Monday, September 10, 2018

Learn tips to beautify brownfields at 9/18 Yakima Workshop

Join Ecology and other experts as we dive deep into best practices and the latest trends in brownfield redevelopment, and provide you with tools and insights to advance your land reuse projects.

You can learn more about Ecology's brownfields program on our website.

What will I learn?

The workshop will kick off with a regulatory overview, covering topics from the economics of brownfield reuse, to uses of vacant and underutilized land and buildings, as well as issues unique to agricultural land. Presenters will share successful case studies from Wenatchee and Kittitas County. Ecology and the Washington Department of Commerce will talk about tools and grants to get moving on your brownfields sites.

See the agenda and speakers here.

Other topics include:
  • Grants: State and Federal
  • Due Diligence and Your Responsibility
  • Working with Private Property Owners
  • Redeveloping Agricultural Areas and Town Centers
  • Public, Private, Non-Profit, Community: How Can You Help?
  • Ask the Expert

Who should attend?

  • Project Managers (public, private, and nonprofit)
  • City Planners
  • Construction Managers
  • Redevelopment Managers
  • Environmental Attorneys
  • Practitioners engaged in the acquisition, funding, and development of properties

Register today!

The Brownfields Workshop is Tuesday, Sept. 18, 10 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. at the Yakima Convention Center.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Celebrating cleanup in Cashmere's Mill District

Port of Chelan County launches redevelopment at old sawmill site

Cashmere's historic lumber mill district is now ready for redevelopment thanks to cleanup efforts.
The old sawmill in Cashmere once pulsed with activity 50 years ago. Now new life is breathed into the community thanks to cleanup and redevelopment. Today, the Port of Chelan County is celebrating added commerce and jobs.  

The city of Cashmere’s Mill District has a long and varied history that began in the 1940s. Processes at the lumber mill and other activities left a legacy of contamination that impacted soil and groundwater. In all, 26,000 tons of wood waste and contaminated soil was removed, overseen by our toxic cleanup program staff and funded by Ecology grants.

The Port of Chelan County is marking the construction of two 17,000-square-foot buildings that will support the expansion of local business as well as new employers.

This project shows what success can come when you have the right ingredients -- grant funding, dedicated staff, and collaboration! Cashmere now has a real vitality with added commerce and jobs, setting them up for long-term success.

A vision realized

The Cashmere Mill District is prominently located along Sunset Highway, highly visible to traffic and the local community of Cashmere in Chelan County. From the 1940s to the late 1970s, the Cashmere Mill Property was primarily lumber milling, while the 1980s and 1990s saw various commercial and light industrial activity.

The Port of Chelan County had a vision and in 2008, purchased the 32.5-acre property.  Their goal was to remove the existing contamination and wood waste, and turn it into a thriving industrial property that would support the revitalization of the city of Cashmere.
Water main replacement

Ecology was able to grant $1.5 million to the Port of Chelan County in 2012, and an additional $3.5 million in 2013 in order to:

·        Figure out the type of contamination present on the property, and how far it had spread 
·        Prepare a plan to remove and clean up contaminated soils and groundwater
·        Remove contaminated soils and wood waste
·        Set up a monitoring program for the groundwater
·        Replace a City of Cashmere water main that was in need of repairs
·        Prepare the property for redevelopment

The greatly improved environmental and infrastructure conditions allowed for the eventual development into the Cashmere Mill District, complete with water, sewer, electric and internet utilities. Major highway connections only a half-mile away give easy access to Seattle or Spokane.

A bright future

Port Commissioner JC Baldwin, said the future looks “very bright” for the old mill site. In fact, Louws Truss Company just opened a new manufacturing facility in Cashmere in June.

Two flex buildings are planned for the future, and are generating interest from a variety of businesses. The Port of Chelan County also has the option to build an additional two more flex buildings, if necessary. 

Commissioner Baldwin expressed her excitement that the city, port, and Ecology were able to work together to rehabilitate this blighted property in her district.  “This is what Port Districts do!” she said. 

Valerie Bound, Central region section manager for the Toxics Cleanup Program, shared her own enthusiasm for the project. “We love to see this kind of positive impact for a community,” she said. “We were happy to work with the staff from the Port, and help make their vision a reality.” 

