Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Even A Blind Squirrel

We have written about the Department of Ecology's Tom Hruby before. Whenever Erik Stockdale of Ecology requires heavy-duty science backup, he calls in Dr. Hruby, and the results are usually farcical. Some of their collaborations are masterpieces of ignorance, like when they wrote a letter to our Council in February 2011 about "risk." Eventually, they had to back away entirely from that letter because of copious criticism, including from Dr. Tim Verslcyke, a highly-qualified and well-published ecological risk assessment professional on the faculty of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.

So it was with some trepidation and amusement that I began to read Hruby's latest publication, Update on Wetland Buffers: The State of the Science, Final Report. Relative to genuinely professional work about risk assessment and/or fate and transport, it's still amateurish ... but nevertheless ... it isn't completely wrong. Let's review a couple of the good things about this mediocre report.
  1. For water quality, Huby admits that the effectiveness of buffers depends on site-specific factors. He says that recent research has increased our understanding of the many different factors that control the effectiveness of a buffer at trapping pollutants, and then he names width, slope, type of vegetation, type of pollutant, geochemical and physical properties of the soil, infiltration rates of the soils, sources of pollutants, concentration of pollutants, path of surface water through the buffer, and for phosphorus, the amount of phosphorous already trapped by the soil.
  2. For habitat, Hruby admits that studies do not show minimum buffer distances needed to protect species, but only show how far species roam from wetlands. He also says that there is very little research correlating plant diversity in wetlands with buffer width.
Please note that this document specifically mentions, for the first time, some very key points that side with the persistent criticisms of our CAOs. Our CAOs have never considered type of pollutant, concentration of pollutant, source of pollutant, or the geochemical and physical properties of the soil. This is what we mean when we talk about an "exposure scenario." Dr. Hruby is ignorant of standard risk assessment terminology, so he doesn't use the customary term, but that's what he is referring to.

Furthermore, we have all heard the Department of Ecology and Dr. Adamus proclaim that amphibians can be found hundreds of feet away from a wetland; therefore, buffers should be hundreds of feet wide to accommodate their roaming. Hruby admits that this "roaming data" is not related to buffer width. Stated another way, there is no science that explains how the distribution of wetland dependent species varies with buffer width. Amphibians may roam hundreds of feet away from a wetland regardless whether the buffer is hundreds of feet, tens of feet, or nonexistent. We do not know how, or even whether, changing buffer width affects species distribution. Anyone who has found tree frogs in their window boxes, for example, knows that tree frog wandering does not seem to depend on buffer size.

There are other good admissions in this report. Key Point #4 on page 30 says "Several researchers have recommended a more flexible approach that allows buffer widths to be varied depending on site-specific conditions." On page 10, the report says, "Site-specific factors (vegetation density and spacing, initial soil water content, saturated hydraulic conductivity, and sediment characteristics) are so important in determining the effectiveness of a buffer that simple designs that do not account for these factors can fail to perform their protective functions."

And lastly, this report discusses the Meyer and Zhang papers, both of which have been the topic of intense discussion at various Planning Commission and County Council meetings over the past two years.

We'll save our substantial criticisms of the report for the next post, but for now, take some heart in the fact that even a blind Department of Ecology can find a nut once in a while.


  1. Rick and Jaime are moving right along in voting to increase buffer sizes and review areas while Bob is still recovering, not that Bob would do anything to stop these two even if he was around.

  2. So, the questions that we all asked back in 2012 like "what's the problem?" made sense? We really DO need to figure out what pollutants we have in our waters in order to know what we need in the way of protections? But Planning never did, so we're clueless. Great. I say let's pass this thing!!

  3. I trust ECK will have more on this but I read the report. A lot of these studies cited deal with fully developed regions around wetlands. I'll find the citation but they specifically refer to rural single fsmily development as very low impact stuff.
    Our current zoning and density laws preclude development that would be harmful.
    Stop. The. FOSJ.

  4. If I recall the WACs, they say that in the absence of scientific certainty we are supposed to take a no-risk precautionary regulatory position.

    Which is of course nuts and unconstitutional and insane and authoritarian over-reach policies of fear and will turn us into that movie called Brazil.

    But I think the language in that particular WAC has got to be changed. If the WA Senate is leaning to some reform and there is still time to float bills in this session, someone ought to write a very short piece of legislation that throws out WAC language like this for all time. Enviro whackjobs and power mad planners use this all the time.

    "Council members, you know, if we don't know we must take a no risk precautionary approach. Its in the WACs." The Council shruggs: "Aw hell, the state makes us do this, what can we say?"

  5. @9:19pm

    I agree? But, in practical, real, " we could do it" terms, how would a group of people stop FOSJ. This is the question that must be answered if we ever hope to stop the march toward county wide de-population.

