Going Green on Whidbey Island
Wasn’t it Mark Twain who said, “The coldest winter I ever spent was summer in the Puget Sound?” Very clever but no, you might say, he said that about San Francisco. Or, if you’ve done your homework you might know that Twain was quoting someone else. Someone named Quinn said something like it 100 years before about Paris. Still, it’s a great little fictitious quote that someone should have said at some point about Puget Sound.
However, no one is saying that this year. We’ve had record breaking temperatures and drought since June which is normally a rather soggy month. So far this year we’ve had 11 days over 90 degrees in Seattle. The last two months by average temperature have been the hottest on record. In addition this May through July has been the driest period on record with less than an inch of rain. The previous record was 1.73 inches in 2003.
I grew up in the south and will not go back there in the summertime if I can help it. Heat is one thing. Heat and humidity totally wipe me out. I’ve lived in Western Washington now far longer than I lived in the south and my tolerance for warm temperatures is next to nil. So what do I do about my garden on these hot summer days? I wait.
I’ve taken up gardening in the gloaming, that special time between sunset and nightfall when the heat of the day subsides and a diffused light lingers. Gloaming is an old English word that people equate with “twilight” which now makes people think of vampires. “Gloaming” is related to the word “glow”. I glow when I get outside in the gloaming, to garden or walk. It’s cooler and quiet and I can weed, water, or walk at will. And yes, I see a few bats while I’m out there.
A friend introduced me to the official designations for these in between times.
There is Civil Twilight when the sun is 6 degrees below the horizon. In the morning we’d call it dawn, in the evening, dusk. There is enough light for most outdoor activities, the horizon is clearly defined and the brightest stars are visible in a clear sky.
Then there is Nautical Twilight when the sun is 12 degrees below the horizon. By this time darkness is falling. Objects on the ground become hard to distinguish and the horizon is obscure. By then I have put away my trowel and gardening gloves and rolled my wheel barrow back into the garage.
Astronomical Twilight is when the sun is 18 degrees below the horizon. Illumination from the sky is very faint and it is officially dark except for the light of the moon and stars. This week a blue moon lit up the sky and cast shadows from tall trees. I look up between the garden and the house to see if I can spot my favorite constellations, a shooting star or the elusive northern lights. After these hot dry days, summer nights are a peaceful paradise.
During a long summer drought Islanders become concerned about our water supply. Our neighbors in Skagit County enjoy the seemingly unending water from the Skagit River, the second largest river in Washington State. It feeds many small towns as it runs from the high Cascades to the sandy shores of Mount Vernon. The city of Oak Harbor on north Whidbey gets drinking water piped in from the Skagit River. But the glaciers that feed the Skagit are retreating. Those declining frozen reservoirs are a growing concern.
The rest of us are dependent on wells and our sole source aquifer (like an underwater lake). In a year when rainfall is as rare as reindeer, our aquifer gets little rainwater recharge. Whether you’re on a well or a municipal water system, this time of year conservation is essential. If everyone is careful there will be enough water for all of us.
Water conservation is important both inside and outside the home. The average American household uses 320 gallons of water each day, or 80-100 gallons per person. My parents, who live in an area with summer droughts, challenged themselves to use as little water as possible. They put a rain barrel on both sides of their roof. They filtered it and carried that water into the house and poured it in the toilet for a free flush, boiled it for dish washing and even brought in buckets of water for the washing machine! They averaged just 60 gallons a week. In addition to a much smaller water bill they were recognized by the mayor and were featured in the local paper. Most people aren’t willing to put that much work into it even with the lure of celebrity status. However there are simple steps that can maximize your efforts.
The toilet uses 27% of the household’s water. “If it’s yellow, let it mellow,” my dad says with a smile. ”If it’s brown flush it down.” You could also put a plastic 2 liter bottle full of water into the tank to reduce the water in each flush. Or install a low flow toilet that uses about 1.30 gallons per flush.
