Thursday, July 2, 2015

Fecal Matters: Freeland County Park Closed to Swimming, Island County

BEACH Program Update

On July 2, 2015, Island County Health Department closed Freeland County Park to swimming due to high levels of fecal bacteria in the water.  This beach will be resampled for bacteria levels next week.  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 debby.sargeant@ecy.wa.gov for questions.

Fecal Matters: Hollywood Beach in Clallam County is CLOSED to Swimming

BEACH Program Update

On July 2, 2015, Clallam County Health and Human Services closed Hollywood Beach to swimming due to high fecal bacterial counts. This advisory is in effect until water samples show that the water is clean. Clallam County Health and Human Services will be resampling the water early next week. 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 debby.sargeant@ecy.wa.gov for questions.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

City of Anacortes helps Skagit Delta farms survive drought

By Larry Altose, Communications Manager, Northwest Regional Office

A beet seed crop grows in the Skagit Valley.
The city of Anacortes has extended a helping hand by making water available to neighboring Skagit Delta farmers caught without water for their crops in Washington’s worsening drought.

Ecology rapidly processed the drought authorization emergency order over the weekend that allows the city to provide water to two irrigation districts for the summer.

The irrigation districts are part of a 90,000-acre Skagit Valley farming area that provides an unusually large share of the U.S. farm seed supply. This includes 95 percent of table beets and 75 percent of spinach and cabbage. Worldwide, the valley produces 8 percent of the spinach seed supply and 25 percent of cabbage and beet seed.

Skagit County also supplies the nation and world with seed for arugula, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, coriander, mustard, parsley, parsnip, rutabaga, Swiss chard, and turnip.

Urban water suppliers help farm neighbors


A pump draws water from the Skagit River.
Anacortes stepped in with a season’s worth of help for Irrigation Districts 15 and 22 after the Skagit County Public Utility district provided the irrigators with a temporary supply of water in June.

The city water will help alleviate the effects of record low flow in the Skagit River, combined with the ample heat and lack of rainfall seen throughout the state. Districts 15 and 22 ran dry in mid-June, placing about 5,000 acres of crops at risk.

Ditches dried up early


The districts collect rainwater from drainage ditches, a supply that normally lasts into June or July, before pumping river water. But as holders of junior water rights, and with the Skagit running well below the level set to protect fish runs, the districts cannot draw from the river in the normal manner. Instead they now are able to buy almost five million gallons a day from Anacortes.

High tide pumping protects fish runs


The Skagit River's low flows are setting records. 
There are no pipes from Anacortes to the delta irrigators, so how does the water get to the farmers? Each day, the city forgoes over 4.8 million gallons of water that it diverts from the river at its upstream withdrawal point.

The districts, which are located closer to the mouth of the Skagit on Puget Sound, pump that amount from the river. But, they do so only during the three hours before and after high tide. That way, they keep from further lowering the river’s flow.

Supplies remain short


But it’s not quite enough to meet all of the season’s expected irrigation needs. The districts can continue efforts to negotiate for additional “senior” water, adopt conservation measures to reduce water losses, or both. Ecology will continue its assistance to help alleviate the significant drought hardships in this area.


See Washington Drought 2015 for updates on drought conditions and Ecology’s assistance efforts. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Summer of drought is shaping up to be as bad as predicted

by Dan Partridge, communications manager, Water Resources Program

Federal monitors now consider one third (dark brown) 
of Washington state to be in moderate or severe drought
Less than a week into it, our summer is shaping up to be as bad as predicted for drought conditions.

Record-breaking temperatures are expected this weekend and into next week: 100 to 108 degrees in Central Washington, same for the Spokane area and in Western Washington the upper 80s and low 90s. Statewide, the record temperature for the month of June is 75 degrees set in 1992. A spokesman for the National Weather Service (NWS) predicts “we are going to be well above that” when the high temperature is calculated for the month.      

River and stream flows at record lows


Since May 15 when Gov. Jay Inslee declared a statewide drought, the below-normal snowpack we had in the mountains melted a month early. As of  June 29 -- without our normal run-off from the
snowmelt
–  78 percent of our rivers and streams are running at below normal flows; 38 percent of those are at record-low flows.

The high temperatures that have increased the demand for water needed for crops and communities are expected to continue through the summer and the fall and so is the lack of rain.

