Four years ago, I wrote an “Amusing Monday” blog post I
called “Toilet songs for the holidays.” This year, I was
unsuccessful in finding some good water-related songs for the
Christmas season, so I thought a replay might be in order. The
following, from Dec. 19, 2011, features an amusing song called “O
Christmas Grease” by Steve Anderson.
Knowing more than a few sewer operators in my day, I can tell
you that their leading pet peeve is all the stuff that people dump
down their toilets and drains.
I’ll never forget the courtroom description of a giant “rag
ball” — some 30 feet long — found in Bremerton’s sewer. Rag balls
are the accumulation of diapers, tampons and baby wipes that get
flushed down the toilet and become caught somewhere in the sewer
Bremerton’s famous rag ball became wrapped up in courtroom
testimony during a lawsuit against a sewer contractor hired by the
city to run the operation. For details, check out my story from
April of 1998.
What I really wanted to share with you this week is a song
called “O Christmas Grease” by Steve Anderson, a water resources
analyst at Clean Water Services. This is the agency that manages
wastewater and stormwater in a 12-city region west of Portland,
Steve often writes music and performs in a band when he’s not
working at the utility. He told me that he started writing original
songs as well as parodies of existing tunes to entertain his fellow
water experts at conferences. Last week, for example, he showed up
at a conference to help educators decide whether humor is useful in
educating people about wastewater issues.
Steve says the public-education folks at Clean Water Services
tolerates his songs, but they do not fully embrace his activities.
His first song — a parody about the low levels of drugs that make
it through the treatment process — got him into a little hot water
with some folks in the business. “Dope in the Water” is sung to the
tune of the Deep Purple original.
“The Ballad of Betty Poop” was written as a kid’s song for
Take-Your-Children-to-Work Day. It’s about the adventures of a
plastic GI Joe and other characters. It includes these famous
lines: “Give it up, you toilet treasures… You’ll never make it all
the way to the river…”
Steve has not released these songs to the public, though he
readily shares them with friends and anyone who will listen. I must
thank Gayle Leonard, who writes a blog called “Thirsty
in Suburbia,” for bringing Steve’s songs out into the light and
putting me in touch with this creative force in the sewer
More than 466,000 animals — from seals to sea birds to salmon to
crabs — were found dead during the retrieval of “ghost nets” over
the past 12 years by the Northwest Straits Foundation, which
celebrated a major milestone today. In recognizing the end of a
significant program, I’d like to add a little personal history.
The celebration in Everett marks the completion of the intense
effort to retrieve nets lost from fishing boats in less than 105
feet of water — because the vast majority of the nets have been
removed. Future roundups may be planned if more nets are found or
reported by commercial fishers, who are now required to report lost
The removal program has pulled out more than 5,660 derelict
fishing nets and more than 3,800 crab and shrimp pots blamed for
killing all those marine mammals, birds, fish and other creatures,
according to statistics kept by the organization.
“Removing these nets restores marine habitat forever.” Joan
Drinkwin, interim director of the Northwest Straits Foundation,
said in a
news release. “Marine mammals like porpoises, diving birds, and
fish can now swim and dive in Puget Sound without the risk of being
entangled in these dangerous derelict nets.”
Northwest Straits Foundation stepped up and tackled the huge
ghost-net-removal project with the first grant from the Washington
Legislature in 2002. Through the years, other funding came from the
federal government, foundations, fishing groups, tribes,
corporations and private individuals. In a separate project, U.S.
Navy divers removed derelict nets from selected underwater
“Just about every agency and organization in Puget Sound that
works to protect and restore our marine waters has contributed to
this effort,” Drinkwin said. “We have many people to thank, so this
is a celebration not just of our work, but of collaboration and
pulling together to achieve great things.”
