Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Cleaning Up: Cleanup transforms communities

Visitors enjoy the sunshine at a former Anacortes cleanup site.
Cleaning up pollution remakes our environment and reshapes communities in Washington.

Cleanup improves quality of life. It restores the environment, protects human health, puts people to work, and boosts the economy.

Want a good example? Take a look at the cleanup at the former Scott Paper mill in Anacortes.

The former Scott Paper mill location was identified as a key cleanup site under the Puget Sound Initiative in and around Fidalgo and Padilla bays. The bays have been damaged by historical industrial activities -- cleaning up and protecting these waterways and others is vital to restoring and protecting the Puget Sound ecosystem.

Production meant pollution

The Scott Paper pulp-and-paper mill in Anacortes in full operation.
The mill was a dominant part of manufacturing operations along the Fidalgo Bay shoreline for roughly a century. The mill began as a sawmill, then started operating as a pulp mill to produce paper goods.

Operations shut down in 1978. After that, parts of the site were used for various industrial purposes, including as a log yard, a staging area for oil-field equipment, and an assembly area for modular homes. 

Old lumber littered the shoreline.
All of those activities took their toll on the local environment.

Wood waste suffocated in-water creatures in sediments and littered the shoreline. Industrial chemicals, wood and various pollutants contaminated the soil and sediments.

Over the years, portions of the site were cleaned up. The northern portion of the site, owned by the Port of Anacortes, became a home to commercial and educational buildings.

The site is now a hub for recreational, commercial and educational activities.
They include the Northwest Educational Service District 189 center, the Northwest Center of Excellence for Marine Manufacturing and Technology, and a Northwest Career and Technical Academy campus.

From cleanup to community gem

Wood waste and contaminants were unearthed during cleanup.
The Port of Anacortes, working with Ecology, took on the final cleanup stage in 2009. The work targeted wood waste and contamination along the shoreline and the adjacent uplands.

The project lasted about two years. It was no small task to remove the mill's legacy of pollution -- the Scott Paper cleanup remains the largest such effort (in terms of size and cost) tackled under the Puget Sound Initiative.

Kayakers and a family use the restored beach on a recent day.
This ECOconnect post in May 2011 describes the celebration held at the expanded and upgraded Seafarers' Memorial Park at the mill site.

Now, five years later after cleanup work finished, the former Scott Paper site is in constant use for community gatherings, live music performances, kayaking, boating, and other activities. Residents and visitors stroll the esplanade where old wood lay abandoned.

It's a living, thriving example of how cleanup benefits our communities as well as our environment.

By Seth Preston, Toxics Cleanup Program communications manager

Friday, June 17, 2016

Watching the water supply

As the recent cool-down gives way to warmer, drier summer weather, we are closely monitoring our water supplies. Last year, a lack of snowpack and spring rain led to a drought that had statewide impacts. This year, our water supplies are currently stronger across the state but we’re watching areas of concern.

There are two groups that keep close tabs on our state’s water supply. The Water Supply Availability Committee (WSAC) is a team of experts from state and national agencies who meet monthly to review data and discuss potential water shortages. If challenging conditions are identified or projected, they will bring the information to the Executive Water Emergency Committee (EWEC). This committee is made of state agency leaders with a stake in water supplies (Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Health, Natural Resources, Ecology, Fish and Wildlife, etc.). These leaders assess findings from WSAC and determine whether water users within affected areas will likely incur undue hardships.

At its meeting in early June, EWEC did not issue an emergency drought recommendation to the governor, which they did in 2015. The group discussed areas of concern and will continue to monitor water supplies. They will meet again should conditions change.

To help keep you informed, we’ll be sharing regular water supply updates on this blog. (Click here to read an earlier post on this topic.)

Status of our supplies

Here’s a look at water supply conditions as of June 17:

Paradise on Mt. Rainier received a few inches of snow this week, but most mountain snowpack monitoring stations are currently snow-free.
Paradise on Mt. Rainier received a few inches of snow
this week (June 7 top; June 14 below), but 
most mountain
snowpack monitoring  stations are 
currently snow-free.
Photos: National Park  Service 
Weather impacts | Cooler, wetter weather helped improve river flows in on the west side of the state where spring rains were in short supply this year. Today, about 56 percent of stream gauges are at below-normal levels. A couple weeks ago, about 75 percent of our gauges were below normal. The eastern side of the state did not benefit as much from rain. Rivers fed by melting snow (the Methow, Wenatchee and Okanogan rivers, for example) were running high due to early melt but are now below normal. While snow fell at higher elevations this week, most of our snowpack monitoring stations are currently snow-free.

