State caught in crossfire with proposed stormwater control rules

How far should Washington go to rein in the largest source of water pollution fouling Puget Sound and many other water bodies in the state?

Friday is the deadline for the public to weigh in on a preliminary proposal by the Washington Ecology Department that is drawing fire from environmentalists as being too lax and from builders as being potentially super-costly. A second, formal public comment period will start this fall.

At issue is stormwater, the pollution-laced runoff that streams off the developed landscape after rainstorms, carrying a foul stew of pesticides, toxic metals, fecal matter and other pollutants. Washington is the first state in the nation where a judicial ruling forced state regulators to require builders to employ a series of green-building techniques known as “low-impact development.”

Now the Ecology Department has set out to determine just how much building methods will have to be adjusted to comply with the federal Clean Water Act, which the state administers. The ruling by the Washington Pollution Control Hearings Board requiring the changes says they must be employed “where feasible.”

But what does that mean?

 Does it require that almost every bit of rainwater be soaked up by sponge-like “rain gardens,” porous pavement, vegetated roofs and other “green infrastructure” techniques?

 Does it mean builders should just do the best they can, given the local terrain they’re building on?

 Or should developers have to go even further, mostly building up with multi-story construction instead of building out, so that a minimal amount of ground is covered, leaving intact most trees and other plants, along with native soil, to slurp up the stormwater?

Opinions vary. Ecology has advanced a tentative set of ideas based on the notion that the full-bore treatment isn’t likely to work everywhere.


InvestigateWest and KCTS 9 co-produce "Breathing Uneasy," a look at the air pollution crisis in South Seattle

“Breathing Uneasy” is the result of a collaboration between InvestigateWest and KCTS 9. Veteran environmental reporters Robert McClure of InvestigateWest and Jenny Cunningham of KCTS 9 spent six months examining the impact of truck traffic on the communities that border the Port of Seattle, an area that new studies say has some of the worst air in the state. Their stories detail how toxic emissions from diesel trucks endanger residents of some of Seattle’s poorest communities, but also contain lessons and implications for any area dealing with major roadway traffic near schools and residential neighborhoods.

In addition, McClure and Cunningham examine how Port of Seattle Chief Executive Officer Tay Yoshitani helped oppose changes in legislation that would have made trucks cleaner, despite his promise to make Seattle the “cleanest, greenest, most energy-efficient port in the U.S.”

A special report on air pollution, co-produced by InvestigateWest and KCTS 9,  will air on KCTS Connects Friday, June 17 at 7 p.m. Click here to view the video.

To read the stories on Crosscut, click here.  And you can listen to Robert McClure discuss the issue with Ross Reynolds on The Conversation during the noon hour Tuesday, June 14 on KUOW 94.9 FM.


Breathing Uneasy: Port CEO promised green reform, but many trucks still pollute











Watch KCTS9 and InvestigateWest’s special report on air pollution in south Seattle, which airs on KCTS  9 Connects, Friday, June 17 at 7 p.m.








When Port of Seattle Chief Executive Officer Tay Yoshitani took over the nation’s sixth busiest cargo port, he vowed to vault it ahead of competing ports in its environmental record.

“The cleanest, greenest, most energy-efficient port in the U.S.,” is what Yoshitani promised not long after taking over in 2007.

Yet under Yoshitani’s leadership:

* The port has run advertisements in shipping-industry trade journals boasting about its lack of “clean-truck fees” like those charged at competing West coast ports with stricter controls on air pollution emitted by privately operated trucks that move cargo.  “Fee free.  NOW. No clean truck fees … and collaborating with our customers to keep it that way,”the ads said.

* The American Association of Port Authorities North Pacific  caucus, which he chairs, opposed changes in federal legislation that would give port directors like Yoshitani power to curb pollution from the trucks.

Breathing Uneasy: Air Pollution Crisis in South Seattle

Watch KCTS9 and InvestigateWest’s special report on air pollution in south Seattle, which airs on KCTS  9 Connects, Friday, June 17 at 7 p.m.


Rosa Vela is always on alert, watching for signs her five-year-old daughter, Lettie, is having trouble breathing. She knows the next severe asthma attack could send Lettie to the hospital for yet another round of treatment.

