Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Itsy Bitsy Opinion of "Experts"

Below is an email from Janet Alderton, Board member of the Friends, who is considered a technical expert by the County regarding wetland buffers. Janet has been a relentless and influential advocate for bigger buffers using stories and rationale that read much like her email below.  Despite being an "expert," Janet appears not to believe in de minimis risk, and evidently lacks an understanding of basic concepts related to ecological risk or fate and transport.

From my perspective, these knowledge voids cause Janet to propose lines of argument that are woefully biased and fallacious. In place of knowledge and evidence, Janet seems to believe in specious stories of the fantastic voyages of raindrops. Accordingly, in Janet's email script below, raindrops do everything but wash the spider out, and using convincing but flawed logic (especially appeals to probability, false dilemmas, and arguments from ignorance), Janet blithely posits all human disturbance as harmful and polluting. She proposes solutions related to development size and location rather than known, quantified, de manifestis sources of ecological risk. Janet just assumes development = pollution.

Janet claims that even forking or spading soil is bad, but does she realize that the experts from Ecology advocate re-contouring?

We recommend the CAO include measures to remedy such situations by requiring that a site be re-contoured to promote sheet flow across the buffer.

-----Original Message-----
From: Janet Alderton [] 
Sent: Monday, January 09, 2012 6:01 AM
To: Ingrid Gabriel; Lynda Guernsey; Maureen See
Cc: Shireene Hale; Janice Biletnikoff

Dear Ingrid, Lynda, and Maureen,

Please include the following letter in the CAO Wetlands Ordinance update record and please forward it to both the Planning Commissioners and to the County Councilors. The citizen scientist advisory group that is working with Shireene Hale is making progress on a new Wetlands Buffer System.

Respectfully yours,
Janet Alderton
Orcas Island

Development Changes the Flow of Water

Rain is vital for people and for our ecosystems. We reply on rainwater to recharge the ground water that feeds our wells and sustains our grasslands, farms, gardens, and forests. The leaves of plants cushion the force of raindrops and thus reduce erosion. The leaf litter below plants further protects the soil from eroding. In an unaltered natural landscape, the rough surface and irregular contours help slow and collect rain water so that it can be more efficiently absorbed into the soil. These processes are part of the site-specific hydrology upon which our Critical Areas rely. 

When we develop a piece of land, we excavate a site for our home or other buildings. We grade irregular surfaces smooth. We move the topsoil and the rough and tumble rocks. We create more-or-less impervious surfaces such as roofs, decks, driveways, lawns, and other landscaping elements. These actions change the site-specific hydrology of the development area. When rain falls onto these less pervious surfaces, more runoff is created than before the development occurred. The potential for contamination of our waters with toxic man-made chemicals also comes with development. For unit area, the levels of stormwater contaminants that are associated with residential development are higher than the levels associated with either timber harvest or moderate-intensity agriculture. 

Some parcels occupy areas with higher importance Critical Areas. Each parcel that is developed may seem to create a small impact on our Critical Areas, but these impacts add up. To reduce negative impacts, undisturbed areas of native plants and terrain must separate developed areas from Critical Areas. These areas are called buffers because they buffer or protect our Critical Areas from runoff contaminated with toxic chemicals and from erosion caused by increased stormwater flows. Buffers also protect Critical Wildlife Habitats on our land and in our fresh and marine waters.

The leaf litter and especially root zone of undisturbed plants is home to a network of mushroom mycelia, bacteria, and other tiny organisms that can breakdown many toxic chemicals that are carried downhill from our developments. When the soil is stripped of the native vegetation, and even when the soil is turned over by forking or spading, the beneficial community of creatures that decontaminates man-made chemicals is disrupted.

Buffers-sizing Principles:

           1. The size of the buffer should be roughly proportional to the square footage of the development area that drains towards the wetland or other Critical Area. The potential for increased runoff and its adverse impacts is directly related to the square footage of the development that contributes runoff.

           2. The basic buffer width should be decreased for gentle or zero slopes, and increased for steep slopes. This is because stormwater runs down a steep slope faster and with greater force than down a gentler slope. This equals more or less infiltration of the stormwater into the soil.

           3. If parts of the development cross a drainageway that leads to the wetland or other Critical Area, then the volume of contaminated runoff entering the wetland will increase. If the increased runoff from the developed area cannot be infiltrated into the soil before it reaches the drainageway, then the buffer width should be increased. 

Janet Alderton

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