Monday, September 18, 2017

Turning on the pumps

Whatcom County’s Bertrand Creek will be a little wetter this fall. Last week, the Bertrand Watershed Improvement District turned on pumps that will put more water into the creek during the late summer/early fall low-flow season.

The Bertrand Creek Augmentation project is a pilot project funded by a grant from the Washington Department of Ecology to the Bertrand Watershed Improvement District. This portion of the grant is estimated at about $65,000. 

Large aluminum ramp, installed and functional at Bertrand Creek
Bertrand Creek winds through northern Whatcom County, west of Lynden, before eventually draining into the Nooksack River. The Bertrand drainage is an area Ecology and others have long focused on due to its low flows in the summer. Many farmers in the area hold legal water rights to use water from the creek for irrigation. Over the years, many farmers have switched to drawing irrigation water from groundwater sources, reducing the impact on the creek, but late-summer flows have remained lower than optimal. Increasing flows in Bertrand Creek is important because it provides cool, clean water for fish, including the endangered Chinook salmon and endangered bull trout.

“This is a great accomplishment between the State, farmers, tribes, State Fish and Wildlife, and the county,” said Kasey Cykler, water master for Ecology. “The work to get the permits done and make the project happen is a testament to the effort and collaboration of all those involved.”

The system aerates the water and disperses
the flow so it won't damage the creek
To increase the flow in the creek, water from local wells is pumped down a special ramp, aerating it and also dispersing the flow so it doesn’t scour the stream. Two ramps were built by a local contractor at a cost of about $1500 each. The ramps are made from aluminum, making them lightweight and easy to move. The devices will move about 1.1 cubic feet/second of water to supplement the creek. Water quality is regularly tested before the additional flow goes into the creek to ensure it meets quality standards and fish needs. 

The project was made simpler by using already available resources. The wells supplying the water are existing irrigation wells that are finished irrigating for the season, and pumps and water lines were loaned by area farmers. This “reuse” concept also reduced project costs.

Ecology awarded the watershed improvement district a temporary water right permit for the project, which runs until Nov. 15, but if enough rain falls, the pumps could be turned off sooner. Besides the immediate benefit for fish, data from the project will help determine whether this type of project could be used in future years and in other places.

For more information on the Bertrand Creek Augmentation project, contact Ecology’s Kasey Cykler at

By Ty Keltner, Bellingham Field Office

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Fecal Matters: Health Risks After Heavy Rainfall

BEACH Program Update

This summer in Washington we experienced record breaking temperatures and days without rain. Hot and dry weather makes for perfect beach days, but the rainy season is upon us. After a heavy rainfall, bacteria levels in the water could potentially rise. When the sun returns and beachgoers flock back to the beach, be aware of the potential health risks associated with large rains.

Water from heavy rainfall runs off the land and into nearby lakes, rivers, and saltwater beaches. This runoff can carry pollutants like fecal bacteria. Waste from pets and wildlife can easily be washed downstream. Heavy rains can also cause sewage systems to overflow and discharge untreated sewage into nearby water bodies. 

Protect yourself and your family from getting sick by reducing contact with fresh or marine water after a heavy rain. Avoid water recreation for 24 hours after heavy rainfall, especially in areas where you see pipes or streams that drain directly to the beach. 

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.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Boots on the Ground: WCC responds to Hurricane Harvey

By Alex Wunder and Paris Jackson, WCC AmeriCorps Disaster Response Team public information officers and edited by Laura Schlabach, WCC outreach coordinator.

Below is a first-hand account from two of our Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) AmeriCorps members, currently serving a 30-day deployment to Texas to assist communities after Hurricane Harvey hit in late August. They are serving alongside numerous other programs including Texas Conservation Corps at American YouthWorks, Conservation Corps Minnesota and Iowa, AmeriCorps' Corporation for National and Community Service and American Red Cross.

Although Hurricane Harvey was named a tropical storm Aug. 17, the category 4 hurricane eventually made landfall near Rockport, Texas, late on Aug. 25. The federal government declared a national disaster and WCC AmeriCorps members were already mobilizing to assist communities in southeast Texas wracked by the largest storm on record in the continental United States.


