Thursday, February 11, 2016

Cleaning up: The story beneath Kirkland’s new Google building

By Larry Altose, Communications Manager, Northwest Regional Office, Bellevue

Excavating pockets of "gray soil," right center, Dec. 2013.
Google Inc. will dedicate new offices next week in Kirkland, and the building rests on the most solid environmental foundations possible.

Constructed by SRMKII, LLC to meet criteria for the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Platinum certification, the Google Kirkland Project features an additional, unique environmental dimension.

The structure occupies a formerly contaminated site. A chemical company operated a mixing and packaging facility there from 1971 to 1990. The five-acre site contained petroleum hydrocarbons, semi-volatile organic compounds, and chlorinated solvents in its soil and groundwater.

The former owner began and the current owner completed work to clean up contaminated soil and water in 2012. The cleanup required two additional years of monitoring after the soils were removed, and before Ecology could confirm that the site met state cleanup standards.

An extraordinary proposition
SRM Development's Google Kirkland Project, Phase II
And that’s when something unusual happened. David Tomson, SRMKII’s Development Manager, told us that their tenant had a special request: remove all detectable contamination.

“Google’s request speaks volumes about their commitment to the environment and the health and safety of their employees and community,” Tomson said. “We felt thrilled to take it on, and saw that Ecology shared this excitement.”

Ecology and SRMKII got busy. The developer planned to start excavation for the foundation and parking garage in late 2013. That would be the time to also dig out what we started to call “gray soil.”

“All I could think was, ‘Yes! Why not?’ There’s a first time for everything,” said Maura O’Brien, Ecology’s site manager who had overseen the property’s already successful regular cleanup. “It takes a voluntary willingness to invest in this level of cleanup, but there’s no technical bar to what they wanted to do.”

From good to best
Excavation for Google II, with Google I in the background.
Washington has some of the nation’s most protective cleanup standards for soil and groundwater. These standards protect public health and the environment with a margin of safety. A site certified by Ecology to meet these standards is a safe place to live or conduct business.

In other words, SRMKII and Google wanted to make the site cleaner than “clean,” under Ecology’s oversight.

Ecology and SRMKII had data that showed where low but detectable contamination remained. As the excavation began, these areas would get special handling. Contractors collected “gray soil” for proper disposal, then tested the remaining soil to confirm that all detectable contamination had been removed.

The excavation and cleanup proceeded on time. And by late 2015 SMRKII sent Ecology the last of the groundwater monitoring reports needed to confirm a successful cleanup. The monitoring wells were decommissioned in January 2016.

Hazardous site no more
Meanwhile, in December 2015, we proposed to formally end the property’s status as a cleanup site. And that’s about to happen.

Caboose decorates new Google office building,
along a former rail line, now a city trail.
As Google celebrates the opening of its building, we expect to remove the property from the statewide Hazardous Sites List later this month. We’re also taking steps for the dismissal of a legal agreement called a consent decree, filed in King County Superior Court, under which the original and extra cleanup and monitoring were conducted. Ecology first signed the consent decree with a former owner, Ultra Corp., then added SRMKII when it purchased the site in 2013.

Google Kirkland Project has many environmental features, including rainwater catchment for flushing toilets and irrigation, a solar farm and a green roof. And it all rests on the best possible environmental underpinnings. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

500+ acres of our wetlands conserved this World Wetlands Day!!

By Jessica Payne, communications manager, Shorelands program

Happy World Wetlands Day!

Wetlands work hard to control flooding, clean the environment, provide habitat, recharge ground water and do much more to benefit our ecosystem. We love them for it! With hundreds of thousands of acres of wetlands in our state, we've got a lot of love to spread around.

Gaining, restoring and protecting wetlands

World Wetlands Day comes with an extra cause to celebrate this year; all five of the National Coastal Wetlands Conservation grants we submitted last year have been fully funded. This means that we're awarding over $4 million in federal grants to acquire, restore and protect wetlands. This grant money will join with local partners to total over $8 million for wetlands! How's that for good news on World Wetlands Day?

With these five grants, Washington has been granted over 20% of the National Coastal Wetlands Conservation funds that will go to conserving wetlands nationwide this year. Let's see where the money will go...

The Beach Lake Acquisition and Restoration will
conserve 46.3 acres, restore beaches and maximize
benefits from the removal of the Elwha River dams.

Beach Lake Acquisition and Restoration

Partner: Coastal Watershed Institute
Location: Elwha River Watershed
Clallam County
Grant: $1,000,000

This project will acquire and restore 46.3 acres of critical coastal wetlands in the Elwha River watershed. This conservation will benefit wildlife habitat, restore 870 feet of natural beaches and will boost the natural recovery process put in motion by the removal of the Elwha River dams.

