Parker MacCready, UW Physical Oceanography

The Science and Politics of Sewage in Puget Sound


HA&S 220C (5 cr.), Honors Natural Science I, Fall 2002

Instructor: Parker MacCready, Oceanography, (206) 685-9588, Ocean Sciences Building 313, Office hours: after class Monday and Wednesday, by appointment.

The TA is Jodie Little, a graduate student in the UW School of Aquatic & Fishery Sciences, (206) 221-5461.

Class Meeting times: Monday, Wednesday, Friday 1:30-2:50, 254 Mary Gates Hall

How does society use science to help make important decisions about our shared resources?  In this class we explore three intertwined topics.  First we inquire into the oceanography and biochemistry of estuaries, the bays where most of the world's large cities are located.  Our primary case study for this class will be Budd Inlet, in south Puget Sound (Olympia), however we will bring in examples from around the country and world to put this estuary in context.  The second topic of the class is sewage, its treatment, politics, regulation, and disposal, particularly into Budd Inlet.  The third topic will be a more philosophical inquiry into the public understanding and uses of science.  When do citizens trust a "scientific fact" and when do they doubt it?  The class is intended for students who wish to be "science literate" while not necessarily scientists themselves.

Do I need to know a lot of math, chemistry, or biology?  No.  However, the people who eventually make the decisions in society are you.  You do have to be willing to evaluate the results of scientific research for yourself.  We will foster the ability to make basic calculations of your own.  And we will learn how to tell if a scientific result is really to be trusted, or whether it is a biased misrepresentation of ambiguous results.  Homework will primarily be written essays based on the reading.

 The primary case study: In 1996-98 the LOTT (Lacey, Olympia, Tumwater, Thurston County) Sewer Authority undertook a $3 million scientific study of Budd Inlet, the arm of southern Puget Sound on which sits the state capitol, Olympia.  They funded integrated, detailed studies, conducted by top scientists from the region, of the circulation and biogeochemistry of the Inlet, including both observations and sophisticated numerical modeling.  The effort was overseen by the Washington State Department of Ecology, and also involved a large public relations, regulatory, and public decision making process.  Eventually LOTT determined that it was feasible to send significantly more treated sewage into the Inlet during the winter, despite chronic, poor water quality there.  This decision, if approved by Dept. of Ecology, could save LOTT ratepayers $40 million in construction costs, and allow additional growth in south Puget Sound.

We will explore the Budd Inlet Scientific Study from a number of different viewpoints: LOTT, Dept. of Ecology, State, Federal, and local regulators, public relations, Sewage engineers, and Oceanographers.  There will be a number of guest experts, and a field trip to the LOTT Sewage Treatment Plant in Olympia.  We will compare the situation in Budd Inlet with that in several other similarly-polluted areas around the world, such as Long Island Sound and the Gulf of Mexico.

I regard student participation as a crucial part of the class inquiry.  I will give some lectures providing background material for the reading, but in general the classroom discussions and workshops will be forums for students to formulate, present, and compare their original ideas.  Please see the Syllabus page for more information.



The goal of the course is to introduce students to the ways in which science is used by society to help make decisions, particularly in the complex realm of disturbed "natural" ecosystems.  For example, is a certain kind of pollution causing a loss of shellfish in a region, or is overfishing the culprit? These topics will be directly important to many of your future careers, and to your role as a citizen, even if you are not scientists.  I will stress the skill of "quantitative" reading and writing.  How can you tell when the facts in a newspaper story really support the argument being made?  When are the facts being twisted in the support of a given line of argument?

Grading 60% Essays.  There will be four essays, based on the reading, due every two weeks.  These should be 3-5 pages (diagrams can be extra), double-spaced, 12 point.  We expect you to have a clear thesis (e.g. "LOTT effluent is important to XX, but I am unable to determine if it is important to YY").  Support your thesis with: specific examples from the text, workshops, or other reading, thought problems (what's that?), and diagrams which distill complicated ideas.  Include specific examples which don't necessarily support your thesis.  A balanced essay is better than one-sided rhetoric.40% Discussions.  Each week we will devote one of the class meetings entirely to a class discussion of the assigned reading.  Two students will be chosen each week to moderate.  Each student in the class will be required to bring a written question on the reading to the class.  The class is a group inquiry into a complex topic, and I consider it extremely important that students arrive at discussions well prepared and ready to participate.During many of the weeks there are also conceptual workshops, often involving a hands-on lab experiment.  For these we will divide the class into groups of four who will work together.  The workshops are not graded, but are guaranteed to be the most interesting part of the course.

Readings There is no textbook.  A Course Reader of copied materials will be available by before the start of term at the Ave Copy Center, 4141 University Way NE.  It costs ~$40, and contains most of the required reading, including parts of the electronic files described below.  The number of pages of required reading is not too great, but don't underestimate how long it can take to wade through dense scientific writing.The primary text for the class will be the Budd Inlet Scientific Study (1998, BISS hereafter).  This is a daunting volume (about 6" thick) describing the methods and results of the many scientists' work on Budd Inlet, funded by the LOTT Partners.  Despite its heft, the report does a good job describing the study results for a non-scientific reader.  We will read selected portions.  A number of other readings are included in the Course Reader.