Arriving safely in Austin Aug. 29


On Aug. 26, 24 WCC staff and AmeriCorps members loaded into four trucks and headed for the Lone Star State, awaiting more specific directions on assignments. After two different changes to our final destination, we arrived in Austin on Aug. 29 ready to implement our Incident Command System or ICS. ICS is a standardized approach for coordinating a large-scale response to an emergency or disaster. The system provides a structure that allows multiple responding teams and agencies to function effectively together. It was first used by the U.S. Forest Service as a way to organize the response to wildfires.

WCC AmeriCorps members finally reach Austin Aug. 29. Photo by Rob Crawford.

Step one: Assign roles and responsibilities

After dividing up tasks and roles for the response, we started collaborating with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to organize and find donations and volunteers. WCC supervisor Kelly Gilchrist was picked to lead the donations task force and began setting up systems and procedures for his team. Having standard operating procedures helps integrate new task force members quickly and efficiently.

WCC supervisor Aurelio Elliott is leading the volunteer task force. He and his team started researching and selected volunteer reception centers, enabling them to find and activate volunteers in different areas of Texas.

Our members not involved in the volunteer or donations task force are serving directly in or with the incident command or operations staff preparing for up to 200 members from various disaster response team programs across the country to arrive throughout the next two weeks. They are making progress putting housing, food and training in place to create a smooth arrival for incoming service members. Arranging upcoming operating bases in Houston and Corpus Christi will soon be a priority so crews can get started on providing direct assistance to affected populations.

WCC AmeriCorps members serving in Austin settle into to their incident command post at local hotel. Photo by Rob Crawford.

Step Two: Find a home base

Amidst all this planning we have been trying to locate a permanent place to house our incident command post and task forces. During the first two days, we operated out of a meeting room in the basement of a local hotel. Not long after, WCC AmeriCorps member Hunter Bowen located an office space that we could utilize with a mortgage company for whom previously worked. Once we arrived, we quickly hung maps and infographics on the walls to assist with research and project flow.

We spent about two days in the new space before FEMA asked us to move to their joint field office. We packed up and arrived at an empty golf supply warehouse that had been refilled with hundreds of people all working to help communities in Texas. We nicknamed our new space the “Ice Box” because it was a big air conditioned room, resulting in everyone wearing jackets despite being 90-plus degrees outside.

Once we had established a presence there, our incident commander Luke Wigle determined the original office that Hunter had found for us was the most effective incident command post location for us in the end, a little farther away from the hustle and bustle of FEMA's joint field office. We packed up and finally set up a stable incident command post that we can operate out of for the foreseeable future. We are still keeping things flexible and easily mobile in the event that we have to transition our command post once more.

Elizabeth Weimholt (left) and Jessie Cadigan (right) created a website,, to promote

volunteer and donation opportunities in Texas

What do all these moving parts mean for the team's logistics chief?

I spoke with WCC AmeriCorps member Stephen Fuller, serving as logistics chief, about the challenges presented by moving 24 people and their command post four times in four days. The difficulty is in figuring out organized, efficient ways to move 24 people while still maintaining full task force operations from a technology standpoint. Some of the things I have to constantly keep in mind include internet quality and ability to connect, amount of electrical outlets and a need for power strips to power computers, and even quiet spaces being available to take conference calls," Stephen said.


Ready to meet current and future challenges

Disaster response is one of the most fluid and fast-paced aspects of the WCC. Change is constant, which requires everyone involved to be flexible and ready for whatever situations arise. Fortunately, our team is one of the best and everyone has been handling the challenges and curveballs well. The multiple incident command post locations and setting up for future teams has been a great challenge that all of us are rising to meet head on.

Elizabeth Weimholt created recycling program for WCC disaster response team serving in Texas. WCC AmeriCorps member Keith Kaneshiro pictured on the right.


Join the WCC

Do you want to help the environment, meet great people and make a difference in your community? WCC is now recruiting for the 2017-18 AmeriCorps year! Learn more and apply online today to become a WCC member.

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.








Friday, September 8, 2017

Eyes Over Puget Sound: Sunny, warm and colorful

Late summer brings warm air temperatures, abundant sunshine and drier conditions throughout Puget Sound. Stream flows in the region’s northern rivers are lower than our rivers in south Puget Sound.

Click here to see this month's report

Yet, the combination of abundant spring rain and weak upwelling from the Pacific Ocean means Puget Sound waters are still fresher than at any time in the past 17 years.

