Amusing Monday: Canadian retailer posts Christmas commercials

For many years, Canadian Tire Corporation, Canada’s largest retailer, has been providing amusing television commercials around Christmas, as well as at other times of year. This Christmas season is no exception, as the company has taken to the airwaves to promote a variety of products on a Christmas theme.

Who wouldn’t like a pasta-maker? How you serve the finished pasta is up to you, as you’ll see in the first video on this page.

Other videos in this year’s series:

Another Christmas series by Canadian Tire features the Eh Bee family. Check out “Eh Bee Falcon Flight School” in the second video player on this page. Other commercials can be launched from the page titled “The Eh Bee Family tackles Giftmas.”

Last Christmas, a commercial told the story of a young boy who was worrying that Santa would not be able to find him after his family moved to a new home. See the video in the third player on this page.

Canadian Tire, a 90-year-old company, has been featuring Christmas commercials since at least 1985, as you can see in the final video featuring Santa Claus and Ebenezer Scrooge talking together and pondering the price of a Commodore 128 or Commodore 64 computer.

EPA’s ‘virtual hearing’ will address proposed water quality standards

Five years ago, I could not have predicted that Washington state would end up in a serious conflict with the federal government over water-quality standards to protect people’s health. But it has happened, and there’s no clear resolution in sight.


The federal Environmental Protection Agency will hold a “virtual hearing” on this issue in December. Read on for details, but let me first provide some recent history.

In November 2010, I wrote about the Department of Ecology’s newest undertaking, as the agency embarked on an effort to define “how clean is clean” in protecting public health in state waters. See Water Ways Nov. 4, 2010, and also Kitsap Sun Nov. 2, 2010.

It was obvious at the time that the state would need to increase its existing fish-consumption rate of 6.5 grams per day — a key factor in the formula used to calculate the allowable concentration of toxic chemicals in the water. After much discussion and delay, the state eventually proposed a rate of 175 grams per day — 27 times higher than the existing rate.

The controversy arrived when the state proposed a cancer risk rate of one in 100,000 — a risk 10 times higher than the existing rate of one in a million. The higher cancer risk rate would somewhat offset the effect of the much higher fish-consumption rate. Other factors were changed as well, as I described in the second of a two-part series in the Kitsap Sun, March 11, 2015.

When Gov. Jay Inslee announced the state’s newly proposed standards, he also proposed new legislation to study and reduce the sources of toxic chemicals of greatest concern. The Legislation failed to gain enough support for passage during the past legislative session.

The governor has since pulled back from the original proposal and agreed to return to a cancer risk rate of one in a million. A new proposal is expected to be announced after the first of the year, Meanwhile, the EPA is moving forward with its own proposal, probably more stringent than what we’ll see from the state. I outlined the likely differences in Water Ways on Oct. 8.

On Dec. 15 and 16, the EPA will hold what it’s calling a “virtual hearing” on the proposed water-quality criteria that the agency developed for Washington state. The web-based call-in format is designed to save considerable money, according to Erica Slicy, contact for the event. Given interest across the state, multiple in-person hearings in numerous locations would be needed to accomplish what two phone-in hearings can do, she said.

People will be able to watch the virtual hearing and/or testify by registering on EPA’s website. The event will be recorded and transcribed so that people will be able to review the comments later. Written comments will be taken until Dec. 28.

If the state comes up with proposed water-quality standards, as expected, the EPA could put the federal proposal on hold while the state’s proposal undergoes considerable scrutiny. Meanwhile, I’m sure supporters of the more stringent standards — such as Indian tribes and environmental groups — will continue to be frustrated by more delays.

Puget Sound farmers expected to change as climate changes

I’ve been going through the new report about climate change in the Puget Sound region, and I can tell you that the most optimistic chapter is the one on farming. Check out the story I wrote for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

To be sure, farmers will have plenty of problems to contend with. Rising sea levels and more intense rainstorms will probably causing flooding and seawater intrusion where it has never been seen before. Some of today’s farmland could become unsuitable for agriculture, and drier summers will force much better management of limited water supplies.