Agriculture | The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation manages several large reservoirs in the Yakima River Basin, an important agricultural center, to help farmers irrigate through the dry summer months. As of Saturday, the Bureau began releasing water – about a week earlier than average – from the reservoirs to downstream irrigators. Last year, this action began in mid-April. The Yakima reservoirs are fuller this year – at 98 percent capacity.

Drinking water | Drinking water supplies are in good shape and aren’t currently projected to be affected by shortages. Contact your local municipal water system for information specific to your community.
Cle Elum Lake is a reservoir managed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
Cle Elum Lake is a reservoir managed by the U.S. Bureau 
of Reclamation.  

More information | Visit our Washington water supply information page to read about streamflow, snowpack, precipitation, forecasts and more. 

Focus on fish

Fishery populations across the state face challenges again this year. Low flows in some streams and rivers are stressing migrating juvenile salmon, and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife hatchery teams are already responding to warm water conditions. Water temperatures in the Columbia River are higher than average, even exceeding 2015 temperatures on some days earlier this spring. WDFW staff remain on alert for low-flow fish migration blockages and high water temperatures as we move into July.

How you can help

Water is a shared resource and we all have a responsibility to protect it. Here are two easy water conservation tips you can use at home:
  • About 30 percent of our water use across the state goes to outdoor watering. When planting your landscape, consider drought-tolerant native plants and check to see a plant’s watering needs before you schedule your sprinklers.
  • You can significantly reduce water use by simply repairing leaks in fixtures (faucets and showerheads), pipes and toilets. A leaky faucet wastes gallons of water in a short period of time. A leaky toilet can waste 200 gallons per day. That would be like flushing your toilet more than 50 times for no reason!
Check out this page for more tips.

By Kristin Johnson-Waggoner, Water Resources Program communications manager

Friday, June 10, 2016

Eyes Under Puget Sound: Critter of the Month – The Pacific Stinkworm

Making a stink

Compared to most of the tiny mud-dwelling invertebrates in Puget Sound, this month’s critter, the Pacific Stinkworm, is a giant - and it has a gigantic stench to match.

photo of Travisia pupa, the Pacific Stinkworm

Vampire-free zone

Travisia pupa taxonomy graphi
Travisia pupa may look unassuming, but like other species of marine segmented worms in its genus, it has a hidden talent that will knock your socks off. When disturbed, the Stinkworm, as its name suggests, gives off a pungent odor similar to rotting garlic. Our scientists recently witnessed this firsthand while sampling the sediments in Admiralty Inlet. We immediately knew we had scooped up a Stinkworm because of the terrible stink it emitted as the benthic grab landed on the deck of the boat. It certainly does the trick as a human (or vampire) repellent!

Although this pungent phenomenon is not well-studied, it is generally thought to be a chemical defense mechanism used to deter predators. There has also been speculation by scientists that the smell is a byproduct of microbial fermentation in the gut of Travisia – that is, the worms use symbiotic bacteria in their digestive systems to help obtain nutrients from their food.

A great face for radio

Travisia pupa is conspicuous on muddy ocean bottoms from Alaska to Mexico, growing to the whopping size of 8 cm long (a little over 3 inches) and 3 cm wide. With its fat, grub-like body and covering of wart-like vesicles, it’s not likely to win any beauty contests, but we think it might qualify for Miss Congeniality.

Close-up of the underside of the head, showing the mouth
Close-up of the underside of the head, showing the mouth.
In addition to the unflattering moniker “Stinkworm,” T. pupa is also referred to as the Pupa Utility Worm, which says a bit more about its admirable qualities. “Pupa” potentially comes from the strong resemblance to the stage in a butterfly’s life when it is undergoing metamorphosis. “Utility” refers to its beneficial role as a bioturbator, performing the important ecological function of turning over and aerating the sediment. T. pupa accomplishes all of this while deposit feeding – burrowing through the sediment, ingesting mud and food particles alike.

Warts and all

LEFT: Live specimen of Travisia pupa, ventral (bottom) view; Photo by the BIO Photography Group, Biodiversity Institute of Ontario, courtesy of CreativeCommons, RIGHT: Close-up of the body, showing branchiae and vesicles.
LEFT: Live specimen of Travisia pupa, ventral (bottom) view;
Photo by the BIO Photography Group, Biodiversity Institute of Ontario,
courtesy of CreativeCommons
RIGHT: Close-up of the body, showing branchiae and vesicles.
Puget Sound is actually home to four species of Travisia, but picking out T. pupa is a snap thanks to its vesicles, small fluid-filled sacs which occur in several different sizes along its body. The three other species that occur in Puget Sound have smaller vesicles that are all the same size. All four species have branchiae (breathing structures or gills) along the length of their bodies; in life these are bright red.

