Watching Our Water Ways

Environmental reporter Christopher Dunagan discusses the challenges of protecting Puget Sound and all things water-related.
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Celebrating freedom for the Elwha River

September 1st, 2014 by cdunagan

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Elwha Prigge

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I want to recognize the Kitsap Sun’s editorial cartoonist Milt Priggee for capturing the feeling of the moment last week when the final piece of a dam on the Elwha River was blown up. See Water Ways, Aug. 27, 2014.

The video below was recorded on that same day by Anne Shaffer of the Coastal Watershed Institute while snorkeling in a kelp bed in western Freshwater Bay, not far from where the Elwha River flows into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Watching this video and the large number of herring gives me a feeling of optimism, although I recognize there is no scientific basis for this. Someone please tell me the herring are doing better.

“We couldn’t think of a better place to be the day the last dam went down,” Anne said in an email to members of her listserv.

The Coastal Watershed Institute has been monitoring the nearshore area, where the Elwha River has been dramatically transforming the delta. Sediment, unleashed by dam removal, pours out of the Elwha and builds up in the estuary.

Tom Roorda, an aerial photographer, has been documenting the transformation with thousands of pictures he has taken over the past several years.

Tom Roorda of Roorda Aerial photography captured this image showing the ongoing buildup of sediment at the mouth of the Elwha River. Photo by Tom Roorda

Tom Roorda of Roorda Aerial photography captured this image showing the ongoing buildup of sediment at the mouth of the Elwha River. // Photo by Tom Roorda


Amusing Monday: Crack appears in Mexican desert

September 1st, 2014 by cdunagan

For this week, let’s call it “Amazing Monday.” When I first saw this video, I thought it was a fake animation for a science fiction film. But it turns out that it could be the answer to a troubling riddle: What is dryer than a desert?

The crack might also be the result of erosion from either an underground or surface channel following an unusually heavy rain. Despite the attention in Mexican and U.S. news outlets, I have been unable to find a good explanation.

The crack is said to be about three-fourths mile long and up to 25 feet deep. Some nice close-in photos were posted on the website of Excelsior, a daily newspaper based in Mexico City. They show people standing next to the giant fissure. (When watching the video, it’s worth blowing it up to full screen.)

In a Washington Post story last week, reporter Joshua Partlow quoted a geologist at the University of Sonora as saying the crack was probably caused by pumping groundwater for irrigation:

“The chair of the geology department at the University of Sonora, in the northern Mexican state where this ‘topographic accident’ emerged, said that the fissure was likely caused by sucking out groundwater for irrigation to the point the surface collapsed.

“‘This is no cause for alarm,’ Inocente Guadalupe Espinoza Maldonado said. ‘These are normal manifestations of the destabilization of the ground.’”

I think the geologist’s comments were meant to quell fear and speculation that started running wild when the crack first opened. While it may not be cause for alarm, I can’t believe that a crack this size — which has cut off more than one roadway — can be considered a good thing. Nevertheless, it is fascinating, and I’d like to learn more about it.


Final explosion frees Elwha River at Glines Canyon

August 27th, 2014 by cdunagan

I believe it is important to commemorate the final day of the Glines Canyon Dam — even though only a relatively small chunk of the structure had been left in place since February, when flows in the Elwha River covered over the last 30 feet.

In a massive explosion on Tuesday, that last 30 feet of concrete was blasted away. Almost immediately, the river began to flow freely, at basically the same elevation it was before the dam was built in the 1920s.

The video above was shot by John Gussman, who has done an amazing job documenting the restoration of the natural river. See John’s Facebook page and check out a preview of the film “Return of the River.”

Olympic National Park officials say it will take several weeks to clear away the rubble dislodged by the final blast, but dramatic changes have been taking place downstream of the former Glines Canyon Dam — the second dam on the river, built eight miles upstream of the Elwha Dam.

