the waterway, Rostorfer said. She said the McCormick Creek, Brezee Creek, Jenny Creek and Rock Creek North watersheds were four priority areas identified for improving bacterial pollution. She said Ecology now knows of the number of septic systems and agricultural uses in those watersheds, allowing for targeted outreach as part of the ARP.

The goal of the ARP is to implement voluntary management practices quicker than would be done in a TMDL, Rostorfer said, which typically takes several years to develop. The plan’s goal is to achieve bacteria water quality standards by 2035 and water temperature standards by 2055. She said the temperature standard had more time because trees need more time to grow to an adequate height.

The ARP was developed through the East Fork Lewis River Partnership. Formed in 2018, 30 different participating organizations took part in the planning process, as they represented local governments, conservation groups and other stakeholders invested in the watershed.

Rostorfer said Ecology has been conducting water quality assessment of the East Fork since 2005. She said the plan is the first step to achieve clean water and protect salmon populations.

She said the partnership helped form a plan that would be able to be enacted quickly following its approval.

“Not only did we have strong engagement through the planning process, we also now have implementation happening to immediately start implementing the recommendations,” Rostorfer said.

She added the collaboration among the organizations involved with the partnership has led to multiple sources of funding for watershed improvement projects.

“It’s very difficult to get funding to do environmental projects, so to have multiple organizations coming together to fund the same program, it’s ultimately going to lead to a more significant outcome for water quality and the environment,” Rostorfer said.

She gave the example of Clark Conservation District, which over the duration of the partnership was able to rebuild its staffing. The district, one of the primary organizations that works with private landowners in the county, has brought in more than $2.8 million for environmental work.

By having the ARP in place, Rostorfer said the EPA and Ecology can confidently make investments into watershed restoration. The plan will allow stakeholders to know how to develop grant-funded projects, and how agencies should award that funding.

One of the plan’s immediate focuses is implementation of a pollution identification and correction program called “Poop Smart Clark.” It’s supported by a number of organizations and will be rolled out in 2022.

The program involves outreach and assistance in the watershed through almost 2,000 direct mailers, door-to-door outreach to 400 landowners, hundreds of septic system inspections and pumping rebates, as well as site visits to agricultural landowners. Rostorfer made particular note of the septic system inspection rebates which she said will help identify which systems are failing and potentially causing the pollution.

While Poop Smart Clark handles the bacteria side of restoration, Rostorfer said tens of thousands of trees are being planted near the river. She mentioned the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership, part of the greater East Fork partnership, recently completed a thermal refuge assessment of the watershed to identify cold water areas for priority restoration.

The East Fork’s ARP is the first published by Ecology in Washington state and the first in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 10 which includes Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.


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