Going Green on Whidbey Island
“Out of sight, out of mind,” should not apply to our septic systems. In Island County roughly 70% of us are dependent on groundwater for our drinking water and 70% use septic systems to treat our waste water. We love to dig for clams and oysters. We go crabbing and fishing off our island’s shores and we swim and play on the beaches. If these things are important to you, if clean water is important to you, please, have your septic system inspected.
The law requires an inspection every three years for conventional gravity systems. If you have a pressure system or an “alternative” system (a mound, sand filter, aerobic treatment unit, etc.), you’re required to have your system inspected annually by a professional Maintenance Service Provider (MSP). Find a list of certified MSPs on our County website. (See below)
But don’t leave it all up to the pros. Become an informed island resident. Supervise the inspection, see that it’s thorough, ask questions and make sure the MSP has your correct name and address so you’ll get credit when he files his report to the County.
Septic systems are different from sewers. Most sewer systems are owned by a sub-development or a city. If you’re not on city sewer like Oak Harbor, you own your waste water treatment system and you need to know how to care for it. We offer a Septic 101 class to teach you how to protect your system and avoid expensive repairs or replacement, from what goes down the drain inside, to protecting your drain field outside. Septic 201 classes teach you how to maintain a conventional gravity or pressure system. If you complete both classes and pay a $28 fee you could be certified to inspect your own system.
Island County has a Septic System demonstration site with components above and below ground where we teach some of our Septic 201 classes.
Don’t know what kind of system you have? Get a copy of your Asbuilt (a diagram of your septic system). The septic installer was required to turn in an Asbuilt to Island County when the system was constructed. Island County has Asbuilts dating back to the 1950’s. Some of the older ones are a bit sketchy but they get better as the decades roll on. For your Asbuilt, call Island County Environmental Health at 360-679-7350 or ask at the counter at the corner of 6th and Center Street in Coupeville.
A septic inspection is different than getting your septic system pumped. An inspection is like a tune-up on your car. It will let you know if all the components are working properly. For instance you may not need to pump it, but you might need a filter cleaned
. Right now we have a Rebate Program for residents of the Penn Cove Watershed for septic inspections on a first come first served basis. Call 360-678-7913 for details. If your inspection reveals a problem Island County offers financial assistance. For more information call 360-387-3443 ext. 240.
This year we have a new class on Alternative Septic Systems. Roughly a quarter of the septic systems in Island County fit this description. You would still need to have an annual professional inspection, but you can learn about that septic system in your yard and what you can do to keep it working effectively.
Because in Island County we love clean water.
To register for septic classes online or in person, or to get a list of certified Island County MSPs visit: www.islandcountyseptictraining.com or call 360-679-7350.
There’s a buzz in the air and its not just bees.
Everyone is talking about the up-coming Sound Waters Conference 2015. It’s the 20th year for Sound Waters and the 25th year for Island County Beach Watchers who produce this comprehensive conference. I joined Beach Watcher years ago. It involved 6 weeks of training, really fun workshops, field trips and great speakers. After completing the training we were asked to “pay” for the training with volunteer hours. There were so many ways to volunteer. We worked at festivals staffing booths, or we could get into hands-on marine surveys, beach clean-ups or staff the lighthouse at Fort Casey State Park. Now there are many more ways Beach Watchers give back to the community. They’re involved in eel grass surveys, Pigeon Guillemot studies, beach monitoring, restoration projects and more. And Beach Watcher members founded other organizations like the Whidbey Watershed Stewards and the new Whale Center in Langley. Island County Beach Watchers inspired other counties to start a similar Beach Watcher program. And it all started here in Island County 25 years ago. You can sign-up for Beach Watcher training which starts in April and will take place on Whidbey and Camano Islands. Come celebrate the incredible accomplishments of this amazing force in our community. Join us at Sound Waters on Feb. 7. at the South Whidbey High School. For registration and more information visit: http://beachwatchers.net/soundwaters/wp/
On Feb. 18 there will be an Open House for residents of the Penn Cove Watershed at the Captain Whidbey Inn. Island County Public Health will offer an open house for people to learn about safe shellfish harvesting in Penn Cove and septic systems care. The County will be offering rebates for septic system inspections and if needed, grants and loans are available for repair or replacement. For details visit: www.islandcountyeh.org
Island County Public Health offers Home Owner Septic Training beginning in March. Take Septic 101 to learn how to live with a septic system, and septic 201 to learn how to maintain your simple gravity or conventional pump system. This year ‘s a NEW CLASS on Alternative Septic Systems like a mound or sand filter system. Visit: islandcountysetptictraining.com to register.
