Clean Water District Model (Water Quality)

State: WA Type: Model Practice Year: 2012

The abundance of natural resources found in Mason County includes 250 miles of marine shoreline, 223 lakes and 312 miles of streams. These marine and freshwater resources are valued for countless recreational and commercial (employment) opportunities as well as for their importance to a traditional diet and way of life. The on-going quality of these water resources is the concern of Mason County, the Squaxin Island and Skokomish Tribes, the City of Shelton, state and federal agencies and to all citizens of the county. The shellfish industry in Mason County is a $10,000,000 per year industry. Due to non-point water pollution, the Washington State Department of Health downgraded Oakland Bay for shellfish harvest in 2006. This downgrade was caused by elevated levels of fecal bacteria in the marine water and limited where and when shellfish could be harvested. Oakland Bay produces 80% of the manila clams that are consumed in this county. The economic impact of a shellfish closure in the bay is enormous to our county and our citizens. When a shellfish growing area is downgraded, Washington State law requires a shellfish protection district to be formed to identify potential pollution sources and oversee their elimination to restore water quality. Some of the potential sources of fecal coliform pollution included poorly managed livestock manure, improperly maintained onsite septic systems and pet or wild animal waste. Clean up priorities were identified in the Oakland Bay Action Plan, which was developed in 2006 by the Oakland Bay Clean Water District Advisory Committee. A variety of activities have taken place since then to ensure that Oakland Bay can continue to support recreational, economic, and environmental uses. Clean up activities were funded by many sources, including money spent by community residents, federal and state grants, and support from Mason County. The Oakland Bay Clean Water District Advisory Committee is a group of concerned citizens, government agencies, county departments, business/industry groups, and the Squaxin Island Tribe. The committee is charged with improving and protecting the water quality in Oakland Bay. The goal of the district is to reduce water pollution and ensure that Oakland Bay remains safe for swimming, fishing and all activities important to the culture, heritage and economy of the area while protecting the public’s health. Washington State law allows for the collection of a special assessment to fund the costs associated with the formation of a shellfish protection district. Because of the importance of the shellfish industry in Oakland Bay, the Mason County Commissioners came up with an innovative way to fund the work using a portion of a sales tax for rural counties dedicated to economic development rather than tax the citizens of the area. Most often this funding is used for "brick and mortar" type projects but the Commissioners supported the contention that the water is the infrastructure for the shellfish industry and the formation and work of the clean water district was an appropriate use for the funding. They approved the use of $200,000 per year to support the work in Oakland Bay. The citizens of the area were in support of the multi-agency process as they learned about the work being performed through the committee's education and outreach efforts. A social marketing project was implemented by a group of advisory committee partners. Increased reports of onsite septic system routine maintenance were observed because of the education and outreach efforts employed by the health department and the education subcommittee. Incentives were offered to reduce barriers to getting routine maintenance performed on individual onsite septic systems thanks to a task in an Environmental Protection Grant to the Squaxin Island Tribe. Best management practices and farm plans were offered by the Mason Conservation District to area residents with farm animals. The educational opportunities and the services and incentives offered to property owners made the process a success to this point. By using a practice roughly fashioned after the MAPP process, partners came together, a plan was developed though a process, and truly wonderful things started to happen in the Oakland Bay Clean Water District. This process will be used again in Mason County. The partners are engaged and actively supporting the work outlined in the Oakland Bay action plan. This process was not fast. It took time for the partners to learn to trust each other and to understand where the others were coming from with their interests and points of view but we have a process for protecting and/or enhancing water quality in Mason County.