Aerial view of the Cashmere Mill site during soil cleanup. 26,000 tons of wood waste and contaminated soil was removed.

By Rhonda Luke, Toxics Cleanup Program, Central Regional Office

Friday, August 31, 2018

Eyes Under Puget Sound: Critter of the Month—Bloodworms

Left: Dany identifies marine critters at the South Sound BioBlitz on August 11, 2018.
Center: Glycera americana, a species found on both the east and west coasts, has finger-like gills that shoot out from behind its feet.
Right: Our 2016–2017 WCC intern, Nicole Marks, holds a Glycera robusta specimen freshly collected from a benthic grab sample.

It’s a Bioblitz!

Recently I had the pleasure of volunteering at the South Sound BioBlitz, a community outreach event hosted by the Pacific Shellfish Institute. Participants spent a rainy Saturday morning working with local scientists conducting beach surveys to find intertidal invertebrates. Most species were catalogued in the field, but some specimens were brought back to the WET Science Center for closer examination. It was a great way for folks of all ages to get up close and personal with Puget Sound’s benthic (sediment-dwelling) invertebrates!
One of the most common finds at our survey location was a small, pink, wiggly worm with a pointy head. I immediately recognized it as a bloodworm because of its paper thin skin that reveals its red body fluid inside.
Bloodworms are a type of polychaete, or marine segmented worm, in the family Glyceridae. The intertidal species are only a couple of centimeters long, but we get a much larger version in our Puget Sound subtidal benthic grabs that can be over a foot long (see video below for one of these big beauties)!

In cold blood

I often get the question, “Do bloodworms bite?” Well, yes and no. The bloodworm is a voracious predator and has a long proboscis, or mouthpart, that can shoot out of its body like something in a horror movie. At the end are four black jaws that are connected to venom glands. Despite their sinister name, bloodworms typically save their venom for the tiny crustaceans they like to eat. They don’t usually harm humans intentionally, but if you did happen to put your finger near the worm’s mouth, you could end up with a minor bee-sting-like bite.
The bloodworm’s black jaws are especially strong because they contain a copper-based mineral that makes them almost as hard as human tooth enamel—an important quality when you are munching on sand grains with your food!

Blood in the water…and in the mud

When you take a bloodworm out of its habitat, it will thrash around like a fish out of water (see video below—watch for the proboscis shooting out). This makes them great for attracting actual fish, which is why fisherman commonly use them as bait. Don’t confuse them with the popular aquarium fish food; those small red freshwater bloodworms are actually midge fly larvae.

In addition to their usefulness to humans, bloodworms provide an important ecological service. They are highly mobile, burrowing into the sand or mud with their pointed snouts. This activity is called bioturbation, or mixing of the sediments, and it allows much needed oxygen and nutrients to penetrate into the deeper layers of sediment. The burrows made by the worms can also provide habitat for smaller critters, helping drive biodiversity. Bloodworms may not be beautiful, but Puget Sound sediments would certainly be a less productive and interesting place without them!  

By: Dany Burgess, Environmental Assessment Program
Our benthic taxonomists, Dany and Angela, are scientists who identify and count the benthic (sediment-dwelling) organisms in our samples as part of our Marine Sediment Monitoring Program. We are tracking the numbers and types of species we see in order to understand the health of Puget Sound and to detect any changes over time.
Dany and Angela share their discoveries by bringing us a Benthic Critter of the Month. These posts will give you a peek into the life of Puget Sound’s least-known inhabitants. We’ll share details on identification, habitat, life history, and the role each critter plays in the sediment community. Can't get enough benthos? See photos from our Eyes Under Puget Sound collection on Flickr.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Floating the Yakima River with a purpose

Researchers pursue pools of cool water to support salmon

A researcher wades into the Yakima River, where water temperatures have hovered in the 80s this summer.

The saying "still waters run deep" doesn’t apply to the Yakima River. Especially this summer, where still waters run shallow and hot. As flows declined and air temperatures hovered at 100 degrees, water temperatures near Prosser mirrored those on coastal Hawaii.