Temperatures are rising in the Puget Sound lowlands. Graphic: Climate Impacts Group
Temperatures are rising in the Puget Sound lowlands. // Graphic: Climate Impacts Group

But as the climate undergoes change, farmers can change with the climate, growing crops suitable for the conditions they face, said Kelly McLain, senior natural resources scientist with the Washington Department of Agriculture.

“Farmers are extremely adaptable,” Kelly told me. “I think water is going to be the limiting factor for almost all decisions.”

It’s hard to find that kind of optimism anywhere else when it comes to climate change in the Puget Sound region. The story I wrote to accompany last week’s release of the new report discusses the likelihood that landslides will increase because of more intense rainfall patterns. See “Shifting ground: Climate change may increase the risk of landslides” and the Water Ways post on Nov. 19.

My third and final story in the series, which will be published next week, talks about coming changes in habitats — and thus species — expected in Puget Sound as air temperatures increase, sea levels rise, rainstorms grow more intense and oceans undergo acidification.

Total annual precipitation does not appear to be changing in the Puget Sound region. Graphic: Climate Impacts Group
Total annual precipitation does not appear to be changing in the Puget Sound region.
Graphic: Climate Impacts Group

I took on this writing project as part of my work for the Puget Sound Institute, which publishes the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound. PSI commissioned the climate report with funding from federal and state governments. The Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington compiled the best scientific knowledge into a very readable report, which can be found on the encyclopedia’s website or on the website of the Climate Impacts Group.

One interesting chapter of the report, called “How is Puget Sound’s Climate Changing?” (3 mb) supports the understanding that climate change is not something we need to wait for. It’s something that scientists can measure now, although climatologists expect the changes to come faster as atmospheric carbon dioxide levels increase.

Here are a few of the changes that can be measured, along with a bit of explanation about the uncertainty:

  • Average air temperatures have been increasing in the Puget Sound lowlands and are currently about 1.3 degrees higher than in 1895. Higher temperatures have been found to be statistically significant for all seasons except spring, with the overall increase shown in a range between 0.7 to 1.9 degrees F.
  • Nighttime air temperatures have been rising faster than daytime temperatures. Nighttime lows have been increasing by about 1.8 degrees since 1895, while daytime highs have been increasing by about 0.8 degrees.
  • The frost-free season has lengthened by about 30 days (range 18-41 days) since 1920.
  • As in other areas, short-term trends can differ substantially from long-term trends. Cooling observed from 2000-2011, for example, has not altered the long-term temperature increase.
  • An ongoing debate questions how much, if any, of the long-term warming trend is a result of natural climate variability. One study says up to 80 percent may be natural, caused by atmospheric circulation, not by greenhouse gas buildup. Other researchers have been unable to replicate the findings for other data sets.
  • Total annual precipitation does not appear to be increasing or decreasing over a long time scale. Spring precipitation has increased at a statistically valid 27 percent for the months March through May.
  • Most studies are finding modest increases in the frequency and intensity of heavy precipitation compared to historical levels, but results depend on the time period and methods of analysis.
  • Ongoing variability in weather patterns related to El Nino and the Pacific decadal oscillation will continue to strongly influence temperature and precipitation for relatively short periods. It is not clear how long-term climate change will interact with these more variable climate patterns.

Amusing Monday: Lawn Dude kicks some grass
for water conservation

Lawn Dude, a cartoon character invented to convey a water-conservation message, has appeared on billboards in Southern California, where he has become known for his frank but witty messages.


When first introduced in the summer of 2014, Lawn Dude had this to say: “I’d be the first to admit that I love using lots of water, but I’m cutting back on my drinking because, take it from me, nobody likes a drunk lawn.” Read the press release issued on July 31, 2014.


Lawn Dude was launched as a cooperative effort between the Southern California Water Committee, a nonprofit educational partnership, and Clear Channel Outdoor Holdings, one of the world’s largest outdoor advertising companies.

Appearing as a personified lawn, this unique cartoon character can offer a unique perspective that might incite human action. He can encourage people by saying things in ways that governments, utilities and even conservation groups cannot.

“I’m fresh off a water cleanse and have never looked better, thanks to that H2O diet Governor Brown put me on,” Lawn Dude said upon his return in 2015. “I know people thought I might be all dried up, but I’m back and ready to kick some grass.”