I’d like to add some personal notes, giving a bit of early
credit to Ray Frederick, who headed up the Kitsap Poggie Club in
2000, when Ray first called my attention to the ghost net
It was right after a
state initiative to ban non-Indian gillnets failed at the
ballot box, leaving many sport fishermen upset with what they
viewed as the indiscriminate killing of fish, including salmon
listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Ray called me and said gillnet fishing will continue, but
something should be done about the ghost nets. I think that was the
first time I had ever heard the term. Here’s how I began the first
of many stories (Kitsap
Sun, June 30, 1999) I would write about this subject:
“In the murky, undersea twilight of Puget Sound, scuba divers
occasionally come face to face with the tangled remains of rotting
fish. Nearly invisible in the dim light, long-lost fishing nets
continue to ensnare fish, birds, seals, crabs and other creatures
that happen along.
“Divers call these hidden traps ‘ghost nets.’
“”It’s a little eerie, seeing fish like that,’ said Steve
Fisher, an underwater photographer from Bremerton. ‘You can see
that something has been eating on them, and the fish are a pretty
good size — bigger than you would normally see.’”
I reported that a few net-retrieval operations had been
conducted since 1986, but state officials were warning against any
ad hoc operations following the death of a volunteer scuba diver,
who became tangled in fishing gear and ran out of air.
Ray got involved in a campaign to seek state and federal funding
to eliminate ghost nets. He wrote to Gov. Gary Locke and select
legislators. I located
one of Ray’s letters, which expressed frustration about the
lack of action to remove the derelict gear he knew was killing sea
life in Puget Sound.
State Sen, Karen Fraser, D-Lacey, who had been pushing for
funding, was joined by then-Rep. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge
Island, the late-Sen. Bob Oke, R-Port Orchard, and other
legislators to push through funding to develop new guidelines to
safely remove derelict gear. The Northwest Straits Commission,
which wanted to remove ghost nets in and around the San Juan
Islands, was chosen to conduct the study, which led to “Derelict
Fishing Gear Removal Guidelines” (PDF 2.3 mb).
Now that most of the nets have been removed in water less than
105 feet deep, the effort must turn to removing nets in deeper
water, where they are likely to snare threatened and endangered
rockfish species in Puget Sound.
NOAA Fisheries and the Washington Department of Fish and
Wildlife have listed abandoned nets as threats to rockfish and
recommend action. The most promising method of removal is remotely
operated vehicles. A report by
Natural Resources Consultants (PDF 1.4 mb) spells out the
A selected group of art students has created a unique collection
of posters, videos, illustrations and a mural to deliver a
coordinated message about protecting water quality and salmon
The project, supported with a grant from NOAA Fisheries,
involved students from the Pacific Northwest College of Art in
Portland. The art students have been producing various elements of
the projects over the past year.
Animation student Beryl Allee teamed up with illustrator Grace
Murphy to produce a potential media campaign called “Citizen in the
Watershed,” focusing on how human damage to the ecosystem
eventually comes back to harm humans. The first video on this page
is called “Littering.” Two other videos, one dealing with yard care
and the other with driveway runoff, can be viewed on NOAA’s website
“NOAA 2015 Science in the Studio Award” or on Beryl’s Vimeo’s website.
An illustration to accompany public-outreach information about
household products has been completed, with two more to be done
before the end of August. See
A mural design produced by PNCA graduate Esteban Camacho
Steffensen depicts examples of human alterations to the landscape
comingled with images of the natural ecosystem. These images are
all wrapped together inside an outline of a chinook salmon — a key
symbol of the natural Northwest.
The mural design can be printed on posters or painted on the
wall of a building with instructions provided by the artist. The
idea is that human activities cannot be separated from natural
systems but that people can make choices to reduce their impacts.
Read about the artist and his work on
Interdisciplinary artist Stephanie Fogel created a poster to
encourage people to properly dispose of medicines. The design
features a salmon surrounded by pills, and the message can be
customized for Washington, Oregon or California with specific
information about disposing of pharmaceuticals. Read more about
Stephanie J. Fogel.
The final video, below, was completed last year by Beryl Allee,
who created the interesting illustrations, and John Summerson, who
helped with animation and managed the sound design. The video helps
people understand just one way that fish can be affected by hard
armoring, such as bulkheads, constructed to protect shorelines from
erosion. How the video was produced and other information can be
found on NOAA’s website,
“Bridging art with science to protect salmon habitat.”
