Tuesday, January 9, 2018

We've moved! Bellingham Field Office moves to new location

The Department of Ecology's Bellingham Field Office (BFO) has changed locations. Ecology's northernmost office has moved from its Fairhaven location to a new building closer to the center of Bellingham along Squalicum Way. The lease on the Fairhaven property was expiring, which gave the agency an opportunity to make a change that would reduce costs. BFO had been based in Fairhaven for the last 10 years after moving from downtown Bellingham.
"While the Fairhaven was nice and served us well," said Doug Allen, manager of the Bellingham Field Office, "the new office location has different amenities, including being sited adjacent to Squalicum Creek Park. The new building is laid out more efficiently, which reduces costs and will help us continue to serve the department and the public effectively in the northern counties." 
The office features a large meeting space, two smaller conference rooms, a lab for samples and a large garage that will fit two Ecology vehicles. The new location includes storage for field gear and research equipment and spill response vehicles and boats. Previously, spill response equipment was stored miles from the office due to lack of space; which lengthened response time.

The facility also has onsite bike storage and electric car charging stations. Squalicum Park provides walkways, access to trails, and recreation opportunities. It is also a short distance from Bellingham Harbor.

Though the new space is smaller, it is laid out more efficiently and will allow room for additional staff. The lease rate at the new facility is a savings of over $100,000 per year. Allsop Inc. owns the building and is using the second floor, while Ecology rents the first floor.

The Bellingham Field Office's new address is:

Note that all phone numbers for the BFO staff have also changed. If you need assistance or additional directions, contact reception at 360-255-4400.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Triple Creek Project:

Human-built 'beaver dams' restore streams

Myers Creek in April 2015 showing the stream damage. Gray alder dominates the tree canopy and extensive reed canarygrass lays on the ground after spring snowmelt. Photo by Julie Vanderwal.
Beavers are a critical asset in Washington, assuring that healthy riparian zones are maintained, especially in the dry climate east of the Cascades. Beaver dams and ponds support native vegetation and wetlands along streams, trap sediment, recharge groundwater, and improve water quality.

Over the last two centuries, these benefits have been lost in many watersheds, following human development, beaver removal, channel deepening, and other impacts.

In 2015, the Okanogan Highland Alliance (OHA) was awarded a grant to restore a reach of Myers Creek, through Ecology’s Water Quality Financial Assistance Program. In the 1990s, Myers Creek was damaged in a major rain-on-snow event, which caused unusually high stream flows, deepening the creek, leaving vertical cut banks, and draining nearby wetlands.

Where beaver ponds had once provided grade control and covered large areas of the floodplain, the now-drier soils began to favor invasive plant species. The understory is now dominated by reed canarygrass (Phalaris arundinacea) and Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense), further suppressing growth of native sedge and forb species. The only remaining native riparian species still easily found in the project area is gray alder (Alnus incana), with a few isolated willow (Salix spp.) plants.

The biggest challenges at this site were the lack of vegetation needed by beaver for food and dam-building, and a straightened, incised channel that now flowed with too much force in the spring to allow beaver dams to take hold.

Engineered beaver dams a solution

OHA, in partnership with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Trout Unlimited, needed to find a cost effective tool and strategy that would jumpstart ecological recovery at this site and restore it to a condition where beaver could recolonize and maintain riparian function again. That tool was Beaver Dam Analogues, also called BDAs.

Developed by Michael Pollock (NOAA) and colleagues, BDAs offer a low-cost, simple, and easily scalable technique for mimicking beaver dams. They reduce stream velocity, induce lateral channel migration, and cause rapid aggradation of the streambed, which reconnects the floodplain so it can once again support riparian vegetation.

The human-built beaver dams are constructed by driving 3 to 6 inch diameter posts into the stream substrate. Then a hand-woven matrix of various tree species, like dogwood and Douglas-fir, is interlaced between posts to provide the resistance to retain water and trap sediment.

