Asked Questions about the Clean Water Fee (PDF - 189K)
Monitoring and Reporting
- What is the condition of Clark County streams?
- Is this information summarized in a report?
- How does land use influence stream health?
- Are Clark County streams improving or getting worse?
- How are we going to find out if things are getting better or worse?
- What will the county do to find pollutant sources to storm sewers and remove them?
- I read that Clark County has started a monitoring program using volunteers. Why do this?
- If volunteers can collect this data, why doesn't the county save money by having them collect most of the data?
- How many volunteers are there now and where do the collect data?
- How can I get data about Clark County water quality?
- Can my kids get sick if they play in the stream near our house?
- What can be done about this bacteria problem?
- I have seen that the county measures stream health in terms of the bugs living in the stream. Why are they important?
General Education and Outreach
- What is the goal of the Clean Water Program's educational efforts?
- What educational partnerships does the program participate in?
- What community or special outreach events does the program participate in?
- How are we avoiding duplication of efforts?
- How do we know that our outreach is effective?
- What outreach is done targeting youth?
- What are the schools doing in return for a waiver of their Clean Water fee?
- Teachers don't seem to know about the Clean Water Program. Why?
- Is the stormwater pollution prevention message getting through to the school children?
- What outreach is being done for the general public and adults?
- What educational outreach is being done for residents in rural north and east Clark County?
- How many new Watershed Stewards are trained each year?
- How do the Watershed Stewards help with outreach?
Stormwater Technical Education and Outreach
- Are most businesses aware of Clark County's Title 40, Chapter 40.380 - Stormwater and Erosion Control?
- Are most businesses doing the right thing in relation to pollution prevention?
- Is there one single issue or problem that is seen over and over at many businesses?
- Do businesses respond to county staff giving them information on Best Management Practices for their business activities?
- Have any businesses been turned over to Code Enforcement for non-compliance?
- What is the biggest issue you see in the rural areas?
- What is the nature of the residential complaint calls relating to stormwater pollution?
Engineering and Capital Program
- Where are the capital funds going?
- Why does it take so long for projects to be built?
- What kind of projects will be built with the capital funds in 2003-2007?
- Why does the CWP pay for mapping and inventory of the stormwater system?
- Why does the CWP pay for street sweeping and cleaning catch basins?
Monitoring and Reporting Program
Review of recently collected Public Works data and reports by various salmon recovery programs shows that stream health ranges from nearly pristine (excellent health) in remote forested areas, to very poor or poor in streams through urban and suburban areas. Streams with good health tend to be found in less developed areas of the Cascade Foothills where forest covers over half the streams drainage area. Streams in fair condition tend to be found in areas in transition from forest land to rural and suburban land use.
Clark County's Stream Health Report contains maps and a short description of stream health for ten Clark County watershed areas.
Research from the Puget Sound basin and many other areas shows a strong relationship between the amount of forest clearing and development in a stream's drainage area and the health of the stream. Research in Puget Sound has shown that stream health usually declines fairly quickly when forest area decreases to less than 65 percent of a streams drainage area and developed areas increase to more than 10 or 15 percent.
It usually takes many years of data gathering to answer this question about a specific stream. Water quality data collected in Salmon Creek suggests that water chemistry is staying about the same. Testing from the 1970s until the late 1990s in Burnt Bridge Creek showed that there was an improvement in the amount of fecal coliform bacteria, but few other changes since the 1970s. Testing in Lacamas Lake has shown a significant improvement in the amount of nutrients entering the lake since the early 1980s, but not any change during the last five years of testing. Considering the rapid growth of Clark County's population in recent years, it's considered a minor success to prevent streams from becoming worse.
To answer this question for the whole county or each watershed requires many years of data gathering designed to answer this exact question. Water Resources started a project in fall 2001 to monitor a cross section of ten stream sites for this purpose. This project will be expanded to collect information that can be extrapolated to all streams. This project would be similar in design to a public opinion survey that can be completed every several years.
Water Resources completed a broad yearly summertime examination of the storm sewers for pollutants. Beginning this winter, we plan to take a detailed look at storm water outfalls in each stream basin (e.g. Whipple Creek, Cougar Creek, or Tenny Creek) to identify non-stormwater discharges. This should lead to a number of repair or capital projects to address pollutant source problems.
There are several reasons why we started the volunteer monitoring program:
- It provides a chance for people to participate in watershed protection activities and learn more about streams.
- Volunteers expand the ability of the program to collect data.
- Data collected by the volunteers is used by Water Resources to better understand Clark County streams.
