Low snowpack, hot spring lead to drought declaration for nearly half of Washington state – Bellingham Herald

While there is overcast and rain, we are not out of the danger of drought yet.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee declared drought Monday for nearly half of Washington watersheds, as the mountain snowpack that churns through hydropower dams, irrigates our state’s orchards and provides for fish continues to dwindle well below normal. Twenty days into May, “our statewide snowpack is the fourth-lowest it’s been over the past 30 years,” said Jeff Marti, the drought coordinator for the Washington Department of Ecology. Winter left many areas of the state with lower-than-normal snowpack. A hot, dry spring quickly zapped much of the snow that did accumulate. Evan Bush reports. (Seattle Times) See also: Nooksack expected to be 25 percent below average. Here’s how the state is responding  A total of 24 Washington river watersheds — including the Nooksack, the Upper Skagit, and the Lower Skagit-Samish — were included in the order, which could spell trouble for farmers and residential users as well as the salmon that require a constant supply of cold, clear water through summer.  Robert Mittendorf reports. (Bellingham Herald)

Low snowpack, hot spring lead to drought declaration for nearly half of Washington state 

Researchers seek answers to gray whale deaths after 57 are stranded this year – Seattle Times

A huge number of grey whales have been washing up dead on west coast beaches this year. No one is sure why yet. Here’s a good wrap up of thinking about the situation from the Seattle Times.

Gray whales are dying at twice the usual rate as a brutal migration unfolds, with whales washing up on Washington state beaches, apparently starved to death.

https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/environment/researchers-seek-answers-to-gray-whale-deaths-after-57-are-stranded-this-year/?utm_source=email&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=article_inset_1.1

If you don’t already subscribe to The Seattle Times, consider supporting independent journalism today. I subscribe to the Times, PT Leader and others that put full time reporters to work on stories important to us in the Pacific NW. You should too!

 

 

Inslee and Ferguson oppose EPA decision that dismantles Washington’s clean water standards

From the Govenor’s Office. People, we are seeing the most radical, cynical attack on the environment, public health  and the core values that we built this country on for over the last fifty years. Under the guise of ‘freeing up business’,  Trump’s administration officials are dismantling legislation that was supported by both  Democrats and Republicans. We need to stand up to them until the next election and vote them out once and for all. This is about the health of the water you drink, the air you breathe, and your children’s future. These laws were originally implemented because industry had created industrial wastelands with horrible air, burning rivers, and an ongoing pollution of our water.No one other than Trump and his administrators, want to go back to that.

Let’s be very clear, the economy is dependent on the environment, not the other way around. Lose your environment and you lose your lives and livelihoods.

Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson released a statement today in response to the Environmental Protection Agency’s action on changing Washington’s clean water standards.

“The Environmental Protection Agency just announced they will change the water quality standards that protect human health in the state of Washington. By taking this unilateral action, the EPA will risk almost certain litigation and cause uncertainty for Washington’s businesses.

“EPA is pretending to honor a state process while at the same time throwing our clean water standards into disarray. We are already well on our way to implementing these standards for Washington businesses in a manner that will not be challenged by the many parties that worked so hard to come to agreement.

“The Washington State Department of Ecology has been working with the current standards and Washington businesses for more than two years to implement them in a flexible manner. The years of work that brought forth the current standards, also known as the fish consumption rule, represent a compromise by Washington’s tribes who worked with the state and EPA to help put them in place.

“As noted by Ecology Director Maia Bellon and Attorney General Bob Ferguson, not only does this illegal act represent bad faith around a process that already occurred, but it is being done without notice or consultation with the state or Washington tribes.

“There is no legal basis for EPA to reconsider standards that Washington has been working to implement for more than two years in order to protect Washingtonians. We are 5-0 in lawsuits filed against President Trump’s EPA, and we continue to defeat the EPA in court because it continues to disregard legally required procedures. President Trump’s EPA does not always seem interested in protecting the environment. The attorney general’s legal team will be very carefully reviewing EPA’s proposal and we will consider all options, including bringing a legal action.

“The state will consider all available options to oppose this effort.”

Check out Kai Tai Prairie Preserve!

From Jerry Gorsline:

20190331_112124The Spring bloom sequence has begun at the Port Townsend Kah Tai Prairie Preserve with the appearance of Spring Gold and Blue Eyed Grass (photo). Here’ the story of how this little botanical gem came to be preserved:

In the mid-1980s amateur botanists with the Olympic Chapter of the Washington Native Plant Society noticed some unusual plants located in a couple of acres within the Spring Valley Golf Course, known today as the Port Townsend Municipal Golf Course.

Experts subsequently identified the area as a relic of the native prairie that once filled the Kah Tai Valley, also known as SPRING VALLEY. Located between the STRAIT OF JUAN DE FUCA and Port Townsend Bay, the valley once consisted of open prairies and estuaries. In the view of James McCurdy, native son of Port Townsend pioneers, the valley was a botanical delight: “Myriads of wild flowers transformed the valley floor into a many-hued carpet.”