Installation of a manmade beaver dam on Myers Creek in August 2017.
Previous year’s BDA is seen in foreground. Photo by Julie Vanderwal.
BDAs can be constructed as either channel spanning or deflector dams. Channel spanning dams slow the water down and capture it, trapping sediment and raising the streambed (aggradation). Deflector dams leave an aperture for the water to flow around, recruiting sediment from the banks for downstream capture and increasing channel sinuosity.

However, unlike natural beaver dams, the analogue dams must be maintained if they are to continue functioning year after year. This maintenance is needed until vegetation starts to return (or planted vegetation becomes established) and the site can provide enough food and dam material to entice beaver back to the system to take over maintenance of the site.

After extensive planning and permitting efforts, OHA and its collaborative team installed 26 of the dams along 1,900 feet of Myers Creek in the fall of 2016. They also installed staff gauges at many of the sites to measure both sediment deposit and to provide a reference for photo points over time. Water level data loggers were installed in the stream and in groundwater monitoring wells to measure changes in water surface elevation.

OHA also launched aggressive reed canarygrass management and native planting to help kick-start vegetation recovery. Fourteen planting plots and numerous caged plants were installed throughout the project area. In addition to providing shade, diversity, and stability, it is hoped that these plants will provide a more desirable, extensive food and dam construction source for beaver.

High flows  sustained

The timing of the construction proved fortuitous. When the spring of 2017 again brought exceptionally high flows to the watershed, this stream reach now had enough roughness to force dramatic, restorative geomorphic changes. Instead of further incising the channel, flows overtopped, flanked, and were deflected by the 26 new dams, which helped to widen the incision trench, increase sinuosity, and aggrade the streambed with freshly recruited sediment.

Sediment from the banks and the upper watershed was deposited up to nearly 5 feet in some areas, raising the channel closer to the historic floodplain. After these flow events, an annual survey showed an increase depth of water of over 11 percent in the first season following BDA construction.

Along with the restorative benefits to Myers Creek, this project has also become an important learning site in improving design and function and a training ground for restoration practitioners from around the Northwest wanting to learn how to install BDAs. Volunteers have been a crucial part of the project, contributing over 1,100 hours of service to date, assisting with BDA weaving, riparian planting, monitoring, and education.

One practitioner, Aaron Rosenblum with the Foster Creek Conservation District, found the opportunity to work on the site particularly insightful.

“My two visits to Triple Creek, one pre-peak flow and one post, illustrated to me the utility of BDAs as a restoration tool. The site was completely changed in just a matter of months: sinuosity was increasing before my eyes and several feet of additional water was being stored behind each structure. In Foster Creek, a system with streams that have been historically straightened and eroded, structures like BDAs could greatly help to restore the natural function and condition of the creek and improve water quality.”

Beavers began dam-building shortly after the posts were installed.
 Photo taken in September, 2017 by Julie Vanderwal.
In Triple Creek, project managers were surprised to see that after largely abandoning the site almost twenty years ago, beavers reoccupied the reach just days after BDA construction began in 2016. Their presence, while crucial for long-term maintenance, was initially challenging in that they eagerly ate the desirable willow, which was initially woven into the structures. This necessitated supplemental weaving to maintain the hydraulic benefits of each BDA, while also providing additional willows for the beaver to eat to relieve pressure on the repairs. In 2017, the team adapted their weave material to consist of less-tasty conifer boughs with red osier dogwood, which solved the issue.

Additionally, in the summer of 2017, beavers built a dam on a yet-unwoven BDA, instilling confidence that the long-term goal of beaver-based sustainability is achievable. Beavers also added to the weave material on another BDA where they sealed the dam at the base and provided desirable toe protection. In the latter part of 2017, beavers also built a starter dam just downstream of the downstream-most BDA, adding to project effectiveness much sooner than anticipated.

The long-term vision for BDA projects is that beaver will once again maintain dams to provide local grade control, floodplain connection, and wetland habitats to support a diverse flora and fauna.  Sometimes partners like the Okanogan Highlands Alliance, the Washington Department of Ecology, along with many others, just have to help give them the boost they need.