While the abundance of jellyfish is lower this year, our warm water temperatures, especially in central Puget Sound, are accompanied by large rafts of drifting macroalgae. What else did we see on our Eyes Over Puget Sound overflight? Diverse blooms in colors of green, orange and red-brown in many our inlets.

We are also checking to see how if our benthic invertebrate community is changing. We are monitoring and measuring samples of these critters that live in the sediments of Puget Sound at our long-term monitoring stations. We’re gathering information so we have baselines to see if any long-term change is occurring among this sensitive part of the Puget Sound ecosystem.

This year, we’re getting great hands-on assistance from our Washington Conservation Corps intern, Nicole Marks. To see more about the project, check out the great poster Nicole has created.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Acquavella adjudication winding down

In a fertile valley where water is king

Yakima River water-rights case clarifies water law

While drought has plagued our state in recent years, its toll in the Yakima Valley has been a concern for many generations.

In the summer of 1977, farmers were worried. Was there going to be enough water for their apple, pear, cherry and peach orchards and row crops, like corn, potatoes and melons? And if they came up short, would water wars flare up?

Times were tense. Earlier in 1974, federal Judge George Boldt issued the historic ruling affirming Native American treaty fishing rights. Commercial fisherman complained. And litigants were lining up at the courthouse.

How could conflicts be prevented when managing a finite resource that was largely spoken for, one which gives priority to users as outlined in the state's 1917 surface water law — “first in time, first in right?”

This was the backdrop when Ecology entered into what would become the state's longest-running court case to determine and confirm surface water rights in the Yakima River Basin.

Water rights will be confirmed on the Yakima River Basin and its tributary creeks and canals

After 40 years of painstaking court proceedings and deliberation, the historic Ecology v. James Acquavella, et al legal adjudication soon will be final.

Over the years, the court has issued conditional final orders confirming rights by subbasin in four counties. Now those orders are captured in a single proposed final order that will confirm some 2,500 rights, once a final review period set by Yakima County Superior Court and undertaken by Ecology.

Who was James Acquavella?

James J. Acquavella was the first name listed on the summons, when Ecology filed a petition for an adjudication to determine the legality of all claims for surface water in the Yakima River Basin in October of 1977. Henceforth, that became the Ecology v. James Acquavella, et al water rights case. It had a distinctly "aquatic" ring.

According to a 2009 article in the Tri-City Herald, all James Acquavella of Richland wanted to know in 1977 was if he was going to get the water he needed for his five acres for which he believed he had a legitimate water right.

Before the adjudication, water users relied on irrigation ditch riders and an honor system of claims dating to the 1860s and1870s, while the rights of the Yakama Nation under the 1855 treaty were unquantified and largely unrecognized.

Long years of gathering evidence, and monthly court sessions

Water users had to establish and prove the date of their original, sometimes pioneer, pre-statehood, water use, and how much they were entitled to divert.

Ecology staffers in the Central Region assigned to the case gathered this evidence, beginning a thorough and binding review of all the historical facts.

“This basin has long been thought to be over-appropriated,” explained Ecology's Becky Johnson in 1999, who worked for the court. “In a basin that is over-appropriated, it’s important to establish who has water rights and to prioritize those rights. In a water-short year that can mean the difference of whether you do or don’t have water.”

Farmers would bring in homestead patents that go back to the late 1800s. People brought old court cases dealing with water rights, newspaper articles, and biographies, published books that detailed a family, where they settled, and perhaps the crops they grew.

Major claimants brought articles of incorporation, bylaws, maps, diversion records and other historical documents to help establish a right. Sometimes there were boxes of exhibits that had to be thoroughly examined.

Water lawyers made a career of meeting monthly in Yakima for "water day" and the case made four trips to the state Supreme Court to clarify water laws.

Looking forward

The case examined and prioritized thousands of individual water claims in 31 tributary basins comprising Kittitas, Yakima, and Benton counties and a bit of Klickitat County. It settles old conflicts and will reduce future conflicts, especially among 30 major claimants including cities, irrigation districts, federal entities and the Yakama Nation.

“Now water users have clarity about their water rights and stability on what they can expect going forward,” said Ecology’s deputy director Polly Zehm. “This process brought parties to the courtroom to settle claims, and over the long years laid the foundation for a more collaborative approach to meet all our water needs through adoption of the Yakima Integrated Water Management Plan.”