Class Meetings There are three class meetings each week (MWF 1:30-2:50) in Mary Gates Hall 254.  In most weeks, Monday will be a lecture, Wednesday will be either a workshop, a guest speaker, or a field trip, and Friday will be a discussion.

Syllabus Details

Week 1: Course overview; How do scientists think?

9/30 Lecture: Course organization; "quantitative reading."10/2 Conceptual workshop: Bean dilution.  Bring a calculator if you have one.

10/4 Discussion of the reading.  Bring a written question about the reading.  Readings: Jumars, Doing Science, and E. O. Wilson, excerpt from Consilience.

Week 2: Stratified water, and what happens when it mixes

10/7 Lecture: results of the bean dilution lab.  Overview of water processes in estuaries.

10/9 Conceptual workshop: getting your hands wet with stratified fluids.  NOTE: the class meets in my lab, OSB 147 (Ocean Sciences Building, See I-15 on the map).

10/11 Discussion of the reading.  Bring a written question.  Reading: BISS Chapters 1 and 2, and Mann, Ch. 2.

Week 3: Estuarine circulation I, patterns of tides and exchange

10/14 Essay #1 due at the start of class: How does the LOTT study compare with the idealized practice of science in the Wilson and Jumars essays?  Lecture: How tides work, and what they do.

10/16 Conceptual workshop: the Visible Estuary lab model.  Meet at my lab again, OSB 147 (Ocean Sciences Building, See I-15 on the map).

10/18 Discussion of the reading.  Bring a written question.  Reading: BISS, Pages 3-1 to 3-21 (Measured condition).

Week 4: Life in a clean estuary

10/21 Lecture: Biogeochemical cycles in an estuary

10/23 Dr. Jan Newton of the WA State Dept. of Ecology, and UW, will be our guest.  Please read the part of the BISS report that she authored, on Primary Productivity in Budd Inlet (BISS 3-67 to 3-76).  Email her a short question about the reading, by Tuesday night.  Requests for factual explanation are fine.

10/25 Discussion of the reading.  Bring a written question.  Reading: BISS pages 3-21to 3-33 (Inlet circulation).

Week 5: Estuarine circulation II, Puget Sound and Budd Inlet

10/28 Essay #2 due at the start of class: Explain the flushing time estimate.  How was it arrived at?  How well supported is it?  Lecture: circulation in Budd Inlet.

10/30 Conceptual workshop: visit to the Puget Sound Model Old Ocean Building, ground floor.  See J-18 on the map, the building called "Oceanography," across the street from the water.

11/1 Discussion of the reading.  Bring a written question.  Reading: BISS pages 3-47 to 3-66 (Marine water conditions), and Chasan, Chapters 6 & 10.

Week 6: Life in a polluted estuary: eutrophication

11/4 Lecture: Nutrient pollution.

11/6 Hatchery visit (Little).

11/8 Discussion of the reading.  Bring a written question.  Reading Laws, Chapter 7 (Pathogens), and BISS 3-34 to 3-47 (Freshwater inputs).

Week 7: Sewage treatment

11/11 NO CLASS (Veteran's Day)

11/13 Essay #3 due at the start of the field trip: From the evidence so far, can we tell if the LOTT effluent is likely to violate federal standards for DO (p. 451 of Class Reader, (c)iiB)?  What more would you need to know if you can't decide?  Compare especially LOTT vs. the Capitol Lake/Deschutes River input.  Would LOTT's input have been important prior to the onset of tertiary treatment in 1994?  (BISS Fig. 3-40, p. 267).  These are suggested topics, you may use one or more of them, or write about a topic which interests you.  Field Trip: LOTT Treatment Facility, Olympia.  This will be a full day trip.  Meet the vans at the the turnaround between Gerberding and Johnson Halls, near L-10 on this map, at 9:15 AM.  You can bring your own lunch, or order a sub to be delivered to LOTT.  You should be back by 4:00 PM.  The field trip is optional, if you are unable to get out of your other classes, but it will be very, very interesting.

11/15 Discussion of the reading.  Bring a written question.  Reading: NPDES Manual: Glossary and Ch. 1 & 2 (p. 368-405 in Course Reader), WAC: Class B Waters (p. 450-451), LOTT NPDES Fact Sheet from (p. 479-517), and the article by Boesch (handed out in class).

Week 8: The Clean Water Act and NPDES, a "license to pollute"

11/18 Lecture: An overview of US environmental regulation.11/20 Guest: Garin Schrieve, WA Department of Ecology.  Mr. Schrieve is very knowledgeable about the role of State and Federal government in water quality regulation.  Please email Mr. Schrieve a short question based on the reading and discussion of

11/15.  Send your question by noon Tuesday.  His email is

11/22  Discussion of the reading.  Bring a written question.  Reading, short essays by Leschine and others (pages 65-94 in the Course Reader), and the article by Segerson and Walker (handed out in class).