Beaver caught on camera in the process of dam building at the most downstream BDA. Photo by Julie Vanderwal.

Okanogan Highlands Alliance is a grassroots conservation organization based in Tonasket, Washington.
To learn more about them, the Triple Creek Project, and the other good work they do, go to: www.okanoganhighlands.org.
To learn more about how beaver dams, and beaver dam analogues, help restore stream habitat, go to: https://www.nwfsc.noaa.gov/research/divisions/fe/wpg/beaver-assist-stld.cfm.

By Heather Simmons, Ecology, and Julie Vanderwal, Okanogan Highlands Alliance

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Boots on the ground: Home from U.S. Virgin Islands with memento and more

WCC AmeriCorps members have been serving in the U.S. Virgin Islands for 30-days at a time since October, assisting communities in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Our teams are serving alongside All Hands, a local disaster relief organization. WCC AmeriCorps members return home this week from deployments to Florida, Puerto Rico, and Texas as well as the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

By Erin Harris, Washington Conservation Corps AmeriCorps member

When I returned home from the U.S. Virgin Islands in October 2017, I came back with so much more than I brought with me.

My Danner boots now feel like an extension of my feet and my WCC uniform is forever stained from the hardest month of service I have ever endured. Most importantly, I’m bringing home a token from a homeowner I met, tucked safe in my backpack between my sleeping bag and medical kit.

My first project in the Virgin Islands was serving on a chainsaw crew removing large debris from survivors’ homes and yards. The first person we helped was an elderly, soft-spoken woman named Ms. Judy, who lost everything but her spirit in the storms. Hurricanes Irma and Maria had torn off most of her home’s roof and caved in the walls. Her yard was covered in downed trees, corrugated aluminum roofing, and household items.

Ms. Judy’s home and bedroom wall. Photo by Eli Varner.
Ms. Judy lived with Shareff, a middle-aged man and old family friend with the soul and spunk of a teen-ager. In exchange for meals and a place to live, Shareff provided Ms. Judy with transportation and protection. Along with a cat and four dogs, the two had moved their few belongings left into the only inhabitable structure remaining: A shed on the back of the property.

From an outsider’s perspective, the first thing that appeared to be missing was a refrigerator and a front door. But what Ms. Judy wanted back the most was her husband’s ashes. Part of our assignment was to recover them for her.

We spent five days in Ms. Judy’s yard. It wasn’t until our last day of service that we were able to find her late husband’s ashes and present them to her. With the rain cascading down, I couldn’t distinguish the fat drops from the tears on my face.

When we returned to cutting down the torn bedroom wall, I saw something bright under the house. It was a photo album that had been hidden until we moved the wall segments. The wall had protected the album from floods and rain. I grabbed the photo album and threw it under my shirt to prevent the ever-prevailing precipitation from causing damage.

AmeriCorps members clean the Joint Field Office on their final week.
Photo by Hunter Bowen.

I stood in the doorway of the shack, out of breath and shaking. Ms. Judy and Shareef were huddled together around the table as I delivered the photo album and watched anxiously as she opened it. Perhaps thanks were in order to the God Ms. Judy was always talking about because somehow the photo album was untouched by water and dirt. In a matter of seconds, we were all in tears again as Ms. Judy lovingly explained photos of her husband and children. She stood up and engulfed me in a long hug, all the while proclaiming that I was God’s gift to her.

Ms. Judy didn’t say goodbye to me; she knows I’ll be back to visit her soon. She blew me one last kiss as Shareef made his way down the driveway to us. Stopping just in front of me, he laid a beaded necklace with a large painted ‘VI’ emblem around my neck. He put his hands on my shoulders and told me that I’m special. Nothing else needed to be said as he repeated that sentence over and over.

Fighting back tears, I made my final promise to return for fishing lessons and with one last wave, I climbed into the car. For the rest of our deployment the necklace hung over my bed, reminding me of Shareef and Judy and the resiliency that they embody.