In addition to appearing on billboards the past two summers, Lawn Dude continues to provide comments on his Twitter feed, and I would not be surprised if he came back next year.


California remains in a serious drought. Gov. Jerry Brown and the California Water Resources Control Board have imposed a series of water conservation measures to protect the remaining water supplies. For specifics, check out this fact sheet (PDF 507 kb).

Charles Wilson, chairman of the nonregulatory Southern California Water Committee, said the donation of billboards by Clear Channel has made it possible to reach many people with a reminder about water conservation.


“The Lawn Dude campaign has been a valuable way for the Southern California Water Committee to grab the public’s attention when it comes to outdoor water conservation, going beyond the limitations typically placed on what public agencies and water districts can say,” Wilson noted in a news release.

One aspect of the campaign has been to encourage Californians to remove their lawns. That’s when Lawn Dude got a new hairdo featuring succulent plants, and he discussed it on Twitter:


“It’s time to take it all off, California!”

“Lawn Dude stripped nude. Now won’t you take it off?”

“Keeping me thirsty isn’t enough. I need a new look and I’m loving the succulent style.”

“My trainer has been kicking my grass. It’s a good thing I lost that water weight.”

The following video from KCAL-TV in Los Angeles is a news story posted last year when the Lawn Dude campaign was launched.

Pull, not push, propels jellyfish and lampreys, according to new study

Jellyfish suck, but that’s not what most people believe about their method of locomotion.

It seems more likely that jellyfish thrust themselves through the water by pushing the water behind them. But complex experiments in fluid dynamics suggest that jellyfish, as well as eel-like lampreys, actually pull themselves forward by creating a low-pressure region ahead.

“It confounds all our assumptions,” John Dabiri, a Stanford University engineering professor, said in a news release. “But our experiments show that jellyfish and lampreys actually suck water toward themselves to move forward instead of pushing against the water behind them, as had been previously supposed.”

The new findings were published this month in Nature Communications.

Forces of thrust are commonly used to propel human vehicles through the water. Boat propellers and water jets create high pressure to move craft forward. Now, biometric engineers are beginning to study new methods of propulsion.

“For nearly 100 years, it has been assumed that mimicking natural swimming meant finding ways to generate high pressures to push water backward for thrust,” Dabiri said. “Now we realize we’ve had it backward, and so the search is on for ways to generate low-pressure suction to achieve more efficient underwater propulsion.”

About three years ago, Dabiri began to realize lampreys slithering along created low-pressure pockets of water where they bent back and forth. Water rushing into the low-pressure areas move the lamprey along.

In a jellyfish, the motion of the umbrella-shaped plume creates a similar low-pressure region.

The Stanford news release explains how mathematician Leonard Euler in 1755 came up with an equation to describe fluid motion. To provide the variables to solve Euler’s equation, the researchers used a tank of water and millions of hollow glass beads to simulate the movement of water molecules around lamprey and jellyfish. A system involving lasers tracked and recorded the movement.

Solving thousands of simultaneous equations revealed low-pressure pockets of water caused by the undulating motion. Those pockets seemed to be the dominant factor in propulsion.

To support the findings, the researchers tested a group of lampreys that had been altered so that only their tails flicked — something like the feet of human swimmers. The altered lampreys were far less efficient than the normal ones.

“The body undulations of the normal lampreys set them apart as much better swimmers than you and me,” Dabiri said. “Human swimmers generate high pressure instead of suction. That’s good enough to get you across the pool, but requires much more energy than the suction action of lampreys and jellyfish.”

The research suggests that some kind of flexible structure could be used to create a future low-pressure propulsion system for moving a boat or submarine through the water.

Co-authors of the new study include Dabiri, Brad Gemmell of the University of South Florida, Sean Colin of Roger Williams University and John Costello of Providence College. Dabiri is an engineer. The others are biologists affiliated with the Marine Biology Institute at Woods Hole, Mass.

The top video shows how the undulations of an eel-like lamprey create low-pressure suction forces (blue) and high-pressure pushing forces (red). Playback speed is about 1/60 of real time. Pressure units in color bar are in Pascals. Credit: John Dabiri

The second video shows how the movements of a moon jellyfish create spinning vortices going clockwise (blue) and counterclockwise (red). Playback speed is about 1/5 of real time. Credit: Brad Gemmell

Climate report describes changes coming to the Puget Sound region

How climate change could alter life in the Puget Sound region is the focus of a new report from the University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group.