Open House

On Aug. 10, 2017, Yakima Superior Court Judge F. James Gavin entered a proposed final decree for the case including a draft schedule of rights set to be confirmed over the next eight months.

An open house is scheduled for 5-7 p.m., Sept. 6, 2017, at Ecology’s Central Regional Office, 1250 W. Alder St., Union Gap, where people can ask questions about their water rights and learn more about the process including deadlines for filing objections.

The draft schedule of rights is available for review on Ecology’s website. Anyone may file written objections with the court until Nov. 15, 2017. A schedule for court review and responses to objections will follow as needed until April 14, 2018. More information is available on Ecology’s website.

By Joye Redfield-Wilder, Central Regional communications manager

Friday, August 18, 2017

Irrigation restrictions issued in Chehalis River Basin

Junior water rights holders on notice: protect instream flows, senior rights

Water use restrictions on some rivers in Chehalis Basin prevent junior water right holders from diverting surface water for commercial uses, including agricultural field irrigation. The restrictions don’t affect water for homes or livestock.
Mid-summer heat plus a lengthy dry spell have resulted in lower stream flows for four rivers in the Chehalis River drainage basin in Southwest Washington.

The result? Ecology has informed 93 junior water right holders that their access to surface water for commercial uses including irrigation may be curtailed until stream flows improve.

The affected rivers in the watershed are the Chehalis, Newaukum, Satsop, and Wynoochee. The limitations don’t affect rights to divert water for home use or to provide water for livestock. The restrictions do prevent junior water right holders from diverting surface water for commercial uses.
Instream flow levels are not being met for the
Newaukum and Wynoochee rivers, so junior surface
water right holders must curtail commercial water use.  

Each summer, we are reminded that water is a precious, limited resource. One of the best water management tools for protecting stream flows is to set minimum flow levels in regulation. These are called “instream flows.

An instream flow is like a senior water right for the stream and the resources that depend on it. In our role as water stewards, Ecology is required to ensure that adequate water is available to protect and preserve migrating fish, wildlife, recreation, aesthetics, water quality, and navigation.

Currently, instream flow levels are not being met for the Newaukum and Wynoochee rivers so junior surface water right holders must curtail commercial water use now. Those diverting waters from the Chehalis and Satsop have been alerted to their need to stay informed about flow levels and curtail use immediately if flows drop below the minimum threshold.

Curious to know more about water levels and instream flows? Water rights holders in the Chehalis River basin can check the status of river flows every day — and you can, too.

It’s easy to monitor the levels of these rivers online. If instream flows aren’t being met, an alert posts saying that reported flows are below the minimum:
The weather has cooled and some rain has fallen, but we expect flows to continue to drop as we move into late summer. Junior rights holders are asked to comply with regulation requirements. Water resources personnel will keep a field presence and are available to answer your questions.

Learn more about Washington water law.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Puget Sound Nutrient Watch: A new blog series

Welcome to our first installment of “Puget Sound Nutrient Watch,” an ongoing series of blogs that will focus on the excess nutrient problem in Puget Sound.

A healthy Puget Sound is an integral part of our cultural history and future. Are nutrients causing it to change?

In this post we will be going over why we care about excess nutrients and how they are affecting Puget Sound. Read on to learn about:

  • Our recent Puget Sound Nutrient Dialogue that brought together scientists from across Puget Sound region to discuss the latest science on nutrients.
  • Why you should care. Understand what happens to a water body that is overly rich with nutrients. 
  • Two brand-new publications on nutrients in Puget Sound. These review new modules that have been added to the robust Salish Sea computer model. 
    • The report on the Sediment Diagenesis Module describes how the model incorporates the dynamic interaction of nutrients within the sediment and water column. 
    • The report on the Ocean Acidification Module reveals on how the new ocean acidification module can help us pinpoint areas in Puget Sound that are influenced the most by regional sources of nutrients.
  • How can nutrients be bad? Impacts that excess nutrients cause to the health of the Sound.
  • What to expect in this blog series.

Puget Sound Nutrient Dialogue

We would like to thank everyone that came out to the Puget Sound Nutrient Dialogue in Auburn last month, it was a great success! We had around 120 people show up ready to participate in the conversation surrounding the science of excess nutrients in Puget Sound.
Puget Sound Nutrient Dialogue participants eager to save the Sound.