Warm water is becoming all too common in the summer months. So much so, that we have teams floating the river to document refuges of cooler water -- places where fish can hang out to avoid the heat. These safe havens may prove crucial to fish survival.

Led by folks with the Benton Conservation District, Yakama Nation, and U.S. Geological Survey, the goal is to profile these cooler areas and gain data for the lower 100 miles of the Yakima River. Funded by Ecology, the survey will help us protect these sites and meet environmental enhancement objectives of the Yakima River Basin Integrated Plan.

A record year for water temps?

For 12 days this July (2018), average daily river temperatures at Prosser were above 80 degrees! Historically, the monthly mean temperature for July at Prosser is 69.3 degrees. Over the last four years, the rise in river temperatures is notable. In fact, 20 of the 30 warmest river temperatures recorded since 1990 at Prosser were from the years 2015 to 2018.

These “thermal blocks” are stalling the migration of sockeye salmon. Recently reintroduced to the river by the Yakama Nation, the sockeye are pausing their migration, waiting at the mouth for conditions to improve. Why? Temperatures above 73-77 degrees are considered lethal to salmon. Survival of late spring smolts is also influenced by rapid water warming, especially in drought years.

Where are the safe havens?

Fish are able to detect water temperature differences within a half a degree. They move to areas that are cooler and more favorable in an activity called "behavioral thermoregulation." Of all Pacific salmon, sockeye prefer the coldest water. Enhancing thermal refuge locations on the lower Yakima may support late spring and summer migration of anadromous species when water temperatures are otherwise too warm for fish passage.

Benton Conservation's  water resources specialist Marcella Appel is leading the multi-agency project to map the thermal profile of the river from Wapato to Richland. Data will be used to identify areas where cool water is introduced to the river, be it from shallow groundwater or subsurface flows influenced by irrigation.

“We want to learn where these temperature refuges exist because they are so important to salmon,” Appel explained. “The information will provide one more piece of the puzzle as partners of the integrated plan seek to restore water conditions on the Yakima River for people and salmon.”

It’s also believed these refuges provide beneficial warmer water for out-migration of juvenile smolts during the winter and spring months.

The conservation district, Nation, with Ecology staff and local community volunteers, have completed eight of nine floats, already covering 80-plus river miles. The study team has one more float to log information, planned in early September. They will map the river again in 2019, and then report on the data and potential next steps to preserve these areas.

Anticipating climate impacts

With anticipated climate change impacts in the basin resulting in higher river temperatures and lower springtime flows, thermal refuge locations will become increasingly important for migratory species. So stay tuned for results.

“The support and collaboration for this project have been amazing,” Appel said. “We could not have completed the rigorous summer float schedule without the help of our partners and local citizens.

“It is satisfying to see everyone working together on solutions for the lower Yakima River. I look forward to the next phase as we analyze the data. We anticipate the efforts of this two-year study will lead to future projects aimed at helping cool water species navigate an otherwise hot river,” Appel concluded.

This summer we saw 12 of the 30 hottest river temperatures ever recorded at Prosser. 

See our flickr set of photos

By Joye Redfield-Wilder, Central Region communications manager

Friday, August 24, 2018

Watching the water supply

Hot, dry conditions put pressure on water supplies

Campbell Creek, the water supply for the community of Ryderwood, is a 
trickle due to a major lack of precipitation in Cowlitz County. Read more
on our statewide conditions webpage. Photo courtesy of Washington State
Department of Health. 
The fall rains can’t come soon enough.

Months of unusually warm and dry weather continue to put pressure on the state’s rivers and streams. Although some areas saw sprinkles earlier this month, rivers across the state continue to recede. In some cases, rivers are hitting new record lows. The Naselle River in southwestern Washington established a new historic low flow when it dropped to 16 cubic feet per second (cfs) this week. That’s roughly half of its normal flow of 37 cfs.

High temps in August

Although wildfire smoke moderated the heat a bit, the average daily temperature during the first half of August was about 3 degrees above normal. This contributed to more days above 90 degrees than usual. The Vancouver airport hit 90 degrees or hotter on 28 days this summer. That’s more than Spokane, which broke 90 degrees on 23 days. The average over the previous 20 years for Vancouver is 11 days. For Spokane, about 19.