Coupeville will host the annual Mussel Fest on March 6. Bring your appetite for fun and food. The event features lots of activities including walking tours of Historic Downtown Coupeville (the 2nd oldest town in Washington), hiking and Mussels in the Kettles, a cycling event sponsored by the Whidbey Island Bike Club. Penn Cove Shellfish is the largest mussel farm in America so celebrate local food with the mussel masters! Find out more at: http://coupevillehistoricwaterfront.com/
Registration is now open for the Whidbey Gardening Workshop that will be at Oak Harbor High School on March 7 th. This annual gathering of gardeners is hosted by the Master Gardeners of Island County. You can learn about compost, soils, roots, grasses, trees, shrubs, flowers, herbs, vegetables, pruning, planting, potting, greenhouses, drain fields, just about anything you need to know about gardening in our maritime climate. For details go to: http://whidbeygardeningworkshop.org/2015/
Welcome the Whales in Langley in April (http://www.orcanetwork.org) where you could catch a glimpse of the grey whales in Saratoga Passage. Bring your binoculars and watch the parade of people in town or whales in the bay.
Celebrate many other Earth Day Events that month. Both North and South Whidbey are planning events. A good place to go for information is at the Whidbey ECO-Net website. http://whidbey-eco.net/ ECO-Net stands for Education, Communication and Outreach Network. It’s an umbrella organization that coordinates the efforts of many of the conservation minded groups on Whidbey Island including WSU Extension, Whidbey Island Conservation District, State Parks, Island County, Service Education Adventure, Audubon, Tilth and others.
If you’re new to Whidbey Island attending these events are wonderful ways to get out and meet your neighbors and learn about your community. If you’ve been here awhile, it’s a way to reunite with old friends, get inspired and feel the amazing heartbeat of the Island Community.
See you there!
Americans throw away 25% more waste between Thanksgiving and New Year’s than in any other season. It amounts to about 1 million extra tons per week! Think about those holiday parties, the paper plates and cups, plastic utensils, wrapping paper, Styrofoam stuffing, plastic packaging, ribbons, decorations, the food waste and the tree! The holidays offer special waste reduction opportunities, but first, let’s cover the basics.
Everyone knows the three R’s, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Most people focus on recycling. Recycling is pretty easy. It makes us all feel good inside. In Island County we can take our recyclables to the recycle centers at Bayview, Freeland, Coupeville and Oak Harbor Road Recycle Centers. Curbside recycling is available in the City of Oak Harbor and on Camano Island for those with regular garbage pick-up.
Look carefully at the signs on the recycle bins to make sure you know what can be recycled and what cannot. What may be accepted in one town may not be accepted in another. It depends on the company that handles the waste. So please don’t contaminate good recyclable material with stuff that can’t be recycled here. Glass is not accepted in the City of Oak Harbor recycle bins, however, there are 5 places in town to deposit glass; Office Max, Albertson’s, the Marina, NAS Whidbey and Oak Harbor Road Recycle Parks. Wrapping paper can be recycled but foil paper, ribbons, bows, used paper plates and cups and Styrofoam packing cannot. The UPS Store and Pony Express in Oak Harbor and the Lavender Wind Farm in Coupeville can re-use Styrofoam peanuts.
Re-use is where people can become even more angelic. Take some of those natural resources that were just used once and give them another chance at life. Think of it as rescue wrapping. If every family re-used just two feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet. If each family wrapped 3 presents in re-used materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields. By re-using holiday wrapping and decorations, you save not only the original resources but all the energy it took to make that tree into wrapping paper, or that oil into plastic stuff. My mother used to press used wrapping paper under the couch cushions so it was flat and handy all year round.
Reduce is the most challenging. It takes forethought, which I’m told, separates us from other animals. When you’re tempted to collect more stuff, think about it before you bring it home. Do you really need that new thing? Could you borrow, share or rent it instead? If you bring it home, do you have a place to store it? Will you have to spend money or time to maintain it? Many of us have realized that we’re happier with less stuff. I love giving presents and supporting the local economy, but I often chose gifts of experience, tickets to a concert, gift certificates to a spa or a restaurant, or give edible presents, like fruitcake! And I like receiving these gifts, too, except maybe the fruitcake… These ideas aren’t holiday specific. You could make a New Year’s resolution to be more waste wise year round.
