Watching Our Water Ways

Environmental reporter Christopher Dunagan discusses the challenges of protecting Puget Sound and all things water-related.
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Lofall pollution tests persistence of water detectives

Friday, December 18th, 2009

Water-quality inspectors for the Kitsap County Health District have gained a statewide reputation for the methodical way they track down bacterial pollution in Kitsap County.

<em>Newton Morgan of the Kitsap County Health District is tracking pollution getting into Lofall Creek. On Thursday, he removed a charcoal pack from the stream. The charcoal will be tested in a lab to see if it has absorbed a tracer dye flushed down the drains of nearby homes.</em><br><small>Kitsap Sun photo by Meegan Reid</small>

Newton Morgan of the Kitsap County Health District is tracking pollution getting into Lofall Creek. Yesterday, he removed a charcoal pack from the stream. The charcoal will be tested in a lab to see if it has absorbed a tracer dye flushed down the drains of nearby homes.
Kitsap Sun photo by Meegan Reid

Monthly testing of nearly 60 local streams gives them an early warning about pollution problems as they begin to develop.

Working with property owners who care about the environment and voluntarily open their homes for dye testing is a major part of the success. These friendly water-quality detectives avoid using the heavy hand of government unless there is an obvious problem that a property owner refuses to correct.

Yesterday, the health district released its annual Water Quality Monitoring Report, which includes a description of every watershed and major stream in the county. The report also compiles the data to show us which streams are the cleanest and dirtiest.

As you can see from a story I wrote for today’s Kitsap Sun, these health inspectors have encountered a water-quality situation in the Lofall area of North Kitsap that has puzzled them for more than a year. It will take their ingenuity and persistence to figure it out.

I spent a little time yesterday with Newton Morgan of the health district to try to gain an understanding of the problem. He showed me where Lofall Creek comes down through a pipe and spills into Hood Canal adjacent to the old ferry dock.

This is where more bacteria are concentrated than in any natural waterway in the county. It is somewhat of an anomaly, because Hood Canal streams are generally far cleaner than those draining to the east side of the Kitsap Peninsula.

It doesn’t take long for me to understand why Lofall remains a pollution mystery. The pipe that drains to Hood Canal is at least 100 feet long and is buried under people’s yards where the steep hillside is somewhat terraced.

Farther uphill, a drainage system takes stormwater off paved streets and dumps it into a series of catch basins that drain to other buried pipes.

Standing on one street, Newton points downhill while explaining that one pipe apparently goes directly under someone’s house before tying into another pipe that cannot be seen.

Leslie Banigan, another water quality expert with the health district, describes the maze of underground pipes as buried “spaghetti.”
Complicating the situation even more are the high groundwater levels in some areas of Lofall.

When a septic system fails — which generally means the bacteria are not being trapped in the soil — the polluted water can find its way into this underground drainage system rather than rising to the surface where the odor of sewage reveals the problem.

Health inspectors have located some failing septic systems and even a couple of direct discharges of sewage to the beach. But they are still looking for one or more septic systems that must be getting worse, because the stream is getting dirtier, despite the repairs.

Because of their experience over the past 15 years, these inspectors exhibit a confidence about their ability to find the sources of pollution. They know they must remain persistent and continue to work on the problem. If dye testing doesn’t work, they have other ideas up their sleeves.

After watching this program all these years, I can’t help but wonder why every stream in the state isn’t being monitored monthly to establish cleanup priorities. And, while health officials are focused on bacterial pollution, similar testing could be extended to other pollutants that can harm salmon and other sealife.

Cost? Yes, there’s a cost. Residents of unincorporated Kitsap County pay about $67 a year on their property tax statements for the Kitsap County Surface and Stormwater Management Program, which is managed by Kitsap Public Works. That fee covers not only water-quality testing but also maintenance of public storm drains, upgrade of regional stormwater infrastructure, regulatory oversight of stormwater permits, education of livestock owners and commercial business operators, and more.

One of the best overviews of the program was put together in 2005 by the Puget Sound Action Team, now absorbed into the Puget Sound Partnership. Download “Kitsap County Surface and Stormwater Management Program: A Case Study” (PDF 1.3 mb).


Puget Sound residents experience Pearl Harbor

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

shipyard

On the wall of her home, Diane Fox of Bremerton displays this photo of the Bremerton waterfront in 1942, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor the previous Dec. 7. Family friend George Wraith took the shot, which shows searchlights from the Navy shipyard scanning Bremerton’s skies for signs of enemy aircraft.

In memory of Pearl Harbor, Kitsap Sun reporters Ed Friedrich and Derek Sheppard, intern Tara Garcia-Mathewson and other staffers produced an impressive package of stories, pictures and videos — including interviews with 12 local survivors of the attack and an interactive map showing where their ships were located.


Brouhaha develops over climate change; so what’s new?

