Thursday, November 20, 2014

Eyes Over Puget Sound wings to outer coast of Washington

By Sandy Howard, Communications Manager, Environmental Assessment Program

Our scientists caught this bird's eye view of Long Beach Peninsula.  

We flew out to Washington’s outer coast last Monday, with stops at Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor. We think you'll enjoy our newest set of photos and observations.

A cold spell has hit Puget Sound lowlands. Now, the warm ocean is coinciding with the warmest water temperatures achieved by Puget Sound in October. 

Hood Canal’s higher dissolved oxygen and cold water anomalies are disappearing. 

November brings cold water from Whidbey Basin into Puget Sound with moderate levels of chlorophyll fluorescence. 

We saw big smacks of jellyfish in finger inlets of South Sound.  Red-brown blooms remain strong in smaller bays of South Sound.  We also saw visible suspended sediments in the coastal estuaries from rain, wind, and waves. 

If you are a hearty soul and you are playing in the water this season, visit our BEACH program website.

Eyes Over Puget Sound combines high-resolution photo observations with satellite images, en route ferry data between Seattle and Victoria BC, and measurements from our moored instruments.
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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Why we have burn bans in cold weather

By Camille St. Onge and Melanie Forster

During chilly days and nights, a warm fire is appealing. However, it’s best to think twice before building a fire in your wood stove or fireplace in case there is a burn ban. What many may not know is that often times the coldest days can be the worst days for burning wood.

Why burning in the winter can be an issue

Normally, the air closest to the ground is warmer than the air higher up.  This allows air pollution like
smoke, vehicle exhaust and dust  to disperse and not reach high levels below in the air we breathe. During the winter, sometimes these conditions are reversed—cold air below and warmer air up high. This is called, not surprisingly, an inversion.

During an inversion, air pollution fine particles become stagnant and don’t move up the air column. They are trapped close to the ground, in the air we breathe. These fine particles travel deep into our respiratory system and lodge in our lungs. This is unhealthy for everyone, but is especially harmful to infants, young children, the elderly, and people with asthma, heart or lung disease.

Forecasting weather, air monitors and burn bans 

There are nine air authority agencies in Washington with forecasters that monitor weather patterns and assess air quality on a daily basis. Forecasters watch weather and air quality models closely to identify areas with weather and pollution patterns that will cause air quality to reach unacceptable levels.

Air monitors placed throughout the state provide valuable data about air pollution. Through air monitoring and weather modeling, forecasters are able to identify communities that will experience air pollution problems during inversions. Once a community is identified for an air pollution problem a burn ban is put in place to help keep air pollution at acceptable levels.

Some areas are more susceptible than others for air pollution buildup because of the geographic makeup of the region. Good examples are Leavenworth and Colville, which are in narrow valleys. Other areas are less obvious bowl-shaped areas like Spokane. Cold, dense air gets trapped in these areas and pollution builds up near the ground.

Because outdoor burning and indoor wood heating contribute significantly to air pollution during inversions, residents and businesses may be required to restrict burning. Washington has two stages of burn bans: Stage 1 is applied when air pollution levels are elevated and are expected to continue to increase to unhealthy levels; Stage 2 is applied when air pollution levels are approaching unhealthy levels and the air cannot accommodate any more pollution without becoming unhealthy.

Stage 1 burn bans

During a Stage 1 ban, all outdoor burning and use of uncertified wood stoves, fireplaces and inserts and other devices is prohibited, unless they are a home’s only adequate source of heat. Prohibited outdoor burning includes residential, agricultural and forest burning. Certified wood stoves, pellet stoves and other certified wood-burning devices are allowed.

Stage 2 burn bans

A Stage 2 ban applies to the use of all certified and uncertified wood stoves, inserts, fireplaces and other wood-burning devices, unless they are a home’s only adequate source of heat. Stage 2 bans also prohibit all outdoor burning.

Washington’s burn ban website and resources

Before lighting a fire, find out if your county has a burn ban in place by visiting

Ecology has several resources available about indoor burning, including a list of approved wood stoves, fireplace inserts and other devices on the Air Quality pages. You also can find tips for burning properly in a previous blog story: How you burn makes a difference in your pocket and in the air.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Wintery weather halts travel but not my message
Collaborative partnerships deliver real solutions

by Maia Bellon, Ecology Director

A healthy environment and thriving agricultural community can go hand-in-hand. Wheat and other cereal grains grown in eastern Washington are valuable and important to our state.
I had hoped to be headed to Skamania Lodge today to speak with the Tri-State Grain Growers Convention, but icy weather had a different idea. In the interest of safety, I had to change my plans.

I am disappointed that I was not able to spend time with the agricultural community today. My best days at work are those spent in the field getting my boots dirty. I look forward to each opportunity that gets me in the same room or field with farmers and ranchers.

Washington’s agricultural industry is incredibly valuable and important to our state. A healthy environment and a thriving agricultural community are not mutually exclusive. Both are important to our way of life, our heritage, and our economy.

I believe that many of our ranchers and farmers are among the best stewards of the land. We all want the same thing: a strong economy, healthy land, clean water, and clean air.

Over the years we have worked with the agricultural community and found solutions together. We may not always see eye to eye, but when we work in partnership we can make real progress.

Achieving results — together

For example, in the early 1990s, smoke filled the air during the summer when the agricultural community was managing crop residue from cereal grains. It was unhealthy for people and the environment. Together we identified a balanced solution and the Agricultural Burning and Research Task Force was formed. Diverse interests began working collaboratively on reducing air pollution. This collaboration has been so successful that it is being used as a model by other states.