If you get a few gifts that you really don’t care to keep, our Island thrift shops may be a good place to donate them, but please don’t drop off old VCRs or other junk just to save yourself the dumping fee. You can dispose of electronics responsibly at the Coupeville Solid Waste Complex. Computer towers, laptops, monitors, E-readers, TVs, portable DVD players that have a screen will all be accepted for free. Other electronics may be accepted by BARC, just inside the gate, for a nominal fee that benefits the Whidbey Animal Improvement Foundation.
Live trees, void of decorations, flocking and tensile, may be taken to the County recycling facilities at Bayview, Coupeville, Oak Harbor Road, and Camano for free disposal through January. Check the Island County Solid Waste website for hours and locations including Holiday closures. http://www.islandcounty.net/PublicWorks/Solidwaste/
How much more energy efficient could you become if you were in the running for a $5 million dollar prize? Georgetown University has engaged cities and counties across the country to compete for the title of Most Energy Efficient Community. Their intention is to “tap the imagination, creativity, and spirit of competition…” which sounds like fun!
Bellingham, Anacortes, Bellevue, Walla Walla and San Juan County are competing with 48 other communities across the country that made it to the quarterfinals. To be eligible communities have to have a population between $5,000 and $250,000 people. Judging is based on energy reduction, innovation, community outreach, sustainability and replicability. In the two years of the competition, these communities have the potential to save more than $1 billion in energy costs and cut millions of CO2 emissions. In that sense, everybody wins.
Participating communities from Florida to Fairbanks are already winning.
They win by building collaborations between businesses, non-profits, schools, churches, homeowners, local governments, electric and natural gas utilities all working toward a common goal.
They win with a healthier environment in which to live and raise their families.
They win notoriety that will attract new businesses, residents and visitors that will promote economic development and community stability.
And even though our town may not be in the competition, we will all win by noting what works for them and adopting it to our own homes, neighborhoods, businesses, schools, churches, towns and counties. The Semifinals will be held in 2015. It’s worth tracking.
We can start now by visiting their website http://guep.org/home-launch and clicking on Resources for Competitors. Click on What you can do to reduce your energy use. There are easy to understand guides on Lighting, Windows, Insulation, Heating/Cooling, Appliances and Outdoor Space. They also have an online calculator for your home which is a fun way to measure your progress as you take steps to conserve energy, live better, save money and clean up the environment.
If you’re part of a local organization with a physical address, you could work toward earning your Whidbey Green Seal. The certification involves 7 categories including waste reduction, transportation, water conservation and energy use. Over 40 organizations including churches, libraries, county and city offices, businesses and the Whidbey NAS Fleet have all qualified to display the Whidbey Green Seal on their door. Find them on Facebook or link up to http://www.sustainablewhidbey.org/ and click on Whidbey Green Seal.
Visit: http://pse.com/Pages/default.aspx for the latest rebates and energy saving tips from Puget Sound Energy. You could qualify for grants, rebates or free offers. In recent years I got a rebate for installing a new ductless heat pump, another for a new dryer and fridge saving almost $2,000. I got an energy audit and a house full of energy efficient CFL bulbs installed for free. And now I keep benefiting with a lower energy bill.
In this season of wind, rain, chills and darkness, it makes cents to reduce our energy consumption. Let’s follow the leaders to a healthier, happier future. It’s a win win!
On these warm summer days we keep windows and doors open to catch a breeze. If you don’t have screens on your open windows and doors, the bugs come in, and so do the bats. Bats are fascinating animals. They eat mosquitos and other bugs. They disperse seeds and help pollinate fruits and flowers. Some species of bats are threatened or endangered. Bat boxes, like bird houses, provide habitat for bats and encourage their presence in your neighborhood. Though bats are an important link in the ecological web of life, bats can also spread diseases that can be fatal to humans.
Let’s not wait until Halloween to discuss bats. This time of year things are already going batty.
If you see a bat come into your house wear protective clothing and with a long handled broom, promptly and gently usher it out. If you find a bat in your house and you don’t know how long it’s been inside, there’s a chance that someone was exposed. A bat exposure is hard to detect. So as a precaution, close the bat into a room without people and call the County Health Department at 360-679-7350.
If the bat was brought in by a pet, or other domestic animals were exposed, call your veterinarian. Make sure to keep their vaccination shots are up-to-date.