The Center for Environmental Filmmaking at American University
in Washington, D.C., holds an annual “Eco-Comedy Video
Competition,” based on a different environmental theme each year.
This year’s theme to challenge student creativity was “Clean water,
The winner of the Grand Prize and Viewers’ Choice awards this
year was a video called “Dude, or the Blissful Ignorance of
Progress” (shown in video player).
The Center for Environmental Filmmaking was founded on the
belief that films are vitally important educational and political
tools in the struggle to protect the environment, according to
Professor Chris Palmer, who started the center. The goal is to
train filmmakers to create films and new media that promote
conservation in ways that are ethically sound, entertaining and
All the contest entries can be found in the
comments section of the YouTube webpage about the contest.
I found another video on the center’s website that was not
involved in this particular contest but was both educational and
amusing. It was a public service announcement called “Tap Water.”
A two-day survey of Kitsap County’s shoreline identified 90
boats moored on buoys, at anchor or aground — and 18 of them were
found to have some kind of problem, according to Richard Bazzell of
the Kitsap Public Health District.
The survey, conducted Monday and Tuesday, is considered a key
step in Kitsap County’s new Derelict Vessel Prevention Program,
which I described in a
Kitsap Sun story (subscription) last May. The idea is to
identify neglected vessels that could pose a risk of sinking if not
given some attention.
Of the 18 vessels with problems, three were declared “derelict”
boats with a high risk of sinking or polluting the water, based on
criteria developed by the state’s
Derelict Vessel Removal Program. Owners of those boats will get
an official warning, and the state could take control of the boats
if the owners fail to make them seaworthy.
Richard told me that he has the greatest concern for a 30-foot
power boat moored in Port Gamble Bay. The other two boats are
sailboats. Because of their condition, they could be considered
illegal dumping and managed under the county’s solid-waste
regulations, as well as under the state’s derelict vessels laws, he
For the other boats needing attention, the approach will be a
friendly reminder, Richard told me. Ten of the 18 boats were
unregistered, which is an early sign of neglect for boats in the
water. Other problems range from deteriorating hulls to weak lines
to excessive algae growth. The greatest concerns are that the boats
will spill toxic chemicals, such as fuel, or create a navigational
hazard for other boats.
It was encouraging to find a relatively small number of boats
with problems, Richard said.
“We were expecting to run into a lot more problems,” he noted.
“Surprisingly, we didn’t, and that is a good thing.”
The county will offer technical assistance to help boat owners
figure out what to do, and educational workshops could provide
general maintenance information.
Boats with the most significant problems were found in these
Kitsap County embayments: Yukon Harbor in South Kitsap; Dyes and
Sinclair inlets in Central Kitsap; and Liberty Bay, Appletree Cove
and Port Gamble Bay in North Kitsap.
This week’s survey covered about 250 miles of county shoreline,
where the health district’s efforts are funded with a state grant.
Excluded are military bases, where private mooring is not allowed,
and Bainbridge Island, where the city’s harbormaster is conducting
similar work under the state grant.
The overall $250,000 grant for the prevention program is being
coordinated by Marc Forlenza, who developed a procedure proven to
be successful in San Juan County. Marc credits Joanruth Bauman, who
operated the derelict vessel program in San Juan County, as being
the brainchild of the prevention program.
Money for the
prevention program came from the Environmental Protection Agency’s
Puget Sound Restoration Fund. The grant is managed by the Puget
Seven counties, including San Juan and Kitsap, are involved in
the regional effort. The other counties are King, Pierce,
Snohomish, Mason and Jefferson. Thurston County is covered by the
Pierce County grant.
Some counties have been up and running for months. Others,
including Kitsap, are a little slow because of contract
complications. San Juan County contracted with Kitsap County, which
then contracted with the health district and Bainbridge Island.
Those last contracts were approved earlier this month.
The whole idea, Marc said, is to work with boat owners to keep
the vessels from becoming derelict in the first place. If boat
owners can take care of the problems, it costs the county and state
almost nothing. Once declared derelict, government officials are
forced to spend money in an effort to keep boats from sinking.