8. If volunteers can collect this data, why doesn't the county save money by having them collect most of the data?
It wouldn't really work that way. The volunteers collect a very specific set of data with a high level of technical assistance from water resource scientists. The quality and quantity of data needed by the program makes it impossible to rely entirely on volunteers.
As of winter 2005, there are, on average, around 35 active volunteers and a few other groups who borrow Clark County equipment. The volunteers are split into groups that monitor four sites: Gee Creek in Ridgefield, Brezee Creek near La Center, Mill Creek near the WSU-Vancouver Campus, and Gibbons Creek near Washougal. Volunteers also monitor the health of Vancouver Lake.
There are copies of our recent project reports on the county Internet site as well as local rainfall and stream flow data. For additional data information, call Water Resources at (360) 397-6118 ext. 4345 or contact Water Resources monitoring staff directly.
They might. Our monitoring and past studies show that many streams in urban, suburban, and rural areas have fairly high concentrations of bacteria that indicate animal wastes are present. Usually, it is worst during rainy weather when animal waste washes off streets, yards and fields. Bacteria found during dry weather can be from septic systems, small leaks in sewer lines, or ponds in streams.
We are working to find and eliminate bacteria sources in our storm sewer system and have found it to be a complex problem to solve. During the next several years we will be increasing efforts in this area by working with the Health Department and sanitary sewer systems to find and repair bad septic systems and leaking sewer lines. Water Resources is also stepping up efforts to find and remove bacteria sources that enter our storm sewers.
13. I have seen that the county measures stream health in terms of the bugs living in the stream. Why are they important?
The many bugs and other creatures living in stream beds are important to stream ecology. They perform many functions such as chewing up leaves and providing food for other animals. Measurements of the abundance and diversity of streambed creatures are used by water resources managers to measure stream health because one sample can provide a pretty complete story about the condition of a stream reach.
General Education and Outreach
The goal of the Clean Water Program educational efforts is to create a good public understanding of, and participation in, watershed protection and stewardship. Ultimately, perhaps reaching a point when water quality protection is as common as recycling.
- Environmental Information Cooperative: Clark County (Clean Water Program & Solid Waste) City of Vancouver (WREC/Solid Waste), SW Clean Air Agency, WSU Vancouver, Columbia Springs Environmental Education Center & WSU Clark County Extension
- Regional Coalition for Clean Rivers and Streams: Clark County (Clean Water Program and ESA), Metro, Clean Water Services, City of Vancouver, City of Gresham, Clackamas County Water Environment Services, City of Portland Bureau of Environmental Services, EPA, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality
- Watershed Stewards: WSU Cooperative Extension
- Small Acreage Program: WSU Cooperative Extension, Clark Conservation District
- Water Quality Educational Monitoring: City of Vancouver
Each year, the program participates in a variety of community events. Past events include:
- Clark County Fair
- Annual Home and Garden Idea Fair
- Lacamas Watershed Festival and Kids Fishing Derby (co-sponsor)
- Columbia River Watershed Festival
- Student Watershed Congress
- Earth Day exhibit at Wafer tech
- Earth Night at Clark College
- CASEE Earth Day Celebration
- Hummingbird Festival
- Sturgeon Festival
- Youth Town Hall
- La Center Steamboat Days
- Washougal Heritage Days
- WSU Field Day at Vancouver Research Station
- Natural Gardening Fair
- Science in the Parks (co-sponsor)
Whenever possible, Water Resources seeks to partner with existing programs or develop mutually beneficial programs involving interested partners. For example, the City of Vancouver has an existing water quality monitoring program in the schools. The Clean Water Program has partnered with the city to fund expansion of their program into schools in the unincorporated area.
Another example is the Small Acreage Program. Staff sought out other organizations with a need to provide education and outreach to rural audiences and, consequently, the Clark Conservation District, WSU Cooperative Extension, and the Clean Water Program combined forces to fund the program.
The Clean Water Program helps to fund the Environmental Information Cooperative which, in addition to providing outreach for the funding partners, serves as a monthly forum to hear what others are doing, exchange ideas, and partner on projects such as the Columbia River Watershed Festival and Earth Day activities.
Program staff also participate in the Regional Coalition for Clean Rivers and Streams. Coalition members exchange outreach ideas, keep in touch with other agencies in the region and combine outreach efforts. The Coalition annually sponsors a regional advertising campaign, providing newspaper, transit, and cinema advertising that would be beyond the reach of individual budgets. These campaigns include "The River Starts Here" and "Is Your Yard Chemical Free? - Maybe it should be?"