The Coastal Watershed Institute will add $604,940 to the grant funds, totaling $1,604,940 to protect wetlands. Together, our work will create habitat for salmon, forage fish and migratory birds. And we're maximizing our investment by joining a broader effort by local conservation partners to protect the Elwha River watershed and estuary.

Acquiring Heron Point will protect some of the highest quality
forested wetland habitat within the Snohomish River Basin,
preserve 20 acres of old-growth Sitka spruce
and safeguard a haven for fish and birds. 

Heron Point Protection

Partner: Tulalip Tribes
Location: Ebey Slough
Snohomish County
Grant: $63,800

20 acres of old-growth Sitka spruce estuarine wetland will be protected along Ebey Slough with this project. The land we will acquire on Heron Point contains some of the highest quality and most intact forested wetland habitat within the Snohomish River Basin.

The Tulalip Tribes will provide $30,380 to match this grant, ensuring this treasured wetland will be protected for a price tag of $94,180. Following the acquisition, the Tribe will own and manage the property as part of the nearby Qwuloolt Estuary Restoration Project, which was funded by previous grants. Protecting this wetland improves forest biodiversity within the river basin and ensures important natural processes will continue to occur as the tide ebbs and flows throughout the area. Preserving this wetland provides a haven for fish and native birds, including a heron rookery.

Acquiring the Pearson Nearshore permanently
protects endangered fish and bird habitat; preserving
2,800 feet of estuarine wetland, feeder bluff and forest.

Pearson Nearshore

Partner: Whidbey Camano Land Trust
Location: Whidbey Island
Island County
Grant: $1,000,000

This project is a win for habitat. By acquiring 49 acres of Puget Sound waterfront property, we will permanently save habitat used by endangered salmon and other marine organisms. The upland forests that will be protected provide habitat for federally and state listed species such as pileated woodpecker, peregrine falcon and Vaux’s swift.

This project will protect 2,800 feet of intact estuarine wetland, feeder bluff and coastal upland forest. The feeder bluffs preserved will replenish beach sands as they erode, and help ensure the longevity of the ecosystem. In addition, a fifth of the property is made up of estuarine intertidal wetlands, a nationally declining type of nearshore habitat. The Whidbey Camano Land Trust will contribute $455,000 to match the grant, and the land will be forever conserved for a total of $1,455,000. The preservation that will benefit a wide range of species that depend on the saltwater, beaches and forest for survival.

Restoring the 315-acre Smith Island Estuary improves
habitat for local wildlife and recovers a safe haven for
birds as they migrate south from Alaska.

Smith Island Restoration, Snohomish River Estuary

Partner: Snohomish County
Location: Smith Island, Snohomish River Estuary, Snohomish County
Grant: $1,000,000

Restoring 315 acres of tidal marsh in the Snohomish River Estuary will represent a significant critical habitat improvement for Puget Sound. This restoration will provide refuge and valuable foraging areas for fish, birds and other wildlife. It will also improve habitat and migration pathways for Chinook and other salmon species.

This project will restore the estuary by repairing the natural ecosystem after years of damage from development. Not only is this a huge benefit to local wildlife, but the Snohomish River Estuary is also an important stopover on the Pacific Flyway for migratory birds. This means birds migrating from Alaska to Mexico and South America will reap the benefits as they take a break in the estuary while they recuperate along their long journey.

This project to protect and restore 73 acres of wetlands
and other aquatic habitat on Oakland Bay is part of a 

larger multi-year effort that will benefit the environment,
wildlife, tribal uses, oyster growers and recreation.

West Oakland Bay Restoration and Conservation

Partner: Squaxin Island Tribe
Location: Oakland Bay
Mason County
Grant: $1,000,000

Conserving these 73 acres on the western side of Oakland Bay is part of a much bigger plan to protect and restore marine nearshore, estuarine and freshwater habitats in Oakland Bay watershed that will benefit wildlife, tribal uses, oyster growers and recreation.

The project will protect 10 acres of saltwater and freshwater riparian habitat, four acres of tidelands and 59 acres of biologically significant wetlands and coastline. Over 21 acres of saltmarsh at the mouth of Goldsborough Creek will be restored, adding to a larger goal to preserve existing high-quality habitat and re-establish and permanently protect a saltmarsh estuary. The Squaxin Island Tribe will make this great benefit to Oakland Bay possible by matching the grant with $1,900,000, for a total price of $2,900,000.