A 1997 landslide on Bainbridge Island killed a family of four and resulted in five homes being condemned for safety reasons. Landslides can be expected to increase in the future because of changes in precipitation patterns. Kitsap Sun file photo
A 1997 landslide on Bainbridge Island killed a family of four and resulted in five homes being condemned. Landslides can be expected to increase in the future because of changes in precipitation patterns.
Kitsap Sun file photo

In concert with the report’s release, I’m writing three stories for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound, all focusing on specific aspects of the report, beginning with landslide risks. See “Shifting ground: climate change may increase the risk of landslides” on the Puget Sound Institute’s blog.

As the new report describes, increased flooding, more frequent landslides and decreased salmon runs are likely, along with declines in some native species and increases in others. We are likely to see more successful invasions by nonnative species, while summer drought could cause more insect damage to forests and more forest fires.

The report, “State of the Knowledge: Climate Change in Puget Sound,” pulls together the best predictions from existing studies, while updating and expanding the range of topics last reported for Puget Sound in 2005.

“When you look at the projected changes, it’s dramatic,” said lead author Guillaume Mauger in a news release. “This report provides a single resource for people to look at what’s coming and think about how to adapt.”

The report includes examples of communities taking actions to prepare for climate change, such as merging flood-management districts to prepare for increased flooding in King County and designing infrastructure to contend with rising sea levels in other areas.

“In the same way that the science is very different from the last report in 2005, I think the capacity and willingness to work on climate change is in a completely different place,” Mauger said.

Sheida Sahandy, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership, said the people of Puget Sound must be prepared for changes that have already begun.

“To protect Puget Sound, we need to plan for the ever-increasing impacts of climate change,” she said in a news release. “This report helps us better understand the very real pressures we will face over the coming decades. The effects of climate change impact every part of what we consider necessary for a healthy Puget Sound: clean water, abundant water quantity, human wellbeing, and a Puget Sound habitat that can support our native species.”

Work to compile the report was funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency via the Puget Sound Institute at UW Tacoma, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the state of Washington.

The report will become part of the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound, where my climate-change stories will reside after publication over the next three weeks. I’m currently working part-time for the Puget Sound Institute, which publishes the encyclopedia and is affiliated with the University of Washington — Tacoma.

For other news stories about the report, check out:

Amusing Monday: Help ‘hydrate’ Ashanti’s video to make it come to life

Ashanti, the singer, songwriter and record producer, has come up with an interesting way to release her latest single while urging people to drink water instead of sweet drinks.

The single, called “Let’s Go,” was released in a “dehydrated” form, stripped of lively elements, clear images, colorful lighting and dynamic sound. Ashanti has asked her fans to “hydrate” the music and video by using the hashtag “#DrinkUpAshanti” on social media, such as Twitter and Instgram.

As of this morning, I believe the “Let’s Go” video has reached the third of four levels and should soon reach its full entertainment potential. At that point, the song will be for sale on iTunes and other music outlets. The first video on this page describes the making of the video and demonstrates the four phases of “hydration.”

To see the current version of the video, go to:

I’ve never heard of a promotion like this, but Ashanti is using this approach to support First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign called Partnership for a Healthier America and its Drink Up effort, which encourages people to drink more water to support their health.

The video player at is clever, because one can pause it when graphic elements, such as flowers and stars, come into view. Click on the white circles that appear, and you’ll see the Twitter handles that helped to “hydrate” it. Add your own Twitter handle, and you will be assigned a flower and can see who is sharing that graphic element with you.

The website shows the four levels of hydration and provides lyrics to the new song for anyone who wants them.

“I love that my song is being used to encourage people to make a really easy choice: drinking more water every day,” Ashanti said in a news release. “It’s even more rewarding when it’s being done in a creative, positive way.

“Drinking water is in … it’s just cool and sexy. You are what you drink, so drink up. It’s also a pleasure to work with the First Lady again to help make the healthy choice the easy choice.”

Ashanti explains her involvement in the campaign in an interview shown on the Valder Beebe Show, an Internet video blog. See the second video above.