Researchers are carefully monitoring sediment distribution and salmon migration, officials say. During the past three years, the Elwha River has experienced unusually low flows, so experts are waiting for more typical winter flows to move around some of the larger boulders in the stream.

Since last fall, salmon have been swimming upstream of the Elwha Dam site. The dam, built without a fish ladder, blocked salmon migration into some 70 miles of near-pristine habitat. Now, biologists expect all five species of Northwest salmon to recolonize the river.

In a story in today’s Peninsula Daily News, reporter Arwyn Rice quoted Robert Ellefson, restoration manager for the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe: “It’s a good day… It has been the dream of tribal members for a hundred years.”

The tribe will have something special to celebrate come next July, when members hold their annual welcoming ceremony, acknowledging the return of chinook salmon to the Elwha River.


Amusing Monday: Festivals as fleeting as sand

August 25th, 2014 by cdunagan

Master sand sculptors from throughout the world have been stretching their imaginations this year at various sand-sculpting festivals where they’ve been putting their unique abilities on display.

“Inseminate” by Guy-Olivier Deveau of Quebec City, Canada, first place in the Master Sand Sculpting Competition in Hampton Beach, N.H. Photo courtesy of Hampton Beach

“Inseminate” by Guy-Olivier Deveau of Quebec City, first place in the Master Sand Sculpting Competition in Hampton Beach, N.H.
Photo courtesy of Hampton Beach Village District

In June, the 14th annual Master Sand Sculpting Competition in Hampton Beach, N.H., brought together a dozen amazing artists, including first-place winner Guy-Olivier Deveau from Quebec City, Canada. Deveau’s sculpture “Inseminate” (shown here) was done as a tribute to the recently deceased Swiss artist H.R. Giger, who helped create the creature in the movie “Alien,” according to festival organizers.

I am both amused and inspired by Carl Jara’s piece, “Putting Down Roots,” which depicts a friendly embrace between man and nature (second photo on this page). Jara, of Cleveland, Ohio, continues to impress me with his imaginary figures.

“Putting Down Roots” by Carl Jara of Cleveland, Ohio, third place Photo courtesy of Hampton Beach

“Putting Down Roots” by Carl Jara of Cleveland, Ohio, third place
Photo courtesy of Hampton Beach Village District

Tacoma’s Sue McGrew participated in Hampton Beach, creating a thoughtful piece she called “Mother’s Protection” (third on this page). For a full gallery of photos of the sand sculptures, visit the Hampton Beach visitors page or the Flickr page created for the event.

“Putting Down Roots” by Carl Jara of Cleveland, Ohio, third place Photo courtesy of Hampton Beach

“Mother’s Protection” by Sue McGrew of Tacoma
Photo courtesy of Hampton Beach Village District

I am sorry to learn that the Arts in Action festival held in Port Angeles for nearly a half-century will come to an end after this year’s event, Sept. 5-7.

The folks running the Port Angeles festival were no longer able to continue, and nobody stepped up to take it over, according to Doc Reiss, sand sculpture organizer.

“Forty-nine years is a good, long run,” Reiss told reporter Arwyn Rice of the Peninsula Daily News, who tells the history of the sand-sculpture competition and the decision to end it this year.

McGrew and Sandis Kondrats of Latvia will creates tribute sculptures this year in Port Angeles to recognize 10 years of master-level sand sculpting in the remote city on the Olympic Peninsula. I have been pleased to report on the event as an “Amusing Monday” feature since 2009:

Master-level sand sculpting also has come and gone from Federal Way, which just goes to show that these festivals are as ephemeral as the sand sculptures themselves.

In 2011, amateur photographer Flint Weiss of Maple Valley shot the Federal Way sculptures, then he told me why he loved them but was worried about their future. His words turned out to be prophetic:

“I do feel that art is enriching and that everybody is capable of producing some,” he wrote in an e-mail. “One of the things I like about sand sculpture is how solid and crisp everything looks, when it is really only made from sand.