Leaks can add up to 13% of water loss. Do a dye test on your toilet by adding a few drops of food coloring to the toilet tank. If colored water comes into the bowl without flushing, you have a leak. Even a small leak in the toilet or a leaky faucet can results in 200 gallons lost and a huge bill for those on municipal water. Rhonda Severns of the Oak Harbor Water Department used to say,
“Don’t wait a week to fix a leak!”
The clothes washer uses 22% of household water. There are new high efficiency washers that can save 16 gallons of water per load. For a limited time Puget Sound Energy will give you a new one for free if your old washer is at least 20 years old. Check out their appliance offers and rebates at PSE.com. They also have low flow shower heads… or you can take shorter showers.
A rain barrel at your down spouts can go a long way toward keeping gardens watered during a drought. If you didn’t get one installed before the drought, you can add one now and be ready for the next shower. It doesn’t take long to fill up a 50 gallon barrel. Put a mosquito net over the top to make sure it doesn’t become a bug breader. If you have any questions about rain barrels, Scott Chase of the WSU Shore Stewards program can offer years of expertise and presentations for groups. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-387-3443, ext 258.
To conserve water in your yard, water in the cool of the day and mulch around plants to reduce evaporation. Retain native plants and soils that are well established and require less water and maintenance. For more information on native plants in your landscape contact the Whidbey Conservation District. Just visit: www.Whidbeycd.org or call 360-678-4708.
So you think you can compost? But can you compost with the best of them?
In recent years compost has been a judging category in the Whidbey Area Fair (Formerly the Island County Fair). There have been few competitors in this division so if you enter, there’s a good chance you could win a ribbon! There are 2 different categories, one for worm bin compost and one for yard waste compost. This year the Fair will be Aug. 6-9 so start getting your entry ready now.
If you have a worm bin for food waste, one way to prepare is to put the fresh stuff on one side of your worm bin so the worms will fully process the stuff that’s on the other. You’ll need to bring in at least a mason jar full of the “black gold”.
For yard waste compost, make sure your compost pile gets turned every 4-7 days to help the whole pile break down evenly. The pile should be at least 3 feet wide by 3 feet tall by 3 feet deep to really get cooking. With this dry weather we’ve been having you may need to dampen the pile. It should have about the same amount of moisture as a wrung out sponge. If you have a 3-4 foot section of PVC pipe with holes drilled along it, you can put that in the middle of the pile as you build it. Lay it horizontally to help air get into the center of the pile which will speed up the process. Air, moisture, volume and turning helps yard waste turn into good compost. For the judging you shouldn’t be able to recognize any individual sticks or straw. It should just look and smell like rich soil.
To enter the competition, go online to www.WhidbeyIlsandFair.com, look on the left side for Exhibitors and click on Premium Book. The compost category is under OPEN CLASS DIVISION, Department 204, Agriculture, Division E: Grains, Beans, Seeds and Compost.
If you’re not an avid composter yet, you may want to take a Free Compost Class offered by the WSU Waste Wise Coordinator, Janet Hall. Composting turns yard waste and food waste into good soil supplements for your garden and will save money on garbage disposal, too. Food waste should be processed in a rodent proof worm bin to protect your home and family. Find out how to get started at this engaging workshop. Bring your Discover Pass for parking.
Fort Casey State Park at the Lighthouse, 9:30-11:00, Saturday, July 25 or Saturday, August 22.
To register call 360-678-7974 or email: email@example.com.
As temperatures rise, so do reports of algae blooms in marine waters.
This week I was called with reports of a red tide. People are alarmed. They ask if it’s safe to swim, harvest shellfish or allow their dogs into the water.
A red tide does not indicate toxins in the water. Reddish water is often caused by Noctiluca, an algae bloom that is harmless to humans. Some people say it looks like streaks of tomato soup in the water. Red tides are not uncommon in Holmes Harbor and Penn Cove in summer.
A basket of mussels hangs from a private dock near the south end of Holmes Harbor and a trained volunteer collects a sample every two weeks for testing. Other volunteers collect shellfish for testing at other sites around Island County. Mussels filter food from the water column so they usually indicate the presence of biotoxins before clams and oysters that feed in the sand.