Thankfully, this summer, we aren't expecting an official water supply drought emergency to be declared. It's been hot and dry, but water supplies so far haven't met the statutory threshold. Under state law, a drought emergency is defined by a two-prong test:

·          An area has or is expected to receive 75 percent or less of normal supplies AND
·          Undue hardships are likely to occur as a result. 

Official drought declarations provide us flexibility to authorize emergency wells and water withdrawals.

Tracking impacts

We’re working with other state agencies to track impacts from the warm and dry conditions.
The Department of Health tells us that multiple drinking water systems in western Washington have taken measures to reduce demand. Actions range from requesting voluntary or mandatory conservation (e.g., lawn watering restrictions) to more serious measures like hauling water.

Larger municipalities like Seattle and Tacoma say their water supplies should be fine for the season.

For fish, warm water temperatures can block migration. Emergency fishing closures are in effect on parts of the Columbia River to protect fish trying to find refuge in cooler water, according to the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

We are continuing to regulate water users in some parts of the state to protect senior water rights and adopted instream flows. Curtailment notices or orders have been issued in the Chehalis, Walla Walla, Methow, Similkameen, Wenatchee, and Skagit watersheds.

Read about more impacts on our water supply conditions webpage. We update it weekly.

By Kristin Johnson-Waggoner, communications manager

Friday, August 17, 2018

Defending the public’s right to comment on Hanford decisions

It’s early morning May 9, 2017, on southeast Washington’s Hanford nuclear reservation. A small crew working outside the shuttered Plutonium Uranium Extraction plant detects an ever-so-slight increase in background radiation. Not enough to cause alarm; just to pique their curiosity.  

Looking around, they find part of the roof of an underground storage tunnel collapsed. The tunnel stores highly radioactive waste.

That sets off the alarms. 

Within minutes, the entire 586-square-mile site locks down. Thousands of workers shelter in place – their Tweets, texts and emails alerting the world to a potentially catastrophic event on one of the nation’s most dangerously contaminated sites.

The tunnel – PUREX Tunnel 1 – contains eight flat-bed rail cars loaded with highly radioactive equipment. But there’s no detectable release of radioactive contamination and no one is hurt. Within hours, the site operator, the U.S. Department of Energy, plugs the hole with dirt, and attention turns to longer-term solutions to secure the tunnel and its much larger and longer companion, Tunnel 2.

PUREX Tunnel 2 under construction in the mid-1960s. Eight feet of soil was added to serve as a radiation shield.

Rapid response

Within a day, we ordered Energy to devise a plan to protect workers, the public and the environment by preventing further collapses.

Over the next few days, Energy concluded that the most effective solution would be to fill Tunnel 1 with grout – a type of concrete. The partial collapse made it clear that it was structurally impaired and further collapses were possible unless quick action was taken to stabilize the tunnel. In light of the emergency, Energy asked us for authority to bypass the usually required public comment period. Acknowledging the urgency, we agreed – although we did insist on a public information session. And we heard protests from members of the public who weren’t convinced that grout was the best answer.

Energy began filling Tunnel 1 with grout in October 2017, finishing in less than two months. The eight railcars stacked with radioactive equipment from the PUREX processing facility now are encased in grout, awaiting a final decision about what will ultimately happen to them. Another process, known as closure, will determine how best to complete the cleanup of the tunnels and the rest of the PUREX complex. The closure process will decide whether it’s best to cut up the blocks and dispose of them at another site, or leave the grouted materials in place permanently.

Now focusing on Tunnel 2

After the Tunnel 1 collapse, we required Energy to assess the structural integrity of both tunnels. They weren’t able to get inside either tunnel due to the extreme levels of radioactivity, but they reviewed construction and engineering records. That review confirmed what everyone knew: that Tunnel 1 was not structurally sound. But it also disclosed that Tunnel 2 does not meet current engineering standards and it may not be structurally sound enough to bear the load from the eight feet of soil cover that serves as a radiation barrier. The bottom line: Tunnel 2 needs to be stabilized to remove the threat of a radiation-exposing collapse.