 “I feel very sad,” Rosa Vela said. “Seeing her in the hospital, it makes me feel desperate.”

Lettie Vela’s family lives in the Duwamish River Valley that lies between Beacon Hill and West Seattle, where rates for hospitalization of children for asthma are the highest in King County.

Residents here face an onslaught of toxic airborne pollutants that according to a recent study exceed regulatory caution levels by up to 30 times.

According to a second recent study, the Puget Sound region is in the top 5 percent of communities nationally for air toxics.  And the industrial neighborhoods of Georgetown and South Park have some of the dirtiest air in the Puget Sound region.

Carol Smith's picture

InvestigateWest launches first collaboration with regional Patch sites

InvestigateWest is happy to announce the launch of its first collaboration with Patch, a network of online local news sites. A team of InvestigateWest reporters and photographers spent more than six months examining issues of family homelessness in Washington State. The resulting award-winning Generation Homeless project looked at family homelessness through the lens of young adults – one of the most under-recognized segments driving the surge in homeless families in Washington, as well as the impact of this trend on children and school systems around the state.

Joining us in localizing this effort even further is Patch, a network of online local news sites. Patch reporters and editors dug even deeper at the local level to see how this disturbing trend is playing out in school communities throughout King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties.

Edmonds Patch, for example, drilled down to see how an underfunded federal mandate to provide transportation for homeless students is affecting the school district's budget.

Enumclaw Patch looked at the difficulties schools face in tracking and identfying homeless familes in order to provide services.

Kirkland Patch looked at what it's like for kids to be homeless on the East Side.

These and other stories to come this week demonstrate the power of linking investigative and community journalism. They take a big, nationwide issue, and show how it is hittng each of us, where we live.


Homeless student populations on rise around state

Editor’s note:

      The following is an updated version of a story about homeless students in school districts throughout the state, including the most recent data collected by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. ..;.. For updated information on each district, see interactive map.

For updated information on each district, see interactive map.

By Carol Smith



School districts around the state are grappling with how to help growing populations of homeless students, even as budget cuts further slash their ability to meet their federal obligation to do so.

Under the federal McKinney-Vento Act, school districts are required to identify and report homeless students and to guarantee those students transportation so they can stay at their original schools even if they have been forced to find emergency shelter outside the district. The districts are required to track how many students are living in motels, doubled up with relatives, in cars or in shelters.

Being homeless can affect how children learn, can lead to depression, and can be misdiagnosed as learning disabilities, labels that stick with a child for years.


Top 10 school districts with the most homeless students in the state

TOP 10 DISTRICTS WITH MOST HOMELESS STUDENTS IN STATE 2009-2010 (plus percent change compared with 2006-2007)


1.  Tacoma School District—1194, up 17 percent

2.  Seattle Public Schools – 1139, up 27 percent

3.  Spokane Schools  -- 856, down 5 percent

4.  Everett School District --  630, down 22 percent

5.  Wenatchee School District – 621, up 29 percent

6.  Highline School District – 597, up 21 percent

7.  Olympia School District – 457, up 61 percent

8.  Bellingham School District – 451, up 80 percent

9.  Evergreen School District (Clark) – 448, up 104 percent

10.Vancouver School District --  391, up 3 percent

Rita Hibbard's picture

The power of regional investigative reporting

We have good news about the news business to share. Our work makes a difference!

InvestigateWest's groundbreaking story on the hazards of chemotherapy exposure for health care workers has resulted in the passage of two laws improving worker safety in Washington state, signed by Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire in April. One of the laws establishes an occupational cancer registry in the state, and the other regulates better regulates toxic compounds, including chemo drugs, in the workplace. That story first appeared on our web site, on, The Seattle Times and in a documentary we co-produced with KCTS 9.

In addition, a measure banning toxic pavement sealants also was signed into law by the governor. That effort came after InvestigateWest  wrote about the issue just over a year ago. With the governor's signature, Washington state became the first state in the nation to ban the sealants, joining a handful of smaller governments across the nation that have taken similar steps. That work appeared on our web site and on