The Island County Public Health Department works with the State Department of Health and trained volunteers to monitor both shellfish and water quality on Whidbey and Camano Islands.
Biotoxins naturally occur in marine waters and can cause Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning, Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning and Diarrhetic Shellfish Poisoning which can cause serious illness and sometimes even death. These toxins cannot be cooked or frozen out. Marine biotoxins are not visible to the naked eye. The only way to determine if water and shellfish are safe is to test them in a lab. Once shellfish are tested, the results are sent to the State Department of Health and the County Public Health Departments. Appropriate signs are posted at those sites to alert the public.
The latest test results indicate safe shellfish in Holmes Harbor but these toxins can change overnight. It’s important to call the State hotline number, 1-800-562-5632, or visit their clickable map at: www.doh.wa.gov/shellfishsafety.htm before harvesting or eating shellfish. If the tests show a presence of biotoxins, the Health Department closes the beach until further testing shows the toxins have cleared.
Water samples are taken weekly throughout the summer at some of our popular beach parks. The State Department of Ecology’s BEACH program funds water sampling at Freeland County Park, Dave Mackie Park at Maxwelton Beach, and Windjammer Park and swimming lagoon in Oak Harbor. If water quality test results indicate high levels of harmful fecal coliform bacteria signs are posted on those beaches until water quality improves. Beaches contaminated with harmful bacteria are a public health risk. Beaches that are near a sewer or stormwater outfall pipe, or a marina, have permanent swimming and shellfish advisories. To find the latest test results from your favorite beach visit: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/eap/beach/
Last week Pope Francis called for immediate human behavior changes to fight global warming saying damage caused by contemporary lifestyles could leave future generations a devastated planet. He chastised those who denied the connection between climate change and human behavior. The Pope declared the planet was in peril and it was due to a culture of instant gratification.
He emphasized that climate change was a moral issue, that poor people suffer more than the wealthy from global warming, and that everyone has a duty to be responsible stewards of the planet. His words connected environmental issues and economic issues with spiritual health and happiness. He didn’t say anything new, it was just that it was the Pope saying it that made it big news.
He said he was praying that an international enforceable agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would come out of the Climate Change conference scheduled in Paris in 6 months. Previous conferences on global warming haven’t made much progress. Our leaders can help make sweeping changes but sometimes it just seems to take forever. So while we’re waiting for them to get onboard, let’s start with what we can do now, as individuals or communities.
A couple of years ago I got a free energy audit from Puget Sound Energy. Their representative came to my home, changed all my light bulbs to energy efficient CFLs and offered advice on ways to reduce my energy bills. PSE also offers rebates for residential and commercial buildings and sometimes have special give-aways on appliances. I upgraded my washer and fridge and got a new super efficient ductless heat pump! Visit their website to see what’s currently available. http://pse.com
My house is not in a good place for solar panels so recently I invested in the Greenbank Farm Community Solar Project. The project involves the installation of solar panels at the farm, provides local jobs, stimulates the Island economy, provides renewable energy and an electric car charging station to the farm, and in a few years my investment will be cashed in at a good rate. There are similar community solar projects in Anacortes and Ellensburg. Find out more here; http://www.whidbeyexaminer.com/news/300983171.html
If you’re house is in a sunny spot there are excellent incentives to go solar before the end of 2015. Call Whidbey Sun and Wind for details. http://www.whidbeysunwind.com/
I love my commute. First I walk from my house up and over a big hill. It saves me the cost of a gym membership. Then I catch the Island Transit bus to work. The bus is paid for by grants and a fraction of a percent of our county sales tax. There is no bus fare, so I save on my workout and my transportation. And the bus is full of co-workers and friends. Occasionally I have to drive, but when I do, I miss my walk and the camaraderie on the bus.
My car sits at home a lot but when I drive, I try to drive in a way that gets the most out of every drop of gas. Some tips I’ve learned is not to carry a lot of extra weight when not necessary. Keep tires properly inflated. When approaching a stop, take my foot off the gas far in advance and ease up to the intersection slowly. When I start up again, I ease out of a stop gradually. And if idling for more than a minute, turn the engine off. On the open road drive the speed limit. Driving over 60 mph is like throwing money out the window.
