It’s an interesting time for researchers to begin writing a blog
about ocean conditions off Oregon and Washington, an area
undergoing some fascinating changes in oceanography and
Scientists from NOAA Fisheries and Oregon State University
launched their new website,
“Newporter Blog,” last week. It’s named after the Newport Line,
an area of study off the Oregon Coast where researchers have
monitored changes for the past 20 years.
“This year, the ocean has been very different,” wrote blogger
Jennifer Fisher in the blog’s first post on June 23. “Anomalously
warm surface water dubbed the ‘warm blog’ moved onto the
continental shelf off Newport in September 2014. A very large
harmful algal bloom (HAB) spanning from British Columbia to
California is occurring off the coast right now. El Niño conditions
are occurring at the equator, and NOAA is forecasting a 90-percent
chance that an El Niño will persist through the Fall.”
The next blog post last Thursday was by researcher Cheryl Morgan
from the Canadian fishing vessel FV Frosti “somewhere off the coast
of the Pacific Northwest,” where researchers are looking to see how
juvenile salmon are doing. They were taking note of anything picked
up in their nets in the upper 60 feet of water.
“Watching the trawl come in is like the anticipation of opening
a Christmas gift,” Cheryl wrote. “What could be in there? How many?
How big? Have we ever caught any of them in the net?
“We always hope for some juvenile salmon, since that is the main
point of the survey, but we also like to see something different,
strange, or unusual to spice things up,” she continued.
The next post on Monday revealed that fish being caught were of
a kind seen in Northwest waters only when the temperatures rise.
They included pompano and jack mackerel. The researchers were
especially surprised to find bottom-dwelling flatfish in their net
some several hundred feet off the bottom.
“What is a fish that lives on the bottom, one side down, doing
in the water column?” she asked. “Perhaps they are lost, could not
find the bottom or they are chasing some dinner. Most strange,
however, was the catch of nearly 3,330 Pacific sanddabs … in ONE
trawl. That was a first for even the fishing crew.”
The team also brought up a juvenile red octopus, a species
normally found among rocks on the bottom — “another creature that
is a long way from home.”
The research fishing will continue from Newport to the upper
corner of Washington state. The scientists are taking note of any
birds preying on fish before they begin their daily trawl. Plankton
also are scooped up to see what the fish might be eating and to
provide new data about the harmful algal bloom.
The work is being funded by NOAA and Bonneville Power
The researchers/bloggers said they would share their findings as
they go along. I, for one, look forward to learning about ocean
conditions and how the warm water is affecting all sorts of sealife
along the West Coast.
A census of the killer whales that frequent Puget Sound is due
today, and it appears that the total population of the three
Southern Resident pods is 82, up from 79 last year at this
But that’s not the end of the story, because two small groups of
orcas have not been seen recently — so a final count must wait,
according to Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research, which
conducts the annual census.
The three Southern Resident pods, well defined years ago, are no
longer the same, Ken told me. The tendency the past few years is
for the whales to split up into smaller groups of one or more
families, known as matrilines. Immediate families tend to stay
together, but larger groupings such as pods and subpods are
becoming less certain.
“They’ve decided to mix it up,” Ken said. “This is definitely
different. If we were trying to determine pod structures right now,
we couldn’t do it. It’s all mix and match.”
The Center for Whale Research records the annual census on July
1 each year and reports it to the federal government by
Four orca births can be reported since the last census was
J-50 a female calf born to J-16, named Slick, last
J-51 a male*
calf born to J-41, named Eclipse, in February
L-121 a male*
calf born to L-94, named Calypso, in February
J-52 a female
male calf born to J-36, named Alki, in March
*Update: Sexes not confirmed by Center for Whale
Research, and J-51 likely a male. (See comments.) I’ll update
These were the first births among Southern Residents to be
reported since August of 2012. Some people see these newborns as a
hopeful sign for the future of the population, which is listed as
endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
So far, one death has been confirmed over the past year. That
was J-32, an 18-year-old female named Rhapsody, who was found dead
on Dec. 4 floating near Courtenay, B.C. The young whale was
pregnant, and experts believe that the death of the fetus inside
her body could have led to her death as well. For more details ,
see Water Ways from
Dec. 7 and from
While there is no reason to believe that any other deaths have
occurred over the past year, nobody can be sure, at least not until
the last two groups of whales can be observed. If any animals are
truly missing after their family groups are carefully observed, we
could see one or more whales added to the death list.