Bats, along with dogs, foxes and raccoons, can spread rabies. Rabies can be transmitted when the saliva of a rabid animal comes into contact with a person’s mouth, eyes, nose or a fresh wound.
When a person is exposed to a rabid animal, timely administration of a vaccine can prevent infection. Once symptoms become evident, rabies is almost always fatal. The Health Department would rather test a bat for rabies, than tell the people in the house that they should get vaccinated which requires a series of expensive shots. They will ask you to catch the bat. Leather gloves and long sleeves are recommended. When the bat lands, slowly approach it with a container and slip it over the bat. Slide a piece of cardboard or a lid under the container to trap the bat inside. Tape the lid shut. If the bat was dead, pick it up using a plastic bag as a glove and turn the bag inside out, so the bat is inside and your hand is out. Bring the bat into the County Health office in Coupeville.
To prevent bats entering your house, install screens on windows and doors. Make sure doors and windows seal tightly. Bats can enter a space as small as ¼ x ½ inch so seal any openings. Fill electrical or plumbing holes with stainless steel wool or caulking. Screen chimney caps. Secure screens over your attic vents.
Histoplasmosis is another potentially fatal disease associated with bats. The illness primarily affects the lungs, but has various other symptoms and can affect other organs as well. Histoplasmosis is caused by a fungus that grows in soil with animal droppings including bat guano. When soil, or guano is disturbed, spores are released and can be inhaled.
So if you have bats in your belfry, let them go out at dusk, as bats tend to do, and then seal their exit so they cannot re-enter. This could be done by stapling a plastic flap over their exit with one side unstapled so they can leave but not return.
I’ve read that high pitched music can drive bats out. One observer reported a swarm of bats leaving an attic vent when a marching band passed by in a parade. Years ago when I had bats in my attic I played Joni Mitchell volume 10 while I was gardening outside. That seemed to do the trick.
By Maribeth Crandell
On one of the busiest weekends of the year, I made the great escape. None of my friends could go with me but I was determined to go. I needed to go. As far from the crowds, the noise, the commotion as I could get. Almost out of this world.
A ferry ride, a stop for gas and groceries, and a long drive took me to Lake Ozette on the Olympic Coast. The 15 site campground had just a few tents pitched between the trees. I chose a site right on the lakeshore surrounded by alders and cedars. After settling in I went exploring, the campground and the trailhead. At the boat launch I took off my shoes, rolled up my pants and let my feet paddle the water. I leaned against a post on the dock and gazed at the water. After a few minutes a muskrat skimmed by with a big leaf in its mouth and disappeared into the reeds. In a moment it popped back out and continued to zigzag across the river carrying material for a nest. Then a second muskrat appeared and both worked industriously as I watched smiling.
After dinner in my campsite I went for a walk to the trailhead where a bridge crossed the river. I heard footsteps approaching from the trail and at the same time, splashing on the riverbank below. An otter sprung out with a fish in its mouth as a hiker strode across the bridge. The fellow, who was finishing a long day hike on the coast, stopped to watch. A mother otter with 3 little ones trailing and spiraling around her was fishing and feeding her young just below us. We swapped stories of wildlife encounters and wilderness adventures for half an hour. As darkness fell he went to start a long drive home. I said goodnight to the otters and strolled back to the campground happy to be here. Traveling alone offers more opportunities for spontaneous encounters with other hikers and wildlife.
In the morning I had my binoculars and bird book on the breakfast table, eating oatmeal, while trying to sort out all the tweeters in the trees around me, Yellow Warblers, Cedar Waxwings, Downy Woodpeckers, Chickadees, Juncos, Steller’s Jays, Kingfishers and Mergansers on the lake, Eagles and Ravens calling from the distant cedars. And I thought I was getting away from it all!
The Ozette Triangle has 3 equal sides, 3 miles to a side. Two sides are mostly boardwalk, cedar planks among cedar trees that levitate hikers over a bog. The mossy edged planks look like home to hobbits weaving between ancient trees and bogs of Labrador Tea, Skunk Cabbage and ferns. On my way out the first side of the triangle, I came upon a velvet antlered buck browsing in the shoulder high shrubs. Later a woman with 2 half-grown kids passed me heading inland. When I reached the beach, I heard some campers tucked behind some trees. An older woman walked down the beach with a daypack and a look of wonder on her face.