Our work with wetlands

For more details on the projects listed above, visit our wetlands coastal grant program webpage. Learn more about our role in protecting, restoring and managing wetlands by visiting our website.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Critter of the Month: The cactus worm

By: Dany Burgess & Angela Eagleston, Environmental Assessment Program

Meet the Eyes Under Puget Sound Critter of the Month, Priapulus caudatus, otherwise known as the cactus worm. January's critter is quite a beauty...

Priapulus caudatus – Cactus Worm

Cactus of the sea

Priapulus caudatus. Photo courtesy of Atli Arnarson
This month’s critter may look like a cross between a worm and a cactus, but it is actually neither. Priapulus caudatus belongs to a group of animals called cephalorhynchs, which means “beak-head.” This group is a mixed bag of several different types of animals that share a special feature – a swollen tubular mouthpart called a proboscis. The proboscis has tiny beak-like teeth and can be turned inside out to hook prey and then retracted back inside the body. Enlarged to human size, it could be the terrifying star of a science fiction movie.

Lifestyles of the weird and muddy

P. caudatus is actually giant in comparison to its microscopic relatives, reaching up to 15 centimeters in length! It prefers the cold water of high latitudes, and can be found from the shoreline all the way to the deep sea (about 7,500 meters.) Its favorite habitat is the soft silty mud of the sea floor, where it burrows hind-end-first by expanding and contracting the muscles in its body wall. It spends most of its time moving slowly through the sediment, reaching out with its proboscis to ensnare marine worms and any other slow-moving creatures it encounters.

Click to enlarge

We are family!

The family Priapulidae is a special group of cephalorhynchs that actually has more in common with shrimp or crabs than with worms. As they grow, priapulid adults and larvae shed their skin in a molting process called "ecdysis." The ecdysis process is similar to how crustaceans shed their outer shells.

Today there are only about 16 species of priapulids world-wide, but numerous priapulid fossils have been found dating back millions of years to the Cambrian period.

Priapulus caudatus, preserved specimen
The priapulid doesn’t fall far from the tree

Modern-day priapulids aren’t that different from their ancient ancestors. Their soft, unsegmented bodies are divided into three sections (see photo to the right):

  1. Introvert
    The animal’s anterior (head) end which contains the mouth.
  2. Trunk
    The midsection, which has a ringed appearance and is covered with tiny bumps called papillae.
  3. Caudal appendage
    A long feathery “tail”, which serves various functions depending on the species. Scientists speculate that the tail of P. caudatus may serve as a breathing organ.

Critter of the Month

Close-up of caudal appendage
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, January 28, 2016

Eyes Over Puget Sound: 2015 was the year of the jellyfish!

Our 2015 Eyes Over Puget Sound sampling year was marked by the Blob, colorful algae blooms and jellyfish galore. Take a trip through the past year in photos that tell the 2015 story of Puget Sound.

View the 2015 year-in-review report

January: Warm coast, clear Sound

We started out 2015 with the Blob lurking on our coastlines. The warm water had just started entering Puget Sound, and our mild winter left those waters a bit warmer than usual. Whereas a very cold winter would lead to a down-season for jellies, we noticed patches of jellyfish hanging around through the winter. While flying over the coasts, we saw phytoplankton blooms in the surf, which are uncommon to see so early in the year.

February: Rivers run high and more jellies

Remember how warm February was last winter? This led to large amounts of snow melting, gushing down our rivers and dumping water into Puget Sound. As a result, we observed a lot of sediment entering our waters from the Fraser River, which is one of the biggest influences to the Sound. The sunny weather, dry air and warm water also made our waters run green in areas due to our first signs of growing phytoplankton. We saw numerous patches of jellyfish lurking in the southern inlets of Puget Sound.

March: Unusually warm and even more jellies

Come March, we started to notice how unusual the year was shaping up to be. Abundant jellyfish patches were showing up in uncommon places for the winter, such as Totten Inlet. By this time, all of the major rivers that feed Puget Sound were running high as the mountains lost snow in response to our remarkably warm weather conditions. As a result, just three months into 2015, Puget Sound was dressed in brown.

April: Summer blooms and jellies arrive early

April brought some truly bizarre observations. The red-brown phytoplankton blooms we typically see in Puget Sound during late summer were already going strong. This painted areas such as Sinclair Inlet near Bremerton in swirling tie-dye patterns of brilliant red that contrasted with our bold blue waters. We also saw--you guessed it--more jellyfish! These jellyfish patches persisted through the spring bloom in large numbers.

May: The turning point for an extreme summer

Most of the rivers that feed into Puget Sound fell below their expected flows in May. The large rush of melting snow came early and faded quickly. This is the turning point when the Sound transitioned from lower-than-normal salinities, to higher-than-normal salinities. This, along with decreased flows from our rivers, causes water circulation to slow down. Waters began to warm, and this warmer water held less oxygen and was stressful for fish.