By: Dany Burgess & Angela Eagleston, Environmental Assessment Program

Photo: Dany gets up close and personal with a Stinkworm under the dissecting microscope.
Dany gets up close
and personal with a
Stinkworm under the
dissecting microscope.
Our benthic taxonomists, Dany and Angela, share their discoveries by bringing us a Benthic Critter of the Month. Dany and Angela are scientists who work for the Marine Sediment Monitoring Program. These posts will give you a peek into the life of Puget Sound’s least-known inhabitants.

In each issue we will highlight one of the Sound’s many fascinating invertebrates. We’ll share details on identification, habitat, life history, and the role this critter plays in the sediment community. Can't get enough benthos? See photos from our Eyes Under Puget Sound collection on Flickr. Look for the Critter of the Month on our blog.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Freedom for the Lampreys:

Yakama Tribe celebrates an ancient friend 

They are older than dinosaurs. They have no bones. They have no jaw, just a round sucker face with a circle of teeth – likely the model of many science fiction monsters. They are slimy and wriggly, yet some think they're cute. They are Pacific lampreys, and they were the object of a celebration last month.

In honor of World Fish Migration Day on May 21, Yakama Nation Fisheries held an "Asum (Lamprey) Release Event" in Ahtanum Creek west of Union Gap. The Asum has been a staple of the Yakama traditional diet for millennia. Some tribal members call them "Indian Hot Dogs." Yet this ancient creature has been in steep decline for decades, and many worry they are on their way to join salmon as an endangered species.

Picture of two lamprey in a cooler waiting to be released.
Like salmon, lamprey are anadromous -
they migrate up rivers from the sea to spawn.

My wife and I were intrigued by the notice we got from Tim Hill at the Central Regional Office, so we decided to make it part of our camping getaway. Following directions we wandered through Union Gap, past a soccer festival ("I don't think all these people are here for lamprey"), over Ahtanum Creek, winding on dirt roads through orchards, until we were directed by flag-waving tribal members into a field dappled with cow-patties.

We parked and joined a small group of curious people of all ages. Tables were set up in a semi-circle with displays about the life cycle of the lamprey, their cultural history with the tribe, and their ecological significance.

Like salmon, lamprey are anadromous — they migrate up rivers from the sea to spawn. But Pacific lamprey live a unique life cycle. When adults are ready to spawn, like the ones that waited in large red tubs in the back of a Fishery pick-up truck, they gather golf-ball sized stones with their sucker mouths and build a nest in the stream bed. The male gives the female a big kiss and doesn't let go, wrapping around her to aid in the release of eggs. After he fertilizes the eggs, the adults' lives are done.

No eyes, suckers, or teeth

The eggs hatch into miniature lamprey larvae, called ammocoetes. They are the size of your pinky nail with no eyes, suckers, or teeth. They drift until they find a home for the next few years — a nice pile of wet muck. There they live and grow as filter feeders of organic material for three to seven years. Then they go through a metamorphosis into juveniles called macrophthalmia, which have all the adult features.

The juveniles migrate out to the sea, where they feed parasitically on mostly large fish and an occasional marine mammal. They attach with the sucking disc and drink a little fluid, then move on. The host is usually unharmed — fisherman may find lamprey scars on an otherwise large, healthy adult salmon. After one to three years at sea, they've grown large and fat and head back up the rivers. This might explain why returning lamprey were a tasty treat to Native Americans.

The final stage of their life cycle is a migration upstream to a spawning stream. They stop eating and wind their way through fish ladders and over dams. They can climb steep barriers by clinging with their sucker mouths and inching upward in short leaps. Unlike salmon, they don't home to a specific native stream, but will seek out any hospitable stream similar to where salmon spawn. They'll overwinter, living off their body fat and shrinking in size and then begin the cycle again, spawning in the spring.

The leader of the Yakama's event was Ralph Lampman, a fishery biologist who specializes in, and apparently loves, lamprey. He introduced Tribal staff and volunteers who help with the lamprey program, and also U.S. Fish and Wildlife staff who were helping out. A tribal elder sang a song and made a prayer. Then Ralph explained the tribal program, embellishing his talk with an original lamprey rap song.

