Friday, December 2, 2016

Eyes Under Puget Sound: Critter of the Month – The Frost-Spot Corambe

Winter is coming! With the impending chilly season upon us, we thought it would be fitting to introduce a frosty-looking fellow as this Critter of the Month: the Frost-Spot Corambe.

Corambe pacifica on a microscope slide. Photo courtacy of Gary McDonald.

Corambe pacifica is a beautiful beast with frosty white speckles that seem to glow as if it just swallowed a set of twinkly lights.

Sink or swim

Click to enlarge image.
The Frost-Spot Corambe belongs to a group molluscs called nudibranchs (pronounced NEW-dih-branks, meaning naked lungs or gills), also known as sea slugs. Like most nudibranchs, C. pacifica begins its life with a coiled snail-like shell in a swimming larval stage. The shell is then shed as the larval nudibranch grows into its adult form.

Keeping up appearances

Feathery gills are visible beneath the mantle,
and the foot can easily be seen with its distinct white rim.
Photo courtesy of Gary McDonald.
Frost-Spot adults grow to a small 10 mm in length and have a flat disc-like body. They have a wide fleshy skirt called a mantle with a notch in the middle posterior (rear) end. Feathery gills used for breathing protrude from under the notch. The gills are a series of simple finger-like plumes which range in number (6-14) depending on the animal’s age.

LEFT: An exposed rhinophore. RIGHT: A rhinophore
partially covered by the protective sheath.
Photos courtesy of Gary McDonald.
Almost all molluscs (with the exception of octopus/squids) have a flat muscular organ called a foot that is used for crawling. The Frost-Spot Corambe’s foot is narrow and translucent with a white line running around the outer edge.

Sitting on top of the animal’s head are two rhinophores, similar to an insect’s antennae. The Frost-Spot has grooved rhinophores that function as sensory organs to detect food, and can retract inside a trumpet-shaped sheath for protection from nibbling predators.

Hide and seek

The Frost-Spot, a master of camouflage, has markings that are designed to perfectly match its habitat, making it almost invisible to potential predators.

Can you spot Corambe pacifica hiding in its habitat on the bryozoan colony Membranipora?
Photo courtesy of Gary McDonald.

In  this case, the habitat being mimicked is Membranipora, a particular bryozoan on which it feeds exclusively. Bryozoans are colonial animals that grow on hard surfaces. Each bryozoan colony is made up of many little “chambers”, each containing an individual animal that makes a tasty snack for the sea slug to slurp up.

The Frost Spot is moderately common in Puget Sound, but it is not often collected during sediment monitoring because of the location of its preferred habitat. Membranipora is found encrusting kelp blades, seagrasses and other hard surfaces that we don’t often encounter with our sampling equipment.

Corambe pacifica deposits its eggs in a spiral shape.
Photo courtesy of Gary McDonald.

Eggs over easy

If you can’t spot the slug itself, you might be able to spot its bright white egg mass. The Frost-Spot Corambe lays its eggs on the bryozoan in a spiral ribbon that looks like a cinnamon roll.

Why the spiral shape, you ask? The spiral gives the eggs a better shot at survival by keeping them close together, but still with plenty of space for oxygen to move between them.

By: Dany Burgess & Angela Eagleston, Environmental Assessment Program

Critter of the Month

Corambe pacifica in its environment. Photos courtesy of Gary McDonald.
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.

Tis the season for smoky air

Clear the air by following these tips, and there will be fewer bun bans

The weather is getting colder, which sets up ideal conditions for temperature inversions that trap air pollution close to the ground.

The source of this pollution? Smoke from woodstoves and emissions from highway traffic.

How can you make a difference? Follow a few tips to prevent pollution in the first place and obey burn bans when they are called.

In the summer, burning may be banned for fire protection, due to tinder dry conditions and the threat of wildfire. In the winter, smoke can stack up in our valleys for long periods of time, causing unhealthy air for us to breathe. The goal is to stay within state and federal ambient air quality requirements designed to protect people’s health.

By following these top practices year-round the air will clear and fewer burn bans will be called:
  • Make sure your fuel is well seasoned, low in moisture and stored undercover to keep dry
  • Never burn green, wet wood. Doing so is inefficient and creates smoke
  • Check your chimney 20 minutes after you start a fire. You should see only clear vapor heat waves and very LITTLE smoke.
  • Remember, breathing smoke is harmful, especially for the young, elderly and those with respiratory ailments. So protect yourself and your neighbors.
  • Check before lighting a fire in the home, shop, business or outdoors.
Burn bans are called in stages by local, state and federal agencies, depending on the jurisdiction.

