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 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,

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.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Protecting our great Columbia River

Bulk cargo ships at anchor in Astoria, Oregon. Photo courtesy of  Alex 
Butterfield, CC BY 2.0.
Was the mighty Columbia River created by volcanoes, floods and earthquakes, or was it created by Coyote, who according to tribal legend, realized that there were salmon in the ocean and that people needed to eat them?

Did Coyote stage a large battle with a great beaver, backing the beaver up into the Cascade Mountains, where the beaver tail scraped out the Columbia River Gorge? Is this what opened up a channel from the ocean to bring the salmon to the people?

This tribal legend told in oral tradition, taken from a Northwest Power and Conservation Council Columbia River history report, is just one example of the rich cultural lore associated with the river.

Today, the river is this and a whole lot more. It’s a vital shipping corridor that benefits both Washington and Oregon, and our regional and international economies.

Keeping an eye on vessel traffic

Here at the Department of Ecology, we are watching vessel traffic on the river with an eye to protect it from oil spills.

Each year, hundreds of oil-carrying vessels enter the Columbia River to deliver more than a billion gallons of gasoline, jet fuel, and other petroleum products to ports in Washington and Oregon.

Chemical tanker heading to sea from the mouth of the Columbia River. Photo 
courtesy of Bruce Fingerhood, CC BY 2.0.
The river is a busy corridor. Oil-carrying tankers and barges share space with cargo ships, passenger vessels, recreational boats, and fishing vessels.

A big oil spill could not only harm the river, its shorelines, and the fish and animals that depend on the Columbia’s waters, it could also impact both states’ economies. The river could be closed to vessels that deliver goods and services to communities along the river, interrupting the region’s export of grain and other farm products.

A spill could threaten both Washington’s and Oregon’s rich cultural and historic resources that lie along this vital corridor. Based on 2006 numbers, a large spill could cost Washington $10.8 billion and 165,147 jobs.

Many hands help keep the river safe from vessel mishaps. They include the Lower Columbia Region Harbor Safety committee, the Northwest Area Committee, the Sector Columbia River Area Maritime Security Committee, the Oregon Board of Maritime Pilots, and the U.S Coast Guard.

We recently worked with them all to complete a just-out report on Columbia River vessel traffic safety for the Washington Legislature.

A key finding is an obvious point – while the likelihood of a major oil spill on the Columbia River is low, the consequences are high to both Washington and Oregon.

Why we did the evaluation

As our energy picture changes, new oil-handling projects may come online that would increase the number of oil tankers transiting the river. Concerned about the potential increased risk of spills, the Washington Legislature directed us in 2015 to assess vessel traffic management and safety within and near the mouth of the Columbia River to determine:

The need for tug escorts for vessels transporting oil as cargo
Tug capabilities to ensure safe escort
The highest level of protection that can be attained using technology, staffing, training, operational methods, while considering cost and achievability.

Spill prevention is a collaborative effort

Our evaluation showed us that the river has a robust set of safety standards already in place to reduce the risks of accidents and oil spills, but that more could be done to ensure we’re prepared should worst come to worst. Some of these safety measures are mandated by state and federal laws and regulations, while others are voluntary. For example, all tank vessels operating on the Columbia are required to have double hulls, reducing the likelihood of spills from collisions and groundings, but if tanker traffic increases, tug escorts could provide added protection to reduce oil spill risks.

Many partners participated as we conducted the evaluation, and together we generated a common framework for understanding oil spill risks and identifying potential risk reduction measures. A key recommendation in the report is that existing collaborative maritime safety programs are our best opportunity to prevent oil spills on the river and bar.

Keeping our spill prevention safety net strong

The safety evaluation is a valuable step in protecting both Washington and Oregon against future oil spills. The river is valuable and worthy of our attention. Just ask Coyote, the beaver, the salmon, and the people.

Read the full report online, access a brief focus sheet, and find additional information about our risk assessment work on our website.