I stopped to take pictures of Capa Lava then headed south along the outside edge of the triangle. This 3 mile stretch sometimes requires rock hopping and log leaping over slimy seaweed and tiny tidepools. The sand slides beneath my feet and makes travel slower but there is so much to look at and to look for. After a mile or so, I was greeted by a raccoon at Wedding Rocks, a headland where pictographs of faces, whales and ships were left by people who lived here centuries ago. I walked around in circles and found first a stick figure with a cross above his head. It seemed haunted and sad. Another rock showed 2 faces and 2 whales that looked like Orcas. I sat on a log for a snack among the chipmunks when I noticed another whale carved into a rock nearby. It looked almost like a happy cartoon whale, a good lunchtime companion. I didn’t see another soul until I reached the trailhead for the forest trail at Sand Point.
At the end of the coastal stretch I stopped to take in the view and noticed an eagle dropping quickly into a tidepool where it caught a fish. It was all the eagle could do to hang on to the struggling fish. Meanwhile a crow was diving within inches of the eagles’ head. The turning tide added drama as the eagle struggled to get the fish onto a big rock and out of the surf. Another eagle noticed it then and flew in to make a claim. Both eagles and the crow took off with the fish still wiggling in the eagles’ talons. They circled over my head and into the trees and then over my head again before they disappeared into the forest. Fat raindrops fell with big lazy plops on the log where I sat so I started inland with the giant cedars as my umbrella.
Within a mile I came upon a tiny hiker chatting away and leading her parents toward the coast. She carried a pack just big enough for a sandwich and had her own little walking stick. Her parents carried much larger loads. I smiled knowing she’d grow up at ease with wilderness and congratulated her folks.
Walking the boardwalk my feet pounded out a rhythm like a drum while the rain provided a soft snare in the tree tops. I got back to my campsite as the rain settled in for the night and snuggled into my sleeping bag satisfied and happy.
By Maribeth Crandell
It’s that time of year. We go outside to grill our dinner and bask in the warmth of a summer evening, but when you lift the hood of the barbeque and see all the grease and grime stuck to the grill we cringe. Cleaning the grill is a dirty job. And many people use harsh chemicals or a lot of elbow grease or both to accomplish it.
Scott Chase of the WSU Shore Stewards program offers some excellent alternatives. His suggestions are safer for the environment and easier for you. He recommends washing soda. No, not laundry detergent and not baking soda. Washing soda, otherwise known as sodium carbonate, is commonly made from the ashes of plants, and was a staple in our grandmothers’ laundry rooms. The high alkalinity of washing soda helps it remove a large variety of stains, particularly when used in laundry detergent mixtures when hard water is present. It is also a great way to remove the baked on residue on your grill grates. Not all stores carry washing soda; you may need to look around. It is typically found in the laundry products section, and sometimes near the “green” detergent or where they carry other old-fashioned products, such as bluing and starch. You will usually find packages made by Arm & Hammer. ( You don’t want the laundry detergent that contains washing soda; look for a package that states it is washing soda. It is not expensive.)
First, find a location where this messy job can take place, maybe in the garage, where children and pets can’t get into it. Second, find a container or tub large enough for the grates and any other parts, along with a couple gallons of water. A five gallon plastic bucket works well if the grill fits into the bucket. Place the grills and other parts inside the container. Mix 1 cup of washing soda with 2 gallons of warm water. (You can use a plastic milk jug, mixing ½ cup of washing soda with one gallon of water and repeat.) Make more if you need it. Pour slowly over the grates, so that you don’t splash. Soak grills overnight or longer. Using an old towel, or stiff nylon grill brush, wipe or wash off the residue, which should now be quite soft. (Do not use a wire brush or steel wool.) When grime is removed, rinse with water and dry. Then wash with soap and water and dry again. You may want to coat the grills with a very light coat of olive oil or grill spray for protection. WARNING: washing soda is a severe skin irritation. If you splash it on yourself, you should wash it off immediately with a baking soda solution.
Garden tools that were put away dirty last year, or maybe discovered in the hedge years after their disappearance, may need a little TLC. Scott recommends another miracle worker from grandmas’ cupboard… house brand white vinegar. Brush off the dirt and submerge the rusty blades into a container of white vinegar. Leave it for 24 hours. Wipe off the residue a few times during that 24 hour period and return to the vinegar bath. Wipe off the final residue with a piece of 0000 steel wool, the finest grade, which will remove the rust. Since the vinegar would keep on working if left on the tool eating away at the metal, neutralize the acid with some baking soda dissolved in warm water. Rinse with water, dry it off and lightly coat it with olive oil. The results can be as good as expensive chemical –based rust removers, and much friendlier to the environment.