“That makes sculptures like these feel somewhat improbable, making them all the more impressive. I also really enjoy the sheer artistry involved. While it’s easy for me (or any of us) to take a trowel to a pile of sand, it never looks anything like what these folks do.

“It’s sad,” he continued, “that this contest doesn’t get the public support it deserves. Given how much Western Washington loves both art and craftsmanship, it’s kind of surprising that the contest isn’t more popular.”

After three years in Federal Way, the World Championship of Sand Sculptures moved on to Atlantic City, N.J., as I reported in “Water Ways”:

Check out this year’s Atlantic City entries in a slide show created by Jordan Herelle.

In other areas, “Boston” magazine” covered the 2014 Revere Beach National Sand Sculpting Festival, which featured the theme “Stars and Stripes: A Tribute to Our Nation’s Armed Forces” to coincide with the 70th anniversary of D-Day. (Don’t miss the extended slide show at the bottom of the page.)

“My SA” in San Antonio covered the Texas SandFest in Port Aransas. See also Tim Burdick’s photos of the event.


Amusing Monday: Dolphin becomes friend with dog

August 18th, 2014 by cdunagan

I have been intrigued by some unusual animal friendships, which I’ve reported here in Water Ways: a baby hippo and a 130-year-old tortoise, a cat and a crow, an orangutan and a hound, an elephant and a dog. See Amusing Monday, Nov. 12, 2012.

But somehow I missed the tantalizing story of a dolphin named Duggie and a dog named Ben on Tory Island, Ireland. The television show “National Geographic Wild” is now telling the story of this unusual friendship, which began in 2006.

That seems like a long time ago, and I’m trying to find out whether the friendship might still endure or whether the National Geographic people used old footage in their telling of the story.

I like the National Geographic clip (first video on this page), because it includes a discussion by Cesar Millan, known as “the Dog Whisperer.” But I have a greater appreciation for the inquisitive approach taken in an earlier production for BBC’s “Countryfile,” a program mostly about places in and around Ireland (second video).

Additional information was filled in by reporter Anita Guldera in The Independent. She tells us that Tory Islanders believe the female dolphin’s friendship with Ben came about after she lost her mate. It all started about the time a male dolphin washed up dead on the island.

I stumbled across the dolphin-and-dog story after someone emailed me a lovely video about a dolphin saving a dog from a shark attack. The video, called “Dolphin and Dog,” was put together by a Dutch woman named Ine Braat. I say the video was “lovely” because the music creates a mood around this dolphin-and-dog friendship. But it’s fiction, mostly based on clips from the movie “Zeus and Roxanne.”

You may wish to check out some of Ine’s other lovely compilations posted on her website.

Another story about a dog and a dolphin is a more gripping tale, because it involves a human whose life was in real danger. Lynn Gitsham of Carrickalinga, Australia, says she was rescued by a pod of dolphins after falling into the ocean while trying to get to her dog. Reporter Michelle Vella tells the story for Australia’s Seven West Television (below).


Amusing Monday: Orca surprises fishermen

August 11th, 2014 by cdunagan

I’m on vacation this week, but I wanted to revisit a video I first presented in June of last year. We see fishermen playing a fish while a killer whale plays the fishermen. I interviewed the excited man in this video soon after the fishing trip to explain some of his comments. The video has now been viewed more than 1.2 million times.

Frank Sanders is an experienced hunting and fishing guide, yet he screamed with excitement when he reeled in his fishing line to find a killer whale at the other end.

The video, posted two weeks ago by Frank’s deckhand Charlie Barberini, has been viewed more than 800,000 times on YouTube. That doesn’t count the number of times people watched the original Facebook post and videos copied from the original.

The video has raised numerous questions, such as why Frank is showing his ring to the camera and looking for someone named Jason. I was able to reach Frank in Hawaii, where he was on a fishing trip, and he filled in some of the blanks.