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

UPDATE, DEC. 3

Sir Muir Russell, principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Glasgow from 2003 to 2009, was appointed by the University of East Anglia to head up a review of allegations against the Climate Research Unit.

The review will look at the stolen e-mails for evidence of data manipulation or suppression, review CRU’s overall data-handling policies, and investigate compliance with disclosure laws. Review is designed to determine whether activities were at odds with acceptable scientific practices.

The university has asked that the review be completed by spring, 2010.
———-

UPDATE, DEC. 1

Phil Jones has stepped aside as director of the Climatic Research Unit pending completion of an independent review of allegations involving e-mail hacked from the server of the University of East Anglia in England. Details of the investigation will be announced within days. See news release from East Anglia.
———–

Prospects appear to be fading for any meaningful international agreements for addressing climate change, as originally planned for a conference in Copenhagen next month.

Meanwhile, climatologists and those familiar with recent studies continue to warn us that, if anything, early climate models were too conservative in their predictions of climate change. The longer we wait to take action, the harder it will be to slow the rate of warming. Plants and animals (including humans) will have a harder time adapting to new conditions. Some populations, possibly entire species, may have no place to go as they attempt to adapt or face extinction.

I tend to take such warnings seriously, although I am not oblivious to the many skeptics on this topic. In fact, in my search for understanding, I’ve read more than my share of blogs written by folks who either don’t believe the planet is warming or else don’t believe man has anything to do with it.

This morning, I participated in a national telephone conference with three climate experts: Richard Somerville, coordinating lead author of the last report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); Eric Steig, professor of earth and space sciences at the University of Washington; and Michael Mann, professor of meteorology at Penn State University.

They answered a variety of questions — ranging from new climate data to the implications of more than 1,500 “stolen” e-mails that have revealed the hidden, personal side of a few climatologists.
(more…)


Water color wins top honors in Puget Sound art contest

Monday, June 8th, 2009

Mount Vernon artist Sukey Jacobsen has been named the first-place winter in the “Puget Sound — I Love You” contest.

<i>Planting in the Riparian Zone by Sukey Jacobsen won first place in the Puget Sound — I Love You art contest.</i><br><small>Photo courtesy of People for Puget Sound</small>

"Planting in the Riparian Zone" by Sukey Jacobsen won first place in the "Puget Sound — I Love You" art contest.
Photo courtesy of People for Puget Sound

The winning watercolor, which depicts “Planting in the Riparian Zone,” is now on exhibit at Sea Side Gallery in La Conner.

The contest, sponsored by People for Puget Sound, recognizes artwork that focuses on a Puget Sound theme, especially stewardship to save the sound. Jacobsen was among 26 artists submitting their work.

Second place was awarded to La Conner artist Ken Hansen for his sculpture, “Returning Sockeye.” Third place went to Peter Naylor of Sedro Woolley for his photograph “Candystriped Shrimp on Crimson Anemone.” An outstanding mention certificate was awarded to Coupeville artist Shirley Ashenbrenner for her mixed media piece “Party Night.”

Sea Side Gallery is at 112 Morris St., Suite A, in La Conner. The work will be on exhibit through June 15. Phone: (360) 466-5141. A portion of sale proceeds will benefit People For Puget Sound.


Online technology means up-to-date weather info

Friday, January 9th, 2009

The Kitsap Peninsula largely escaped the onslaught of rains on Wednesday, thank to the “rain shadow” effect of the Olympic Mountains. See Brynn Grimley’s story in yesterday’s Kitsap Sun.

The rain shield eventually broke down as the storm direction changed, and we got hit pretty good yesterday. But the scattered flooding and mudslides didn’t come close to what we saw in December of 2007.

The biggest problem in this area was Highway 166 between Port Orchard and Gorst, where perennial mudslides disrupt the normal traffic flow. See Travis Baker’s story in today’s Kitsap Sun.

As for other areas of the state, it’s worth noting that the Sun’s Web editor, Angela Dice, and other newspaper Web editors used some relatively new online tools — including Twitter and Publish2 — to keep people updated about the weather. If you logged onto the Sun’s weather coverage, you would have access to a growing list of links about weather events taking place all over the state.

This flood of information was made possible through a collaboration of online journalists and others who believe that getting information out to people is more important than old-fashioned competition, which used to dominate the news business. It’s actually one of the few bright spots in an shrinking industry where news coverage suffers amid the evaporation of advertising revenues.

The story of this week’s collaboration was featured today in the online publication “Publishing 2,” which reports on developments regarding an online system that helps connect journalists together. The author of the piece, Josh Korr, calls this week’s effort a “quiet revolution” in which “four journalists spontaneously launched one of the first experiments in collaborative (or networked) link journalism to cover a major local story.”