In all, nine whales have not been seen this spring or summer
since returning to the San Juan Islands. One of the two groups of
whales was spotted off the Washington Coast in February, when all
the whales were present. One of the uncertain groups was reported
yesterday near San Juan Island, but I have not heard whether any
“missing” whales were identified.
Since the census report is not due until October, there is time
to see whether any more whales have died this past year. If any
more deaths are identified, the researchers will need to make a
judgment about whether the death occurred before or after the July
1 census cutoff. We can certainly hope that all the whales will be
Ken suspects that the pod groupings are becoming less distinct
because of the changing pattern of available prey, primarily
chinook salmon. When large schools of wild chinook head back to the
rivers, killer whales can work together to herd the fish and gain
Ken says hatchery chinook may not school together as much as
wild chinook, so the advantage goes to smaller groups of orcas if
the majority of salmon are from hatcheries.
“The prey field has changed for them,” he said. “Back when we
named the pods, the bulk of the fish were wild, and they were
coming through in pulses. All these fish were related and from the
same river system. Now with the hatchery program, there are less
pulses and the fish are more spread out.”
The chinook also are much smaller than they used to be, he said,
so it takes more effort to get the same nutritional benefit.
The Center for Whale
Research, now in its 40th year, conducts its census work in
Puget Sound under a grant from the National Marine Fisheries
Service. The grant is fairly limited, so the center began offering
memberships a few years ago to raise money for additional
This year’s membership drive is nearly halfway toward its goal
of 750 members, with 329 members signed on as of yesterday. An
individual membership costs $30 a year. For details and special
member benefits, go to “Supporting the
Center for Whale Research.”
In a related development, Ken recently took a trip into Snake
River country in Eastern Washington, the source of upstream habitat
for many of the salmon that come down the Columbia River. His
experience and what he has learned about the Snake River dams has
placed him among advocates for dam removal in this hotly contested
“Until recently, dam removal was against my conservative
“In truth, already well known to others but not to me, these
four Snake River dams are obsolete for their intended purposes and
are being maintained at huge taxpayer expense for the benefit of a
very few users. Plus, they are salmon-killers in a former river
(now a series of lakes) that historically provided spawning and
rearing habitat for millions of chinook salmon…”
“The technological fixes for the dams have not improved wild
salmon runs, and there is nothing left to try. As a nation, we are
dangerously close to managing the beloved Southern Resident killer
whale population to quasi-extinction (less than 30 breeding
animals) as a result of diminishing populations of chinook salmon
upon which they depend…
“Returning the Snake River to natural condition will help salmon
and whales, and save money. Please do not wait until all are gone.
Call or write your representatives today!”
The beautiful and powerful brown bears have arrived at Brooks
Falls in Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska, and everyone
in the world can enjoy the convenience of watching these giant
bears and other amazing wildlife live from the comfort and safety
of their home.
Lots of people have been going out to falls this year to watch
the bears from nearby viewing platforms, but I get the feeling that
far more people have been watching them from home via the
live webcams. I say that because of the number of
comments generated on the website. More than a few commenters
seem to know the area well and even call the bears by their
nicknames. (Park biologists use a numbering system, identifying
each bear by coat and claw colors, scars, body size and shape, ear
size and shape, sex, facial features and disposition.)
Brooks Falls is one of the first streams in the region where the
bears have easy access to bright salmon soon after they leave the
saltwater and before spawning. The falls provide a partial barrier
to their travels, making fishing easier for the bears. By sometime
in August, the fish runs will dwindle and the bears will be
Operators of the multiple live webcams do a good job of zooming
in when something interesting happens. Occasionally, so much is
going on that they don’t know what to show. Other times, we wait
and watch the beautiful scenery, which is especially dramatic at
sunrise and sunset.
When the bears are actively fishing for salmon, I find it hard
to break away and get back to daily life. One video trick I’ve
learned: If you don’t see anything interesting in the live view,
you can use your cursor to scan across the timeline to see what has
happened for the past few hours and watch that instead.
Park officials have identified the various fishing methods used
by the bears in an interesting
Q&A section on the national park’s website.
Birds and marine mammal cams
Besides watching bears, it’s a good time of year to watch other
wildlife as well via live webcam. Birds are typically active on
their nests, raising their young.