Problems lamprey face

We returned to the tables, where we learned about the problems lamprey face. The ammocoetes go through fish screens to burrow into silt in irrigation ditches, but later grow too large to get out and are trapped when the ditches dry out. Like salmon, they face the challenges of habitat destruction and water pollution. Migrating juveniles and adults also face problems similar to salmon in trying to get past dams. Before development of the Columbia River, lamprey runs were likely in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, but now fewer than 50,000 pass Bonneville Dam, and the numbers decline at each dam upstream.

Yakama tribal staff had collected from Prosser Dam the 54 lamprey we were to release. They held them over the winter, and they were now ripe for spawning. Ralph called us from the tables to gather at the stream bank to begin releasing the lamprey. We walked through a curtain of trees with spring buds to the cobbled shoreline of a full and briskly flowing Ahtanum Creek.

At first we all watched the writhing lamprey in their tubs with a little trepidation. Some of the biologists donned cotton gloves and brought some out to show how to hold them and release them into the creek. Lots of gloves were provided, so soon we were all taking turns to pick out lampreys. When you hold one, they are writhing cylinders with pulsating muscle, which, combined with their slick skin, make them challenging to hang on to. With a little practice and firm grips, we were soon enjoying ourselves, dropping the wiggly little fellers into the water and watching them swim off to their destiny.

Soon the buckets were empty, and we watched at the streamside contemplating the magic of spring time and the renewed cycle of life. It's hard to believe that one of nature's most ancient creatures, which most folks would avoid with revulsion, could become attractive. But those quirky little "eels" grow on you. My wife and I are now big fans of the adorable Pacific Lamprey.

By Paul Pickett, Environmental Engineer with the Environmental Assessment Program

Video by the Yakama Nation

Check out the Yakima Herald's photo gallery of the Lamprey release event.

Fecal Matters: Swim Closure issued for Freeland County Park, Island County

BEACH Program Update

On June 9, 2016 Freeland County Park on Whidbey Island (Island County) was closed to swimming and water recreation. Freeland County Park has a permanent swim advisory due to moderately high bacteria levels in the summer.  The swim closure was issued due to high bacteria levels found in water samples. The public is to have no contact with the water until further notice.

Contact with fecal contaminated waters can result in gastroenteritis, skin rashes, upper respiratory infections, and other illnesses. Children and the elderly may be more vulnerable to waterborne illnesses.

Stay updated about water quality at your beaches by keeping up with us on our blog Fecal Matters, on Facebook, or join our listserv.

Debby Sargeant is the BEACH Program Manager and is available at 360-407-6139 or for questions.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Workshops to discuss changing water forecast for Columbia Basin

Changing climate will affect availability and demand for water in Washington’s Columbia River Basin, and will influence how water will be managed in the basin over the next 20 years, according to a new report being prepared for the Ecology’s Office of Columbia River.

How those changes could affect people, farms and fish will be shared at a series of free public workshops in June.

Image of Columbia River
Scheduled for June 21, 22 and 23 in Richland, Wenatchee and Spokane, the workshops give a first look at the 2016 Columbia River Basin Long-Term Water Supply and Demand Forecast. Produced every five years, the forecast helps public officials and stakeholders plan for future conditions that could be quite different from historic norms.

The report is authored by the State of Washington Water Research Center in collaboration with Ecology and others. A final report will be submitted to the legislature later this year.

The workshops will be held:
  • Tuesday, June 21, 1:30-4:30 p.m., WSU Tri-Cities, CIC Rooms 120/120A, 2710 Crimson Way, Richland.
  • Wednesday, June 22, 8:30-11:30 a.m., WSU Tree Fruit Research & Extension Center, Overley Laboratory Building, Meeting Room 102, 1100 N. Western Ave., Wenatchee.
  • Thursday, June 23, 8:30-11:30 a.m., Enduris Training Facility, Training Room, 1610 S. Technology Blvd., Spokane.
At the workshops, question-and-answer sessions and open houses will allow participants to review the draft forecast and make comments and suggestions.

“Anyone interested in water management in Washington is welcome to attend—farmers, people who boat or fish, and anyone interested in the effect of changing climate on water availability and use,” said Jonathan Yoder, director of the State of Washington Water Research Center and professor of economics at Washington State University.

The report will be available online beginning June 20. Public comments will be accepted from June 20 through July 20.

Shifting supply, demand

Climate projections suggest that average temperatures are likely to increase in the Pacific Northwest, and the region will see precipitation come in the cooler months, but with more rain and less snow, said Yoder. Changes in water use are expected as well, due to population increases and changes in agricultural production.