When a boat sinks, Marc said, the cost of dealing with the
problem rises 10-fold, and the resulting pollution can destroy
In San Juan County, early action on problem boats has reduced
the cost of dealing with derelict vessels from $76,000 in 2012 to
$23,000 in 2013 to zero in 2014, he said. That doesn’t include
vessels taken by the Washington Department of Natural Resources
under the new Voluntary Turn-In Program, which I’ll discuss in a
Marc has a good way of dealing with people. He seems to
understand the needs and challenges of boat ownership, and he tries
to nudge people in the right direction.
“You have to take time to talk to boat owners,” he explained. “I
call it ‘boat psychology.’ Some of these people have held onto
their boats for 20, 30 or 40 years. They have loved their boat.
When I talk to them, some will say, ‘I guess it’s time to let ol’
Betsy go,’ while others will say, ‘Over my dead body.’”
For the latter group, Marc drives home the fact that a boat
owner may be held criminally liable for maintaining a derelict boat
— and the Attorney General’s Office is now prosecuting such cases.
Beyond that, an owner may be held financially responsible if a boat
sinks — including the cost of raising the boat along with any
natural resource damages caused by pollution.
“That can cost tens of thousands of dollars, or even hundreds of
thousands of dollars in some cases,” he said. “You try to appeal to
people’s better sense.”
In Kitsap County, people who see a boat listing or potentially
sinking should call 911. For nonemergency conditions, one can call
Kitsap One, 360-337-5777, except for Bainbridge Island where people
should call Harbormaster Tami Allen at 206-786-7627. Additional information and phone
numbers for other counties can be found on a Puget Sound Partnership
The DNR’s Vessel Turn-In Program gives some people a way to take
action with little cost. To qualify, boats must be less than 45
feet long and have practically no value. The owner must lack the
means to repair or dispose of the boat. If approved by DNR, the
owner must drive or tow the vessel to a disposal location and turn
over ownership to the state. For details, check out the DNR’s
website on the
Vessel Turn-In Program.
Since the turn-in program started last May, DNR has disposed 19
boats, with another five lined up for disposal, according to Joe
Smillie of the agency. The Legislature provided $400,000 for the
new turn-in program, which is separate from the larger Derelict
Vessel Removal Program.
The removal program targets vessels at risk of sinking. In
emergencies, DNR or local agencies can take immediate action, but
normally the owner is given at least 30 days to move or repair the
Since 2002, DNR has removed about 550 abandoned vessels
throughout the state. About 150 others have been tagged as “vessels
In 2014 alone, 40 vessels were removed, including the sunken
Helena Star. The Helena Star was raised from Tacoma’s Hylebos
Waterway and salvaged at a cost of $1.16 million, requiring special
funding from the Legislature. The owner of the vessel was later
charged with a crime.
It’s a serious message, but now King County’s Wastewater
Treatment Division hopes their humorous approach will get people
thinking about the “F word.”
The word, of course, is “flushing,” and the county was given
permission to borrow Macklemore’s catchy tune from “Thrift
Shop” (warning: language) to bring the message home to
people: Don’t flush anything down the toilet except human waste and
toilet paper. Check out the first video player to see what the
creative folks came up with.
The campaign, called “Flushing Awesome,” uses music and simple
cartoon videos. King County officials hope it will get the message
across better than previous warnings, which seem to have had little
Another video, also shown on this page, is built around the song
“One (Singular Sensation)” from the long-running Broadway play
I understand the urge to flush things and get them out of sight,
but I was not fully aware of this enormous problem until 1998.
That’s when Bremerton City Councilman Carlos Montgomery talked
about a giant “rag ball,” 2 to 3 feet wide and 30 feet long caught
in Bremerton’s sewer system. Read the full story in the Kitsap Sun, April 1, 1998.
For other great toilet tunes, including “Don’t Flush the Baby
(Wipes)” and “Dope in the Water,” check out the music of Steve
Anderson of Portland’s Clean Water Services. You can listen to five
of his sewer songs on my “Water Ways” entry from Dec. 19, 2011, which
also features the holiday favorite, “O Christmas Grease.”