Washington farmers facing drought losses eligible for federal loans   
The National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) now classifies one-third of Washington as being in a severe state of drought. The Cascades have been reclassified from “abnormally dry” to “moderate drought.” The classifications guide the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in declaring natural disaster areas, which was done this week in 18 Washington counties. Farmers in those counties are now eligible for low-interest emergency federal loans that will help them defray the costs of damage to their crops and property from the drought.

Low flows in our rivers and streams have several hundred irrigators in north-central and eastern Washington facing water cutoffs far earlier than normal, and the fate of our request for drought relief funds awaits action from the Legislature.

Dry lightning, fire warnings for western Washington     
The National Weather Service has expanded its fire weather warnings for Washington state because the dry conditions we’re seeing this month normally don’t occur until August. Dry lightning is expected in western Washington this weekend and the state Department of Natural Resources has issued a statewide burn ban that will be in effect until Sept. 30, 2015.

Hot weather may cause air pollution issues in Washington

By Camille St. Onge | Air Quality

The warmer-than-usual weather expected in Washington may set conditions for health-harming ozone pollution (smog) in the coming days and throughout the summer.

GEEKY SMOG FACTS

Smog is a harmful pollutant that forms when sunlight interacts with pollution mainly from cars and trucks. 

The pollutants from tail pipes are nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. The hot sunlight bakes the pollutants together and forms harmful smog.

When people hear the word ozone they usually think about the ozone layer found high in the upper atmosphere (the stratosphere) that shields us from much of the sun's ultraviolet radiation. However, ozone air pollution at ground level where we breathe it (in the troposphere), causes serious health problems.

IT'S LIKE A SUNBURN ON YOUR LUNGS
Smog aggressively attacks lung tissue and has harmful effects on peoples' health. You might think of it as sunburn on your lungs. Breathing smog can lead to several types of health problems.

Difficulty breathing and lung damage: Because of smog's effect on lung function, it can make it feel difficult to breathe deeply, especially during exercise. Research has shown
that ozone exposure can also damage the lining of your lungs.

Worsening asthma symptoms: If you suffer from asthma, being exposed to high levels of smog can trigger asthma attacks.

Coughing and throat/chest irritation: High levels of ozone can irritate your respiratory system. These types of mild symptoms usually only last for a few hours after you've been exposed to smog. However, ozone can continue to harm your lungs even after symptoms disappear.
ONE THING YOU CAN DO TO REDUCE SMOG POLLUTION
There are a number of things we can all do to reduce harmful smog. Since pollution from cars and trucks is the largest source of smog, you might think about how you can drive less. 
Changing habits can be hard. So if you are considering driving less, start with one thing, just once a week:
  • Carpool with a coworker.
  • Take the bus.
  • Work from home.
  • Ride your bike to the store or work.
  • Walk somewhere.
 WAYS YOU CAN AVOID SMOG EFFECTS


There are things you can to reduce your exposure to smog. Smog levels are generally lower in the morning when the weather is cooler. Plan your outdoor activities, like running or gardening, for morning time.
The Environmental Protection Agency also has an app that provides a smog forecast:

  • Download the free AirNow app for iPhone or Android.
  • Sign up for AirNow EnviroFlash, a free service that sends air quality info to your e-mail or mobile phone e-mail address. 
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provides additional Air Quality Forecast Guidance.


And, you can visit Ecology’s online air quality map to see what levels are like in your area.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Eyes Over Puget Sound: More squishies, less crunchies

View this month's issue of Eyes Over Puget Sound
In this month's edition of Eyes Over Puget Sound we continue to see record warm water temperatures and low oxygen readings in our marine monitoring stations all across the Sound. These continue to be the warmest temperatures on record since 1989! On top of that, we're reading record low stream flows. This means harsh conditions for marine life.

Warm water + warm air + low rivers = harsh conditions for Puget Sound

More squishies, less crunchies

A large increase in jellyfish were seen
in the finger inlets of Budd and Eld inlet.
We saw a lot of jellyfish during this flight over Puget Sound. What does that mean? Although they're fascinating to look at, jellyfish can indicate changes in the lower food web. Many people consider them a dead end to the food chain because they aren't eaten by many other species.

When it comes to zooplankton, we've got two ends of the spectrum. The "crunchies," like small fish and shrimp, that are high in fatty acids and oils. Then, we've got the "squishies," like jellyfish, that are gelatinous and not nearly as nutritious for important species such as salmon.