You may also have heard about my Agriculture and Water Quality Advisory Committee. I assembled a broad array of interests to improve working relations and ensure that Washington has both clean water and a healthy agricultural industry.

Together we have identified new approaches and started making changes. Just recently we shared with the advisory committee changes we made to our “watershed evaluation” program. This evaluation process helps us identify water quality problems, prioritize our work, and directly follow up with landowners to assist them in fixing pollution issues.

The changes include:
  • Better upfront communication
  • Engaging with producer groups
  • Ensuring our communications clearly identify the problem
  • Increasing clarity on what constitutes pollution problems
  • Working toward consistency between staff and regions

My most important message to our agricultural community

I welcome your ideas and perspective. I even welcome disagreements. It is healthy as long as we keep talking. Together we are learning that all of us around the table need to be flexible to keep working-lands working.

I know that together we can find on-the-ground approaches that can preserve agricultural lands and achieve clean water.

Thank you, especially to the Washington Association of Wheat Growers for leading by example.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Putting our best face forward – we’re going to improve our website!

by Cally Whiteside, web designer, Communication & Education

Help us improve!

If you're interested in sharing feedback on your experiences with our website, please take our survey here.
When you look at Ecology, what do you see? Chances are you see our website.

On any given day, our website gets over 15,000 visits. That quickly adds up to over half a million visits in a month! Imagine if we had that many people coming through our front door. What would we do differently?

We want to know: Who’s visiting our site? Are you finding what you need? What do you need? Are you satisfied when you’re done? We’re going to find out by asking.

Usability study of our website

We’ve begun the process of evaluating our public-facing website with User Centered Design (UCD). The UCD process reveals what works well, what doesn’t and show’s how a website can be improved.

Who uses our site?

We already have a good idea of how our web serves our visitors. We know what pages are most visited and what words and phrases are searched on. We also collect feedback comments from visitors using Survey monkey. But we need a better understanding of our web visitors needs.

Tell us what you do!

Today we’re launching an extended survey to learn more. The online survey can be accessed from the “Help us improve” link that’s visible on most of our web pages. The information we gather will help us develop a accurate testing plan and to recruit actual users to participate in our baseline study.

You can learn more about user centered design at

Saturday, November 8, 2014

FECAL MATTERS: Silverdale Waterfront Park beach CLOSED to swimming, Silverdale, Kitsap Co.

BEACH Program Update

On November 8, 2014, Kitsap County Health District issued a swimming CLOSURE for Silverdale Waterfront Park.  The closure is due to a sewer line break.  The public is to have no contact with the water until further notice.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

How you burn makes a difference in your pocket and in the air

By Melanie Forster, Miriam Duerr and Camille St. Onge, Air Quality Outreach and Communications

Colder weather is here and about half the homes in Washington heat with some sort of wood-burning device like a wood stove or fireplace.  If you’re heating with wood, don't you like fires that produce more heat, use less wood, and are less smoky?
 Ecology YouTub

If you are not burning seasoned (that means aged and dry) firewood, a lot of your heat is literally going up in smoke.

Even if you've been burning for years you might not know that it takes more wet firewood than seasoned firewood to produce the same amount of heat. And, inefficient burning sends more smoke pollution into the air causing serious health effects for infants, small children and other sensitive groups like the elderly and asthmatics.

Get more heat out of less wood 

Using dry seasoned wood can provide up to 44 percent more heat than burning wet wood. Some tips to consider for dry seasoned wood are:
  • Stack your wood so it has air flow between the wood pieces and stays drier.
  • Cover your wood to keep it dry, especially in rainy Western Washington.
  • Try to buy wood that is 6 months old, or cut and store it 6 months ahead.

Burning efficient fires is another way to get more out of your wood and pollute less:
  • Build small, hot fires. 
  • Don't add too much wood at one time. 
  • Step outside to check the chimney or flue. If you see smoke, your fire needs more air. 

Efficient burning means cleaner air

Burning with wood can be more economical and pollute less when done right. Most of us don’t think about the health effects of smoke in the air though. Just as we know that smoking cigarettes is bad for your health, so is breathing wood smoke.

The tiny particles in smoke go deep into our lungs and stay there. These particles are especially harmful for infants, children, and the elderly.  The particles can cause asthma, respiratory illnesses' and heart disease.  But, by burning dry firewood, you can reduce the amount of fine particles we breathe in.

When the air is cold and still, usually wintertime, smoke settles at ground level. This is when you and your family breathe in the fine particles that settle in your lungs. The air can stay this way for weeks during the winter and the stagnant air can cause air pollution problems.

Tips for the season

Burn only clean, dry firewood in your wood stove. Burn small and hot fires. This gives you more heat, you use less wood, and less smoke pollution goes into the air.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Setting the record straight on ocean acidification

Camille St. Onge, Climate Change Communication Manager

The Washington Policy Center got the facts wrong, as did media outlets that repeated the story. We do not disagree with Gov. Jay Inslee on ocean acidification.

We have reason to be concerned. Washington waters are particularly susceptible to ocean acidification and our shellfish are vulnerable.
The science is complex. It takes many partners with expertise in multiple disciplines to address the issue adequately.

As the state’s water quality lead, Ecology supports continued research and monitoring to help determine effective actions to address ocean acidification in Washington.

The Marine Resources Advisory Council, Washington Ocean Acidification Center, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, Ecology, and many others are addressing this global issue.

Several resources are available to help people better understand the impacts of ocean acidification:

As Director Maia Bellon said in her blog, ocean acidification is real, and we support Gov. Inslee’s efforts to protect Washington waters. We support further investment in research and monitoring to fully understand the sources, causes and impacts in different aquatic environments.