June: Conditions get real interesting, real quick

Warm temps and weak circulation are not typical Puget Sound conditions for June. We, and the public, were very interested in how the extreme weather was taking effect. Jellyfish began outnumbering the crunchy, more nutritious zooplankton we normally find, making it harder for wildlife to find sustaining meals, and adding to the stress caused by warm water and low oxygen levels. Massive Noctiluca and other phytoplankton blooms appeared across Puget Sound in response to low river flows from the drought.

July: Small plants make big stink on beaches

The Blob fully infiltrated Puget Sound in July. This gave us warm water temperature readings at every depth throughout the Sound. From the air, the water looked like someone spilled green slime into Puget Sound. In fact, these were huge mats of small plants, what our scientists call "macro-algae," floating throughout the Sound, Dyes Inlet and Samish Bay. These caused a smelly situation as they washed ashore and piled up in huge rotting heaps, leading to swimming closures on some beaches.

August: Millions of jellies take center stage

By August the public and media took notice of the major influx of jellyfish. Waters were warm, salty and fairly stagnant due to record low river flows. Massive jellyfish patches stretched hundreds of feet long all across Puget Sound. While other marine wildlife were stressed by our marine conditions, the warm water was ideal for these jellies. Red-brown algae blooms were abundant across the Sound. We all began asking, "Is this what climate change will make the new normal in our region?"

September: Jellies flourish in record temps

Huge jellyfish patches continue throughout the Sound, showing up in unusual places and reaching peak numbers. Despite the little rain that returned to our region, the arrival of fall did not mark an improvement to our marine conditions. Water and air temperatures remained at record highs, and river flows remained extremely low. Warm waters and sunny conditions fostered green tides throughout the Sound, which caused another wave of stinky tides along some local beaches.

October: Finally, tides turn toward normal

After a long, hot and grueling summer, October brought welcomed cool air and rainstorms. As the rivers that feed the Sound recovered their flows, Puget Sound got a much needed dose of relief as a result. This marked a turning point in conditions, and we finally began seeing closer-to-normal data readings. Even with conditions trending toward normal, waters remained warmer than usual for this time of year. Uncertainty continued, as El Niño and the Blob were both likely to keep waters warm throughout winter.

November & December: As rain rejuvenates waters, storm runoff hits Puget Sound

The winter months brought torrential rains rushing over our landscape, down our rivers, through our storm drains and out into Puget Sound. Although this improved temperature conditions and greatly helped with water circulation, it dumped huge amounts of sediment and stormwater runoff into the Sound. Snow built up in the mountains and even the Blob began fading.

This brings us to today 

El Niño is still at the equator and big questions remain. Will the snow stay in the mountains or come down early like last winter? Will Cascade snowpack reach normal levels? Will the Blob return, stronger than ever? Will we face another drought? Will climate change make extremely warm years more common in the future? Our scientists are anxiously watching Puget Sound to see how things shape up. Every month, as we fly, we monitor and take the pulse of 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.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Fecal Matters: Holman Beach CLOSED to water contact recreation, Long Beach, Pacific County

BEACH Program Update

On January 22, 2016, an emergency closure was issued for water contact recreation and shellfish harvest at Holman Beach, near Long Beach in Pacific County.  This beach is closed due to discharge of partially treated sewage.  The sewage treatment plant was overloaded due to heavy rains.  This beach will be sampled for bacteria levels, and will remain closed to water contact recreation 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 Facebook, checking beach status on Coastal Atlas, or joining our listserv. Debby Sargeant is the BEACH Program Manager and is available at for questions.

Fecal Matters: No Swimming Advisories for Sinclair Inlet, Port Washington Narrows and Liberty Bay in Kitsap County

BEACH Program Update

On January 21, 2016 Kitsap Public Health District issued a no-contact advisory for Sinclair Inlet, Port Washington Narrows and Liberty Bay through Wednesday, January 27th.  The no contact advisories were issued due to sewer and stormwater overflows.  The public is advised to avoid contact with the water in these areas.   

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 Facebook, checking beach status on Coastal Atlas, or joining our listserv. Debby Sargeant is the BEACH Program Manager and is available at for questions.

Fecal Matters: Alki beach closed to swimming, Seattle, King County

BEACH Program Update

On January 21, 2016, Alki Beach Park in Seattle, King County was CLOSED to swimming due to a sewage leak in the Alki beach area. Repair of the leak is in process and the beach will be sampled for bacteria levels.  This beach will remain closed to water contact recreation 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 Facebook, checking beach status on Coastal Atlas, or joining our listserv. Debby Sargeant is the BEACH Program Manager and is available at for questions.