  6. @7:51am

    Here is the "Brazil" language-

    "No agency filings affecting this section since 2003
    Criteria for addressing inadequate scientific information.

    Where there is an absence of valid scientific information or incomplete scientific information relating to a county's or city's critical areas, leading to uncertainty about which development and land uses could lead to harm of critical areas or uncertainty about the risk to critical area function of permitting development, counties and cities should use the following approach:
    (1) A "precautionary or a no risk approach," in which development and land use activities are strictly limited until the uncertainty is sufficiently resolved; and
    (2) As an interim approach, an effective adaptive management program that relies on scientific methods to evaluate how well regulatory and nonregulatory actions achieve their objectives. Management, policy, and regulatory actions are treated as experiments that are purposefully monitored and evaluated to determine whether they are effective and, if not, how they should be improved to increase their effectiveness. An adaptive management program is a formal and deliberate scientific approach to taking action and obtaining information in the face of uncertainty. To effectively implement an adaptive management program, counties and cities should be willing to:
    (a) Address funding for the research component of the adaptive management program;
    (b) Change course based on the results and interpretation of new information that resolves uncertainties; and
    (c) Commit to the appropriate time frame and scale necessary to reliably evaluate regulatory and nonregulatory actions affecting critical areas protection and anadromous fisheries.
    [Statutory Authority: RCW 36.70A.190 (4)(b). WSR 00-16-064, § 365-195-920, filed 7/27/00, effective 8/27/00.]

  7. @7:59am

    Actually, this language explains why Planning and Council never wanted to answer the question,"What is the problem?". As long as you have uncertainty about critical areas, you are free to impose drastically limited land use rules. Never answer the question, never have to loosen the rules. So simple, any Eco- totalitarian can see it!

  8. @8:18am

    So, what if we play the "Grant Game". Let's start a 501(c)3 called "Anti-Kwihat". We'll get $500K and conduct real EPA compliant environmental studies using state-of-the science analytical instrumentation to identify and quantify the actual ( if any) pollutants in and around wetlands in the County. Demonstrate that there is no problem, and force them into option 2 of the above WAC language. Out grant the FOSJ. Start an arms race like Reagan did to the USSR.

  9. As to "Brazil"

    Our living ECK Master can make the most clear headed rational case for assessing and managing risk along the lines of real science and the EPA ... but it is never going to happen as long as we have anti-science fear-based regulatory language in the WACs that insist that unless you absolutely know for sure otherwise and can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt (and science just doesn't work that way ...) then you are going to have to wear that really big helmet and we will punish you if you don't.

  10. Want a mental image of a little fellow wearing a really big helmet?

    Remember Marvin the Martian?

    "Oooh, that wasn't a bit nice. That makes me very angry, very angry indeed!"


  11. Am I right in assuming that FOSJ position on "no net loss" means, "every square centimeter of every single existing wetland and any new ones we can find must be preserved as they are (as they imagine they are). Furthermore, they don't even believe in natural degradation, and assume if any wetland degrades, then some poor landowner must be the cause"? Since we don't have any agreed upon baseline, they start from a "as it must have been 13,000 years ago before the first humans failed to apply the Precautionary Princible"

  12. @11:30
    Your summary of the FOSJ position seems about right.
    There is one notable exception stated as follows:
    "The rules and regulations, described herein, draconian or otherwise, are for persons described as "you people", ie. common man, and shall not be construed as applying to any FOSJ board member or monetary donor".

    But otherwise, yes you got it. And they will be turning Kyle The Bedwetter loose on us for at least another decade.

  13. "The Council shrugs." Always. We ARE in that movie.


  14. I was one of those fools expecting and begging Rick and Bob and sometimes even Jamie to take action. NO, NO, NO; STOP.

    You people are a complete train wreck. You have absolutely no clue as to the damage you are doing to the people of San Juan County. PLEEEASE go back to doing nothing. We, the public, were far better off.

  15. Umm, has anyone noticed the structure going up on Orcas Road??? Appears to be in a wetland, area, setback or buffer to me. What a two story atrocity. Wonder if it has a permit???

  16. That would be the pole barn on Rick Hughes' property.

    I believe it is the replacement for the existing historic barn. My guess is that it is small enough to not require a permit.

    I would be interested I it's proximity to the wetland however.

  17. Talk to Charles Dalton about building size exemptions.

  18. At least now we understand the month delay in the enactment of the new COA restrictions

  19. Doesn't look like there is a permit pulled for the building. It is under the threshold for a permit, so it doesn't require a permit. So, there would have been no wetland review done because it never went to the county.

    Unfortunatly, just because there is no permit required doesn't mean you can violate wetland regulations. So I guess we will assume that Rick and Co. have had this checked out for wetland compliance and that this is all in the up and up. Or should we call Chris Laws to get his opinion?