Week 9: The larger context of nutrient pollution

11/25 Lecture: eutrophication around the world.

11/27 NO CLASS

11/29 NO CLASS (Thanksgiving)

Week 10: Conveying scientific ideas to the public

12/2 Lecture: the SF Bay experience (Little)

12/4 Essay #4 due at the start of class: Compare the LOTT study to a selected study elsewhere.  See the Links page for ideas.  Our guest will be John Dodge, a journalist with The Daily Olympian.  Mr. Dodge has covered LOTT and other environmental issues in Olympia for many years, and is skilled at bridging the gap between scientists and citizens.  Email him a short question ( by Tuesday at noon.  Reading: one of his articles (handed out Monday).


Week 11: Summary and Synthesis

12/9 Discussion of the reading.  Bring a written question.  Reading: student essays, to be picked up at the Honors front desk anytime after noon on Thursday 12/5.

12/11 (Last day of class) Discussion led by the instructors.

There will be no final exam, unless you miss the last day of class.


Links to comparison studies for the final essay:

In the final essay, you should compare one aspect of the LOTT/Budd Inlet situation with a similar aspect from another polluted, aquatic site.  You can choose any topic relevant to the class, from the science, to regulations, public relations, or public reaction.  Below are four suggestions for comparable places.  Feel free to use your own.  Please ask the TA or Parker for help on any aspect of this assignment.

Long Island Sound is another area which suffers from nutrient pollution, even more so than Budd Inlet.  Info is available at

For events in King County (where a huge study of Puget Sound circulation is underway to help site a new sewage treatment plant) go to

In the East, a very powerful group is the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, at  Their water quality and fisheries problems give an idea of where Puget Sound would be in a few years without environmental control.  If you choose this topic we have some supplementary printed material we will give you.

The Gulf of Mexico develops a large anoxic zone every year, possibly due to nitrogen input from agricultural runoff.  See the articles in the journal Science by Dan Ferber, (2001), v. 291.  You can also start at the NOAA link

Links to other sites:

The UW supported effort to foster interdisciplinary understanding of Puget Sound is the PRISM project, at

For the Federal Government view of water quality, see the US EPA website:  There is some description of the Clean Water Act at  We are in EPA Region 10, whose web site is

The State of Washington Department of Ecology has a wealth of information, at  See in particular their Water Quality pages at, and the Puget Sound Water Quality Action Team's page at

The LOTT website is

Environmental groups also often have an important influence on public decisions about wastewater issues.  The People for Puget Sound is an important local group, at

The Olympian is the local paper in Olympia.  See their articles about water and growth in the region at and anything else by environmental reporter John Dodge.

Evaluating information: see the site, and links therein.



Every Friday we will have a class discussion of the reading for that week.  This is a great time to bring your ideas about the reading to the group, and to learn how others thought about it.  The teacher and TA will be present at the discussions, and may help with a very small amount of background clarification, but otherwise you are the ones there to talk and think.

1.  Do the reading assigned on the syllabus.  In general there are not too many pages assigned, but don't underestimate how long it can take to really understand scientific writing.  Look up words you don't know, or ask the teacher or TA by email before the class.  Write out for yourself the main point(s) of the reading.

2.  Formulate a question based on the reading.  This should be about some part of the reading which interested you, and it should be a question which you can imagine actually being able to answer.  The question should be one of interpretation or extrapolation (e.g. "they say ... but that implies ... which makes me think they are neglecting ...").  Write it up as a short paragraph (typed, double spaced, and proofread), and bring it to class.  In your write-up you should state the question, how it relates to specifics in the text, and how you might go about answering it.  Also mention, why you think it is interesting, and if it relates to any other reading or outside knowledge you might have.  Please hand in your question at the end of class (these questions are a small part of your grade).

The following are suggestions for how to organize the discussion when you are one of the Moderators.  Feel free to organize it as you see fit.

3.  Small Group Discussion, first 15 minutes: meet in your small groups and compare the questions you came up with.  Decide on one, or a combination of them, or a new one, which you want to share with the whole group, and write it out by hand (one per group).

4.  Full Group Discussion, remainder of class: there will be two students appointed to lead the group.  One should be the moderator, and one should write notes on the board (see the suggestions below).

Moderator notes: being the moderator of a meeting can be a lot of fun, or it can be a disaster.  Here are some hints.  Do the reading and know it well.  Have an agenda (schedule of events in the meeting) and make sure everyone in the meeting knows what it is at the start.  In this case the agenda should include hearing what the four group questions/ideas are, and deciding which one to discuss first.  You might only get to one.  The goal is for the group as a whole to try to answer a questions, or outline a plan to find an answer.  But the real goal is that the class members can help each other to come to a deeper understanding of the reading.

Note-taker notes: You have to provide an ongoing graphical/textual representation of the discussion.  Feel free to interpret.  Save some space for a list of interesting ideas which don't fit into the main discussion.