Chesapeake Conservancy is featuring the osprey couple,
Tom and Audrey, who perennially nest on Kent Island in
Maryland. Audrey has taken up with a new “Tom” this year and
produced three babies. They also received two foster chicks from
nearby Poplar Island, according to information on the website.
Another good osprey cam was installed this year in Belwood Lake
Conservation Area near the Great Lakes in Ontario, Canada. Three
eggs reportedly hatched, but I see only two chicks in the nest.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife also has an osprey
cam that updates still photos every 12 seconds.
cam at Seal Island National Wildlife Refuge in Maine shows a
fuzzy chick tucked into a burrow where its mother comes and goes to
feed her baby. Other views shows puffins on a ledge where they
often hang out. Wildlife biologists are trying to establish a new
colony at this location after hunters wiped out the puffins in the
If you would like to see a colony
of walruses, (also in video player below) check out the live
camera installed on Round Island, Alaska. Sometimes only a few of
the large mammals can be seen. Other times, like this morning,
large numbers were pushing and shoving each other for space. The
comments are often entertaining.
Last week, while looking into some early research findings about
Puget Sound rockfish (Water
Ways, June 18), I found an amusing video, one created to
encourage anglers to save the lives of rockfish when releasing the
The video begins with a talking rockfish (puppet) sitting at a
desk and watching a music video. That leads into a conversation
about barotrauma, a type of injury to rockfish that results when
the fish are caught and brought to the surface from deep water.
Barotrauma can be reversed — and the lives of fish saved — by using
a device to get the fish back down deep.
If you fish in deep water, you probably already know about this
device, but I think everyone can be amused by this video and
appreciate how humor can help introduce people to a serious
The first couple minutes of the video introduces the viewer to
the problem of barotrauma in simple terms, followed by about five
minutes of product reviews showing various devices to reduce the
effects on fish. If you are not interested in the technical side of
things, you can skip over this part and go to 6:55 in the video.
There you will hear the funny rap song about fishing for rockfish,
including a line about “sending them back to where you got
The music video, “Rockfish
Recompression,” was written and sung by Ray Troll and Russell
Wodehouse. Wodehouse is the musician appearing in the video. Those
two and others have long performed as the group Ratfish Wranglers,
creating funny tunes about fish and related issues.
If you’d like to hear more from this group, check out these
This week’s announcement that the coastal population of canary
rockfish had dramatically rebounded got me to wondering what new
information might be coming from research on the threatened and
endangered rockfish of Puget Sound.
Dayv Lowry, research scientist at the Washington Department of
Fish and Wildlife, shared some intriguing new information about
Puget Sound rockfish that could link into the coastal population.
In fact, if limited genetic findings hold up, a delisting of one
type of Puget Sound rockfish could be in order.
On Monday, the Pacific
Fishery Management Council reported that West Coast populations
of two groundfish species — canary rockfish and petrale sole — have
been “rebuilt” some 42 years earlier than expected. Canary rockfish
were declared “overfished” in 2000, and a rebuilding plan was put
in place a year later. Strict fishing restrictions were imposed,
and experts expected the stock to rebound successfully by 2057.
“This is a big deal,” former council chairman Dan Wolford said
news release. “We now have six times more canary rockfish than
when we scaled back so many fisheries. This shows the Pacific
council’s conservation policies work.”
Meanwhile, WDFW and NOAA Fisheries are researching the three
species of Puget Sound rockfish listed under the Endangered Species
Act. They are canary
rockfish and yelloweye
rockfish, both listed as threatened, and bacaccio,
listed as endangered.
Underwater surveys with a remotely operated vehicle in 2012 and
2013 looked for all sorts of bottomfish across a grid laid down on
Puget Sound. Researchers found a greater abundance of quillback and
copper rockfish (not ESA listed) than in the past, and young
juvenile quillbacks were seen on muddy substrate — not the place
you would normally look for rockfish.
While that was encouraging, nearly 200 hours of video at 197
grid points revealed just two canary and five yelloweye
“That was quite distressing to us,” Dayv said.
This year and next, surveys are more focused on rocky habitat,
including locations where fishing guides say they have had success
catching rockfish in the past. The results are more encouraging,
locating somewhere around 40 canary and 40 yelloweye and two
bacaccio, Dayv said.
“We’ve caught some big fish and some little fish, so the
population demographics have not entirely collapsed,” Dayv told me,
and that means there is still hope for recovery.