Back in Bellingham, the necklace has found a permanent home on my wall where it serves as a daily reminder of the Virgin Islands and the people I met there who changed my life.

WCC’s disaster response program

Long hours, unpredictable conditions and ultimately rewarding experiences serving communities in need often characterize WCC disaster response efforts. Deployments range from national to local disasters, supporting flood response and prevention, wildfire operations, hurricane assistance and more. Four of our WCC crews are designated disaster response crews, though any member has the potential to deploy.

Join the WCC

Do you want to help the environment, meet great people and make a difference in your community? Recruitment for six-month WCC AmeriCorps positions will open in January 2018! Lean more and apply online today. See photos of the types of projects WCC members support during their service in our WCC projects Flickr set and WCC featured projects story map.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

New Ecology guidance helps protect cleanup sites from climate change impacts

Addressing climate change is a critical challenge for Washington state and a priority for Ecology. We are working hard to mitigate the causes of climate change, but it’s also vital to address its potential impacts to infrastructure and the environment. That’s why we created new guidance for cleaning up toxic sites: Adaptation Strategies for Resilient Cleanup Remedies.

Climate change impacts can affect our health and safety, the economy and environment, and the state’s abundant natural resources. The projected impacts that could affect cleanup sites include:
Photo courtesy of Dawn Gardiska
  • Sea level rise
  • More severe flooding
  • Risk of more frequent and intense wildfires
  • Increased landslide and erosion
  • More severe drought
This new guidance gives site managers tools for conducting site-specific vulnerability assessments. These assessments can then be used to identify adaptation measures to increase the resilience of cleanup site remedies. Implementing these measures during early stages of the cleanup process can maximize their integrity and reduce short- and long-term costs.

As part of this guidance, Ecology conducted an assessment of the state’s cleanup sites to understand what types of sites are most vulnerable to climate change impacts. Of the cleanup sites identified as highly vulnerable, we found that sea level rise poses the most risk.

Specifically, sediment and upland cleanup sites in or near marine and tidally-influenced waterbodies are at risk from flooding and more severe storms, which could damage cleanup remedies and potentially release contamination. For example, a remedy with an armored cap – a cleanup option that isolates contamination – could be eroded from a severe storm event.

To create this guidance, we used the latest science from the University of Washington and Oregon State University, NOAA, EPA, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. And, most importantly, we harnessed the significant technical expertise of our agency ranging from site managers, hydrogeologists, underground storage tank inspectors, engineers, policy analysts, and sediment experts.

By improving the resilience of our cleanup remedies to the impacts of climate change, we can help ensure that our efforts are effective in the long-term. And, by accounting for regionally-specific climate change impacts like sea level rise, we can better protect the significant investment in time, resources, and money that make cleanup happen.

To learn more, read:
By Cheryl Ann Bishop, Toxics Cleanup Program

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Ecology denies petition to begin rulemaking to establish nutrient wasteload allocations for a Puget Sound TMDL

Puget Sound
On Oct. 10, 2017, Ecology received a rule petition from Northwest Environmental Advocates for us to engage in rulemaking to place wasteload allocations in a rule for a Puget Sound nitrogen Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) – or official water cleanup plan.

Some important things to know to understand this petition

Washington state law (RCW 34.05.330) provides a pathway for any person to petition an agency to request the adoption, amendment, or repeal of any rule.

A wasteload allocation is a TMDL term that refers to numeric limits placed on point source discharges of pollution. Point source pollution most commonly refers to the permitted discharge of polluted water out of the end of a pipe.

Denying the petition

We denied the petition in a letter responding to Northwest Environmental Advocates on Dec. 8, 2017. We decided to deny the petition on the grounds that we are not immediately ready to develop a Puget Sound TMDL, and adopting a wasteload allocation into a rule is not necessary to implement a TMDL.

We agree with the petitioner that Puget Sound is impaired by nutrient pollution and that a TMDL may be necessary to address this impairment. However, we do not agree with NWEA's statement that we have all the data and analysis necessary to immediately and effectively develop a TMDL for nutrients in a system as complex and vast as Puget Sound. A TMDL can be a useful tool for water quality improvement, but it isn’t the only tool in our toolbox.