Measuring effectiveness of public education is something that public agencies struggle with nationwide. Some measurement can be obtained by simply tracking the number of contacts or "impressions" that are made in an outreach program. It must be assumed that, over time, education will take place based on frequency and repetition from a variety of sources. Changes in behavior should be observed as the desired actions become the norm, however, this may take years to occur, just as recycling took years to become common practice in many households.
One method is to survey a population over time to see if desired behavior changes, are occurring. Examples of behavior changes would be decreased use of fertilizer, washing the car on the lawn or using a commercial carwash, and recycling of motor oil. One issue discovered with this method, however, is that once people have been educated on what is expected, they will self-report that behavior whether or not they have actually changed behaviors. For example, a Seattle survey indicated a 15% reduction in use of fertilizers reported by survey participants, however stores reported no decrease in sales.
Staff has also utilized information obtained from surveys conducted both regionally and nationally to improve environmental message delivery. For example, Clean Water Services conducted two surveys in the summer and fall of 2002. The information obtained from these surveys about local habits and practices is very applicable to our area and helpful in tailoring the outreach program to meet local needs.
The effectiveness of specific programs, such as the Small Acreage Program, can be measured by following up with participants to see if they acted on what they learned at a workshop or class. This can be done by phone or mail.
Environmental Information Cooperative - The EIC is a partnership between Clark County, City of Vancouver, Southwest Clean Air Agency, WSU Cooperative Extension, and WSU- Vancouver. The EIC is a key connection to schools and teachers. It provides teacher workshops, promotes and schedules River Ranger's presentations, and organizes the annual Columbia River Watershed Festival.
Earth Savers - Earth Savers is a program developed by Clark County Solid Waste. The main topic areas are energy, recycling, water conservation, and stormwater runoff. The Vancouver school district has adopted Earth Savers as a mandatory curriculum for their 6th grade classes and the Evergreen school district is also promoting the program to their teachers. Participation in Earth Savers helps districts qualify for their fee waiver.
River Rangers & Mother Natures Garden - River Rangers is a 50 minute presentation to 4th graders about stormwater and wastewater. Mother Natures Garden is a puppet show for grades K-3 promoting natural gardening and the hazards of chemicals and fertilizers. Participation in these two programs help school districts qualify for their fee waiver.
Water Quality Monitoring - The Clean Water Program partners with the City of Vancouver in their water quality monitoring education program. Teachers and classrooms are mentored, as needed, in all phases of monitoring from site selection to interpreting data collected. In 2006, the Clean Water Program expanded this partnership to include a macroinvertebrate studies component for teachers. The program culminates each year in a student Watershed Congress where participating classrooms come together to share their projects with each other and the community.
Billboard Art Contest - Water Resources sponsors
an annual stormwater poster contest for grades K-12. Winning posters
are displayed on commercial billboards throughout Clark County.
Living Streams - Healthy Watersheds School Assembly Program - (Formerly River Heroes) This environmental school assembly program teaches students the importance of protecting our water resources and good stewardship through the art of storytelling.
The schools are required by state law to provide environmental education in their classrooms. It is often difficult for districts to separate dollars spent on pure stormwater-related education in their budgets, however, in every district the amount spent on environmental and water related education far exceeds the amount of their Clean Water Fee. Therefore, as schools are already overburdened meeting state and federal requirements, the Clean Water program has sought to give the schools credit for what they already do in the classroom as well as to encourage participation in specific programs offered by the county, including Earth Savers, River Rangers, and water quality monitoring. The school districts are required to submit an annual report for each school year detailing what related activities and curriculum they have provided to their students teachers.
We recognize the need to develop additional ways of educating teachers about the program. Each fall, staff contacts school district administrators to renew their commitment to participate in the waiver program. Administrators are asked to promote the program and pass along program information to their staff. Sometimes, Clean Water Program staff are invited to training meetings and are able to speak directly to teachers. However, in many cases, it is very difficult to reach individual teachers. The EIC newsletter, Greenlines, is distributed to science and other interested teachers. Articles about the program and offerings appear in Greenlines on a regular basis. While teachers may not recognize "The Clean Water Program", many are familiar with River Rangers, Mother Natures Garden Puppet Show, Earth Savers, and the water quality monitoring program.
Yes. The teachers continually comment how their students are able to remember what they learned after hearing about stormwater pollution.Even the students themselves will comment in the hallways days afterwards about what they learned. There have even been students that say they have told their parents to change their ways.It may take time but the education efforts by all county staff are making a difference.