Frank, Charlie and others were fishing for halibut near Ninilchik in Cook Inlet in Southern Alaska. They had seen a couple killer whales go by a few times but not close to the boat. I think Frank told me the orcas were eating sockeye salmon that were in the area. Suddenly, out of the depths, a killer whale appeared following the fish on his line.

You need only to see and hear the video to know how much excitement that generated.

Frank told me the orca did not appear to want the fish. It was playing with the fishermen in the boat, grabbing the fish, pulling the line out about 200 yards, then bringing it back. The whale circled the boat a few times, he said, tangling fishing lines played out from other poles. This went on for at least 10 minutes before the whale went on his way.

The whale, of course, had the strength to bite the fish through and take it away or snap the line any time he chose, Frank said. But it didn’t.

About his ring, Frank explained that he travels a lot for his business, Alaska Trophy Hunters. In fact, he is away from his wife about as much as he is with her, so he sends her hunting and fishing pictures from all over Alaska and displays his ring for her.

As for Jason, I didn’t get the full story, but I heard enough to understand that this, too, was an inside message. Jason is Frank’s best friend and the best man at his wedding. Jason was in a four-wheeler accident and suffered a severe brain injury. He was in a coma for a month but then was getting better. Jason set up a personal website on “Caring Bridge” to share information back and forth with his friends and family. Frank wanted Jason to understand that he was thinking about him during this adventure and was showing him a special bracelet they shared. Unfortunately, Jason suffered a stroke and may not pull through. (Update, June 24, 11 a.m.: I just received word from Frank this morning that Jason passed away yesterday.)

After the video was posted, Frank reportedly told reporter Lydia Warren of London’s Daily Mail:

“Fishing gets kind of repetitive after 18 years, but this is one of the most exciting things that has happened to me.”


Amusing Monday: Students relate to water with art

August 4th, 2014 by cdunagan

Each year, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection holds a student art and poetry contest on the theme of water resources, including water conservation and wastewater treatment.

Betty Jin, grade 6-7, Nathaniel Hawthorne Middle School, Bayside, N.Y.

By Betty Jin, grade 6-7, Nathaniel Hawthorne Middle School, Bayside, N.Y. / NYC Department of Environmental Protection

This year’s contest attracted 580 entries among students from 68 schools in the region. All participants received a “Water Ambassadors” certificate, and 39 were named as this year’s “Water Champions.”

“The Water Resources Art and Poetry Contest is an engaging way to teach students about the infrastructure that supplies more than half the state’s population with clean drinking water and has helped dramatically improve the health of our waterways,” said DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd in a news release, which includes a list of the 39 winners.

I’ve chosen three of my favorites to show you on this page, but you can see all the entries on the Department of Environmental Protection Flickr page.

From the news release:

“DEP manages New York City’s water supply, providing more than one billion gallons of water each day to more than nine million residents, including eight million in New York City.

By Tasnim Ahmed, grades 10-12, Newcomers High School, Long Island City, N.Y.

By Tasnim Ahmed, grades 10-12, Newcomers High School, Long Island City, N.Y.

“The water is delivered from a watershed that extends more than 125 miles from the city, comprising 19 reservoirs and three controlled lakes. Approximately 7,000 miles of water mains, tunnels and aqueducts bring water to homes and businesses throughout the five boroughs, and 7,500 miles of sewer lines and 96 pump stations take wastewater to 14 in-city treatment plants.

“DEP has nearly 6,000 employees, including almost 1,000 in the upstate watershed.

“In addition, DEP has a robust capital program, with nearly $14 billion in investments planned over the next 10 years that will create up to 3,000 construction-related jobs per year. This capital program is responsible for critical projects like City Water Tunnel No. 3; the Staten Island Bluebelt program, an ecologically sound and cost-effective stormwater management system; the city’s Watershed Protection Program, which protects sensitive lands upstate near the city’s reservoirs in order to maintain their high water quality; and the installation of more than 820,000 Automated Meter Reading devices, which will allow customers to track their daily water use, more easily manage their accounts and be alerted to potential leaks on their properties.”