Rockfish don’t typically reproduce until somewhere between 5 and
20 years old, so over-fishing places the future of the entire
population at risk. Some rockfish are known to live as long as 100
Finding juvenile yelloweyes — “bright red with ‘racing stripes’”
— is especially encouraging Dayv said.
Genetic work so far is offering some intriguing new findings, he
noted. While yelloweye rockfish from Puget Sound and the Strait of
Georgia seem to be distinct from those on the coast, the same
cannot be said for canary rockfish.
In fact, the limited samples taken so far suggest that the
coastal population of canary rockfish — those found by the PFMC to
be “rebuilt” — may not be genetically distinct from canary rockfish
living in Puget Sound.
If that proves to be the case, it could have a profound effect
on what we understand about canary rockfish and could even lead to
a de-listing of the Puget Sound population.
Kelly Andrews, a genetics expert with NOAA Fisheries, cautioned
that the sample size is small and more results are needed before
anyone can draw conclusions. New samples are soon to be examined to
see if there are any differences between canary rockfish on the
coast and those in Puget Sound.
“What initially may seem to be the same could change
dramatically with all these new samples we just got,” he told me.
“Still just finding them is good news.”
When the Puget Sound rockfish were listed in 2010, researchers
did not have the genetic data to define the populations in that
way, so they used reasonable assumptions about geographic
isolation. Now, the genetics can be factored in.
A five-year review is due to be completed this year for the
listed rockfish in Puget Sound. If the new genetics information
holds up, then the technical review team could propose a delisting
of the canary rockfish.
For that reason, a long-awaited recovery plan for rockfish is
being completed for the most part, but its release will be delayed
until the genetic information is conclusive and the five-year
review is completed. It would not make sense to come out with a
recovery plan for canary rockfish, if the plan is to delist the
Meanwhile, small areas of Quilcene and Dabob bays have been
reopened to fishing for some flatfish. (See earlier news release.)
Bottom fishing is generally closed in Hood Canal because of the
ongoing low-oxygen problems and its effects of bottom fish.
As in other areas of Puget Sound, targeted bottom fishing must
take place in less than 120 feet of water, and all rockfish caught
must be released. Experts strongly advise using a “descending
device” (see video) to get rockfish safely back to deep water, no
matter where they are caught. Without that, many of the fish die
from barotrauma caused by the ballooning of their swim bladder as
they are brought to the surface. See
“Bring That Fish Down” by California Sea Grant and “Protecting
Washington’s Rockfish” by WDFW.
Hood Canal Coordinating Council is made up of county
commissioners from Kitsap, Mason and Jefferson counties, along with
leaders from the Skokomish and Port Gamble S’Klallam tribes.
When planning efforts began five years ago, the idea was to
create an “integrated” plan that would recognize all the ecological
functions taking place in the Hood Canal watershed and create a set
of strategies for addressing all the various problems.
The effort got off to a good start by identifying many of the
problems, ranging from declining fish populations to fragmented
upland habitats. But the complexity of those problems, the
variability of conditions and the numerous agencies responsible for
data and decisions eventually overwhelmed the planners. It was as
if they were trying to complete a jigsaw puzzle containing a
The coordinating council decided to refocus the effort on issues
that are under its purview while maintaining the long-term vision
of a sustainable Hood Canal ecosystem that benefits humans in a
variety of ways.
“Ideally, we will eventually get to all the issues,” said Scott
Brewer, the council’s executive director. “The board decided it
wanted to focus on something that would be the first strategic
priorities and then pick up the other things over time.”
In this context, the plan identifies five focal components:
Commercial shellfish harvesting,
Also, four major “pressures” are called out for special
Commercial and residential development,
Transportation and service corridors,
Climate change and ocean acidification, and
Wastewater discharges and stormwater runoff.
These are issues that the county and tribal leaders were already
addressing in one way or another, either through local actions or
through the Hood Canal Coordinating Council, which is recognized
under state law.
The new website OurHoodCanal.org highlights the connections
between human well-being and natural resources. The first findings
focus on three natural resource indicators — one each for
shellfish, forests and salmon — plus five indicators for human well
being — positive emotions, communication, traditional resource
practices, communities, natural resource industries and access to
last year, for example, showed that Hood Canal generates
positive emotions (at least most of the time) for the vast majority
of respondents, yet most Hood Canal residents say they don’t often
work together to manage resources, prepare cultural events or solve
“This is a work in progress,” Scott said about the planning
effort and related website. “We can start by telling a really good
story about what is happening in Hood Canal, then going on to make
connections and asking whether we are doing the right things.”