Broad outreach is done in the form of billing inserts, regional media campaigns (Regional Coalition), cinema advertising, newspaper ads, and distribution of literature at fairs and community events. The Watershed Stewards program trains adult volunteers to educate other adults as well as youth. The Small Acreage Program targets adult landowners in rural Clark County.
The Small Acreage Outreach Program is offered in partnership with WSU Clark County Extension and the Clark Conservation District. A series of workshops entitled "Living on the Land" is offered annually addressing issues unique to rural landowners, particularly those with a few animals. Topics include developing a plan for your property, mud and manure management, proper siting of outbuildings to lessen stormwater runoff, and animal and pasture management (reducing erosion, runoff, etc). In addition, small farms with good examples of best management practices are invited to participate in a recognition program and tours for the public.
Other workshops offered throughout the year in cooperation with the Health Department and the Clark Conservation district cover protecting wells, septic maintenance, fencing, and manure composting.
We hold two training sessions which draw between 15 and 25 participants, over 150 volunteers have been trained since 2000.
Watershed Steward volunteers staff booths at community events such as the annual Home and Garden Idea Fair and the 10-day Clark County Fair. The Stewards sponsor stream side restoration and tree plantings as well as assist other environmental groups and agencies in restoration activities. Stewards give River Rangers presentations, help in classrooms, and assist with water quality monitoring.
On average, the stewards contribute around 1500 hours of volunteer time and provide outreach to 15,000 people annually.
Stormwater Technical Education and Outreach
1. Are most businesses aware of Clark County's Title 40, Chapter 40.380 - Stormwater and Erosion Control?
No. Most of the businesses we visit in unincorporated Clark County because of a potential pollution issue are small. Unlike large corporations with dedicated environmental managers, tracking of environmental laws usually falls to the small business owner or manager who usually is not trained on the ever-changing environmental regulations, especially pollution from stormwater runoff.
Most businesses want to do the right thing and many think they are doing everything they can. However, most need to be educated on best management practices for preventing stormwater pollution and on how their stormwater system actually works.
Businesses that have oil/water separators are not maintaining them. Catch basins and storm drains are also not being maintained. Additionally, businesses still like to hose areas down rather than sweep up debris.
4. Do businesses respond to county staff giving them information on Best Management Practices for their business activities?
For the most part, business owners and managers want to be in compliance. However, if the BMP is going to cost them any money or extra effort, they often need repeat visits to comply.
Yes. We have forwarded several cases to Code Enforcement and a few to Washington State Department of Ecology.
By far the biggest problem in rural Clark County is improper manure management by small hobby farms and large livestock owners. The runoff created by large manure piles is a major contributor to the degradation of water quality in our streams. This issue is being addressed in the Small Acreage Program and on an individual basis.
Residential calls vary but the most frequent calls are regarding oil dripping from a parked car on the street paint, equipment washed off in the street or into storm drains, and car washing in the driveway or street.
Engineering and Capital Programs
The Clean Water Program has completed several capital projects totaling over $2.75 million. Another $2.8 million of additional work is sheduled for 2007.
The steps necessary for a complex project can take several years. A preliminary designs establishes project feasibility, identifies potent, and determine preliminary cost estimates. If there are land purchase needs, the landowner must be contacted to see if there is a willingness to negotiate with the county. In addition, an early permit review is necessary to make sure that the project can be permitted with conditions that are possible for the program to meet. Once the project is approved, a survey must be done, a final design prepared, permits obtained, and land acquired, if necessary.
They fall into several categories. These include:
- Retrofits - Improvements to existing facilities to improve their intended function or to add a stormwater management function that was not included in the original design.
- New projects to provide detention, retention, or water quality treatment for stormwater systems that do not currently provide them.
- Joint projects, some of regional scale, with road fund activities to provide water quality management for existing developed areas without stormwater systems.
- Projects that anticipate areas of future development and provide additional stormwater management above that which is required by code.
- The mapping of the system is required under the NPDES permit.
- Knowing what and where stormwater infrastructure is located is essential to management and maintenance of the system, which is also required under the permit.
- Accurate maps assist in the effective planning, design and review of construction projects.
- Government accounting standards require a periodic assessment of the condition of the system in order to budget for required maintenance and eventual replacement of facilities.
- The program pays for additional maintenance of this kind above and beyond that level funded prior to the establishment of the program. This is in the form of additional cleaning in a given year.
- This kind of work removes pollutants before they are transported by the pipe system to the streams and other waters of Clark County.