Miranda Torn, grades 4-5 , Blue School, downtown New York City

Miranda Torn, grades 4-5 , Blue School, downtown New York City


Three videos take us upstream, where it all begins

August 1st, 2014 by cdunagan

John F. Williams of Suquamish, known for his brilliant underwater videos, has worked his way upstream from Puget Sound and into the freshwater streams of the Kitsap Peninsula.

His latest video project began somewhat haphazardly, John told me. But the end result is nothing less than an entertaining and educational series that anyone can enjoy. It helps that each video is just a little over four minutes. In such a short time, John was able to tell a story while packing in a lot of information.

“It all started,” John said, “when Ron (Hirschi) invited me to come film him taking some preschool kids down to the South Fork of Dogfish Creek. He thought that would be fun.”

Ron Hirschi, who grew up around Port Gamble, worked as a biologist for years before becoming a successful children’s author. He tells stories of nature in simple and endearing ways. In the first video on this page, you’ll see Ron reading from one of his books.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Ron and I have known each other for more than 30 years. He was an early mentor for me as I was learning about streams and shorelines in Western Washington, and I still rely on him for advice from time to time. He was an important voice in the book “Hood Canal: Splendor At Risk.”

Anyway, it was nice to see the two storytellers — John and Ron — link up on a project together.

“At the time, we had no idea where this was going,” John said.

A member of the Kitsap Environmental Education Program, John learned that some money was available for education projects through the “Puget Sound Starts Here” campaign.

“It occurred to me that what I was doing with the streams fit into what they wanted,” he said, “so I pitched the idea of doing several movies about streams and people’s interactions with them. I wanted people to understand that these streams, which are hidden behind the trees, are part of their lives.”

John completed the video with Ron Hirschi, showing a visit to a forgotten stream, Poulsbo Creek, as well as the well-known Dogfish Creek, both in North Kitsap. John also obtained leads for stories about Olalla Creek in South Kitsap and Chico Creek in Central Kitsap.

His contact in South Kitsap was teacher Lisa Wickens at Ollalla Elementary School. It so happens that I had worked with Lisa on a story about elementary school children building a rain garden to prevent dirty water from getting into Olalla Creek. Check out “Olalla students learn science with a rain garden,” Kitsap Sun, Dec. 13, 2013 (subscription).

John was blown away by the intellectual and scientific skills of this younger generation.

“I was sitting in Lisa’s classroom one day, and she was giving her second-graders an assignment to write a persuasion piece,” John noted. “She wanted them to persuade someone to take care of the Earth. I said I would love to come and film the kids reading their papers… It was so amazing.”

You’ll get a feeling for their abilities in the second video.

For the third video, John connected with Maureen McNulty, a teacher at Klahowya Secondary School who was organizing the students to build a rain garden. It turned out that older students were teamed up with younger ones on the project, so that everyone learned something.

John also traced the path of a stream from the school wetlands into the adjoining forest and encountered Frank Sticklin, the chief guru for Newberry Hill Heritage Park. Frank educated John about beaver dams.

“I had never seen beaver ponds, and he showed me these incredible things,” John said.

In reality, John probably had seen beaver ponds and beaver dams without knowing that beavers were responsible. After Frank’s tour, he went for a walk south of Port Gamble and encountered something that he immediately recognized as a beaver dam. Once you’ve seen one, you know what to look for.

“I think of this as a metaphor of what I do with my movies,” John told me. “I help people see things that they haven’t seen before and to look at the world in a new way.”

John’s videos have been recorded onto DVDs and distributed to nearly 200 schools and environmental organizations throughout the area.

He’s now working on some projects involving the Puget Sound shoreline. I’ll let you when they are done. Meanwhile, you may wish to check out his websites, Still Hope Productions and Sea-Media.org.