If you leave the dirty vinegar undisturbed for a few days, the suspended rust particles will settle to the bottom. You can slowly pour the clean vinegar on top into a sealable container to be used for other cleaning projects. Let the rust remain and the moisture evaporate. Discard the dried residue.
Search for WSU Waste Wise Sustainable Living for more indoor and outdoor non-toxic cleaning recipes.
Memorial Day weekend brings out the sun bathers, sailors and clam diggers. Don’t forget the sunscreen, the life preservers and for clam diggers, call this number 1-800-562-5632. It’s the safe shellfish hotline. Or you can go online and use this clickable map www.doh.wa.gov/shellfishsafety.htm to find out if the beach you’re visiting has clean water and no biotoxins. Dig it? (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
“When the tide is out the table is set.” Puget Sound residents have dined on the delicacies of the intertidal zone, clams, mussels and oysters, for roughly 10,000 years. Sometimes this beach banquet is yummy and good for you, and sometimes it can make you very sick, or worse. You can’t tell by looking at it when it will be a great meal or when it will be your last.
Location, location, location is a key part of finding a safer shellfish supper. Some places are off limits year round. Shoreline communities have septic systems, storm water outfall pipes, waste water treatment plants and marinas which should be avoided. Steer clear of the pier, or any type of human development.
When you buy food labeled “natural” it’s supposed to be a good thing, right? Not so with recreational shellfish. There are harmful algae blooms that are completely natural that can cause serious illness and sometimes death. The Washington Department of Health has people all over Puget Sound collecting clams, mussels and oysters and sending them to a lab for testing. They’re looking for shellfish that can cause Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning, Diarrhetic Shellfish Poisoning and Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning. All of these can make you sick, cause permanent damage or even death. You cannot cook or freeze these toxins out of the meat.
Symptoms vary widely. One local who’d experienced PSP told me it felt like his teeth were floating. He compared it with going to the dentist and getting a shot of novocaine. His extremities went numb. It can result in difficulty breathing and needs immediate medical attention. Diarrhetic Shellfish Poisoning, can be embarrassing and very inconvenient, as you can imagine. Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning can cause permanent short term memory loss, brain damage and even death. Heed any signs posted at the beach and check out this website for the latest biotoxin reports from the Department of Health so you “know before you go”. http://www4.doh.wa.gov/gis/mogifs/biotoxin.htm .
Vibrio parahaemolyticus is most often found in oysters during a hot spell in mid to late summer. Vibrio is easily avoidable. When harvesting shellfish, chill them immediately and then cook them thoroughly. The Food and Drug Administration suggests boiling shucked oysters for 3 minutes, frying them for 10 minutes in 375° oil, or baking them for 10 minutes in a 450° oven. Be sure to keep the cooked shellfish separate from seawater and uncooked shellfish so they don’t get re-contaminated.
Now that you’re armed with your hotline number, clickable map and biotoxin report, you’re ready to head out. Dig it?
I moved to a new home last fall. It was great to settle in for the winter. As daylight hours stretch like nettle sprouts and temperatures rise with the sun, I get the itch. I start planning a new veggie garden, consider expanding my landscaping, maybe plant a tree for Earth Day. But wait! Before you sink your shovel in the soil, consider your septic system.
I recently attended the Sound Waters Conference where I took Septic 101 taught by the infamous Janet Hall of WSU Extension Waste Wise Program. Bill Roberts of Island County was also there to help answer questions. They made the point that because we live on an island, our aquifer is, at least in part, recharged by our septic systems. So we want them to function properly because most of us get our drinking water from our aquifer as well. After living on a city sewer system for years I was surprised at the differences between sewers and septic systems.
City sewer systems are owned and maintained by a city. Septic systems belong to the property owners and are our responsibility. Just like a car, they need regular inspections and maintenance. In fact, septic inspections are required by law every 1-3 years depending on the type of system. Taking Septic 101 helped classmates and I understand how our daily activities will affect our septic systems. From what should not go down the drains inside like cigarette butts, dental floss, handi-wipes and condoms, to the drain field outside. Don’t drive over it, build anything on it or plant trees near it. They discouraged the use of garbage disposals and told us how to compost food waste in a worm bin instead. Like a car, it costs a lot less to maintain one than to buy a new one. Unlike a car, if you have to replace your septic system it would mean not only spending thousands of dollars but also digging up the yard.