If you missed out and would like to participate in future events, please sign up for email notifications through our Listserv. We welcome the opportunity to collaborate with others who value the Puget Sound and want to protect it from excess nutrients.

Presentation slides, a summary of the event, pictures, videos, and more from the Puget Sound Nutrient Dialogue will be posted on the project webpage.

Why should we care? 

Nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and organic carbon are an important part of a healthy and productive marine ecosystem. Excess nutrients, however, can be problematic for marine water quality – most often nitrogen. Just as you need nutrients to keep your body healthy, too much of anything throws the system out of balance. 

We're working to understand nutrient problems in Puget Sound
so we can keep it the beautiful natural resource that it is today. 
When it enters marine waters in excessive amounts, nitrogen causes what is called eutrophication. Eutrophication is the term for what happens when a water body becomes over-enriched with nutrients. This over-abundance of nutrients will cause dense growth of algae and plant life and the death of animal life from lack of oxygen.

Nitrogen acts like a fertilizer causing algae to grow. Too much nitrogen results in excessive algae growth, which puts the health of Puget Sound off balance. When algae die and decompose, it consumes oxygen out of the water column (especially at depth). In some shallow inlets and bays around the Sound, this will deplete oxygen to low levels which stresses fish and the other critters that live in important nearshore habitats.

Thinking about our future

Our science today tells us we have a nutrient over-enrichment problem in Puget Sound. We are in the beginning phase of a long-term project that will ultimately help us address this overabundance of nutrients. Our goal is to ensure the Puget Sound we know and love remains resilient to stresses from nutrient problems caused by our growing population and exacerbated by climate change.

Latest science – understanding the problem

Salish Sea graphic of nutrient-rich zones
from the Salish Sea Model.
One of the most important tools for understanding the effects of nutrients in Puget Sound is the Salish Sea Model. The model was developed by Pacific Northwest National Labs in collaboration with Ecology scientists and with grant funding from EPA.

This robust computer model helps us better identify human sources of nutrients that are negatively impacting the health of Puget Sound by simulating the natural environment. It models complex water circulation and water quality dynamics in all of Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the Strait of Georgia.

Our two latest publications - released July 2017 - help predict impacts that are influencing Puget Sound's health.

The Sediment Diagenesis Module added the capability to the Salish Sea Model to simulate sediment-water exchanges. This module simulates the way organic matter decomposes, which allows the model to more accurately reflect actual conditions in Puget Sound. As organic matter decays both within the water column and bottom sediment layers, nutrients are released back to the water and consume oxygen in the process.

The Ocean Acidification Module calculates the impacts of regional nutrient sources on acidification. Results from this effort indicate that human-related sources of nitrogen and organic carbon can influence Puget Sound's carbonate system balance.

Toxic algae blooms - like this one that happened at
Deception Pass - can be caused by eutrophication.

Blogging on how this issue impacts Puget Sound’s health

Throughout this series we will dive into the specific impacts caused by excessive nutrients in Puget Sound that have damaging effects on water quality.

These impacts potentially include:
  • Harming nearshore habitat and benthic invertebrates
  • Intensifying ocean acidification at some locations
  • Facilitating the break-down of the marine food web
  • Increasing the number of algae blooms
Stay tuned as upcoming blog features dig into each of these issues, highlight new reports, and share new information as it becomes available.

Tackling the Puget Sound nutrient problem

The Puget Sound Nutrient Source Reduction Project is using best available science to understand the nutrient problems in the Sound and develop a plan to reduce human impacts so that we can protect the health and resiliency of Puget Sound.

The Salish Sea Model is a state-of-the-art computer modeling tool that allows scientists, engineers, and planners to understand the complex physical, chemical, and biological patterns in circulation and water quality. We will be using the model to compare Puget Sound to marine water quality standards, understand how bad water quality will be if we continue with the status quo, and evaluate nutrient reduction options for improving and restoring the Sound to meet our water quality goals.

Visit our website and join our listserv to get up-to-date information concerning the nutrient problem in Puget Sound. You can also this full blog series by searching "Puget Sound Nutrient Watch". 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.

By: Jenny Robertson, Ecology Environmental Specialist