By Sandy Howard, Spills Program

Friday, December 1, 2017

Help chart the future of our Pacific coast

Makah Bay on Washington's northwest Pacific Ocean coast.

Are you interested in helping shape the future of Washington’s Pacific Coast?

Ecology is still taking public comment on the state’s proposed Marine Spatial Plan and draft Environmental Impact Statement until Tuesday, Dec. 12.

The science-based guidance would establish a process for reviewing and making decisions about future ocean uses that might be proposed on the state’s Pacific coast.

Marine spatial plan forward looking

There are no new projects currently proposed for our ocean coast. The Marine Spatial Plan, however, is designed to be forward looking by establishing procedures to make sure that local and tribal governments and state and federal agencies coordinate with one another on planning and permitting decisions for any future proposals.

The plan also would help ensure that the public and interest groups have ample opportunity to weigh in on any future proposals.

While most current coastal activities center on recreation, maritime shipping, aquaculture and coastal fishing, Washington could receive requests to locate new types of projects and activities in the ocean such as:

  • Dredge disposal
  • Offshore aquaculture operations
  • Renewable energy

The Marine Spatial Plan would help ensure any future projects avoid causing long-term significant adverse impacts to our environment, fisheries, and other resources.

Identifying conditions, trends and potential effects

The proposed plan provides data on current ocean conditions and future trends. It also outlines the data and information needed to evaluate new proposed ocean projects, including the potential effects a project could have on people, local communities, and the environment.

While the plan establishes protections for fisheries and ecologically-sensitive areas in state waters, it does not change current management or permit processes for existing marine activities such as fisheries management plans or shellfish aquaculture.
Multi-party effort

Ecology developed the draft plan in partnership with the Washington departments of Fish and Wildlife and Natural Resources, Washington Sea Grant, and other agencies.

The state also worked closely with local and tribal governments, other state agencies, the Washington Coastal Marine Advisory Council, environmental and planning groups, the private sector and the public to develop the plan.

Submit comments online or by mail

The Dec. 12 deadline for submitting comments is rapidly approaching. You can submit comments online or by mail to: Jennifer Hennessey, Department of Ecology, PO Box 47600, Olympia, WA 98504-7600.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Fecal Matters: Dakwas Park Beach and Front Street Beach are OPEN to Water Contact Recreation, Clallam County

BEACH Program Update

November 22, 2017, the Makah BEACH Program has re-opened Dakwas Park Beach, Neah Bay and Front Street Beach, East to water contact recreation.  Recent water sampling showed that bacteria levels were low and safe for swimming.

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.

Julianne Ruffner, our BEACH Program Manager, is available at 360-407-6154 or for questions.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Fecal Matters: No Swimming Advisory for Dakwas Park Beach, Neah Bay, Makah Beach Program, Clallam County

BEACH Program Update

On November 17, 2017, the Makah Beach Program issued a no-contact advisory for Dakwas Park Beach in Neah Bay due to high bacteria levels in the water. Staff from the Makah Beach Program will be sampling this beach next week to determine if bacteria levels have dropped.

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.

Julianne Ruffner, our BEACH Program Manager, is available at 360-407-6154 or for questions.

Fecal Matters: Front Street Beach, East is CLOSED to Water Contact Recreation, Clallam County

BEACH Program Update

On November 17, 2017, the Makah Beach Program issued a closure to water contact recreation at Front Street Beach, East. This closure was issued due to high levels of fecal bacteria in the water. This beach will be sampled again next week to determine if bacteria levels have decreased. The public is advised to avoid contact with the water until further notice.

Contact with fecal contaminated waters can result in gastroenteritis, skin rashes, upper respiratory infections, and other illnesses. Children and the elderly may be more vulnerable to waterborne illnesses.

Stay updated about water quality at your beaches by keeping up with us on our blog Fecal Matters, on Facebook, or join our listserv.

Julianne Ruffner, our BEACH Program Manager, is available at 360-407-6154 or for questions.