For the average reader, this new approach means that newspaper Web sites become richer with breaking news. You could use the Kitsap Sun, for example, to figure out which roads were blocked at any one time pretty much anywhere in the state.

Want to be even more current with events? Go to the search engine on Twitter and type in “#waflood.” You’ll see a twittering of reporters, highway engineers and other people tweeting about the latest developments on the roads and rivers.

Meanwhile, geologists for the Washington Department of Natural Resources have developed a network to share information about mudslides with the hope that knowledge will help reduce future problems. Check out the map of recent mudslides and learn about the hazards and what you can do about them.


Amusing Monday: Don’t let the snow get you down

Sunday, December 21st, 2008

I realize that many people are getting sick of snow in the Puget Sound area as well as other parts of the country. I wanted to take a moment to celebrate the snow and post a few pictures or videos that might lighten the mood for those who need a lift.

Unfortunately, most of the locally produced snow videos show little more than stuck cars and car crashes, which I rarely find amusing. And I cringe at ski accidents and injuries on snowmobiles, which are often compiled and promoted as funny.

So here’s a compilation of photos showing what snow can do. Yes, I’m posting this “Amusing Monday” a day earlier than normal.

Animals are sometimes funny in the snow, but the reactions of people are more amusing.

OK, I need to show you one car accident.

If you’ve seen enough snowy car accidents, as I have, then watch how this one turns out.

Seriously, I know that the snow can be a pain. But we don’t often see anything like this snow we’re getting. While you have a chance, bundle up warmly and venture out into the world of snow. Let the joy of childhood overtake you, and enjoy a cup of hot chocolate for me.


Amusing Monday: What is it about penguins?

Monday, December 8th, 2008

This week, I’d like to share some videos in which the creators take a crazy look at some large birds that, in real life, walk about awkwardly but swim with unusual grace.


Amusing Monday: Is it funny when an orca crushes a kayaker?

Monday, December 1st, 2008

You may have seen this video before. Circulating on the Internet for at least four years, this clip has generated a lot of excitement. Several people have sent it to me by e-mail, and YouTube keeps getting mileage from it. The video shows a killer whale breaching and coming down on top of a nearby kayaker. But things are not always as they seem.

It turns out that the video is the Korean version of a commercial for Poweraid, an energy drink made by Coca Cola, according to Snopes.com, which is a good place to check out Internet rumors and falsehoods.

I have yet to see the English version of this commercial. But the footage of the killer whale breaching without any kayaks around can be seen in the trailer for the movie “Lolita: Slave to Entertainment.”

So it appears that this video has a Northwest connection. As many of you know, Lolita, captured in Puget Sound in 1970, is the last orca from this area to remain alive in an aquarium, and she can be seen doing tricks in Miami.

Meanwhile, opponents of captive orcas continue their effort to return Lolita to Puget Sound, a subject that has been debated in Water Ways over the past year.

Orca Network provides a lot of background information on its Lolita Web page. The organization also holds fundraisers to help in the effort to return Lolita to her native waters.

Since Lolita was captured as a calf, the whale in this video cannot be her. Can anyone can identify the orca that so gracefully crushes a kayaker? Also, if anyone has information about the footage in “Lolita: Slave to Entertainment,” I’d like to hear more.


Listen to the discussion about the plight of orcas

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

Puget Sound Partnership has posted on its Web site a recording of yesterday’s interdisciplinary meeting in Friday Harbor focusing on the plight of Puget Sound’s killer whales. The link is on

 

I did not attend the meeting, but afterwards I interviewed folks who did attend. As I described in a story in today’s Kitsap Sun, participants included marine mammal and fisheries biologists with a smattering of other experts.

One of the key messages coming out of the meeting is that the orcas do not do well when they don’t get enough chinook salmon to eat. That might seem like a no-brainer, but the conclusion is complicated, because we don’t fully understand the nutritional needs of the orcas or how to measure how much food they are getting.

I’m working on a story that should shed a little more light on this issue.

Meanwhile, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has released its biological opinion about the effects of three pesticides on salmon. The biop includes recommendations directed at the Environmental Protection Agency, which is in charge of pesticide registration. The EPA is called on to change the registration and label to prevent pesticide use within 500 feet of a salmon stream, among other things.

Read the story in today’s Kitsap Sun or download a copy of the biological opinion (PDF 11 mb) from NOAA’s Web site.


Amusing Monday: Reportors, animal researchers pursue passion

Monday, November 17th, 2008

I have gotten to know quite a few marine biologists through the years. I’ve generally admired their dedication and devotion. In the first video below, I found it interesting to compare the attitudes of whale researchers to xxxx, who has studied ant eaters for many years. Here he is featured in a piece from The Onion News Network.

Also, it may be worth noting that I have covered more than a few whale strandings in my carrier. In the second video, it was interesting to see how The Onion captured the drama of a rare beaching of a different creature.


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

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