Friday, February 26, 2010

Ecology “eyes in the sky” spots oil slick in Lake Washington ship canal

By David Mora

On Wednesday, February 17, Christopher Krembs of our Marine Monitoring Program was making a routine marine monitoring flight over Puget Sound to gather water quality information. As his float plane headed over Seattle, Christopher spotted and took pictures of an oil spill sheen spanning the width of the Lake Washington Ship Canal at the Ballard Locks. He quickly reported the spill and sent his photographs to Ecology’s spill response team in our regional office in Bellevue.

Pleasure craft caused oil spill

Our investigation later revealed that the spill happened the day before we saw it. Crew members of the Princess Mary, a 70-foot pleasure craft, accidentally overfilled a tank during an internal fuel transfer. About 12 gallons of diesel fuel spilled into Salmon Bay. Our spill responders followed up and talked to the crew of the Princess Mary. Howard Zorzi, who oversees spill response activities in northwest Washington, and responder Shannon Dickson, concluded the crew’s actions to clean up the spill had been successful at recovering a majority of the spilled fuel. However, an unrecoverable sheen did drift throughout the bay. Like most oil spills, the Salmon Bay spill was caused by human error and should have been prevented. Ecology takes its legislatively-mandated goal of zero spills to our state waters quite seriously and will likely take enforcement action for the spill.

Photos show even small spills matter, highlight continued coordination

Based on Christopher’s photographs, it appears that patches of sheen migrated back and forth across the Ship Canal with changes in wind direction – leaving an oily trail. Because oil spreads out quickly on the water, the thin sheen was only molecules thick and nearly impossible to clean up by the time we spotted it from the air. And as all petroleum products are also environmental poisons, even small spills harm water quality and marine wildlife. They also contribute to the toxic contamination in Puget Sound. Howard and Shannon reported that the photos and documentation were helpful and that this incident demonstrates how Ecology’s Spills Program and Marine Monitoring Unit to continue to work together to monitor and protect the health of Puget Sound.

If you spot an oil spill, even a thin sheen, please let us know. Here’s how to report it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Around the Sound: Derelict vessels, baby orcas and more ...

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Toxics Cleanup Program

The Journal of the San Juans takes a look at a bit of a conundrum that has surfaced for the state’s program that helps to remove derelict vessels from state waters. Ecology occasionally makes use of the program to get rid of vessels that pose threats to the environment and people.

* This Seattle Times piece captures the optimism among whale researchers sparked by the recent births of five orca calves, which have been spotted in the San Juans and Puget Sound.

* Here’s an article from the Western Front, the student newspaper at Western Washington University. The article focuses on some WWU students who are learning about environmental cleanup by working on the former Scott paper mill site in Anacortes. (An earlier Around the Sound post mentioned this.) The Scott site is, to date, the largest single cleanup site in process that Ecology is tackling under the state’s Puget Sound Initiative.

* Finally, in case you haven’t seen it, here’s the web portal for the “Puget Sound Starts Here” education effort. It’s an effort by many agencies in Washington aimed at improving water quality in Puget Sound and other water bodies.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Around the Sound: Rayonier Mill Updates - Community questions from our open house

By Hannah Aoyagi, public involvement coordinator, Toxic Cleanup Program

I’m back in the office, finally unpacking posterboards and meeting supplies, and taking the time to reflect on what we heard at our February 10th public open house. The Port Angeles Senior Center’s Multipurpose Room was packed with 75 members of the community and state and local officials.

While greeting and talking with those who showed up for the first part of the evening, Ecology staff heard a wide variety of opinions on Ecology’s new agreement with Rayonier. Many are disappointed that cleanup plans will take three years to finish. Others are just relieved something is finally happening on the site. Most have their own opinion about what should happen with the mill property in the future.


Rebecca Lawson, Toxic Cleanup Program’s Southwest regional manager, started out the presentation by acknowledging the deep frustration over the slow pace of cleanup, and speaking to concerns about the three-year schedule. After giving some background on the Rayonier site and related investigations of Port Angeles Harbor and upland soils, she turned the microphone over to project manager Marian Abbett.

Marian filled in details about how the site was contaminated and what has happened since the mill shut down in 1997. The Toxics Cleanup team was surprised to find, when they took over site management, that a lot of cleanup had already been done using Interim Actions, which are partial cleanup actions. Marian then went on to explain the cleanup agreement, and that we and Rayonier are committed to producing a cleanup plan by the end of three years.

We ended the evening with the question and answer session. Our audience represented the spectrum of interests, but one concern was universal—that cleanup should happen as soon as possible.

As a public involvement coordinator, I live for the Q&A session. It provides us with unfiltered feedback on our work and helps us plan our projects to best address community concerns. To honor the time everyone took to be at the open house, I will be spending the next few weeks going more in depth on some of the audience questions. Please e-mail me at hannah.aoyagi@ecy.wa.gov if you want to know when each new blog is posted.