Health Issues In this case the public health issue is the downgrade of a shellfish growing area due to elevated fecal coliform counts. Increased fecal coliform pollution in the marine water caused the growing area to be closed to harvest of shellfish for human consumption. Under Washington state law the Mason County Board of Commissioners had 60 days to respond to the shellfish restrictions with a plan to correct pollution problems. A group of concerned citizens and interested agencies was called together to begin the process that eventually evolved from the single focused “Oakland Bay Shellfish Protection District” to the all inclusive “Oakland Bay Clean Water District” with its own advisory committee and Board of Directors. Mason County Public Health has the authority and responsibility to enforce rules and regulations related to failing onsite septic systems and other sources of fecal bacteria contamination to protect the public's health. Our authority and interest not only extend to the safety of shellfish intended for human consumption but to other activities where people may come in contact with water such as swimming, fishing, boating and other recreational activities. The Oakland Bay Clean Water District took a holistic approach to water quality rather than a single purpose attempt at cleaning up the water to re-open shellfish growing/harvest areas. The shellfish industry in Mason County is a $10,000,000 per year industry. Oakland Bay produces 80% of the manila clams that are consumed in this county. The economic impact of a shellfish closure in the bay is enormous to our county and our citizens. The formation of a shellfish protection district to address the causes and remediation of potential pollution sources is outlined in state law. Responsibility is given to the local government to facilitate the process and because the issue was fecal contamination of the marine water, the responsibility was assigned to public health. Once the shellfish protection district formation committee was convened, the participants knew that a bigger, broader approach was needed to truly make a difference in Oakland Bay. The committee was extended larger than the regulators and the shellfish industry to a group that would include as many differing points of view and ideas as possible. Not everyone that was invited came, but the groups that did have been able to make the connection between the marine water downgrade and public health to their respective disciplines and authorities. The primary purpose for the creation of the Oakland Bay Clean Water District and the Advisory Committee was to implement activities and practices to clean up and improve the water quality in Oakland Bay. The process developed allows for the model to be used in the future in other areas facing water quality issues. It can be used in response to a downgrade, but can also be used proactively to prevent a downgrade. Since this practice is being maintained as an ongoing process, the partners are involved and committed to maintaining or improving water quality. The process does not have to be repeated from the beginning. Innovation Although we did not know it at the time, our group process very closely followed the Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships (MAPP) tool from the NACCHO Toolbox. The very definition of MAPP is how we did our work. We mobilized for action through a community–driven strategic plan for improving the public health by improving water quality. Washington State law requires the formation of a "shellfish protection district" when a shellfish harvest area suffers a water quality downgrade. The local health jurisdiction is given the authority for facilitating the process and the responsibility for assuring water quality improvement. In a partnership with the State Department of Health the team of active partners is formed and the structure is defined. We assembled a group of interested partners from government entities, industry/business, the Tribe, and citizens to do the visioning, make the assessments and determine the strategic issues before setting goals and performing the action cycles necessary to improve the water quality. The formation of a shellfish protection district as the result of a water quality downgrade in a shellfish growing area is spelled out in Washington state law. The code gives specific guidance on formation and function of the district. The use of a process like the MAPP tool is new to Environmental Health and environmental protection in our county and in Washington State. In addition to the work performed by the committee, funding from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Squaxin Island Tribe was used to do a social marketing program specific to the property owners within the shellfish protection district. This social marketing work has been featured at a national conference to the delight of the advisory committee. Because the work of the Oakland Bay Clean Water Advisory Committee has been successful in improving water quality and upgrading the status of the shellfish growing areas, the model will be used again. It is our hope that this model can be used by other jurisdictions to address any water quality downgrades they may experience to get to the outcome we experienced – improved water quality. In the past the formation of a shellfish protection district was a rather heavy handed top down process relying on enforcement. This model was used by various agencies and health jurisdictions around the state with mixed measures of success. From our own past performance we knew it was not the best approach to get partner support and buy in of the process. By using a process similar to the MAPP process, partners were engaged - they were owners of the process and of the solution. With this ownership came pride in the work and a shared vision for the future. Members were able to share their assets in a manner that was important to them and to the groups they represented at the same time making progress toward the shared final goal of improved water quality. Most of the partners were quick to see the big picture and how public health was a bigger piece of the process than just enforcement by environmental health staff - which had been our role in previous shellfish protection district formation processes. Everyone was encouraged to bring their assorted strengths to the table with them. This process is what made the shellfish protection district/clean water district successful. We will use this process again when we have areas of concerned water quality as funding allows.  
