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.”
UPDATE: April 24, 2015
Cliff Mass, professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of
Washington, says in his
blog that it is too early to be predicting severe drought in
Western Washington this summer because of possible late-spring
“I believe the media and some local politicians have gotten a
bit too worried about our ‘drought.’ We have NOT had a
precipitation drought at all….we are in a snow drought due to warm
temperatures. The situation is unique and I suspect we will weather
this summer far better than expected.”
The word seems to be getting around about the record-low
snowpack in the mountains, which could create a shortage of
drinking water and even lead to problems for salmon swimming
upstream. Read about Gov. Jay Inslee’s expanded drought emergency, issued
today, as well as the last
update from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Kitsap Peninsula and the islands of Puget Sound are in their own
worlds, fairly insulated from what is happening in the higher
elevations. In these lower elevations, the key to water supplies is
rainfall, not snow, and the outlook for the year is normal so
As you can see from the charts on this page (click to enlarge),
this year’s rainfall has been tracking closely the long-term
average. If the rains are light and steady, much of the water will
soak into the ground and recharge the aquifers where most area
residents get their water. The aquifer levels tend to rise and fall
over multiple years, depending on the rainfall.
Casad Dam on the Union River, which supplies a majority of
Bremerton’s water, filled in January, well ahead of schedule, said
Kathleen Cahall, water resources manager for the city. The dam is
scheduled for a normal drawdown, and Kathleen said she does not
expect any water shortage.
“We filled the reservoir fairly early this year,” she said. “We
are looking pretty good for the summer.”
October, the first month of the water year, was unusually wet,
Kathleen said. December precipitation also was high. The other
months were fairly normal for precipitation.
Precipitation in the Puget Sound region is expected to be below
average for June, July and August, according to models by the
NOAA’s Climate Prediction
Center. Interestingly, large portions of the Central and
Southwest U.S., Alaska and Florida can expect above-average
precipitation. See U.S. map.
Streams on the Kitsap Peninsula are fed by surface water flows
and shallow aquifers. At the moment, most of the streamflows are
near their historical average. That’s not the case for the larger
rivers in the Northwest, which rush out of the mountains. Most are
well below their normal flows, as shown by the map with the
Low streamflows usually mean higher temperatures and stress for
salmon. Low flows also can affect fish passage in some stretches of
the rivers while also reducing spawning areas.
While things look fairly good on the Kitsap Peninsula now,
things can change quickly. We have different vulnerabilities than
elsewhere. Climate-change models predict that rains will grow more
intense in the future without changing annual precipitation very
much. That means more of the water will run off the land and less
will soak in, potentially reducing aquifer levels over time.
Managing those underground water supplies will become more and more
Climate change appears to be altering the flow characteristics
of Puget Sound salmon streams, and the outcome could be an
increased risk of extinction for chinook salmon, according to a new
I’ve long been interested in how new housing and commercial
development brings more impervious surfaces, such as roads,
driveways and roofs. The effect is to decrease the amount of water
that infiltrates into the ground and to increase surface flows into
Stormwater experts talk about how streams become “flashy,” as
flows rise quickly when it rains then drop back to low levels,
because less groundwater is available to filter into the
The new study, reported in the journal “Global
Change Biology,” suggests that something similar may be
happening with climate change but for somewhat different
Climate models predict that rains in the Puget Sound region will
become more intense, thus causing streams to rise rapidly even in
areas where stormwater is not an issue. That seems to be among the
recent findings by researchers with NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries
Science Center and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife:
“Over the last half century, river flows included in our
analysis have become more variable — particularly in winter — and
these changes are a stronger predictor of chinook population growth
than changes in average winter flows or climate signals in the
“While other impacts to this ecosystem, such as habitat
degradation, may be hypothesized as responsible for these trends in
flow variation, we found support for increasing flow variation in
high-altitude rivers with relatively low human impacts.”