Olympic Mountains deliver huge rainstorm on cue for researchers

Atmospheric scientists with NASA and the University of Washington chose a doozy of a week on the Olympic Peninsula to launch their four-month effort to measure precipitation and calibrate the super-sophisticated Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) system.

The heart of the GPM system is an advanced satellite called the GPM Core Observatory, designed to measure rainfall and snowfall from space. If the system can be perfected, meteorologists and climatologists will have a fantastic tool for measuring precipitation where no ground-based instruments are located.

When the Doppler-on-wheels radar system arrived at Lake Quinault, skies were clear and the ground was dry.
When the Doppler-on-wheels radar system arrived at Lake Quinault, skies were clear and the ground was dry. // Photo: UW Atmospheric Sciences

To improve the satellite system, ground-based radar and other equipment were moved to remote areas of the Olympic Peninsula to take measurements (see video below). Meanwhile, aircraft flying above, below and inside the clouds were taking their own readings.

The program, called Olympex for Olympic Mountains Experiment, is impressive. Researchers chose the west side of the Olympics because that’s where storms arrive from the Pacific Ocean, laying down between 100 and 180 inches of rainfall each year. Sure, these folks were looking for rain, but did they really know what they were getting into?

Heavy rains arrived, raising the waters of Lake Quinault and nearly flooding the equipment.
Heavy rains arrived, raising the waters of Lake Quinault and nearly flooding the equipment on Friday. // Photo: UW Atmospheric Sciences

On Friday, a Doppler-on-wheels radar system was nearly flooded when between 4 and 14 inches of rain fell in various portions of the Quinault Valley, raising Lake Quinault by about six inches per hour over a period of several hours. For details, check out science summary for the day, which describes some of the measurements that were taken.

“We’re not just checking the satellite’s observations, the way you might double-check a simple distance measurement,” said project manager Lynn McMurdie in a news release from the University of Washington.

“We’re checking the connection between what the satellite sees from space, what’s happening in the middle of the storm system and what reaches the ground, which is what most people ultimately want to know,” McMurdle said. “So we’re not just improving the satellite’s performance — we’re learning how storm systems work.”

NASA’s “Precipitation Education” website explains how weather systems from the Pacific Ocean are experienced on land and how Olympex will sort things out:

“Large weather systems arrive in the Pacific Northwest from the ocean, and not all parts of the system are equal. The leading edge, called the pre-frontal sector, tends to be warmer and have steady rainfall. Next, the frontal sector marks the transition from the warmer air to the colder air and processes that produce rainfall are often most intense in this region. Finally the post-frontal sector, characterized by colder temperatures, will often bring showery rain and snow, and can produce large snowfall accumulations at higher elevations.

“The (Olympex) field campaign will be looking inside these storm clouds with ground radar and aircraft instruments to determine the accuracy of the GPM satellite constellation in detecting the unique precipitation characteristics in these different storm sectors.

“One of the aircraft will be flying through the clouds to make detailed measurements of raindrops, ice particles, and snowflakes as they are falling to Earth’s surface. Combined with data from the ground radars and the total amounts caught by the rain gauges and other instruments on the ground, scientists will be able to improve the computer models of precipitating clouds – the same types of computer models used to forecast the weather and project future climate.”

If you’d like to learn more about Olympex, check out these sources:

Global Precipitation Measurement Core Observatory NASA graphic
Global Precipitation Measurement Core Observatory // NASA graphic

Amusing Monday: From pets to cartoons, ducks are unique characters

In the early days of “Amusing Monday,” I featured a lot of water-related animals. Somehow I never got around to tossing together a potpourri of duck-related videos and activities.

Geoducks, yes, but not the kind of duck that swims on water and waddles on land.

I need to begin this blog post with a compilation video of Mihai Francu’s pet duck, captured over time as the little duckling grows up. Mihai, a Cyprus-based photographer, has compiled a nice collection of short videos, which can be viewed on his YouTube Channel. First, take a look at the top video on this page.

Duck jokes, anyone, as old and musty as these seem to be?

Q: What do you call two ducks and a cow?
A: Quackers and milk

Q: What do you call it when it rains chickens and ducks?
A: Fowl weather

Q: What did the duck carry his schoolbooks in?
A: His quackpack.