During a Stage 1 burn ban -- NO use of uncertified wood stoves or fireplaces indoors and NO, outdoor burning, agricultural, and forest burning.

During a Stage 2 burn ban -- NO burning indoors or outdoors, unless wood is your sole home-heating source.

Consider upgrading. Check for incentive programs where you live. If you choose to burn, create small fires with lots of air… no damping down. We’ll all breathe easier.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Winlock’s first shoreline master plan amendment ready for public input

The first proposed amendment to the City of Winlock’s Shoreline Master Program – which was originally developed in 1977 - is now available for public review and comment. If approved, it will completely replace the existing program and guide construction and development along King and Olequa creeks within Winlock.

The locally tailored program combines plans for future development and preservation with new ordinances and permitting requirements for nearly three miles of shoreline. The public comment period on the proposed plan is open until 5 p.m. on Dec. 5.

If approved, the proposal would meet the requirements of the Shoreline Management Act and the Shoreline Master Program Guidelines. 

What’s a Shoreline Master Program?

Shoreline Master Programs are local plans developed by cities and counties to manage shoreline uses and development. These local programs protect natural resources for future generations, provide for public access to public waters and shores, and plan for shoreline uses and development.

Winlock’s shoreline plan

Winlock’s new shoreline program incorporates vegetative buffers from the city’s Critical Areas Ordinance that accommodate existing development, prioritizes uses consistent with the city’s underlying zoning, and establishes all legally existing upland residential development and uses as conforming.

The proposal is available for review on the project website, and in paper form at the Washington Department of Ecology headquarters and at Winlock City Hall.

All comments should be sent to Ecology’s Sarah Cassal. There are four ways to do it:

By email:

By mail:   Southwest Regional Office
                PO Box 47775
                Olympia, WA 98504-7600

In person: 300 Desmond Drive
                 Lacey, WA 98504

By phone: 360-407-7459

Ecology must receive comments no later than 5 p.m. on Dec. 5, 2016.

Comment summaries and the city’s response will be posted to Winlock’s Shoreline Master Program page on Ecology’s website.

By: Dave Bennett, Southwest Region communications manager

Friday, November 4, 2016

UPDATE Web network maintenance has been cancelled.

The maintenance work previously scheduled for November 16th has been cancelled. It is likely to be rescheduled in December. We'll share a notification at that time.

During this time many of Ecology's online applications will be unavailable, including:

  • Areawide Remediation Environmental Information System (AREIS)
  • Children's Safe Product Act (CSPA) Reports
  • Cleanup Site Search
  • Cleanup Levels and Risk Calculations (CLARC)
  • Coastal Atlas
  • Columbia River Water Resources Explorer
  • Environmental Permit Handbook
  • Facility/Site Identification (F/SID) System
  • Fertilizer Database (Wastes in Commercial Fertilizers)
  • Grade Level Expectations (GLE) Correlations to Environmental Education Resources
  • Hazardous Waste Services Directory
  • Industrial Permits
  • Integrated Site Information System (ISIS)
  • Laboratory Accreditation
  • Polluted Waters - 303(d) Listing
  • Public Involvement Calendar
  • Publications and Forms
  • Recycling (1-800-RECYCLE)
  • Shoreline Aerial Photos
  • Smelter Search
  • Solid Waste Information Clearinghouse
  • Staff directory annd subject referral look up tools
  • Thermal stream surveys
  • Water Quality Permit Databases
  • Water Resources Explorer
  • Well Construction and Licensing System (WCLS)
  • Well Logs look-up
While the applications are off-line, you'll get a server error message instead of getting access to the tool. For more information about these online applications, see Ecology's Databases. The Ecology website will not be affected.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Eyes Under Puget Sound: Critter of the Month – The Hair Worms

Bad hair day 

Everyone knows the feeling; some days your hair won’t cooperate no matter how much you fuss with it. Forget the beehive, the perm or the pompadour.

Might as well give up and put on a hat.

Cirratulus spectabilis. This cirratulid worm has particularly dense “branchiae,” or gills; giving it that bed-head look.

Our Critter of the Month, the Hair Worm, can probably sympathize. For them, unruly locks are just a way of life.

Let your hair down

The Hair Worms belong to a family of polychaetes (marine segmented worms) called Cirratulidae, and their tangled “hairs” are actually branchiae, external gills that occur in pairs along their bodies.

Branchiae are filled with blood vessels and help with oxygen exchange, which is especially important when you live in a low-oxygen environment like the soft sediments of Puget Sound.