There was no evidence that it is about to collapse. So we made it clear that we would require Energy to obtain a permit to stabilize Tunnel 2.

A permit requires that Energy propose how it will stabilize Tunnel 2, then hold a 60-day period allowing members of the public to review and comment on that plan. Energy completed its comment period in April of this year. We then review the permit proposal, identify any deficiencies and ask Energy to correct them. We also review public comments received, make changes we think are necessary, then hold our own 45-day public comment period.

We were prepared to begin our comment period shortly after Energy’s concluded, but we had to wait for documents and information from Energy to complete our review and revisions before we could move forward. We set our comment period at the earliest possible time.

Energy seeks to begin grouting early

Recently, Energy asked us to let the grouting begin before our public comment period concludes – and even before scheduled hearings on the idea. The request was accompanied by photos taken by remote camera inside Tunnel 2, which show corrosion on metal supports at one end of the tunnel. That was the first time we’d seen the photos, or heard about internal corrosion.

We asked for additional analysis to support the assertion that the tunnel is at greater risk for collapse in the near term. While we agree that corrosion is cause for concern, to date we haven’t seen evidence strong enough to override the right of the public to comment on the grouting plan. And we know that there is significant opposition to the idea.

Get ready to grout, but don’t start  

In our order allowing Energy to begin setting up the infrastructure it would need to start filling Tunnel 2 with grout, we specified that it may not let the grout flow until we’ve given the go-ahead. That way, if there is further evidence of an impending collapse, Energy will be ready to begin grouting. Meanwhile, we’re preserving the public’s right to have a meaningful impact on this important decision.

Our order also specifies that Energy will be erecting grouting infrastructure at its own financial risk, as we reserve the right to require a different solution should one result from the public comment period.

Learn about, comment on plans to grout PUREX Tunnel 2

We plan two public hearings on the U.S. Department of Energy's plan to stabilize PUREX Tunnel 2 by filling it with grout (a form of concrete).

Aug. 27, 5:30 p.m., Richland, WA, Public Library, 955 Northgate Dr.

Sept. 5, 6:30 p.m., University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture, NHS Hall, 3501 NE 41st St., Seattle.

More details on the comment period and the public hearings.

Ecology researchers study climate effects on Puget Sound food web

Unusual phytoplankton blooms caused by warm ocean water give scientists a glimpse into the future of marine life, from shellfish to whales.

By studying the effects of warmer marine water on the tiny plant-like organisms called phytoplankton, scientists at Ecology are learning how the Puget Sound ecosystem responds to climate change.
They did so when a mass of warm water nicknamed “the Blob” made its way to the Puget Sound in 2015. This unusually warm water gave scientists the opportunity to see what a world with warmer oceans might look like.
The Blob changed the timing and size of phytoplankton blooms significantly; spring blooms happened earlier than usual, and summer blooms were dramatically larger than in previous years.
2015 Blooms from Eyes Over Puget Sound
Most of the marine food web depends on phytoplankton blooms happening at certain times. Because phytoplankton are a key source of energy, their availability affects the life cycles of marine creatures.
Ecology’s Senior Oceanographer, Dr. Christopher Krembs, tells us more.
Krembs: “A lot of life cycles of invertebrates and fish are triggered by temperature. . . . for little larvae that come out of their eggs and for juvenile fish and other species, it is important that they find their food early on in their life cycle because most of the juveniles die if they don’t find optimal conditions.”
If phytoplankton blooms don’t align with critical developmental stages of marine creatures like small fish and krill, the entire food web can suffer. A healthy marine food web is essential to regional efforts to recover salmon and Southern Resident Killer Whale populations, as well as to support the commercial, tribal, and recreational shellfish industries.
Krembs says that the data from 2015 will help scientists model climate change more accurately.
Krembs: “When you see a scenario, you become much better at predicting the future, because now you have environmental data that you can calibrate your models with. And so our predictions become better.”
More research on how a warming climate may affect Puget Sound ecosystems has already begun. To learn more, visit Ecology’s webpage about the Salish Sea Model.

By Ruth Froese, Environmental Assessment Program Communications