Early development had quickly transformed most of this landscape; however, due to benign neglect this one small area within the golf course, “disguised,” as the Port Townsend Leader wrote, “as a ‘rough’ and thought of as little more than a bad place to lose your golf ball.” The site became the focus of conservation efforts and, when expanded facilities were proposed for the golf course, the Olympic Peninsula Chapter of the Washington Native Plant Society intervened, proposing in November 1986 that their organization be given a management role “with regard to the rare native plants that exist at the Spring Valley Golf Course.”

At first, claims made by Native Plant Society members that the site should be protected were perceived as a threat by golfers, and its claimants dismissed by the presiding Port Townsend mayor as mere “posy lovers.” However, when the City Park Board passed a motion to recommend the City Council accept the proposal submitted by the Native Plant Society, the Kah Tai Preserve was formally designated by the City in 1987.

Since that time, this remnant 1.4 acre prairie has been the focus of preservation and restoration by members of the Native Plant Society. Over 90 different species have since been identified, 27 of which represent “prairie indicator species” (indicating environmental conditions suitable for a community of related species), and the importance of this prairie remnant has been recognized by the Washington Natural Heritage Program. In addition, conservation efforts have not degraded the golf experience and, with the Preserve available for public viewing, has enhanced the site for the community as a whole.

With years of work from dedicated volunteers, the prairie is a stunning sight in the spring, starting with the early blooming grass widows (Olsynium douglasii) and progressing seasonally to the fields of brilliant blue camas (Camassia quamash).  The blue palette of the camas is mixed with white, yellow, and pink from the buttercup (Ranunculus occidentalis), Pomo celery (Lomatium utriculatum), old man’s whiskers (Geum triflorum), and death camas (Zygadenus venenosus).  The heat of summer brings out the yellow and purple of dwarf goldenrod (Solidago spathulata) and showy fleabane (Erigeron speciosus).

Regular work parties have focused on stabilizing prairie plant communities and diligently battling ever-present weeds. Although the native rose and snowberry shrubs are thriving at the prairie, the goal is to promote herbaceous prairie species.  To this end the prairie has been mowed regularly in the fall and selectively burned in 2000 and in 2008 with help from the Nature Conservancy, the City of Port Townsend, and the Port Townsend Fire Department. The following growing season after burning yielded the immediate reward of a spectacular bloom. Other prairie preservation projects include seed collecting from the site and growing plants in the nursery for re-introduction to disturbed areas of the prairie. 

Research projects at the Kah Tai Prairie Preserve include the planting of golden paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta) in 2004. Seeds from this plant, which is on the federally endangered plant species list, were collected from the last 11 known sites. Kah Tai Prairie is the nearest location with a similar habitat to these remaining wild populations. The surviving golden paintbrush are monitored annually to determine the success rate, with findings recorded in the database of Natural Heritage Program. In addition, the Preserve was one of the sites selected for a research project to determine the genetic distribution of camas by indigenous people, for whom camas was an important food source.

Many college and school groups have visited the Preserve as part of ongoing restoration and educational programs.

http://www.wnps.org/olympic/projects/kahTaiPrairie/

Hood Canal Bridge Blocks Salmon

This web site has been reporting for more than a decade about the possibility that the Hood Canal Floating Bridge may be the blocking endangered species such as juvenile chinook and steelhead. Data from a few years back has now been ground truthed with videos that show exactly what is happening underwater.

Should the bridge be replaced? Maybe in the next twenty years, yes. A suspension bridge may be the best option. But in the meantime we need to find a way to solve this problem without that option. Stay tuned.

Survive the Sound: Hood Canal Bridge blocks migrating fish

 

Governor Inslee Signs Slew of Orca Protection Bills – Seattle Times and others

This week saw the signing of a variety of bills that came out of the Orca Task Force, put together by Governor Inslee to identify issues that could theoretically help save the resident Orca pod from extinction. While these bills are not the radical (yet realistic) idea of breaching the Snake River dams as many (including this blog) would like to see, they do address a group of problems that are facing recovery and protection of the Salish Sea.

Senate Bill 5135 was written to allow Department of Ecology to ban certain PCBs and PFAs which cause cancer and are found in high amounts in Orca bodies. They may be hampering the ability for them to have healthy  offspring and also may impact their health. Toxic-Free Future was a champion of this bill. Congratulations to them and their supporters. This has been a long hard fight for many years.

Senate Bill 5577 pushes boats farther away from whales, mandating 300 yard exclusion zones. This is not as far as many in the Orca task force wanted, but is at least better than it is currently. There is huge pressure from whale scientists to push back even further, but the whale watch industry is too powerful for Inslee to override.

The bills digest is as follows:

Finds a person guilty of a natural resource infraction if the person causes a vessel or other object to: (1) Approach within four hundred yards of a southern resident orca whale; or(2) Exceed a speed greater than seven knots over ground at any point located within one-half nautical mile of the whales.

Prohibits commercial whale watching operators from approaching or intercepting within six hundred fifty yards in the direction of the whales.

Requires a commercial whale watching license for businesses engaged in commercial whale watching activities.Requires the department of fish and wildlife to implement a limited-entry whale watching license program for the inland waters of the state for all whale species.