Questions from the open housewhich ones do you want to hear more about?




  • Why does cleanup take so long? Is there a single cleanup action Rayonier could take that would clean up the whole site at once?

  • Why does it take three years just to plan for cleanup?

  • What is the risk of leaving contaminants in the environment for three more years?

  • What would it take to do the Agreed Order work in one and a half years?

  • What makes the schedule enforceable for Rayonier? What happens to the deadlines in the Agreed Order if Harbor-Works Public Development Authority buys the property and joins the cleanup?

  • What are Ecology’s consequences for missing deadlines? What is Ecology’s motivation to get cleanup done?

  • Could Ecology take over the cleanup from Rayonier?

  • Is there a process for getting the Environmental Protection Agency to take over cleanup?

  • Does Rayonier actually have the resources to complete the work they have agreed to do?

  • Of the 25,000 tons of soil removed, where did all the material go? Can you guarantee that future soil disposal sites will be fully protective?

  • Why can’t Ecology get cleanup done as fast as EPA did in Slidell, Louisiana?

  • For comparison, are there similar sites in Washington with the same types of contamination?

  • What cleanup levels will be used? Will the future land use be industrial?

  • Would Ecology be willing to work with the city on their Combined Sewer Overflow project timeline? Current plans call for using a tank on the Rayonier property.
Learn more about the Port Angeles Rayonier Mill cleanup site


Update: New photos from Country Junction site

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Toxics Cleanup Program

 

Here are some new photos from the Country Junction store in South Kitsap County. The images show where soil and water are being removed.

For background information on the project, see the previous blog post and the embedded links.

Everett-based Clearcreek Contractors is heading the project at the gas station and convenience store east of Port Orchard. Ecology is using about $500,000 in stimulus money provided under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). It’s one of several ARRA-funded projects that Ecology is undertaking.


Friday, February 19, 2010

Around the Sound: What's in a name? Plus other news ...

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Toxics Cleanup Program

Knute Berger at Crosscut offers an update on a retired professor’s efforts to promote “Salish Sea” as the name for the greater Puget Sound-Georgia Basin ecosystem in Washington and British Columbia.nor
  • The Kitsap Sun details the work going on to improve the waters of Dyes Inlet and its associated waterways. In this blog entry by Chris Dunagan, you can find a link to a more-detailed article Chris wrote on the issue.
  • Let's head back to Crosscut for a look at the aftermath of the Asarco bankruptcy proceedings, in which Washington received about $188 million from the mining giant. Emissions from Asarco's past operations polluted more than 1,000 square miles around Puget Sound. Check out this news release from Ecology and the Washington Attorney General's Office for settlement details. The Crosscut piece also details the claims pursued by the federal government and several other states.
  • And Ecology's team is getting ready to return to Bainbridge Island to talk more about cleanup work at the Wyckoff Eagle Harbor site. See our Wyckoff website for details on a community meeting in March, plus answers to some questions asked at the previous meeting in January.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Thank You for the High Tide Photos & Your Questions

By Spencer Reeder

The response to our public outreach campaign around sea level rise has been overwhelmingly positive. We received more than 100 photographs from around the region from a number of Washington State citizens. Thanks to all of you!

The regional high tides we observed in January and February provided us with a glimpse of what we are likely to see more often in the future as sea levels continue to rise as a result of global warming.

NEW! Watch the video slide show, Extreme High Tides in Washington State - February 2010

Nisqually Wildlife Refuge.  Photo by Russ McMillan Olympic Sculpture park, Seattle waterfront. Photo by Hugh Shipman.
See more February 2010 High Tide photos

Along with the photographs, we also received the following questions:
  1. Have sea levels been rising in Puget Sound?
  2. Are recent extreme high tides a fair representation of what we should expect to see with greater frequency in the future?

Let’s address each of these questions one at a time.


Question #1: Have sea levels been rising in Puget Sound?

Answer: YES.

Tide gauges located around the world operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) and others have documented a long-term increase in global sea levels.

One such gauge is located in Seattle. Figure 1 below shows the increase in Seattle’s sea level over the past century as measured by the NOAA tide gauge located there.
Figure 1
Other gauges located in the region, such as those in Tacoma and Port Townsend, show a similar trend. Global sea levels are rising as a result of higher global temperature (i.e., water expands as it warms) and from increased melting of land-based glaciers and large ice sheets like those on Greenland.

The rate of global sea level rise started accelerating in the 1940s. In the 1990s, the precision with which sea level could be measured was improved through the introduction of satellite based measurement techniques. (See Figures 2 and 3 below)
Figure 2
Figure 3
Analysis conducted by the University of Washington and Ecology reported estimates of future sea level rise for three regions of Washington’s coastal waters. You can read the report and find out what factors it considers: http://www.cses.washington.edu/db/pdf/moteetalslr579.pdf


Question #2: Are recent extreme high tides a fair representation of what we should expect to see with greater frequency in the future?