Joseph Anderson of WDFW, an author of the report, told me that
chinook salmon, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species
Act, may be particularly vulnerable to dramatic changes in
streamflows. That’s because spawning chinook tend to show up before
winter storms arrive — when the rivers at their lowest levels. The
fish are forced to lay their eggs in a portion of the river that
will undergo the most forceful flows once the rains begin to
High flows can scour eggs out of the gravel and create serious
problems for emerging fry, Joe said. Other factors may come into
play, but the researchers found a strong correlation between the
sudden variation in streamflows and salmon survival.
In the lower elevations, where development is focused, flow
variability could result from both impervious surfaces on the land
and more intense rainstorms. Efforts to infiltrate stormwater into
the ground will become even more important as changes in climate
bring more intense storms.
Stormwater management is an issue I’ve written about for years,
including parts of last year’s series called “Taking the Pulse of
Puget Sound.” See
Kitsap Sun, July 16, 2014. Rain gardens, pervious pavement and
infiltration ponds are all part of a growing strategy to increase
groundwater while reducing the “flashiness” of streams.
Other strategies involve restoring rivers to a more natural
condition by rebuilding side channels and flood plains to divert
excess water when streams are running high.
According to the report’s findings, the variability of winter
flows has increased for 16 of the 20 rivers studied, using data
from the U.S. Geological Survey. The only rivers showing less
variability were the Cedar, Duwamish, Upper Skagit and
The effect of this streamflow variability was shown to be a more
critical factor for chinook survival and growth than peak, total or
average streamflow. Also less of a factor were ocean conditions,
such as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and related ocean
Eric Ward, of Northwest Fisheries Science Center and lead author
on the study, said many researchers have focused attention on how
higher water temperatures will affect salmon as climate change
progresses. High-temperature and drought conditions in California,
for example, could damage the organs of salmon, such as their
Salmon swimming up the Columbia River and its tributaries could
encounter dangerously warm waters as they move east into areas
growing more arid. Some salmon species are more vulnerable to
temperature, while streamflow may be more important for others.
Coho salmon, for example, spend their first summer in freshwater,
which makes extreme low levels a critical factor.
Eric told me that further studies are looking into how various
conditions can affect each stage of a salmon’s life, conditions
that vary by species. One goal is to build complex life-cycle
models for threatened species, such as chinook and steelhead, to
determine their needs under the more extreme conditions we can
expect in the future.
UPDATE, Jan. 20, 2015
Some people apparently are skeptical about whether 2014 was
actually the warmest on record. They cite probabilities provided by
government researchers to support their skepticism. But at least
some skeptics seem confused about the meaning of this statistical
Andrew Freedman of Mashable
tackles the subject in a straightforward way. But the best point in
his piece comes in the final paragraph:
At the end of the day, the discussion about a single calendar
year obscures the more important long-term trend of warming air
temperatures, warming and acidifying oceans along with melting ice
sheets, all of which are hallmarks of manmade global warming.
Including 2014, 13 of the top 15 warmest years have all occurred
Last year turns out to be the hottest year on record for the
Earth’s surface, according to climate researchers who analyzed
average temperatures across the globe.
The year 2014 adds yet another dramatic page to the record book,
which now shows that the 10 warmest years since 1880 have occurred
since the year 2000 — with the exception of the record year of
1998, which now stands as the fourth warmest on record.
The data were released this morning, with additional information
provided in a telephone conference call with scientists from NOAA —
the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — and NASA —
the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The two agencies
conducted independent analyses of their data, coming to the same
conclusion about the record year of 2014.
Across the Earth, the average temperature in 2014 was 1.24
degrees Fahrenheit above the annual average of 57.0 degrees F, with
records going back to 1880. That breaks the previous records of
2005 and 2010 by 0.07 degrees F. It’s also the 38th consecutive
year that the annual global temperature was above average.