What you don’t see is an implementation of even greater enforcement in this bill. It is understood though that Fish and Wildlife may be getting a bigger budget do that.

House Bill 1578 – This bill strengthens our oil-spill prevention portfolio. As some may remember, this author and many dozens of other environmentalists helped push through the rescue tug at Neah Bay in the last decade, with the help of then Representative Van de Wege. This time, Representative Tharinger was part of the sponsors of the new bill. It’s digest reads:

Creates new requirements designed to reduce the current, acute risk from existing infrastructure and activities of an oil spill that could: (1) Eradicate our southern resident killer whales;(2) Violate the treaty fishing rights of federally recognized Indian tribes;(3) Damage commercial fishing prospects;(4) Undercut many aspects of the economy that depend on the Salish Sea; and(5) Harm the health and well-being of residents.

Declares an intent to spur international discussions among federal, state, provincial, and industry leaders in the United States and Canada to develop an agreement for the shared funding of an emergency rescue tug available to vessels in distress in the narrow Straits of the San Juan Islands and other boundary waters.

Currently tankers bigger than 125k dead weight tons are forbidden inside the Strait, past Dungeness Lighthouse. Tankers from 40 to125K tons dead weight are allowed to operate with tug escort. Currently a huge threat is to tugs towing bunker and other fuels. Some have sunk, such as the barge that spilled out on the coast near Neah Bay some years back.

The new law forces these tankers and tug towing barges to have escort tugs starting in 2020. If the tug or tanker is empty,  they do not need an escort tug.

The bill also strengthens the existing work being done on oil spill preparedness and establishes a new oil spill emergency response system with coordination between the State, U.S. Federal, Tribal and Canadian agencies. While there has been coordination before, this system is new.

There is a new reporting regime for oil processing facilities receiving crude oil shipments by rail, which will require them to report to the state these shipments and their routes. This may end up getting taken into court by the oil industry, as it’s unclear to this author whether the State has authority to require this under current Federal law.

Bill 1579 – While part of this bill allows greater catch limits on predator fish:

The commission shall adopt rules to liberalize bag limits for bass, walleye, and channel catfish in all anadromous waters of the14state in order to reduce the predation risk to salmon smolts.

The real teeth in this bill is the work done by Sound Action and other environmental and tribal lobbyists, along with the Department of Natural Resources to implement much stronger rules and penalties for implementing bulk heads along the nearshore of the Sound.  (full disclosure: this author is Board President of Sound Action as of this writing).

The conversion of shoreline to bulkheads  has been going on with little scientific understanding of the scope of damage to the spawning habitat of forage fish. Forage fish are food for salmon and other larger fish. Sound Action has existed specifically to challenge improper or incomplete Hydraulic Permit Applications (HPAs) from DNR that affect this habitat.

UPDATE BASED ON GOVERNOR’S VETO OF ONE SECTION: While The bill was also helped through by a section on a series of three ‘demonstration’ projects inserted by Senator Van de Wege on behalf of farmers coping with flood plain issues in Watcom, Snohomish and Gray’s Harbor County. Governor Inslee decided that these projects did not come out of the Orca Task force recommendations and were not in alignment with the needs of protecting fish habitat, but rather protecting farm land and exploiting river gravel. His veto of that section was in alignment with the opposition  by environmentalists and Tribes because of the stated intention of the backers of the language to ‘extract gravel’ from these rivers. What is needed in the future to address these problems should involve something similar to  a version of the highly successful Dungeness River Management Team, which brought together all the stakeholders on that river for the last 20 years to identify and then come up with appropriate solutions rather than leap to conclusions not based on science.

Anyone wanting to understand the work that the Dungeness River Management Team has done can view the short video I did for them a few years ago, on their 20th Anniversary.

 

The language that the proponents of Senator Van de Wege’s bill wanted, was to simply move to solution, based on assumptions and not science. They need, as the governor pointed out in his veto to at least have to go through the process to create a team of stakeholders, not just from the farm community, but from individuals and state scientists to come up with appropriate solutions.

So all in all, congratulations to the organizations that spent hundreds of hours in the Orca Task Force, and thanks to Governor Inslee for getting this done and helping drive these key bills into law! We still have a long way to go to save the resident pod, and there is no guarantee any of these bills will actually turn the tide to restore them to health.

https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/environment/gov-inslee-signs-range-of-bills-aimed-at-helping-endangered-orcas/

Olympic Mountain snowpack melting fast – PDN

This is a good early warning that we might be in for a very dry summer. Forest fires and a possible drinking water problem could be easy outcomes of this. Stay tuned and we will too.
Olympic Mountain snowpack melting fast

Olympic Mountain snowpack has slipped well below normal and will melt rapidly as temperatures climb this week, a water supply specialist said. Snowpack was 72 percent of normal Tuesday as measured at two snow telemetry sites operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Normal is defined as the median snowpack from 1981 to 2010. A more comprehensive monthly snowpack measurement revealed a 61 percent snowpack in the Olympics on May 1, said Scott Pattee, a water supply specialist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Mount Vernon. Rob Ollikainen reports. (Peninsula Daily News)

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