Sunday, February 26, 2012

Lipstick on a CAO - The Inside Story on Buffers

See the email train below and read from the bottom up.

Does it sound like our CAO draft is ready to you? The experts seem to think there's a lot of work to be done and still a lot of unknowns. They're sounding a bit scattered and frayed about it.

My favorite Ecology quote from the emails below is Tom Hruby saying that buffers cannot be fully protective because "pollutants can get into a wetland from groundwater or the air." It makes me wonder if we are going to have air buffers next.

It's interesting that Hruby cites Ruckelshaus, 1984, and Tarlock, 1994, although he seems to misconstrue quantitative environmental risk as described in those papers.  As I mentioned in a previous post, Ruckleshaus points out that a safe world is not a zero-risk world.  But by his statements, Hruby seems to imply that to be "fully protective" something must be zero risk.  That is the exact opposite of what Ruckelshaus and Tarlock were saying.

Hruby also says that there is still plenty of work to do before we "start identifying factors that increase or decrease the risk." Start? Did he really say, "Start"?  We have spent all kinds of time and money. Our latest wetlands draft is just about to go to the Planning Commission, and Hruby thinks we haven't even started?!?  As surprising as it may seem, he and I actually agree on that point.

Note that while Hruby appears to be the thinker, Stockdale's role seems just to focus on bringing this puppy home no matter what our CAO says. He's on a mission, like our County Council. Accordingly, Stockdale is preoccupied with defending against a Growth Board appeal despite his boss' boss recently proclaiming:
We don’t have regulatory authority in local critical areas ordinance issues. We don’t make rulings or issue enforcement actions under local critical areas ordinances. Those tasks are on local government turf" (Gordon White, Eco-Connect Blog, Feburary 14, 2012.)
I wonder if Gordon White knows what Tom Hruby, Erik Stockdale, Paul Anderson, Stephen Stanley, and Andy McMillan do all day.

Despite Ecology's obvious lack of alignment over our wetlands CAO draft, this overcooked and yet half-baked fiasco will come to the Planning Commission in about a week's time. The Wetlands Section Public Hearing is a week from Tuesday, on March 6, at 8:45 a.m. in the Grange Building, Friday Harbor.

Do a majority of the Planning Commissioners have the good sense to see this thing for what it is? I guess we'll find out soon enough. Bring plenty of lipstick. Even Ecology thinks we need it.

From: Hruby, Tom (ECY) 
Sent: Monday, January 23, 2012 9:57 AM
To: Stockdale, Erik (ECY); McMillan, Andy (ECY)
Cc: Anderson, Paul S. (ECY); Stanley, Stephen (ECY)
Subject: the RE: SJC buffer calculator

Erik and others,
I would like to focus our response bringing the discussion back to basics, and away from the details that everyone seems to be getting “hung-up” on. 
1.      We need to admit that the science is not perfect and without detailed surveys and monitoring of the Islands we will never come up with absolute numbers for buffers in the county.  There are just too many factors involved in trying to “model” the conditions around a wetland. I remember during the WFAM process we tried to model the input of pollutants into a wetland from the surrounding landscape and came up with 27 variables.
2.      Thus, most environmental decisions must be made under uncertain, sometimes extremely uncertain, conditions when it comes to the science.  The regulated community often seizes on this pervasive uncertainty to argue that decisions should wait until  “good science” provides conclusive evidence of harm (Tarlock, 1994).
3.      The laws (and their enforcement) recognize this issue of scientific uncertainty and have resolved it by substituting the concept of “risk” for “cause and effect” proof. (Tarlock, 1994, Ruckleshaus, 1984)
4.      Courts have widely endorsed the argument that a characterization of risk must err on the side of preventing loss by incorporating a wide margin of safety.  This has been carried over from laws about toxic substances to protecting biodiversity.
5.      The science is firm on the general facts that buffers can protect the use of wetlands by wetland dependent wildlife and protect the water quality in a wetland.  Buffers will not protect the hydrologic functions performed by wetlands.
6.      Discussion on buffers therefore need to focus on what is needed to protect the water quality of wetlands and what is needed to protect the wildlife using the wetland.
7.      The science is also clear that impacts to wetland functions from surrounding land uses are highly variable.  It is not a “on” or “off” switch.  From and ecological perspective impacts can range from a slight change in populations to the complete extermination of a population.  Or, from a slight change in water quality to a complete change in the ecosystem that results from toxics or eutrophication.  
8.      SOCIETY MUST MAKE THE DECISION ABOUT THE LEVEL OF CHANGE IN FUNCTIONS THAT IS ACCEPTABLE.  Almost any change in land use will have some impact on the wetland ecosystem.  The science is quite clear that buffers would have to be over 300 ft and sometimes 600ft to protect the water quality of a wetland completely from surface runoff (no pollutants getting into the wetlands from surface runoff).  This however is still not fully protective because pollutants can get into a wetland from groundwater or the air.
9.      Because we do not have site specific information we can rely on to establish buffers, we, as a society, need to first make a decision on the level of risk to wetland functions we are willing to accept.  This has not been yet done in San Juan County. For example, we do not know what is the minimum buffer size that is needed to maintain a reproductive population of amphibians in a pond.  We do know they move through large areas of uplands, sometimes more than 600 ft.  What is the impact of reducing that range to 300 ft or 50 ft?  At which point will the population in that pond become extinct?  We can use the scientific information to predict that a buffer of 50ft will increase the risk that the population will become extinct, but cannot predict exactly what will happen without detailed monitoring. 
10.   Once we know what level of risk to wetland functions the county is willing to accept, we can start identifying the factors that increase and decrease the risk. 
11.   If the county wants to develop a site specific approach I would suggest simplifying Paul’s spreadsheet model and keep it qualitative.  I can work on this if you are interested.  This would be a decision matrix/tree identifying the relative risk of land uses in different geomorphic settings and then setting a buffer based on the level of risk acceptable for that site.