Using sound science to shape our actions

We began the technical work to understand the dissolved oxygen issue in South and Central Puget Sound back in 2008. That work included a water quality model for South and Central Puget Sound, however, scientists and decision-makers learned from that work that human impacts need to be evaluated on the larger scale of the Salish Sea.

This is when scientists expanded our scientific model to the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Canadian waters to develop the Salish Sea Model. A circulation and water quality model of this size and complexity takes time to build correctly. It has been through extensive peer review by other scientists and engineers to make sure it gives us accurate results. We and Pacific Northwest National Labs have worked hard to build the technical tool to grapple with and understand the nutrient issue in Puget Sound.

Working to address the nutrient problem in Puget Sound

We finished several pieces of the Salish Sea Model in 2017. These pieces improve the model’s skill and predictive power. We also spent the year communicating what we know and understand about the nutrient problem from current data analysis using the Salish Sea model.

We have scoped the issues by talking with stakeholders, scientists, and the regulated community. We are looking at nutrient management examples from around the country, and have begun building a project implementation framework to reach our water quality goals and help Puget Sound.

Tackling nutrients in 2018

As we continue technical analyses in the coming year, we will begin developing a strategy that can be implemented to address nutrients in marine water quality.

Washington state and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have invested nearly a decade of time and money developing the Salish Sea Model to give us the power to answer one big question:
What impacts are humans having on dissolved oxygen and water quality in the Salish Sea?
We are now ready to apply that model to figure out what actions are needed to reduce nutrients and improve Puget Sound water quality.

Denying the petition but still addressing the problem

While we are denying this petition to put wasteload allocations from a Puget Sound Nutrient TMDL into rule, we will continue to:
  • Use the Salish Sea model to determine where treatment technologies that remove nutrients will have the greatest impact on reducing nutrient inputs to Puget Sound.
  • Use the Salish Sea model to determine which nutrient reductions are necessary to avoid impaired water quality.
  • Evaluate where reducing nutrient inputs from the watersheds that contribute to Puget Sound are necessary.
  • Continue our work to reduce non-point sources of nutrient pollution.
  • Continue working with agricultural communities to reduce nutrient runoff from farms that can adversely impact shellfish harvest areas.

Our work to reduce nutrients in Puget Sound

Follow this Puget Sound Nutrient Watch blog series to stay current and learn about our work to reduce nutrients in Puget Sound.

Earlier blogs:
Visit our website and join our email list to get up-to-date information on the nutrient problem in Puget Sound.

We want this to be a collaborative effort that brings all of the technical work that is happening on Puget Sound nutrients together. We need all hands on deck to find the best solutions for meeting water quality goals for Puget Sound.

Contact information

Dustin Bilhimer
Puget Sound Nutrient Source Reduction Project Manager

Friday, December 15, 2017

New website makes it easier to find state and federal funding

Logo for Washington Fund FinderNow you can find many grants and loans for water and salmon related projects offered by the state and federal government in one place.

The new Fundfinder.wa.gov is a clearing house for water quality and salmon project funding. The Fund Finder website allows people to find grants by project type or who can receive the funding.

Partnership of agencies worked to build Fund Finder

This project came from a Results Washington improvement project workgroup. Ecology co-led the process with the Recreation and Conservation Office. This project brought together several natural resource state and federal agencies to collect all of the different funding information. This effort makes it easier for those seeking grants for water quality or salmon restoration projects – as they don’t have to search several different agencies in order to find out what funding is available.

This website is one of several action items that will help standardize and make funding information across multiple agencies more consistent.

Next steps to expand Fund Finder 

Currently, the Fund Finder focuses on projects in the water, aquatic plant removal, restoring salmon habitat, and floodplain management. In the future, we are hoping to expand the Fund Finder to include all natural resource and some infrastructure grants and loans. We hope to include projects such as protecting safe drinking water and road and bridge construction and maintenance.