I’m pleased that King County is taking a light-hearted approach
to the subject of flushing, but I have to hand it to Heather Graf
of King 5 News, who went behind the scenes at the county’s West
Point Treatment Plant to show us some stark video of why this is so
Says Graf: “The sign out front says nothing about this place
being a landfill, but one look inside King County’s wastewater
treatment plant and you’ll see most people act like it is… It’s not
just gross, it’s expensive — $120,000 a year in ratepayer money
just to haul all this trash to the landfill.”
Only time will tell if Macklemore and his music will help in a
roundabout way to solve a messy problem for King County and other
sewer operators in the region.
This week, I’d like to share some student artwork from two
One is a local event in which 10 Kitsap County students are
honored in the Kitsap Recycles Day contest, sponsored by Kitsap
County Public Works. The other contest is for students anywhere in
the country. Called the Keep the Sea Free of Debris contest, it is
sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
The first poster featured on this page is by Li-Nelshin Co, a
fifth grader at Esquire Hills Elementary School, located in East
Bremerton and part of the Central Kitsap School District.
Li-Neishin wrote this about the poster:
“Recycling is important because we are saving the world for
future generations. My favorite thing to recycle is PAPER because
this way we are not only recycling, we are also saving the trees
that gives us fresh air, shade, preventing soil erosion.”
A couple years ago, the Kitsap Recycles Day poster contest was
moved from November to February and expanded into a broader
educational program. The delayed contest allowed teachers and/or
parents to provide more information than could have been completed
by America Recycles Day, celebrated in November. A new activity
“Close the Loop” (PDF 16.7 mb), is part of Kitsap’s expanded
“It’s incredibly encouraging to see the influx of posters we see
on Kitsap Recycles Day,” said Kitsap County Recycling Coordinator
Christopher Piercy in a news release.
“You can tell each student has a passion for recycling, reducing
waste, and the environment. It is especially fascinating to see the
grasp they all have on the value of ‘closing the loop’ — not just
recycling, but buying recycled content products.”
The other winners are Libby Parker,
kindergartener at Gateway Christian Schools, Poulsbo;
Natalie Oathout, first grader at Emerald Heights
Elementary School; Jeddison Miller, second grader
at Crosspoint Academy; Kelsey Derr, third grader
at Hilder Pearson Elementary School; Saige Herwig,
third grader at South Colby Elementary School; Charlotte
Halbert, fourth grader at Gateway Christian Schools,
Poulsbo; Blake Warner, fifth grader at Crosspoint
Academy; Drew Moar, sixth grader at Manchester
Elementary School; and Gia Acosta, eighth grader
at Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic School.
The second poster on this page, a winner in the 2014 Keep the
Sea Free of Debris contest, was drawn by Jessica D., a fourth
grader in New York.
“Keep the sea free of debris. Debris is garbage, marine debris
is garbage in the sea. Marine debris is very bad. Marine debris is
mostly plastics, fishing gear and litter. Marine debris is very
harmful and dangerous to undersea creatures. This pollution can
ruin habitats. Marine wildlife can get hurt by marine debris. It
also can cost a lot of money to fix. But you can help fix it by
just cleaning beaches and not littering.”
The contest is sponsored by NOAA’s Marine Debris Program, which
asked contest entrants to create their “vision” of marine debris.
All 13 winners and their comments can be seen on a Gallery
Page on the Marine Debris Blog.
When it comes to ecosystem restoration, I love it when we can
see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s rare when we have a
chance to say that restoration is nearing completion, since we know
that habitat work continues on and on, seemingly without end, in
many areas of Puget Sound.
So let us anticipate a celebration when Kitsap County’s regional
stormwater projects are completed, when all the deadly ghost nets
have been removed from the shallow waters of Puget Sound, and when
there are no more creosote pilings left on state tidelands.
Of course, the light at the end of the tunnel may be a mirage,
but let’s not go there quite yet.
Kitsap regional ponds
Kitsap County has been collecting a Surface and Stormwater
Management Fee from residents in unincorporated areas and using
some of that money to leverage state and federal stormwater grants.