“The forecast gives regional and local pictures of how the water supply and demand is expected to change,” Yoder said.

In the new forecast, Washington State University researchers built upon the foundations laid in the 2011 water supply and demand report with updated computer modeling that captures the relationships between climate, hydrology, and the economics of water use. They modeled the entire Columbia River Basin upstream of Bonneville Dam; each watershed in eastern Washington; and Washington’s Columbia River mainstem, from the Canadian border to Bonneville Dam.

Their preliminary results predict that by 2035, there will be an increase of about 9 percent in annual water supplies across the Basin, compared to supply around the beginning of the 21st century. However, with higher temperatures, smaller snowpack, earlier melts, and more precipitation falling as rain instead of snow, water supply shifts away from when demands are highest. This shift could cause increased summer water scarcity, even as agricultural irrigation demand is shifting due in part to an earlier growing season.

New data for future planning

This year’s forecast includes an expanded research agenda that addresses additional policy needs for Ecology, the Office of Columbia River, other water managers, and stakeholders. These new elements include:
  • A preliminary assessment of groundwater resources in the Columbia River Basin, with a focus on areas with declining groundwater and preliminary activities to support integration of groundwater and surface water modeling in future forecasts. 
  • A pilot application of a satellite-based modeling tool that helps scientists understand water use by measuring evapotranspiration from irrigated farm crop production. 
  • A summary of water banking developments in Washington State and the Western U.S. in the last 10 years. 
  • An examination of the factors affecting participation in Ecology’s water supply development programs and permitting, including an analysis of the effect of user-pay requirements on participation rates. 
  • A preliminary analysis of the prospect for broadening the Forecast to the west side of Washington State. 

Workshops along with additional public feedback will help refine and focus efforts for the completion of the 2016 forecast, and will also help shape research goals for the upcoming 2021 forecast.

This forecast effort was made possible by the financial contributions and technical support from Ecology’s Office of Columbia River. The forecast research team, led by the State of Washington Water Research Center, includes the following scientists: Drs. Jennifer Adam, Michael Brady and Jonathan Yoder from Washington State University; Dr. Michael Barber from the University of Utah; engineer Dan Haller from Aspect Consulting; Steven Vigg and team at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife; and outreach and extension support led by Chad Kruger, Director of the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Tacoma Smelter Plume: Recap of Tacoma Public Meetings

By Jill Reitz, Environmental Planner, Toxics Cleanup Program

This map shows the estimated highest arsenic levels
in the plume. A property is likely to have higher or
lower levels than what is shown on the map. The only way to know for sure is to sample the soil.
Last week, Ecology held two public meetings on the progress of the Tacoma Smelter Plume project.  We had a turnout of over 50 people who came out to learn about yard sampling and cleanup in Tacoma neighborhoods. Please see our slideshow presentation to learn more about the topics we covered. Here are a few of the common questions and answers that were discussed:

How do I sign up for soil sampling?
If you live in the most impacted areas of the plume (see map right), you likely qualify for one of our free soil sampling programs.  Please visit our sampling webpage to learn more and sign up.

Why do I have to wait for soil replacement?
There are around 1,100 properties slated for soil replacement.  We are planning to replace soil on an estimated 100 properties a year.  We are first working in areas with the highest percentage of properties that qualify for soil replacement.

At the meetings, we presented maps showing our schedule for soil replacement in the service area.  Please see the Study Area sequence map and the Tacoma sequence map for more information.

What are the health impacts of arsenic and lead?
Long-term exposure to small amounts of arsenic or lead on a regular basis can increase your risk for certain health problems.  Arsenic can cause cancer, heart disease and diabetes.  Lead can lead to developmental delays or behavioral problems.  Please visit our webpage on the health effects for more information.
What do I do if I have elevated arsenic but do not qualify for soil removal?
We recommend healthy actions to reduce your exposure to contaminated soil. This includes things like: 
Health Actions are simple things you can do to protect
yourself and your family.
  • Wash your hands before eating
  • Take your shoes off at the door
  • Vacuum at least once a week
  • Peel produce grown in your garden
Please visit the Healthy Actions webpage for more information. 

Follow our yard cleanup work:
June 14th-7:00-8:30 pm
McMurray Middle School
9329 SW Cemetery Rd, Vashon, WA, 998070
Questions about the Tacoma Smelter Plume project?
Please call the project line at (360) 407-7688 and press 2 for Tacoma Smelter Plume; email me at; or contact your local health department DirtAlert program.