Check out the Fund Finder today

You can help us improve this new tool by taking this survey after visiting the page.

By Stacy Galleher, Water Quality Program

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Eyes Under Puget Sound: Critter of the Month – The Tusk Shells

Welcome to the jungle! Take a walk on the wild side with this month’s group of critters, which look like something you might find on an elephant’s face.
Picture of Rhabdus rectius, species of tusk shell found in Puget Sound
Rhabdus rectius, a species of tusk shell found in Puget Sound. Photo courtesy Dave Cowles, wallawalla.edu.

Come shell or high water

Tusk shells belong to the Class Scaphopoda, meaning “boat foot,” which refers to lobes near the animal’s foot resembling a boat hull. Scaphopods are strictly marine organisms that can live at an incredible depth of up to 4,570 meters – or more than 13,000 feet deep!

While there are more than 900 species worldwide, we only encounter two species during our sediment sampling in Puget Sound. Most tusk shells we collect are from our northern sampling locations in Bellingham Bay, San Juan Islands, and the Strait of Georgia.

The elephant in the room

Top:Picture of Pusellum salishorum in its shell. Bottom: Picture of P. salishorum with foot and captacula withdrawn
Top: Pulsellum salishorum in its shell. Bottom:
A P. salishorum head up close up with foot and
captacula withdrawn. Bright pink color comes
from stain used to pick animals out of sediment samples.
In contrast to a real elephant’s ivory tusk, a scaphopod’s conical shell is open on both ends. This design serves a purpose. They live buried in the sand or mud with their head – the wider end of their shell – pointed downward while the tapered end sticks above the sediment to allows the animal to expel waste and exchange water.

The shell’s inner surface is lined with the mantle, a soft inner body wall all mollusks share. Unlike other mollusks, however, scaphopods lack gills for taking in oxygen. Instead, they have tiny hairs or cilia that move water around the mantle cavity. The beating cilia suck water in through the shell’s smaller opening and push it back out the same way after the oxygen has been used up.

Head to toe

Scaphopods lack gills and a heart and blood vessels for circulation. Instead, their blood is pumped by the movement of the scaphopod’s muscular foot, located at the end of its head. The foot pulls double duty: It is also responsible for locomotion. To move, the animal stretches out its foot to anchor it into the sediment. Then, it pulls the entire body after it when it retracts.

 All you can eat

Foraminiferans, favorite food
of scaphopods, are about poppy-seed
size. Photo courtesy Burke Museum.
Scaphopods are selective deposit feeders, sifting through the sediment and picking out particular things to eat. Their favorite foods are crunchy, microscopic one-celled organisms called foraminiferans or “forams” for short. While scaphopods lack eyes, they do have sensory organs called statocysts which help them detect food.


Sticky fingers

Top: 6cm Rhabdus rectius in its shell. Bottom:
Head end of R. rectius (shell removed) showing
foot and club-shaped captacula.
Once scaphopods find a nice place to eat, they probe around with sticky, finger-like tentacles called captacula. The captacula have ciliated (hairy) ends covered with an adhesive goo, making it easy for them to grab food and bring it to the mouth. Before crunchy foods like forams and small clams can be digested, they need to be ground down. This is where the radula comes in. This set of hardened teeth resembles a zipper, with two hinged parts that come together to crush the unfortunate prey item.

Shell to pay

Occasionally you may find an empty tusk shell washed up on the beach, or see them in shell shops or sold as jewelry. These uses originated long ago, when prehistoric tribes collected scaphopod shells for decorations. Some American Indian tribes used the shells as jewelry and monetary currency. The Sioux and Kiowa tribes used scaphopod shells to decorate their armor.

A woman of the Pacific Northwest Wishram tribe (left) wears a bridal headdress, earrings, and shawl embedded with scaphopod shells (photo courtesy Edward Curtis). A 19th century scaphopod necklace and bracelet from Nez Perce National Historical Park.

By: Dany Burgess and Angela Eagleston, Environmental Assessment Program

Critter of the Month
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.