Growing and buying local food also helps reduce greenhouse gases. Much of the food in the grocery store traveled over 1,000 miles to get here. But it’s just a few steps out to the garden where I can grow produce year round. I also like shopping at farm stands and farmer’s markets on the Island. The food is fresher and more nutritious, I’m supporting our local organic farmers and the atmosphere is festive. I bring my own shopping bags which saves money on garbage disposal fees. I compost food waste in a worm bin and use the worm manure for garden fertilizer. And of course I recycle as much as I can here which saves resources and money.
I think the Pope would approve.
Okay, here’s the dirt.
Americans waste 40% of our food between farm and fork. Wasted food means wasted water as 80% of our water goes to agriculture. Wasted food also means wasted farmland with over 50% of U.S. land in agriculture. Wasted food means wasted fuel as much of our food travels over 1,000 miles to get to our local store. Food waste makes up 18% of our country’s solid waste which goes to landfills where it turns into methane gas which is a greenhouse gas that’s much more potent than carbon dioxide. We Americans waste $165 billion worth of food each year. A family of 4 spends an average of $1,600 a year on wasted food. First we pay for it at the check-out stand and then we pay for it to get hauled to the dump.
These numbers come from Dana Gunders, Food and Ag Scientist at the Natural Resource Defense Council in a 2012 report. She has a new book out called a Waste Free Kitchen Handbook, a guide to eating well and saving money by wasting less food. It offers tips on shopping, recipes, portioning, fridge use, preserving, pickling, freezing and cellaring. Sounds like a book my grandmother could have written if she’d taken time from her gardening, freezing, pickling and canning.
My parents grew up on farms during the Great Depression. Nothing went to waste then. Growing up in the 1960′s and 1970’s, my siblings and I weren’t allowed to leave food on our dinner plates so we only took what we knew we could eat. My mom made us all members of the “Clean Plate Club”. I can imagine what mom would say if she knew that 50% more food is wasted now than when we were kids.
There are many ways to cut food waste. Let’s start at the source. Growing some of our own food and buying food from local farmers is a good way to cut the waste, cut the cost and maximize the nutritional value of our food. We can support the local economy and build community, too. Our farmer’s markets and farm stands are a fun place to shop and visit with friends. Find one near you at this website: http://www.whidbeycamanoislands.com/thingstodo/food_wine/culinary_agritourism/
At the supermarket ask the produce manager for a discount on produce with spots or bruises. Stores compete for your dollars so they only put out the most beautiful produce. What happens to the not so pretty stuff? In France they started a program called “Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables”. Grocers sell their less than perfect produce for a discount and much less food goes to waste.
A restaurant will serve the same amount to me as they would to a 200 pound man. (I hope I never weigh 200 pounds,) so I plan to split a meal with someone I’m dining with, or take home half for later. The Good Samaritan Act says if there is unused food in the restaurant kitchen, it can be donated to those in need. Unused food that has been served to a customer cannot. A group in Portland, Oregon started a program called “Fork It Over, Portland”. They match food businesses that may have surplus food with rescue agencies who distribute it to those that need it.
At home you can reduce food waste by planning meals before you go shopping. Don’t buy more than a week’s worth of fresh food, unless you’re planning to can, freeze or pickle it. Match your meals with your appetite. Allow plenty of time for your family to eat. Get creative with leftovers and then label and freeze some of them for later. If you bought too much, you could donate some to the food bank.
No matter how hard you try to reduce food waste, you’ll still have some watermelon rind, broccoli stalks or egg shells left over. Feed people first, then the chickens or the worms in the worm bin. Putting food in a yard waste compost pile attracts rodents, so put food waste in an enclosed worm bin. (See “Got Worms?” in the March blog post.) Once the animals are done with it, you’ll have good fertilizer for your garden and the whole cycle starts again! For more tips on minimizing food waste contact Janet Hall, the WSU Waste Wise Coordinator for Island County, at 360-678-7974.