Aphelochaeta glandaria, the most abundant
cirratulid species in Puget Sound.
Some species of Hair Worms, like the common Puget Sound species Aphelochaeta glandaria (pictured to the right), have an additional centerpiece to their ‘do: a pair of grooved feeding tentacles located behind the head.

When the animal is completely buried in the mud, it can extend the tentacles to the sediment’s surface to search for food particles, which are funneled back into the worm’s mouth.

If only our hair were that functional!

Splitting hairs

Cirratulids are especially tricky critters to identify because there are many species that look similar, so taxonomists must use their smallest features to tell them apart. We examine the arrangement of their tentacles and branchiae under a microscope, as well as their setae – tiny hairs that poke out of each body segment.

LEFT: A cirratulid polychaete in the genus Chaetozone.
RIGHT: A close up of the cinctures on Chaetozone’s posterior (rear) end.

For example, cirratulids in the genus Chaetozone have setae and spines arranged in rings called cinctures near the ends of their bodies, and each species’ cinctures are distinct.

The name game

Another reason that cirratulids give taxonomists major headaches is that many of them are new to science, so no published descriptions exist to compare them to. Polychaete experts diligently work at describing these new species and giving them names.

The new species of cirratulid from Puget Sound,
named after our very own Maggie Dutch!
It is an aspiration for scientists to one day have a new species named after them – to be immortalized in the scientific record for all time. It’s against the scientific rules to name a species after yourself, so you must be deemed worthy by another scientist in order to go down in taxonomic history.

Here at Ecology, our own Maggie Dutch, lead scientist of our Marine Sediment Monitoring team, recently received this honor when her former colleague re-described a genus of cirratulids and named one of the new species Kirkegaardia dutchae!

Maggie provided specimens of K. dutchae from the Marine Sediment Monitoring Program’s species collection for use in the redescription study, published by Jim Blake in 2015. This unique thread-like cirratulid is known only from shallow depths of Puget Sound.

By: Dany Burgess & Angela Eagleston, Environmental Assessment Program

Critter of the Month

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 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.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Innovative Water Solutions

Irrigators coming together to pay for Yakima watershed projects

Ron Van Gundy 
It’s a journey that old-timer Ron Van Gundy says started in the late 1970s and early 80s when irrigators were faced with new Clean Water regulations. Too much sediment was being carried to the Yakima River, causing it to turn milk chocolate brown at irrigation outfalls such as Sulphur Creek near Sunnyside.
Their response: switch from flooding fields with water to installing sprinkler and drip irrigation to prevent sediment runoff and pesticide pollution to the Yakima River. The benefits of their actions were twofold – an 85 percent improvement in water quality and conservation of tens of thousands of acre-feet of water precious to the agricultural economy in the face of drought and climate change.

Cooperation, not fighting
Today, those same irrigators with their once adversaries are helping to implement one of the nation’s largest water and environmental enhancement projects under the Yakima Basin Integrated Water Resources Management Plan.

The goal: to meet water needs for families, farms, forests and fish without fighting. The efforts begun decades ago helped irrigators get through the drought of 2015 and set the stage for success through the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan.

Where factions have traditionally lawyered up and met only in the courtroom, these same parties, known collectively as the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project Workgroup, log many miles together pitching their approach to state legislators at home and Congressmen on the Hill in Washington, D.C. They’ve gained recognition in the halls of the U.S. Department of Interior and U.S. Department of Agriculture, where WaterSMART watershed management approaches are touted.

Plan gaining national attention
A cover article and spread in the Oct. 17, 2016, Christian Science Monitor Weekly is a testament the plan has gained national attention:

In an innovative agreement, farmers have joined with environmental groups, the Yakama Nation, state and federal officials to both increase water availability and restore the natural landscape,” writes Zack Colman in the CSM article.

Drip irrigation conserves water, improves water quality
Although the plan focuses on just one section of the state, it is an agriculturally significant one – the Yakima Basin. And it’s comprehensive: The plan includes voluntary conservation programs, building new water-storage reservoirs, and adding structures to dams that would help fish seek cooler waters as they migrate upstream.

... Many water experts say the fledgling accord could be a model largely because farmers themselves have agreed to pay for investments that promise to enable their water needs to be met alongside those of city dwellers and endangered salmon.
Interest from D.C.
Sockeye salmon
In mid-October, leaders from the other Washington (D.C.), representing a dozen federal agencies, toured integrated plan projects in the Yakima Basin. Along the tour they met with workgroup members and viewed sockeye salmon spawning in tributaries above Cle Elum Reservoir. The Yakama Nation’s fisheries program is restoring one of only four remaining sockeye populations in the Columbia River Basin. Fish passage at Cle Elum is part of the plan’s first decade of work. In addition, irrigators are pursuing financial partnerships to fund the Kachess Drought Relief Pumping Plant project, another early action project. They are proposing to access water now stored in Kachess Lake with a floating pump during drought years. This, and other surface water storage projects advocated by the integrated plan, would be funded by irrigators.