Since 1880, the Earth’s average surface temperature has warmed
by about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit, mostly driven by an increase in
carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases released into the
atmosphere, the researchers said. Most of the warming has come
since the 1980s.
Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space
Studies, made this comment in a
“This is the latest in a series of warm years, in a series of
warm decades. While the ranking of individual years can be affected
by chaotic weather patterns, the long-term trends are attributable
to drivers of climate change that right now are dominated by human
emissions of greenhouse gases.”
Although some skeptics have raised questions about whether
global warming has been occurring in recent years, Schmidt said any
short-term pause does not change the overall trend. In fact, the
temperature rise seen for the past year fits perfectly onto a graph
of the decades-long trend line for temperature rise.
Ocean conditions such as El Nino or La Nina can affect
temperatures year-to-year, Schmidt said. Since these phenomena can
cool or warm the tropical Pacific, they probably played a role in
temporarily “flattening” the long-term warming trend over the past
15 years, he added, but last year’s record-breaking temperatures
occurred during a “neutral” El Nino year.
This past year was the first time since 1990 that the global
heat record was broken in the absence of El Nino conditions during
the year. If El Nino conditions are present at the end of 2015, the
researchers said the chances are high that the record will be
broken again this year.
As I mentioned in
yesterday’s post in Water Ways, strong regional differences
were seen last year in the contiguous United States, with several
western states experiencing record highs while the Midwest suffered
through an abnormally cold winter. Other cold spots can be seen on
the global map, but the hot spots more than balanced them out to
break the heat record.
Much of the record warmth of the Earth can be attributed to
record heat accumulated across the oceans. The average ocean
temperature in 2014 was 1.03 degrees higher than the longterm
average of 60.9 degrees, breaking previous records set in 1998 and
Record months for ocean temperatures were seen from May through
November, with January through April each among the all-time top
seven, while December was the third warmest December on record. The
all-time monthly record was broken in June of last year, then
broken again in August and again in September. Such sustained
warmth in the ocean has not been seen since 1997-98 — during a
strong El Nino.
On the land surface, the average temperature was 1.8 degrees
higher than the long-term average of 47.3 degrees F, or the fourth
highest average land temperature on record.
Europe is expected to report that 2014 was the warmest year in
at least 500 years, according to information from the
World Meteorological Organization. Last year surpasses the
previous record set in 2007. Much of that warmth can be attributed
to the second-warmest winter on record, followed by a record-warm
According to the WMO report, 19 European countries have reported
or are expected to report that last year was their hottest year on
record. They Austria, Belgium, Croatia, the Czech Republic,
Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, The
Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden,
and the United Kingdom.
Around the world, precipitation was near average for 2014, the
third year that near-average precipitation was measured for
The 10 warmest years on record, in order:
1. 2014, 1.24 degrees above average
2 (tie). 2010, 1.17 degrees above average
2 (tie). 2005, 1.17 degrees above average
4. 1998, 1.13 degrees above average
5 (tie). 2013, 1.12 degrees above average
5 (tie). 2003, 1.12 degrees above average
7. 2002, 1.10 degrees above average
8. 2006, 1.08 degrees above average
9 (tie). 2009, 1.06 degrees above average
9 (tie). 2007, 1.06 degrees above average
Last year, Washington state experienced its fifth-hottest year
in 120 years of records maintained by the National Oceanic and
Meanwhile, records for average temperatures were broken in
California, Arizona and Nevada, which lived through the highest
averages in 120 years. Oregon had just one hotter year on record,
while Idaho had three years with higher averages.
In Washington, the average temperature for the year was 48.4
degrees Fahrenheit, or 2.3 degrees above the long-term average.
Hotter years were 1934 with 49.1 degrees; 1958, 49.0 degrees; 1992,
48.7 degrees; and 1998, 48.6 degrees. In 2004, the average
temperature was 48.4, the same as this year.