My weed of the week is Canada Thistle, that spiky plant that grows tall enough to look me in the eye in defiance. If my back is turned it will sneak into the edges of the lawn, the field and the roadside. Ever since I bought my “farm” I’ve been mowing it, clipping it and pulling it out by the roots. This time of year thistle is about to flower. The blooms look like pretty purple pin cushions. Whack ‘em now! Before they go to seed and spread with the wind to the four corners of the neighborhood.
Last year I pulled a tarp around my yard and along the roadside tugging out thistle. I wore a raincoat and two sets of gloves to protect myself from the prickles. I piled it up on the paved driveway to bake. At first my pile was the size of Mt. Rainier and could probably be seen from space, but after a week in the sun it seemed to deflate. Then I could fold up the tarp, stuff it into my hatchback and deliver it to the Island County Solid Waste Complex in Coupeville where they let me dispose of it for free. I made three or four trips to the dump with my car full of thistle last summer. This year, my yard is much tamer than last. Now I can focus on the Tansy Ragwort!
Canada Thistle is listed as a Class C “Noxious Weed” in Island County. Class C weeds are generally widespread but may be selected for control at the local level. Canada thistle, as well as Bull Thistle, are both regulated weeds in Island County, meaning landowners are legally required to control them. Class B Weeds are currently limited to specific areas of the state. Preventing them from spreading into new areas is a high priority. Class A Weeds are non-native species whose populations are still small in Washington. Preventing new infestations is key. Eradication of all Class A plants is required by law (RCW 17.10).
If you want to see who made the 2015 State and Local Most Wanted List of Noxious Weeds visit: http://ext100.wsu.edu/island/nrs/noxious/weed-list/ or http://www.nwcb.wa.gov/ These web resources have color photos and details on each plant.
Noxious weeds (or obnoxious weeds as I think of them) are those non-native, invasive plants that spread quickly and dominate the landscape choking out our diverse native plants and impacting wildlife. Many were introduced as landscape plants like Yellow Archangel or Butterfly Bush, which sounds so sweet and innocent. Some, like Tansy Ragwort and Poison Hemlock, are poisonous to humans and livestock. If not controlled they thrive in our rural community.
Plants like Spartina, Tansy Ragwort, Purple Loosetrife, Scott’s Broom, Poison Hemlock and Spurge Laurel can move in quickly and threaten diverse plant communities. It’s important to catch them now before they cast seeds to the wind, or water in some cases. It takes a concerted effort to get them under control but every hour spent on managing these aliens pays off big time for years to come.
I met with the Island County Noxious Weed Program Coordinator, Janet Stein, who told me she has many brochures on how to deal with these unwelcome invaders. She will also loan out weed wrenches, a tool developed to remove Scott’s Broom, but can also be used on other tough shrubs. She may even be able to steer a hardy group of volunteers to assist you in the removal. Or if you are among a group of hardy volunteers who are willing to help, contact Janet. To find out more, stop in at the WSU Extension office in Coupeville or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-678-7992.
Last weekend I met some friends for lunch in Seattle. We dined at Iva’s’ Longhouse on Lake Union. The street side looks much like the Ivar’s take out counter at the Mukilteo ferry terminal, but around the side it looks more like a longhouse. I walked through a giant totem pole to get into the restaurant. The salmon, clams and fresh halibut was tasty. The longhouse inspired architecture reminded us that the people of Puget Sound have eaten fish and shellfish since the last ice age retreated roughly 10,000 years ago.
If you’re planning to keep up this tradition and go clamming this summer, there are a few things you should know.
First and foremost, call before you dig. Seriously.
The Washington State Department of Health monitors shellfish from the outer coast through the Straits of Juan de Fuca and into Puget Sound from Bellingham to Olympia. Each day they post any evidence of biotoxins on their clickable map and their hotline number. Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning, Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning and Diarrhetic Shellfish Poisoning can make you very sick and some can be fatal. You can’t tell by looking at them if they’re safe to eat and you can’t cook or freeze the toxins out. If you’re gathering oysters on a hot day, ice them immediately and cook them thoroughly to avoid Vibriosis. Check before you dig any shellfish by calling 1-800-562-5632 or clicking www.doh.wa.gov/shellfishsafety.htm
This site will also tell you which beaches are closed due to pollution. In general steer clear of waterfront development with septic systems, outfall pipes or marinas. And there may be signs on the beach that say if an area is closed and why, but not always. The clickable map or hotline number is your best bet for safe shellfish harvesting.