The fee is currently $73.50, but it will rise to $78 in 2014, $82
in 2015, $86.50 in 2016, $91 in 2017 and $96 in 2018. See
Kitsap Sun, Nov. 27, 2012.
The good news is that the effort to retrofit old, outmoded
stormwater systems is nearing completion, with remaining projects
either in design or nearing the design phase. Check out the Kitsap
County Public Works Capital
Facilities Program for a list of completed projects with maps
as well as proposed projects with maps. As the documents show, the
regional retrofits are on their way to completion.
So what are the sources of future stormwater problems? The
answer is roads, and the problem is enormous. Still, the county has
begun to address the issue with a pilot project that could become a
model for other counties throughout Puget Sound. Please read my
“New strategies will address road runoff” (subscription) to see
how the county intends to move forward.
Ghost nets and crab pots
Earlier this year, the Legislature provided $3.5 million to
complete the removal of derelict fishing gear that keeps on killing
in waters less than 105 feet deep. The work is to be done before
the end of 2015.
Phil Anderson, director of the Washington Department of Fish and
Wildlife, was excited about the prospect. Here’s what he said in a
“Working in conjunction with our partners at Northwest Straits
and in the State Legislature, we have made enormous strides toward
eliminating the risks posed to fish and wildlife by derelict
fishing gear. This is difficult work, and it requires a real
commitment from everyone to get it done. We look forward to
celebrating the next milestone in 2015.”
The most amazing statistic I found on this topic involved the
number of animals trapped by ghost nets. According to one
predictive model, if all the nets had been left alone to keep
fishing, they could be killing 3.2 million animals each year.
Washington Department of Natural Resources hasn’t slowed down in
its effort to remove old creosote pilings and docks. The structures
can be toxic to marine life, obstruct navigation and snag fishing
gear. By 2015, the total bill for removing such debris is expected
to reach $13 million.
Nobody is sure how much it will cost to remove the last of the
creosote materials from state lands, but DNR officials have
inventoried the various sites and expect to come up with a final
priority list over the next six months. Some pilings on privately
owned land may be a higher priority for the ecosystem, and
officials are trying to decide how to address those sites. Of
course, nobody can tackle pilings on private lands without working
through the property owners.
Download a spreadsheet of the
work completed so far (PDF 53 kb), which involves a focus on 40
sites throughout Puget Sound. Altogether, the projects removed
about 11,000 pilings plus about 250,000 square feet of “overwater
structures,” such as docks.
Plankton blooms reported last week from numerous locations in
Puget Sound were confirmed and examined from the air Monday by
Christopher Krembs and his colleagues at Eyes Over Puget Sound.
The marine monitoring group for the Department of Ecology
reported notable Noctiluca blooms, as I reported in a story in
Friday’s Kitsap Sun. The blooms are relatively harmless and not
unexpected, given the mild weather and freshwater flows that bring
nutrients into Puget Sound. They are earlier than in recent years,
Christopher also observed heavy sediment flows coming out of the
Fraser River near Vancouver and moving south along the Canadian
border. These and many other observations can be reviewed by
downloading the latest
report on Ecology’s website.
I really love this picture by Araminta “Minty” Little, a seventh
grader at Fairview Junior High School in Central Kitsap. Her
picture shows an octopus grasping trash that has been thrown into
Apparently, the judges in the annual Marine Debris Art Contest
also liked Minty’s picture. They named her one of 13 winners
nationwide out of more than 600 students from 21 states who entered
the contest, which is sponsored by the National Oceanic and
Minty’s drawing is a fine piece of work, but she also got high
marks for her concept, which carries a message about the dangers of
marine debris. As part of the contest, she was required to write a
bit about the problem. As quoted on the Central
Kitsap School District’s website, she explained:
“The picture I drew depicts a sea creature surrounded by
garbage. The octopus … is wrapping its tentacles around stray trash
preparing to throw it all back onto land. In the top right tentacle
is a sign reading ‘S.O.S.’ in parody to … an old sailing term.”