The first strategies identified in the plan involve:
Working together on local land-use planning,
Identifying failing septic systems and other sources of
Continuing projects to restore healthy runs of salmon,
Furthering a mitigation program to fully compensate for the
effects of development,
Finding ways to adapt to climate change, and
Developing a regional plan to reduce stormwater problems.
Meanwhile, the coordinating council has developed a new ranking
system for setting priorities for salmon restoration. Refinements
will come later, Scott said, but the system is currently being used
to identify restoration projects to be proposed for funding later
Under the Salmon
Recovery Prioritization (see “guidance” document) projects will
be given more consideration if they help highly rated salmon
stocks, such as fall chinook in the Skokomish River, summer chum in
the Big Quilcene and so on. Projects are given points for
addressing specific habitat types and restoration actions deemed to
be the most important.
If successful, this approach will result in funding the most
important restoration projects, as determined through a more
precise ranking process than ever used before, although it does
leave room for judgment calls.
While the Hood Canal Coordinating Council works on projects in
Hood Canal, other groups continue with similar efforts in other
“Everyone is prioritizing one way or another,” Scott told me,
“but they haven’t looked at it like we have.”
Scott said agencies and organizations that grant money for
salmon recovery or ecosystem restoration could call for an improved
ranking process throughout Puget Sound.
“A lot of money gets spread everywhere,” he noted, “but there
are some key spots throughout Puget Sound that need it more than
I was eager to find out if a 32-foot fiberglass replica of a
killer whale could scare off a huge number of sea lions crowded
together on the docks in Astoria, Ore.
I kept telling my wife Sue, “It’s not going to work” — and I had
not the slightest idea that the motorized orca might capsize during
its attempt to frighten the persistent sea lions.
About 1,000 people were on hand last night when a human operator
drove the orca toward the sea lions, according to Associated Press
reporter Terrence Petty. A passing cargo ship created a wake that
rushed toward the shore and capsized the fake killer whale. And
that was that for now. You can read the story in the
I understand that the fake killer whale might be deployed again
against the sea lions in August, when their numbers are expected to
be high again. I still doubt that it will work — unless the
operators can find a way to aggressively approach the sea lions and
stay with the effort for an extended time. It might help to play
recordings of transient killer whales — the kind that eat marine
mammals. But my understanding is that transients don’t make many
sounds when they are in their hunting mode.
I readily admit that I’m not a killer whale expert, but let me
tell you why I believe that any sort of limited effort with fake
orcas will fail. It’s not that sea lions don’t fear transients. In
fact, if sea lions can be convinced that they are being approached
by a real killer whale, their fear level could be quite high.
I’ve heard from homeowners who live on Hood Canal, Dyes Inlet
and other shorelines that when transient killer whales are around,
seals and sea lions head for shore, climb up on docks and even
attempt to board boats to get away from them.
So I don’t know if the fiberglass orca will fool the sea lions
in Astoria, but does anyone think that these marine mammals are
crazy enough to jump into the water if they believe a killer is
there waiting for them?
These are the days of near-perfect growing conditions for plants
in Western Washington. If you are battling noxious weeds, it might
seem as if the weather is working against you, favoring these
destructive invaders along with other plants.
But one team of weed warriors, hoping to eradicate an invasive
plant called spartina, sees this growing season another way.
Instead of hindering the eradication effort, this rapid growth of
spartina — also known as cordgrass — makes it easier to locate and
eliminate the last of the invaders.
“The bad thing is you get a lot more plants than you expect,”
said Chad Phillips, spartina coordinator for the Washington State
Department of Agriculture. “The good thing is that a lot of the
plants you might not have seen (in a normal year) have germinated,
so you can get rid of them.”
Over the past 12 years, the total estimated acreage occupied by
spartina in Washington state has been reduced from 9,000 acres to
just eight acres. It has been a coordinated effort involving local,
state and federal agencies; tribal governments; universities;
private landowners; and many volunteers.
The search-and-destroy mission will continue, because the plants
have a way of coming back, sometimes showing up in new
Left unchecked, spartina spreads rapidly, crowding out native
vegetation while converting ecologically important mudflats into
meadows choked with a hardy marsh grass. Besides wrecking shellfish
beds, spartina wipes out shoreline habitat for shorebirds and
waterfowl while increasing the risk of flooding, experts say.