From: Stockdale, Erik (ECY)
Sent: Monday, January 23, 2012 9:03 AM
To: Hruby, Tom (ECY); McMillan, Andy (ECY)
Cc: Anderson, Paul S. (ECY); Stanley, Stephen (ECY)
Subject: FW: SJC buffer calculator

I will send you the buffer calculator and rationale when the County puts it out for review today or tomorrow. Paul likely tweaked it overnight so the version he sent

Several recurring themes have emerged from Kilduff and Belluomini regarding Paul’s work:
-        Buffer science regarding habitat isn’t science
-        You have to study water flow processes and contaminant loading in San Juan County before you formulate regulations
-        San Juan County is different (where have we heard this before?); not part of Puget Sound, etc. etc

At some point in the near future I would like to debunk some of these arguments in a letter to the Council. This is important given that a likely appeal to the Growth Board will be a record review.

Do you have a suggested response? I do but am interested in your thoughts. Thanks, Erik

From: Ed Kilduff []
Sent: Sunday, January 22, 2012 6:25 PM
To: Paul Adamus
Cc: Shireene Hale; Hruby, Tom (ECY); Scott Rozenbaum; Dan Nickel; Janice Biletnikoff; Rachel Dietzman; Stockdale, Erik (ECY); Anderson, Paul S. (ECY); Belluomini Steve; Janet Alderton
Subject: Re: SJC buffer calculator

Hi All,

I have no comments on the spreadsheet.  I understand the amount of effort that has gone into this model.  I am disappointed that a more rational and scientific approach could not be achieved based on local data and an acknowledgment of the efficacy of existing laws and regulations.  I support this model going forward for review, but I do not support this model as science, for the reasons I have already mentioned many times before.

In the end, the development of a scientific algorithm can only be as rational as its inputs, methodology, calibration to reality, and validity of the theory on which it is based.  I am disappointed that the inputs bear an unknown relationship to the effect they are trying to achieve.  I am disappointed that people's fears and personal views of ubiquitous unnamed toxins and inevitable overpopulation are driving the algorithm, rather than calibration and testable theory.

It's a policy based scheme based on the group's majority perceptions.

Thanks, Ed K.
Ed Kilduff
Mobile: 360-472-0076

On Jan 22, 2012, at 1:35 PM, Paul Adamus wrote:

With regard to the buffer calculator, I've been anticipating questions like, "What combinations of lawn, impervious pavement, slope, etc." will cause me to have a buffer of XX feet?" One could play with the calculator endlessly to come up with all the possibilities, but there's a simpler and assuredly more complete way. With the help of a colleague who knows VisualBasic better than I, we now have an Excel macro that will spit out all combinations that result in a score of [insert whatever number you want, 1 to 20]. And we already know from Table C what scores corresponds to what buffer widths.

Also, instead of specifying an exact width, you can ask the macro to list all combinations of conditions that could result in a buffer of LESS THAN (or greater than) XX feet. However, if you ask for too much (like all combinations resulting in buffers larger than 40 feet), the number of combos exceeds 1 million and Excel runs out of rows. The bigger the request, the longer it takes to run (like hours instead of minutes). The macro generates output has columns headed A, B, C...I that correspond in sequence to the yellow data entry boxes in the calculator. Column J contains the score computed from those. As always, you can sort the output in ascending or descending order by any variable. If we end up changing our buffer formula (hopefully not at this late stage) it won't be hard for me to change this macro accordingly.

To run the macro, you open the file in Excel2007 or later, click on "Enable This Content" where prompted, then View>Macros>ViewMacros>Run. Currently it's set to run all combinations resulting in a score of less than 3. If you want to try something else, clear the last output, then click on StepInto instead of Run, go about halfway down in the script to the "If res" statement and insert whatever score or score range you want, close it, say yes to Stop Debugger, then Run again.

This isn't something anybody can use, but if you have a basic understanding of Excel (and a reasonably fast computer), it isn't too hard.



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