Q: Why did the duck fly south for the winter?
A: Because it was too far to walk.

Q: What happens when a duck flies upside down?
A: He quacks up.

Q: Which bird refused to keep his eyes closed?
A: The Peking duck.

Customer: How much is that duck?
Shopkeeper: Ten dollars.
Customer: Okay, could you please send me the bill?
Shopkeeper: I’m sorry, but you’ll have to take the whole bird.

Q: What do you call a cat that swallows a duck?
A: A duck-filled-fatty-puss

Q: How do you get down off a horse?
A: You don’t get down off a horse. You get down off a duck.

Duck talk: Two ducks were sitting on a pond. One went “Quack quack!” The other replied, “That’s funny. I was just about to say that!”

Remember the 1984 Ninendo video game called “Duck Hunt”? Teenagers today were not even born when this game came out, so it was fun to see their reaction in a video by REACT, the first video in the three below. The next two videos are parodies of the original game.

Two years ago in “Water Ways,” I revealed that Daffy Duck was my favorite cartoon character, and I featured a video showing the evolution of Daffy over time. It was by In August, WatchMojo came out with a new video pitting the personal and comedy styles of Daffy Duck against those of Donald Duck. You’ll find this video in the second player on this page.

On a more artistic front, students from across the country have been producing beautiful duck portraits for the past 22 years. In March, “Water Ways” featured the best entries from the annual Federal Junior Duck Stamp Contest.;

Finally, for children as well as the rest of us, you one can find numerous videos to illustrate the numbers-learning song “Five Little Ducks.” One of the best on the web is the video below by Chu Chu TV.

Puget Sound restoration: two steps forward, one back — or vice versa?

Measuring the progress of Puget Sound restoration is a very difficult thing to do.

Vital signs

Millions of dollars have been spent to restore streams, wetlands, estuaries and shorelines. Millions more have been spent to improve stormwater systems and to clean up contaminated sediments.

At the same time, billions of dollars have been spent by commercial and residential developers in the Puget Sound region. The results are ongoing changes to the landscape and unknown alterations to ecosystems.

In the overall scheme of things, are we taking two steps forward and one step back, or is it two steps back and one step forward?

Gov and Leg

Puget Sound Partnership’s biennial “State of the Sound Report,” released this week, attempts to tell us how things are going in the effort to restore Puget Sound to a healthy condition. Progress is being made in restoring habitat, according to a news release about the report, but “measures for chinook salmon, Southern Resident Killer Whales, herring and other native species show a decline, and local improvements in water quality still don’t add up to improvements at the regional scale.”


“These mixed results are the reality of working in a complex ecosystem that is under tremendous pressures right now,” said Sheida Sahandy, the partnership’s executive director. “It’s why we need to make smart, timely investments in our partners’ hard work to restore and protect habitat, prevent stormwater pollution and reopen shellfish beds,”

Puget Sound Partnership has developed 37 ecosystem indicators for tracking progress. They are organized under 21 categories called the Puget Sound “vital signs.” If you want understand the latest information, you must look to the new “Report on the Puget Sound Vital Signs (PDF 9.9 mb).

Key findings, as reported in the news release:

  • Four indicators are meeting — or nearly meeting — regionally identified targets, including those related to inventorying septic systems, slowing forest loss, and two measurements showing improvements in the quality of marine sediment.
  • All indicators for habitat restoration are making incremental progress.
  • None of the indicators for species or food-web health are making progress.
  • While there has been local-level progress in some indicators, the results do not add up to regional progress. For example, while marine water quality is relatively good in some bays (making them safe for harvesting shellfish and for swimming), other bays have very poor water quality and are not meeting standards.

Pulse logo

I believe these vital signs can help us understand the functions of the Puget Sound ecosystem and give us an idea about the progress in restoration. I even used them as a broad outline for my two-year investigation into the health of Puget Sound and the species found in the region. If you haven’t done so, I urge you to take a look at the series, “Taking the Pulse of Puget Sound.”

At the same time, these 37 indicators often fail to capture many of the nuances of Puget Sound health, such as species distribution, population dynamics and primary productivity — all aspects of ecosystem health.