Answer: Research shows that sea level is rising. Higher future sea levels will produce water levels like those observed this past January and February more often.

As sea levels in the Puget Sound continue to rise, what was previously a once or twice per year extreme high tide will steadily increase in frequency over time. The UW/Ecology report provides a medium estimate for Puget Sound sea level rise by 2050 of an additional 6 inches (within an estimated range of 3 to 22 inches). Using this medium estimate, a roughly five-fold increase in the number of comparable Puget Sound very-high tide events is obtained for the year 2050. Moreover, the once or twice per year extreme high tide would increase in height and result in potentially even more inundation.

It is important to note that the specific weather conditions that exist during any particular tide event will greatly influence the actual observed water levels. For example, the presence of a low-pressure system during our recent high tides elevated water levels beyond the predicted level published in the NOAA tide tables. If winter storms coincide with similar high tides in the future we would likely experience significantly worse effects than those shown in our citizens’ photographs recently submitted to Ecology.

See Ecology's web site for more about Climate Change - Impacts, Preparation, Adaptation

See the video slide show, Extreme High Tides in Washington State - February 2010
See more February 2010 High Tide photos



Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Around the Sound: Abandoned nets, cleanup in Everett, and more ...

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Toxics Cleanup Program

The Seattle PostGlobe reports that a bill to expand successful efforts to remove derelict fishing gear from the Sound is working its way through the Legislature.

Even though some gear has been removed, thousands of pounds still remain, scattered around the Sound floor. The PostGlobe article describes the issue.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Updated photos and work progress from Country Junction

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Toxics Cleanup Program

Country Junction photo


Country Junction photo

Here are some new photos and an update on the work at the Country Junction store in South Kitsap County. For background information on the project, see the previous blog post and the embedded links.

Everett-based Clearcreek Contractors is heading the project at the gas station and convenience store east of Port Orchard. Ecology is using about $500,000 in stimulus money provided under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). It’s one of several ARRA-funded projects that Ecology is undertaking.
Here’s a summary of work done as of Monday, Feb. 15:
  • 3 underground storage tanks removed from the site

  • 4 test pits dug to a depth of 12 feet to determine the extent of soil contamination in proximity to the footing of the building

  • Soil and groundwater samples taken

  • Soil removed from site

  • Store canopy demolished

Stay tuned for more updates!



Friday, February 12, 2010

Work moving quickly at Country Junction





By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Toxics Cleanup Program

The dirt is flying and the tanks are coming out of the ground at the Country Junction store in South Kitsap County.

Here's a look at some of the work that’s going on, including a photo of two tanks pulled out of the ground.

To do this project, Ecology is using about $500,000 in stimulus money provided under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). It’s one of several ARRA-funded projects that Ecology is undertaking.

The Kitsap Sun has reported on the work at the gas station and convenience store. Country Junction is located at 5310 S.E. Highway 160 (Mile Hill Drive), on the southwest corner of the intersection of Highway 160 and Long Lake Road east of Port Orchard. A store has operated on the site since the 1960s; at some point, the property also was used for bulk storage of heating fuel.

Petroleum-related contamination was found on the site. An earlier cleanup (in 1990) removed five old underground storage tanks from the property. About 1,500 cubic yards of material was dug up, piled nearby and remediated in place above the ground.

Since then, the site has been monitored. A few years ago, sampling and a subsequent investigation showed widespread groundwater contamination between the store and Long Lake Road. Ecology's project is focusing on that contamination and its sources.






Monday, February 8, 2010

Around the Sound: News and notes ...

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Toxics Cleanup Manager

Ecology’s Toxics Cleanup Program is helping some Western Washington University students learn more about the nuts and bolts of cleaning up a contaminated site.

The students are enrolled in the Environmental Toxicology track at WWU’s Huxley College of the Environment. They and professor Ruth Sofield are studying the former Scott paper mill site on the Anacortes waterfront. They’re working with Ecology, the Port of Anacortes and a consulting firm to learn about the site, as well as state cleanup regulations and methods.

Also …

* In Bellingham, Ecology is gearing up for a cleanup of an old gas plant site in Boulevard Park on the shores of Bellingham Bay. Ecology is seeking public comments on documents related to the proposed cleanup. Here’s the Bellingham Herald version, as well as Ecology’s own news release.

* Learning about Puget Sound is the focus of the annual “Storming the Sound” conference coming up in March. This is billed as a great opportunity for teachers, non-formal educators, environmental organizations with education programs, and students in the Central Puget Sound region. The conference is set for March 26 in Seattle.

* You can learn more about Ecology’s efforts to clean up the Sound by going to our website.