Next check the Department of Fish and Wildlife to find out about the shellfish season, harvest limits and permits that may be required. You’ll find information on seaweed harvesting, too. http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/
And sign up for a Digging for Dinner class offered for free by experienced Beach Watcher volunteers. Even if you’ve been digging clams for years, you’ll probably learn a lot. Pull on your rubber boots, bring a shovel and a bucket, and take the kids for a fun afternoon. The first classes of the year will be on Saturday, June 6 at noon at the Double Bluff Park near Freeland, and on Saturday, June 20 at noon where Zylstra Road meets Hwy 20 near Coupeville. They’ll have an answer for any questions concerning shellfish harvesting on Whidbey Island.
For those tempted to go clamming east of Coupeville or Monroe Landing, remember there are sewer outfall pipes on both sides of Penn Cove. To dig safely in Penn Cove, go to the west end near Zylstra Road or the park on Madrona Way. The only people allowed to dig for shellfish at Monroe Landing are the Tribes who use the clams for bait, not for human consumption.
Freeland County Park was just closed to shellfish harvesting after a six week season. Because the summer winds generally come from the north, the beach there fills with seaweed forming a thick carpet that holds pollutants that wash from the shore. Holmes Harbor is a six mile long bay that doesn’t flush well. Winter winds blow from the south and clear the beach so water quality improves but people don’t dig clams much in the winter. This year the State opened the beach for clamming for six weeks in the spring before the seaweed piled up. They’ll do some studies to determine if they can schedule a shellfish season there again next spring.
Now go enjoy the beach (but call before you dig) and get a taste of Whidbey!
Bike to work, bike to school, bike to the bus, or make the great escape and go on a biking adventure!
I’m not a cyclist. I don’t have the clip on shoes or the skin tight shirt. I don’t like “sharing the road” with cars, buses and trucks. I like to ride bikes, but I’m just choosy about where I go.
When I lived in Anacortes, I loved riding the Tommy Thompson bike path along the water as part of my daily commute. I could pedal effortlessly watching the sun come up over the water, or stop to pick blackberries on my way home. My favorite part was pedaling on the old railroad trestle over the bay. It was just five miles from my house to the Park and Ride where I caught the bus the rest of the way to work. What a lovely way to start and end each day.
Since leaving Anacortes, I ride much less, but last fall I took my first multi-day Rails to Trails, bike trip, a 5 day, 250 mile ride from Pittsburgh to historic Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. My family lives in the area so I combined it with a visit. My sister took me to the bike shop where I rented a hybrid bike. They had outfitted it with a rack and panniers, headlamp, helmet, pump and a tool-kit with an extra tube. All I needed were my clothes, water bottle and snacks.
This bike path is a Rails to Trails project called the Great Allegheny Passage. It runs from Pittsburgh,Pennsylvania for 150 miles to Cumberland, Maryland where it connects with the historic Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Park, 185 miles of tow path along the Potomac River that leads to Washington, D.C. Together they make a 335 mile long, off road, almost flat, scenic and historic bike trail. Every 5-8 miles there are camp sites with picnic tables, privies and water available. Or you can stay in lodging in the small towns along the way that cater to recreational riders.
I planned my stops about 50 miles apart, which gave me a little time to visit historic sites and enjoy the trip. I went in October to see the brilliant fall foliage exploring small towns along the way and meeting other cyclists and locals. On the wooded bike path I came upon deer, ground hogs, turtles, geese and 3 flocks of wild turkeys!
I crossed trestles and walked through tunnels, and flattened pennies under historic trains. I took photos of the locks on the C&O Tow Path where the mules used to tow barges up the Potomac River. It was a wonderful trip.