Those involved in the spartina effort this year are expected to
look for spartina plants — and eliminate any they find — over more
than 80,000 acres of saltwater estuaries and 1,000 miles of
shoreline in 12 counties.
After working for years in Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor,
spartina crews turned their focus last year to Puget Sound, where
about 90 percent of the remaining spartina-infested acreage can be
found. The map on this page uses black triangles to depict areas
where spartina has been eradicated.
When crews go into an area, they remove all the plants they can
find. Individual plants or clusters of plants can be dug by hand,
whereas larger infestations may be treated with herbicide.
Crews typically return to a given site twice in a year. A site
is considered eradicated if no plants are seen for at least three
years with a minimum of six surveys. After that, they will
typically return once a year to make sure the plants don’t come
The crews are scheduled to visit every shoreline at least once
every five years to look for any new infestations of spartina.
The workers obtain permission from property owners before
removing or killing plants. But often the neighbors are unaware of
what they are doing. Chad said it is not unusual for neighbors to
approach crew members to ask why they are there. Sometimes, the
crews are suspected of being shellfish poachers.
“If you see us working, feel free to come over and say ‘hi,’”
Chad said. “We’ll be on a beach in knee boots with a shovel.”
In Kitsap County, the largest infestation has been at
Doe-Kag-Wats, an estuary on the Port Madison Indian Reservation
north of Indianola in North Kitsap. After years of removing
truckloads of vegetation, the total infestation there was down to
61 square feet last year.
Another infested area has been Foulweather Bluff near Hansville,
where 24 square feet of spartina were removed.
Areas considered active because of recent infestations but where
no plants were found last year are Manzanita Bay on Bainbridge
Island and Coon Bay near Manchester.
Mason and Thurston are the only counties that have never had an
infestation, but beaches in those counties remain part of the
ongoing five-year survey cycle.
In Puget Sound, most of the spartina found has been identified
as the species Spartina anglica, or common cordgrass. This
species was introduced to Snohomish County in 1961. The largest
infestation in the state today is an area in South Skagit Bay and
Port Susan near Stanwood.
Bays on the Pacific Ocean contain primarily Spartina
alterniflora, known as smooth cordgrass or saltmarsh
cordgrass. It was introduced to Willapa Bay in the late 1800s,
eventually spreading to 8,500 acres. Since 2003, about 99.9 percent
of that spartina acreage has been killed or removed, making it one
of the largest eradications of an invasive species anywhere in the
Spartina patens, known as saltmeadow cordgrass or salt
marsh hay, is a native of the Atlantic Coast. It was discovered in
the 1990s at Dosewallips State Park on Hood Canal. Dosewallips held
the only known infestation of S. patens in Washington
state until 2013, when a survey crew found the plant on Navy
property on the Toandos Peninsula across from the Bangor submarine
base. After receiving permission, the site was treated in 2014.
Ongoing efforts will be necessary, as the invasive plant blends in
well with native marsh plants.
The Environmental Protection Agency has finally completed a new
rule that defines which waterways across the country fall under
federal jurisdiction for clean-water permits.
Enforcement of the federal Clean Water Act has been stuck in a
state of confusion since 2006, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled
that the Army Corps of Engineers was overreaching by requiring
permits for all sorts of waterways beyond the agency’s
jurisdiction. For background, check out my
Water Ways post from March 25, 2014, in which I describe the
court’s interpretation of “waters of the U.S.” — the key phrase in
The EPA requisitioned a scientific report about hydraulic
connectivity, concluding that even small streams can affect
downstream waters. The final language in the rule, designed to
reduce judgment calls by federal regulators, says tributaries would
come under federal jurisdiction only if capable of delivering
significant pollution downstream. Such tributaries would need to
have flowing water or related features — such as a streambed, bank
or high-water mark.
The rule has worried farmers, who want to make sure the federal
government does not try to regulate ditches designed for irrigation
and drainage. Language in the final rule says ditches will not be
regulated unless they are shown to be a remnant of a natural stream
that has been diverted or altered.
Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary for the Army, said the rule
represents a “new era” for the Clean Water Act. As she stated in a
“This rule responds to the public’s demand for greater clarity,
consistency, and predictability when making jurisdictional
determinations. The result will be better public service
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said the rule is grounded in
science and law. For downstream waters to be clean, upstream waters
also must be clean, she said.
