How an oil spill can lead to salmon habitat

Ecology now accepting grant applications for restoration projects

Oil spills can change an area forever. They're a threat to human health and can cripple the drivers that power the economy. From an environmental perspective, oil spills are a toxin that can have catastrophic effects on salmon, seabirds, shellfish beds, orcas, and other wildlife. Large or small, a spill can have lasting impacts to resources vital to cultural identity, public health, and the economy. Washington has suffered many oil spills that have a lasting impact on the state. While the damage can’t be undone, we do have a mechanism to help offset the damage oil spills cause to natural resources.

The Coastal Protection Fund

Ecology manages a series of grants for environmental enhancement and restoration work through our Coastal Protection Fund. The fund was established in state statute by the Legislature in 1991.

A vessel and dock with boom around oil in water

The fund is divided into three subaccounts, two of which are named for former Ecology managers: the Terry Husseman Account, the Resource Damage Assessment (RDA) account, and the John Bernhardt account. The Terry Husseman Account is funded through water quality violations, while the RDA and John Bernhardt accounts come from penalties and assessments from oil spills.

When oil is spilled in state waters, the spiller is responsible for paying for the cleanup, including the State's expenses to respond to the incident. In Washington, spilling any amount of oil to water is illegal, so the responsible party may also be issued a penalty. That money is deposited into the John Bernhardt account.

A spiller may also need to reimburse the public for the damages the spill caused to state natural resources such as water quality, fish and wildlife, habitat and cultural areas, beaches, and shellfish beds. The money from a Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) goes into the state RDA account.

How the grants work

When either account reaches $100,000 or more, the we solicit grant proposals for those interested in on-the-ground environmental restoration work. Local and tribal governments, state and federal agencies, and non-profit organizations that benefit the public are all eligible. Private entities and ineligible organizations can partner with another eligible group.

Ecology’s grants have funded restoration and enhancement projects across the state. Past projects include salmon habitat restoration, livestock exclusion fencing, derelict crab pot removal, land acquisition, and stormwater improvement projects.

“All oil spills, regardless of size, can harm the environment, particularly fragile ecosystems in the Pacific Northwest. While it’s always better to prevent oil spills in the first place, these grants do help reverse damages to the environment, or even make an area even better if we can,” said Geoff Baran, NRDA lead and Grant Administrator with Ecology.

A Succia Island beach with debris before and a restored beach after

2018 grant cycle funded Mudd Bay/Sucia island habitat restoration project. Pocket beaches are a critical thing for juvenile salmon.

Apply today!

Interested in applying? We're now accepting applications! Visit the Ecology website for more information. The application period runs from January 27 to February 24, 2021, at 5 p.m.

Funding will be awarded sometime around April, 2021. It’s important to note that that these are reimbursable grants, meaning that applicants must spend their own funds and will be reimbursed afterward.

“Washington is a major oil transport and refining hub, unfortunately with that come spills. But with this grant structure, those spills can lead to habitat restoration for salmon, new infrastructure to address stormwater, or other beneficial projects. These grants have a lasting value to our environment and preserving the thing we hold dear here in Washington,” said Baran. “I encourage any group interested in making an offsetting positive impact to apply.”

A causeway on Succia Island before and after restoration

2018 grant cycle funded Mudd Bay/Sucia island habitat restoration project. Pocket beaches are a critical thing for juvenile salmon.