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A bi-partisan move to save Washington shellfish

Gov. Gregoire's ocean acidification panel is wrapping up its recommendations for deterring an oyster apocalypse and lawmakers aren't wasting any time.
A large oyster at Dabob Bay.

A large oyster at Dabob Bay. Hstender/Flickr

Lawmakers will introduce a new bill to tackle Washington's ocean acidification troubles prior to the upcoming state legislative session in January, according to state Sen. Kevin Ranker (D-Orcas Island).

Ranker told Crosscut that the potential bill has both Democrat and Republican support, just after he left a Friday meeting of Gov. Chris Gregoire's panel to combat ocean acidification. Gubernatorial candidates Jay Inslee and Rob McKenna, he said, have also been kept in the loop on the findings of the panel.

The 28-member panel — to which Ranker belongs and which is made up of legislators, state agency officials, environmentalists, scientists and business representatives — met Friday to discuss a 43-item list of ocean acidification projects that it believes the state should tackle. So far the list includes roughly 20 top priority measures.

Though Ranker declined to discuss the details of the still-in-the-works bill, he argued at the meeting Friday that the entire list of recommendations is far too long to be taken seriously by the the legislature, which will have to find money to fund these efforts. Instead he pushed his fellow panelists to narrow down the list to its top three to five priorities for dealing with the increasing acidity of Puget Sound and the state's Pacific Coast, which has become a growing threat to the Northwest's $270 million shellfish industry.

Thanks to rising acidity levels in Northwest waters, tiny oyster shells in Washington's Dabob Bay and in Oregon's Netarts Bay are crumbling faster than they can grow back; a problem that has cut sharply into this year's oyster harvests. Scientists have pinpointed a drop in the water's pH as the cause; a trend that has two primary contributing factors: additional carbon dioxide in the air and nitrogen-laden nutrients that seep from cities, septic tanks and agriculture into the ocean. 

PH measures the acidity or alkalinity of a fluid on a 14-point scale — the lower the number, the more acidic the liquid. Distilled water is considered "neutral" and sea water normally has a pH of 8.1 to 8.2, well within the narrow pH spectrum that allows shellfish to survive. At 100 feet deep, Dabob Bay water has sometimes been measured at a pH of 7.5.

Recent studies have shown scientists that not only is the acidification of ocean water increasing, but that that increase is accelerating. Near the beginning of the Industrial Revolution — 250 years ago — the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide content is said to have been roughly 280 parts per million. Today the atmosphere is at about 390 ppm. The increase in carbon dioxide density in the air — and in the sea — is expected to significantly accelerate this century.

It is an issue that will ultimately require collaboration by the legislature, state agencies and the private sector. 

None of the 20 initiatives the panel is proposing will be simple. "How to do it is where the controversies come. [The] number one [issue] by far is funding. It's not going to be cheap," advised panel co-chairman Bill Ruckelshaus. Ruckelshaus was the federal Environmental Protection Agency's first chief in 1970 and is the advisory board chairman of The William D. Ruckelshaus Center at the University of Washington and Washington State University. (Disclosure: Ruckelshaus is also a member of Crosscut's board.)

Still, panelists worried Friday that taking funding or political feasibilities into account would begin watering down recommendations before they'd even left the panel. "I'm afraid if we put in political, social or funding considerations, we'll drop some of it," Ruckelshaus said. 

"That makes it really easy to blame the legislature if something doesn't get done," quipped Jay Manning, Gregoire's former chief of staff and the co-chairman of the panel.  

In the end panelists agreed to select three to five top priorities by ecological urgency rather than by political and funding feasibility.  Those top priorities are the only major missing piece of a report on Washington's ocean acidification woes scheduled to be submitted Nov. 27 to Gregoire and her successor as governor; the first state effort of its kind in the nation.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Oct 15, 11:13 a.m. Inappropriate

I was at the meeting but had to leave a bit early. The one thing left uncertain to me was whether the Governor would receive the report prior to her departure and where its implementation would be housed in a future administration. While I appreciate that future administrations may want to do things differently, having something in place when they take office would require an active decision to reorganize or disband the effort. Alternatively, it would take an active effort just to continue the progress. Given the importance of the very ability of our greatest liquid asset to support life as we know it, I would hope that the governor would seize the opportunity to embed the effort in the administration. It is also puzzling why there was no mention to the Puget Sound Partnership in the recommendations. It would seem to me to be natural to have an ocean acidity chapter in the State of the Sound Report. The Partnership is finally ready to start implementing a plan - let's make sure it includes the ocean's acidity.

Posted Tue, Oct 16, 9:17 a.m. Inappropriate

I tend to agree with Ranker that while all the proposals need to be presented (in case one can be handled later in some way that comes up that is unclear now), that the top three need to be put forward as most critical and needing action in 2013.

Also, it could be helpful to have the legislature and Governor push this up the ladder to the Federal level. The ultimate answer to this is likely both cutting greenhouse emmissions nationally and internationally. While we are the largest producer of greenhouse gases, China and India are ramping up fast. I would wager that Pacific Ocean acidification is being significantly contributed to by China and Japan, along with the U.S.

8string

Posted Wed, Oct 17, 1:23 p.m. Inappropriate

I'm sure the powers that be will do the samething with ocean acidification as they do with stormwater pollution,,,, pour money down a drain with no results, or solutions, or accountability, or enforcement, and stick it to the middle class with increased fees and taxes on everything they can get their hands on.

salmonjim

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