McCarthy said the language was revised significantly since the
first proposal, taking into account more than a million public
comments and discussions in 400 meetings across the country. As she
told reporters in a telephone conference call:
“I think you will see that we have made substantial changes that
basically made this rule clearer, crisper and did the job we were
supposed to do. And I’m very proud of the work we have done
McCarthy also told the reporters that climate change increases
the importance of protecting water resources:
“Impacts from climate change — like more intense droughts,
storms, fires and floods, not to mention sea-level rise — affect
our water supplies. But healthy streams and wetlands can help
protect communities by trapping flood waters, retaining moisture
during drought, recharging groundwater supplies, filtering
pollution and providing habitat for fish and wildlife.”
The new rule was applauded by many environmental groups,
including the Sierra Club. Michael Brune, executive director,
“No longer will the Supreme Court’s confusing decisions on the
issue allow dirty fossil fuel companies to threaten people’s health
by dumping toxins into our lakes, rivers, and streams.”
Still, plenty of people contend that the EPA and Army Corps have
contrived this new rule to continue their over-reach into streams
that should be beyond federal jurisdiction. House Speaker John
Boehner, R- Ohio, issued
this statement in response to the EPA’s release of the new
rule, sometimes called “WOTUS” for “waters of the U.S.”
“The administration’s decree to unilaterally expand federal
authority is a raw and tyrannical power grab that will crush jobs.
House members of both parties have joined more than 30 governors
and government leaders to reject EPA’s disastrous WOTUS rule. These
leaders know firsthand that the rule is being shoved down the
throats of hardworking people with no input and places landowners,
small businesses, farmers and manufacturers on the road to a
regulatory and economic hell.”
The House has already passed a bill, HB
1732, that would put the brakes on implementation of the new
rule and send the EPA back to the drawing board for new language.
As you could expect, the vote was mostly along party lines. If the
Senate approves the bill, it is likely to be vetoed by the
The new rule is scheduled to go into effect 60 days from its
publication in the Federal Register. For more details, visit the
EPA’s website “Clean
This year’s research project tracing the movements of Southern
Resident killer whales has ended after 96 days of tracking L-84, a
25-year-old male named Nyssa.
It was the longest period of tracking among the Southern
Residents since the satellite-tagging studies began in 2012. The
transmitter carried by L-84 lasted three days longer than a similar
deployment on K-25 in 2013. The satellite tags, which are attached
to the dorsal fins of the whales with darts, often detach after
about a month.
The nice thing about this year’s study is that it covered the
entire month of April and much of May, according to Brad Hanson,
project supervisor for NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center.
That tells the researchers something about the movement of the
whales later in the year than previous deployments have
A satellite tag on J-27 (Blackberry) in late December extended
the total tracking period to more than four months.
Looking back through the
tracking maps since February, it is clear that L-84 and his
entourage have spent much of their time moving up and down the
Washington and Oregon coasts. They seem to favor hanging out near
the mouth of the Columbia River. On a few occasions, they have
ventured into Northern California.
On May 6, they took their only jaunt north into Canadian waters,
reaching Estavan Point (halfway up Vancouver Island) two days
later. They continued north another day, nearly reaching Brooks
Peninsula (about three-fourths up Vancouver Island) on May 9. Then
they headed back south, ending this year’s tracking program near
the Columbia River.
Just before the satellite tag fell off, biologists from Cascadia
Research Collective caught up with the whales on May 21 south of
the Columbia River. The researchers noticed that the tag was
loosening, and no further satellite signals were picked up.
The tracking studies, combined with efforts to collect samples
of feces and fish remains, are designed to identify where the
whales are spending their time in winter months and what they are
finding to eat when salmon are more scarce. All of this could lead
to a major expansion of their designated “critical habitat” and
increased protections in coastal waters. As of now, critical
habitat for the whales does not extend into the ocean, and NOAA has
concluded that more information is needed before changing the
designated protection area.
Within the next month or so, all three Southern Resident pods
should head into Puget Sound, congregating in the San Juan Islands,
as chinook salmon return to Canada’s Fraser River and other streams
in the Salish Sea.
Meanwhile, J pod seems to be hanging out in waters around the
San Juans, possibly waiting for the other pods to show up. Plenty
of observers have been filing some great reports and related photos
That link also includes recent reports of seal-eating transient
killer whales that have traveled as far south as the
Bremerton-Seattle area, perhaps farther. A few humpback whales have
been sighted in northern Puget Sound.