It's as if Puget Sound critters have been put on a diet when they're experiencing warm water and low dissolved oxygen. For us to see a boom in jellyfish populations, we suspect there is less nutritious food for the rest of the animals in the food web.

Meet some intertidal filter feeders

Continue to learn about the creatures that live in the rocky intertidal part of Puget Sound.

From butter clams to moon snails to sunflower stars, this place where the waters meet the land is full of strange and wonderful life. Our WCC AmeriCorps intern Brook introduces you to these animals in this month's Personal Field Impressions section.

Blooms paint the waters gold

Abundant sun and unusually warm water temperatures are fueling phytoplankton and zooplankton blooms in many areas. We saw bright orange Noctiluca blooms surfacing in Commencement Bay and around Port Madison and many other parts of Puget Sound.

Our team saw this large Noctiluca bloom in Commencement Bay as they flew across Puget Sound.

What's Eyes Over Puget Sound?

Eyes Over Puget Sound combines high-resolution photo observations with satellite images, ferry data from travel between Seattle and Victoria BC, and measurements from our moored instruments. We use a seaplane to travel between our monitoring stations because they are so far apart.

Once a month, we take photos of Puget Sound water conditions and turn those out, along with data from our stations, in the monthly Eyes Over Puget Sound report.

Learn more and see other issues on our website.

Drought Watch: Saving crops in Skagit County

Water from utility district staves off problems for nation’s seed crop


By Larry Altose, Communications Manager, Northwest Regional Office

Skagit Valley farmers who produce much of our nation’s vegetable seed supply got a needed shot in the arm thanks to their local public utility district. But the fix will fade in just days as western Washington’s unusually warm and dry weather continues to affect the region’s growers.
Water from an irrigation ditch is pumped to a field's sprinklers.

The heat and lack of precipitation as we enter summer is compounding the unprecedented lack of snowpack in the Cascade and Olympic mountains that prompted last month’s statewide drought declaration.

For 24 hours on Tuesday and Wednesday, two irrigation districts serving farms that grow about 5,000 acres of irrigated crops switched on pumps to receive nearly 13 million gallons of water from the Skagit Public Utility District (PUD). Ecology authorized the temporary transfer of the PUD’s water rights downstream to Drainage and Irrigation Improvement District No. 15 and Consolidated Diking Improvement District No. 22.

Too little rainwater and no snow to speak of

Skagit County lacked rainfall most of this spring.
Both irrigation districts collect rainwater runoff in ditches and then provide this water to farmers. In a normal year, the runoff water lasts through June. But, May’s northern Puget Sound rainfall stood at just 39 percent of normal. Daily high temperatures last week averaged six to eight degrees above normal. By last week, the ditches were nearly empty.

Meanwhile, the Skagit River is running at 40 percent of its normal flow this week. The northern Cascade snowpack – which was 9 percent of normal on June 1 – has melted. The river’s flow this week is about 9,300 cubic feet per second. Flows below 12,000 cubic feet per second – a level set by state rule to protect fish runs – trigger water cutoffs for holders of junior water rights.

Juniors and seniors

Districts 15 and 22 hold such junior rights, so they aren’t allowed to draw from the Skagit River, which would normally be their fallback option. The PUD, which has a more senior water right and can still draw from the river, temporarily reduced the amount it can take to allow the districts to run their pumps for 24 hours, starting at 5 a.m. on Tuesday.

Even before that, Ecology had started work with the districts on the next phase – to find a long term solution – and do so in a way that protects fish runs by not further lowering the river.

Seeds for the world

Districts 15 and 22 are west of Mount Vernon.
With much of the acreage irrigated by districts 15 and 22 planted in seed crops, Ecology’s success will echo on next year’s dinner plates nationwide. The primary crops now at risk in the two districts include spinach, cabbage and beets, which are grown for seed.

The Skagit Valley is a 90,000-acre farming area that provides an unusually large share of the U.S. farm seed supply. This includes 95 percent of table beets and 75 percent of spinach and cabbage. Worldwide, the valley produces 8 percent of the spinach seed supply and 25 percent of cabbage and beet seed.

Skagit County also supplies the nation and world with seed for arugula, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, coriander, mustard, parsley, parsnip, rutabaga, Swiss chard, and turnip.

The valley’s strategic role as a seed supplier adds a far-reaching dimension to Ecology’s efforts to relieve the hardships of Washington’s drought.