Map points toward safe — and hazardous — shellfish

July 31st, 2014 by cdunagan

A highly informative map, just released by state shellfish officials, can show you at a glance where it is safe to harvest shellfish in Western Washington.

Shellfish_map

Besides pointing out the locations of public beaches where recreational harvesters may safely gather clams and oysters, the new map provides links to information about the approved seasons and limits, with photographs of each beach. One can choose “map” or “satellite” views, as well as enhanced images to simplify the search.

If you wish, you can track down locations by searching for the name of a beach, nearby landmarks or the address. You can obtain the latest information about entire shorelines as well as specific beaches.

The map was created by the Office of Shellfish and Water Protection, a division within the Washington State Department of Health.

Jim Zimny, recreational shellfish specialist at Kitsap Public Health District, said he expects the map to be updated immediately when new health advisories are issued.

“It’s a great resource, very easy to use,” Jim said.

Jim works with state shellfish officials to collect shellfish samples and report results, including findings of paralytic shellfish poison, a biotoxin. Closures are announced when high levels of PSP or dangerous bacteria are found. Hood Canal, for example, is covered with the letter “V,” meaning one should cook shellfish thoroughly to kill Vibrio bacteria, which can lead to intestinal illness.

Since I generally write the geographic descriptions of shellfish closure areas, I can assure you that looking at a map will be a better way to see what is going on.

A news release about the new map points out that the risk of eating shellfish increases in summer. That’s why it especially important in summer to follow the three C’s of shellfish safety: “check, chill and cook.”

Those three C’s refer to checking the map for health closures and looking on the beach for warning signs; chilling the shellfish to avoid a buildup of bacteria; and cooking to 145 degrees to kill pathogens. (Cooking does not destroy PSP and other biotoxins, so it’s important to avoid closed areas.)

For additional information about recreational shellfish harvesting, including a “Shellfish Harvest Checklist,” visit the Department of Health website.


Amusing Monday: Baby turtles race for the sea

July 28th, 2014 by cdunagan

The sand was smooth and still. Waves lapped at the distant shoreline. A sign, stuck in the sand, stated, “Do not disturb. Sea turtle nest.”

That was the scene on a beach in the Florida Keys for the past few weeks, as it was in June, when I posted a blog entry listing cameras that were capturing live action in bird nests as well as other wildlife locations. A quiet patch of sand was not much to look at, so I didn’t mention it.

On Friday, that patch of sand came to life, as you can see in the first video on this page. I thought it was time to share the brief action, as about 100 loggerhead turtles emerged from the sand and headed out to sea about 9 p.m. Check out the action in full-screen.

The camera on the beach uses infrared lights to capture the images, thus avoiding visible light that could confuse the young turtles. The project is supported by Save-A-Turtle, a volunteer non-profit group dedicated to the protection of rare and endangered sea turtles and their habitats in the Florida Keys.

Meanwhile, some of the young ospreys shown in their nests back in June have fledged, but there is still plenty of action in the nest at Missoula’s Riverside Health Care Center, where the camera is operated by the University of Montana. Check out the images in full-screen, high-definition while you can, because these growing chicks will soon be gone.

Another still-active osprey nest is operated by Chesapeake Conservancy on Maryland’s eastern shoreline.

The Puffin Cam at Seal Island National Wildlife Refuge in Maine is picking up some excited feeding activity at the nesting area, where experts are establishing a new colony of puffins after hunters wiped them out in the 1800s.

Brown bears are now feeding on salmon along Alaska’s Brooks River in Katmai National Park, according to bloggers on the site. Check out the live video below to see if you can spot a bear, including a subadult mentioned by observers.

You may wish to go back to the June 23 “Amusing Monday: A visit with wildlife via webcam” to see what other cameras are picking up activity. You can generally count on Pete’s Pond on Mashatu Game Reserve in Botswana, Africa, for some exotic animals coming to the watering hole.



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"In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught."Baba Dioum, Senegalese conservationist

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