Primary Stakeholders The primary stakeholders are the groups defined by Washington State Law as responsible when a shellfish harvest/growing area’s water quality is downgraded. These core partners include Mason County Public Health (the local health jurisdiction), the Washington State Department of Health, the residents of the defined geographical area, as well as the Tribe and other shellfish growers/harvesters. Role of Stakeholders/Partners The stakeholders are equal partners in the planning and implementation of the practice. They bring a wealth of knowledge, experience and resources to the table. This combination of expertise from various interests and points of view is invaluable to the process. By relying on the visioning and action of the advisory committee members, the ultimate goal of cleaning up the water is happening. Because the work of the Oakland Bay Clean Water Advisory Committee has been successful in improving water quality and upgrading the status of the shellfish growing areas, the model will be used again in Mason County. It is our hope that this model can be used by other jurisdictions to address any water quality downgrades they may experience to get to the outcome we experienced – improved water quality. LHD Role As well as being one of the responsible parties under the law for the development of a shellfish protection district, Mason County Public Health staffed the advisory committee and acted as the liaison between the committee and the County Commissioners (local elected officials). The Health Department is the facilitator, to help identify issues and resources and to keep the process moving. We act as staff to the committee to maintain records and perform clerical support functions. We house the Oakland Bay web site on our home page. Mason County Environmental Public Health employees act as staff to the Advisory Committee, sending meeting reminders, taking and warehousing the minutes, maintaining the activities completed and pening on the matrix as well as performing all of the miscellaneous duties that go into having a successful work group. We set up the regular committee meetings and educational sub-committee meetings. We host the web site on our county home page. Our department head acts as the chair of the committee at this time and we are the conduit to the elected County Commissioners for the committee. We set aside some of our funding each budget to fund part of a staff position from Washington State University Extension to perform education and outreach activities from the matrix (Oakland Bay action plan). Lessons Learned The main lesson learned is that the process takes time and patience. Although all of the partners wanted the same final outcome, clean water, everyone came from a different perspective. We had to learn to trust each other. Then we had to learn to depend on each other to support the process. Once the trust came, the other pieces fell into place. Implementation Strategy The specific tasks to achieve: Objective 1: (Objective 1 of the Oakland Bay Action Plan) include holding regular meetings, update the committee on grant work and provide quarterly reports on water quality and onsite sewage activities. In the beginning of the work the partners believed the only way to get the work done was to meet twice a month, which we did for the first 2 years. As we made progress on the activities outlined in the action plan the group decided that meeting once a month would allow us to continue our work and meet the goals with specific timelines. Now that we have had water quality upgrades in the area and progress continues to be made, the group decided to continue meeting every other month. Objective 2: (Objective 3 in the action plan)is Develop and implement public/private partnerships and a public involvement plan. The tasks included Identifying key stakeholder groups, providing additional participant names to the education work group for outreach, and hold periodic public outreach/update meetings or workshops/trainings. To this end the web site has been developed and is kept current with reports, educational materials, links to other resources and current science. Each year some sort of community celebration is held to keep the work of the Clean Water District in the public view, to encourage community participation and highlight special projects and well as soliciting interested potential new partners. Objective 3: (Objective 10 from the action plan) is program evaluation. It was very important for the committee to have measurable goals to track the effectiveness of the Oakland Bay action plan (matrix) on an ongoing basis. The semiannual review of the work and accomplishments of the partners by the Board of Directors coupled with the annual report card demonstrates the work that has been done by all of the groups and organizations focused in Oakland Bay. Results from the marine water bacteria sampling provide the hard numbers to reflect the improvements achieved through the partnership's activities. Although many of the tasks have resulted in a product, the advisory committee wants to continue the work so a timeline designation has been given as "ongoing". Periodic reviews are done to assess the effectiveness of the products and evaluate their effect on the committee's work and value to the community. The committee sees a long term need for and value of the work being performed by the advisory committee under this practice and has committed to continuing the process as long as we can.  