A pod of Southern Resident orcas travels south past Point No Point in North Kitsap early this afternoon. Typically, the three Southern Resident pods move into Central and South Puget Sound to hunt for chum salmon in October, but this year they have stayed away until now. Photo: Meegan Reid, Kitsap Sun
Southern Residents in Puget Sound
Photo: Meegan Reid, Kitsap Sun

Southern Resident killer whales, for example, are now fewer than when the ecosystem indicators were approved. That could be related to the number of chinook salmon — the orca’s primary prey — which also are in decline. But what are the problems facing the chinook? Lack of spawning habitat? Increased predation by seals and other marine mammals? Not enough forage fish, such as herring, surf smelt and sand lance? In turn, what is limiting the growth of the forage fish populations? The amount or right type of plankton to eat, spawning habitat, predation, or something else?

It is often said that the ongoing development of Puget Sound is damaging the ecosystem faster than it is being restored. But I have not seen convincing evidence to show which way things are going. The vital signs indicators are not adequate to answer this question. Lagging indicators — especially population counts — don’t tell the whole story. But one thing is certain: Without the investment we have all made in Puget Sound restoration, conditions would be far worse than they are today.

Over the past few years, the Puget Sound Partnership is getting better at establishing priorities that will make the most difference. But it is still mind-boggling to think of the number of places that have been degraded over 150 years of development, all needing work to bring things back to a functioning part of the Puget Sound ecosystem.

Getting the priorities right and getting everyone working together is an enormous challenge. Coordination must involve federal, state, tribal and local governments, private businesses and conservation groups. That was why the Legislature created the Puget Sound Partnership and issued a special mandate. It seems to me that the people leading the restoration effort understand their responsibility.

It was nice to see a recognition of this coordination problem by U.S. Reps. Derek Kilmer and Denny Heck, who introduced the Save Our Sound Act, designed to coordinate federal actions with those of the Puget Sound Partnership, which tries to involve all segments of society. This SOS bill is now supported by all of Washington state’s congressional delegation. Check out a summary of the bill on Heck’s congressional website; read the story by Tristan Baurick in the Kitsap Sun; or review the op-ed piece by Heck and Kilmer in The News Tribune.

The role of local governments in the restoration effort cannot be over-stated. As restoration continues, damage from ongoing development must be limited. Concepts of “no net loss” and “best-management practices” are important — but the key is to locate development where it will do the least ecosystem damage, then use construction techniques that will cause the least disruption of ecological functions.

Jenifer McIntyre studies the effects of stormwater at the Washington State University Puyallup Research & Extension Center. Photo: Meegan Reid, Kitsap Sun
Jenifer McIntyre studies the effects of stormwater at the Washington State University Puyallup Research & Extension Center. // Photo: Meegan Reid, Kitsap Sun

Breakthroughs in scientific understanding and new solutions to old problems can make a big difference. Jen McIntyre of Washington State University finally published her findings about the effects of stormwater on coho salmon. More importantly, she and her colleagues revealed how to solve the problem by filtering the stormwater through compost — or essentially the natural material found on the forest floor. The study was published in the Journal of Applied Ecology (PDF 338 kb).

I’ve talked about these findings several times in the past, including an expanded story about stormwater in the “Pulse” series in July of last year. For stories written since the report was published, see Tristan Baurick’s piece in the Kitsap Sun or Sandi Doughton’s story in the Seattle Times or the news release by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Development regulations by local government have always been a weak link in the effort to restore Puget Sound. I have been discouraged by the lack of progress in some cities and counties. In the face of uncertain science, it has been too easy for local officials to do the minimum required by state government then turn around and blame the state when local residents complain about the higher costs of development.

On the other hand, I am encouraged that more and more local officials are taking scientific studies to heart, learning how to judge scientific uncertainty and taking actions to help save the ecosystem. Stormwater regulations have been a bitter pill to swallow for many local officials, but creative approaches, such as I described in the “Pulse” series could be one of the best things that local government can do. Another major role of local government is to protect and restore shorelines, about which I will have more to say in the near future. (“Water Ways, Aug. 15, 20115.)

Overall, when I see the beauty of Puget Sound and consider the combined energy of thousands of people who really care about this waterway, I can’t help but remain optimistic that the effort to save Puget Sound is on the right track.