I realized I should find out more about my septic system and drain field before making any changes to my yard. I stopped by the County Environmental Health office and got a copy of my AsBuilt, a diagram of my septic system, but it wasn’t very clear. So with the help of a friend, I went looking for my septic tank. We found the lid to the tank under the bird bath. Modern systems have risers to provide easy access to the lid and keep water out. If you don’t have risers, you can have them installed.
We lifted the lid and peered inside while standing at a respectable distance. We could see the filter and where the pipe led to the drain field. Then we carefully dug a couple of holes in that direction looking for the distribution box. At the distribution box we could see the laterals which showed us the placement of the drain field. Taking some measurements from the house we drew the system on graph paper. Then we filled in the holes.
For the next few weeks I walked around the yard visualizing my septic system and drain field underground and considered the possible placement of my new veggie garden, fruit trees and flower beds. I want to keep the veggie garden at least ten feet away from my drain field to avoid contamination by harmful pathogens, and I don’t want my drain field to be rendered useless by saturated soils from watering the garden. I laid out ropes to mark the imaginary beds and studied the way the sun moved across the yard. Gradually I formed a plan. Over the drain field I’ll keep a nice wide grassy lawn.
For more information on landscaping over your drain field or Septic 101 classes, call 360-678-7974 or visit: www.islandcountyeh.org/Page?105.
Yesterday I was waiting for the bus on a rural road. A man approached looking up at the tree tops. “I just saw a beautiful Red Breasted …” If he had said Sapsucker I would have been impressed. But he said Hawk which told me he didn’t know his birds. I assumed he saw a Red Tailed Hawk, which truly are beautiful. He got that right.
I mentioned how much fun I’d had going out on the Christmas Bird Count. As we got on the bus he said he had a hard time telling a Great Blue Heron from a Great Grey Heron. I said it was because they’re the same bird. I told him one of the big events of my recent bird watching outings was seeing a Shrike near Crockett Lake, but even after studying the book I didn’t know if it was a Northern Shrike or a Loggerhead Shrike.
On the Bird Count I was the designated driver for my team, because I was one of the worst birders. In general good birders make poor drivers. But I had a great time trying to find birds, any birds, and counting them. I learned a lot from the better birders and was inspired to become a better birder myself.
This year I joined the Audubon Society. It was sort of a New Year’s resolution to keep working on it. I keep my binoculars by the window and started keeping a notebook tracking who is coming and going in my yard, Dark Eyed Junco’s, Chestnut Backed Chickadees, Varied Thrush and Rufus Sided Towhees are residents. I hear the Great Horned Owls at night and at dawn and the Red Winged Blackbirds. On a walk on the beach this morning there were dozens of Wigeons, a few Harlequin Ducks and a Loon of some kind.
My mother was the first to teach me about birds. She taught me how to tell a thrush from a thrasher, a wren from a warbler and all the various jays and woodpeckers. As an adult I worked as a naturalist in many wonderful wilderness areas, but birds weren’t my specialty. I concentrated on plants, they don’t move around much, change from a summer to a winter wardrobe, sing different songs depending on their neighborhood or dress differently according to gender. Birding is tricky!
Why would anyone take the time and trouble to study birds? For me birds are beautiful and fascinating creatures, so varied, colorful and accessible wherever you go. There are falcons nesting among skyscrapers and under bridges in Seattle and Bellevue. There are little songbirds that fly for thousands of miles from one continent to another. Flightless birds that swim, or run, or kick or dance. They’re related to dinosaurs! How cool is that? No matter where you go you’ll encounter birds.
Because they’re everywhere, on every continent, they’re tied to all environments. They need habitat and keeping track of bird populations, like on the Christmas Bird Count, will help alert us to environmental degradation that effects birds and hundreds of other species. The “canary in the mine shaft” is true of more than mine shafts.
But mostly I wanted to join Whidbey Audubon because I think it will make me a better person. There are good people who are members. I’ll be able to learn from them and get to know them better as friends. I’ll go on field trips that will get me outside and into interesting new places. I’m looking forward to the interesting evening programs and speakers they have scheduled. And it will keep my mind active and sharpen my skills of observation.
Charles Lindberg said, “If I had to chose, I would rather have birds than airplanes.” I’d have to agree.