Process & Outcome The Oakland Bay Action agenda includes 10 Objectives. The three selected for discussion in this section are: Objective 1: Identify Responsible Lead Agencies, Action Steps and Performance Measures, Objective 3: Develop and implement public/private partnerships and a public involvement plan and Objective 10: Program Evaluation Evaluations are done both formally and informally, by process and by outcome. They are in the twice a year committee reports to the Board of Directors, they are reflected in the number of meetings we have and in the annual progress report (report card). The State Department of Health reports fecal coliform bacteria counts and is the agency responsible for determining growing are status (open, concerned or closed/downgraded). Because of the work of the partners in Oakland Bay water quality has improved; Chapman Cover is no longer on the state Department of Health's threatened list and the station at the end of Oakland Bay is allowed except from June to September. This improvement is both a health and financial measure of success of the project. Objective 1: The first objective to discuss is Objective 1 from the Oakland Bay Action Plan (matrix): Identify Responsible Lead Agencies, Action Steps and Performance Measures. The "objectives and tasks" included holding regular meetings of the Oakland Bay Clean Water District (OBCWD) Advisory Committee, including all entities involved in Oakland Bay restoration projects, update OBCWD Advisory Committee on grant work related to the action plan, and provide quarterly reports to the OBCWD advisory committee on Mason County Public Health water quality and onsite septic system activities within the boundaries of the district. The action steps to implement the tasks included holding regular meetings six times per year, providing time during the meetings for each agency or group to report on their action plan work to the Advisory Committee, evaluate reports for alignment with the public outreach goals and objectives including relevant updates, and allowing MCPH water quality and onsite program staff to present their report and post to the web site. The tasks under this objective are ongoing with at least quarterly reporting. The outcomes include a coordination of action plan strategies, clear communication between stakeholders, and timely updates on activities. Health department reports demonstrate that 63% of the onsite septic systems in the Oakland Bay Clean Water district boundary have been kept up to date with maintenance. This is a 13% increase from the previous year when only 50% of the systems were shown as maintained. Shorebank reported that 3 low interest loan repairs were completed in the Oakland Bay Clean Water District in the past year for a total of $48,000. The onsite septic retrofit rebate program reported that 41 residents have retrofitted their septic system for easier access to their septic tank for maintenance, removing an identified barrier to routine service events. In 2009, 978 reminders were mailed to residents whose records indicated maintenance was past due and 113 homeowners with unsatisfactory service reports were mailed educational materials. Washington State University Extension and Mason County Environmental Public Health provided septic maintenance workshops thought the year. Records show 143 residents from the Oakland Bay watershed attended these workshops form 2006-2009. Objective 2: Objective 2 for this exercise is Objective 3 from the action plan: Develop and implement public/private partnerships and a public involvement plan. The tasks under this objective include: Invite area residential landowners to be part of the Oakland Bay Clean water District Advisory Committee, Invite key stakeholders that are not attending the Advisory Committee meetings to provide input on issues that might affect them, and Develop new educational materials and a public involvement plan regarding water quality in Oakland Bay. The action steps include identifying key stakeholder groups as part of the public involvement strategy, providing additional participant names to staff and/or the education work group for outreach, contacting stakeholders to provide them with information and reporting feedback to the Advisory Committee, and holding periodic public outreach/update meetings or workshops/trainings. All of the action steps are ongoing. Committee members serve a 3 year term and must re-apply if they want to remain on the advisory committee. Nearly all of the original members/agencies have chosen to remain active with the committee and submitted their application for re-appointment when their terms were up. Products and outcomes form these tasks include input from all stakeholders, input from landowners and the development and publication of many educational materials. These activities have resulted in community support, public comment and education of target populations. We continue to build the Oakland Bay website and partner on committee members websites, twitter and facebook pages. In 2009, 7 farms developed Conservation Plans and 17 properties developed planting plans for the streams, lakes, wetlands or marine shorelines on their properties. In two years, over 40 landowners in the Oakland