When I came back I began planning my next bike trip. A friend and I took advantage of a 3 day weekend to bike on Vancouver Island. The weather was perfect. We took our bikes on the B.C. ferry from Tsawwassen. When we reached Swartz Bay we biked south on the Lochside Trail through Sydney, on back roads and bike paths to Victoria. There we connected to the Galloping Goose Trail and headed west, passing through lovely parks, stopping for lunch by a lake and then pedaling on to Sooke. We rode almost 50 miles that day. Most of it flat.
The next day we rode the Galloping Goose through the woods along the Sooke River to the end of the trail. We had a leisurely picnic and siesta and then rode back to Sooke for the night. On the last day we started early and rode easily back toward Swartz Bay. We stopped for lunch on the beach in Sydney. It was such a clear day we could see Mt. Rainier, 140 miles away. Later we caught the ferry and spotted Orcas just ahead! What a spectacular way to end a great weekend bike trip. Now I’m planning my next bike adventure!
To plan yours visit: http://www.railstotrails.org/experience-trails/
State and local laws now require regular septic inspections. It helps protect surface water and ground water which is especially important when roughly 70% of Island County residents get our drinking water from underground. It’s a little complicated to determine how often and by whom these inspections should be done so let’s play the If and Then game.
First, if you know what type of septic system you have, then you can move ahead to the next paragraph. If you have no idea, then find out by calling the Island County Public Health at 360-679-7350.
If you have a basic gravity system or conventional pressure system then you could take Septic 101 and 201 classes and for $28 you could get certified to inspect your own system. (Unless you live in a designated sensitive area like the Penn Cove watershed. More about this below.) Inspections are required every 3 years for a gravity system and every year for a pressure system. You can register for online or in person classes at www.islandcountyseptictraining.com or call 360-678-7914.
If you have any other type of system, a mound, sand filter, aerobic treatment unit, etc, then you’re required to have a septic professional inspect your system annually. You can find a list of septic professionals at www.islandcountyseptictraining.com. Alternative System classes are also being offered this year, but not for certification.
For a Limited Time Only!
If you live in the Penn Cove Watershed then you could get a Rebate that would probably cover the cost of your inspection (not pumping). Just take the free 30 minute Septic 101 class online at www.islandcountyseptictraining.com, get your system inspected in 2015, and send your invoice from a licensed Maintenance Service Provider to the County. For details call 360-678-7913.
It’s important to note the difference between an inspection and pumping. Regular inspections are required because it’s important that your septic system is functioning properly. It’s like getting an annual tune up for your car. An inspection helps find minor problems before they become an expensive septic repair. Also, an inspection may cost between $200-$300 while pumping could cost twice that. If you need financial assistance to pay for septic inspections or maintenance call Kathleen Parvin at 360-387-3443 extension 240.
Septic professionals vary widely. Some want to pump your system whenever they come to your house, but it doesn’t need to be pumped unless the septic tank contains about 30% solids or if it requires some repair. Fees for services vary, too, so call a few and ask for quotes. If you’re shopping for a new home in Island County, then you need an inspection done before you buy. If you buy a home with a failed septic system you cannot legally occupy that home until it’s fixed which may cost another $20,000.
Save Money on Septic Maintenance
If you don’t already have lids and risers installed for easy access to your septic system, then getter done! It costs a bit to install them but will save money on all your future service calls.
If you spread out your water load throughout the week, then your system will run more efficiently. Give your washer at least an hour off between loads and don’t do more than two loads a day. Use liquid laundry soap and non-toxic cleaners.
If you have a garbage disposal, then use it as little as possible. To find out more about composting food waste in “rodent proof” worm bins, read my previous blog or visit: http://ext100.wsu.edu/island/nrs/waste-wise.
If you have a septic system, then take care of it by putting only five things down your drains: water, mild detergents, mild liquids, human waste and toilet paper. Protect your drain field. Don’t compact the soil. Don’t drive over it, park on it or build anything on it. Don’t plant large plants or a vegetable garden on it or near it. Don’t water it. You can learn more about caring for your septic system by taking Septic 101 at: www.islandcountyseptictraining.com