A creative financial approach
Taking advantage of a new program offered by the U.S. Department of Interior, the Roza Irrigation and Kittitas Reclamation districts have agreed to explore ways to secure non-federal public and private financing for the Kachess project. The Natural Resource Investment Center was created to help connect investors to natural resource projects that have traditionally been publicly funded.

Roza Irrigation District manager Scott Revell explained in the Yakima Herald-Republic
“There are a surprisingly large number of private (investors) who want to make investment in infrastructure projects that have ecosystem benefits.”

Working with the investment center would help the local irrigation districts connect with those investors, who would loan money to the pumping plant project for both a return on investment and the opportunity to demonstrate their support for water-smart projects, Revell said.
State and Federal investments
Our Office of Columbia River helped spearhead development of the plan with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, beginning in 2009 by bringing once-adversarial water users together. So far, the state has invested as much as $140 million for integrated plan projects.

Reclamation has contributed approximately $78 million, and other federal agencies participating have contributed approximately $167 million to projects consistent with Integrated Plan in the Yakima Basin.

“Success of the program will hinge on these public and private partnerships, with state, local and federal dollars all playing a part,” said Office of Columbia River director Tom Tebb. “We know we need to be creative as well as smart in how we prioritize and fund these water projects.”

In the U.S. Senate and House, Washington legislators are promoting a compromise bill that would jumpstart funding of the 30-year watershed plan at the federal level by as much as $92 million.

For Ron VanGundy, it may have taken 30 years to get here. But he has always been forward thinking. “The people we were working with back then were working for something they would never see. They knew it was important then. And it’s just as important now.”

By: Joye Redfield-Wilder, Central Region communications manager

More on the plan and partners:
This River Runs Forever

Yakima River Canyon

Monday, October 24, 2016

Money available for forest and farm land improvements in Spokane River watershed

The Yale Road Fire scorched acres of forest
and farm land in the Hangman Creek
watershed in southeast Spokane County.

Those affected by summer fires   encouraged to apply

Summer fires in the Spokane area burned thousands of acres including forest and farm land. These areas are now prone to erosion, potentially causing big problems for water quality. Fortunately, help is on the way through a timely funding opportunity. The Greater Spokane River Watershed Regional Conservation Partnership Program is getting ready to accept applications and invest more than $15 million
on the ground to improve soil, forest health and protect water quality.

Livestock producers, dry-land farmers, and forestry operations are being encouraged to apply for financial and technical assistance to adopt conservation practices that protect and restore their property. Grants are available for projects within the Spokane River watershed in Idaho and Washington, and on Spokane and Coeur d’ Alene tribal lands.

“The program is available to anyone within the watershed, but we hope those affected by summer fires in the Hangman Creek and Little Spokane River areas apply,” said water quality specialist Elaine Snouwaert. “Soil burned by fire is highly unstable and has to potential to wash into rivers and streams causing water quality problems such as decreasing oxygen needed for fish.”

Landowners can take advantage of several existing conservation improvement programs including the Environmental Quality Incentives, Conservation Stewardship, Agricultural Conservation Easement and Healthy Forest Reserve.
Direct-seed farming is just one way to prevent erosion and improve
water quality. Etman Brothers Farms uses the technique near Valleyford, Wa.

Spokane Conservation District, which is leading the effort, is also introducing a Commodity Buffer Program. It’s a new, innovative approach that compensates landowners, based on crop values rather than the traditional soil rental rate values, for installing stream buffers that improve wildlife habitat and protect water quality.

Learn more about the program

Spokane Conservation District and its partners are hosting informational meetings before the first application period opens on Nov. 1. Landowners and producers have three opportunities to learn more at the following public meetings.

All meetings will be held from 6 to 8 p.m.:
  • Monday, Oct. 24, at DeSmet Tribal Longhouse, Brynes Road, DeSmet, Idaho. 
  • Wednesday, Oct. 26, at Fairfield Community Center, 218 E. Main St., Fairfield, Wash. 
  • Thursday, Oct. 27, at the Big Barn Brewing Co., 16004 N. Applewood Lane., Mead, Wash.
You can access application materials on the Spokane Conservation District’s website. If you have application questions, email the program coordinator Charlie Peterson at or call 509-535-5274. Idaho residents can also drop off their application materials at their local conservation district or NRCS Field Office.

by Brook Beeler, communications