Bay Watershed have developed and implemented parts of plans for their properties - this translates to over 1,600 volunteer hours. In 2009 the Mason Conservation District provided over $78,000 in funding to help landowners implement habitat restoration and agricultural improvement projects. That investment was matched by almost $38,000 in local landowner direct costs. Projects included fencing and planting along streams, pasture management, gutter projects, weed management and many other improvements that contribute to cleaner water, healthier livestock and healthier families. Objective3: The third objective to be discussed is Objective 10 of the Oakland Bay action plan: Program Evaluation. The objectives were to establish measurable goals to track the action plan effectiveness, to use testing to determine if goals are being reached and to review and revise the Oakland Bay Action plan yearly. It was very important to the committee to have a program evaluation that would determine if the activities we had implemented were being effective, if we were producing the appropriate results and if we were achieving our ultimate goal of improved water quality. Results and accomplishments by the advisory committee partners are continually reported and reviewed and shared with the Board of Directors and the community. Each year the Oakland Bay Clean Water District education subcommittee sponsors a celebration of the accomplishments and good things that happened in the district over the past year. We started tagging on to the Earth Day Celebration, as a booth and one of the keynote presentations was done by a partner. We moved the celebration to the school in the clean water district, hoping to involve more families. We even had a video presentation by a Seattle area weatherman to kick off the weather station at the school. We have now moved the celebration to a Saturday at the Department of Fish and Wildlife park on Oakland Bay. It has turned into a family affair with beach walks, bird watching, clam digging and booths for the partners to hand out educational materials and celebrate their successes. Local residents have started to anticipate the celebration and the updates associated with it. As outlined in the objectives above, presentations are given to the Board of Directors twice a year and an annual report card is produced and distributed. Our meetings are open to the public and our reports are housed on the Oakland Bay web site. The transparent evaluation process has been effective as we do the annual review and update to the action plan. The action plan (matrix) is intended to be a living document, changing as conditions dictate but always keeping site of our long term goal of maintaining or improving water quality in Oakland Bay.  
The 22 groups that have come together to create the Oakland Bay Clean Water District Advisory Committee have either volunteered or leveraged staff time to participate in the process for over 4 years. They are committed to the process and to the final outcome - clean water and re-opening of shellfish growing areas. Perhaps they are a little more committed to the practice because they were part of the process from the very beginning. (This was not the fact in past attempts at forming shellfish protection districts.) The partners were able to be contributors and owners of the process; organizing, visioning, performing the assessments and goal setting and to see the results of the actions/activities that have demonstrated positive outcomes. The water quality has improved in the Oakland Bay Clean Water District, shellfish growing areas have been upgraded. There is an understanding that the work cannot stop or the water quality will degrade again and nobody wants that to happen. We have cautiously savored the success and want the good practices to become part of the way things are done into the future. For the past 4 years the Mason County Commissioners have supported the use of $200,000 per year from a rural county sales tax fund to pay for some of the public health staff’s work of the Oakland Bay Clean Water District Advisory Committee. Although the funding usually pays for ”brick and mortar” projects, the idea that the water is the infrastructure for the shellfish industry was embraced and financial support was provided. Mason County Public health management personnel are exploring options for a sustainable source of funding to maintain the program. We thought we had one more year (2012) of rural sales tax funding until November 1, 2010 when we learned that due to proposed state budget cuts we would not be receiving the funding we had come to depend on for this important work and that had been included in our 2012 budget. We will continue to use what resources we have until we find another funding source to keep this practice going. We are also waiting for an announcement of and Environmental Protection Agency grant award to be made on November 16, 2011. This grant would help to support the Oakland Bay Clean Water district work (practice) from January 1, 2012 through September 30, 2014. The most difficult part of the process has been trying to find the financial resources to keep the practice going.
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