California’s record high was based on an average temperature of
61.5 degrees, with Arizona at 62.3 and Nevada at 53.1. Oregon’s
average of 49.5 degrees was exceeded only in 1934, when the annual
average was 49.9 degrees.
For the nation as a whole, the average temperature in 2014 was
tempered by some fairly extreme low temperatures in the Midwest,
stretching into the Mississippi Valley. For the contiguous United
States, the average temperature was 52.6 degrees — 0.5 degrees
higher than the long-term average and tied with 1977 as the 34th
warmest year on record, according to information from NOAA’s National
Climatic Data Center.
Despite several months of record and near-record lows across the
middle of the country, no state had an annual average that set a
record for cold or even ranked among their five coolest years.
For the contiguous U.S. as a whole, last year was the 18th year
in a row with an average temperature above the 120-year average.
The last year with a below-average temperature was 1996. Since
1895, the temperature has risen an average of 0.13 degrees F per
Precipitation across the contiguous U.S. was 30.76 inches last
year, or 0.82 inch above the 120-year average. That makes it the
40th wettest year on record. On average, precipitation has
increased by 0.14 inch per decade.
For Washington state, 2014 was the 16th wettest year on record.
The average across the state was 48.73 inches, some 6.7 inches
above the 120-year average.
Above-average precipitation occurred across the northern states
last year, while the Southern Plains and Central Appalachians
experienced below-average conditions.
Drought conditions continue in California, despite near-average
annual precipitation. Exacerbating the problem is a three-year
rainfall deficit combined with record-high temperatures this past
Meanwhile, drought conditions improved across the Midwest and
Central Plains, though both improvements and declines were observed
in various parts of the Southern Plains, Southwest and
Washington state had its fourth-wettest spring on record, while
Kansas had its third-driest spring. Other seasonal conditions can
be found on the NCDC’s “National
Overview” for 2014. The “Climate at a Glance” page can
help you break down the data by state and time period.
Global data and analyses from NCDC are scheduled to be released
While putting the final touches on a two-year, 10-part series
about the Puget Sound ecosystem, I couldn’t help but wonder about
the true character of Washington state and its citizens.
How much do people really care about salmon and rockfish, eagles
and herons, killer whales, cougars, and many lesser-known species
in and around Puget Sound? Do we have a political system capable of
supporting the needed efforts — financially and legally — to
correct the problems?
After interviewing hundreds of people over the past few years, I
have a pretty good feeling about this state, especially when
considering other parts of the country. There is hope that we can
save some of the remaining gems of the Puget Sound ecosystem while
restoring functioning conditions in other places.
Puget Sound Partnership, which is overseeing the restoration
efforts, still has the support of many people and organizations —
including many conservatives and business-oriented folks. That
support comes despite ongoing struggles by the partnership to find
a proper place within the state’s political system. Review my
latest story in the
Kitsap Sun (subscription).
“Let science lead the way” remains the refrain of both critics
and supporters of the partnership. But that is easier said than
done — even if you could take politics out of the equation.
Scientists in almost any field of research don’t always agree on
the fundamental problems, and there is a competition among
scientific disciplines for limited research dollars. Are endangered
fish more important than endangered birds or endangered whales, or
should we be studying the plankton, sediments and eelgrass that
form the base of the food web?
Really, where should we focus our attention and tax dollars?
That’s a key question. The correct answer is, and always has been,
“All of the above.”
When it comes to funding, the decision-making becomes widely
disbursed, and I’m not sure whether that is good or bad. At the
local level, we have Lead Entities and Local Integrating
Organizations. At the state level, we have the Salmon Recovery
Funding Board, the Recreation and Conservation Funding Board and
Then there is the Puget Sound Partnership, with its seven-member
Leadership Council and 28-member Ecosystem Coordination Board,
along with its science advisory panel. The partnership establishes
an Action Agenda to guide funding decisions by the others.
One would never want an individual man or woman deciding where
the money should go. But do the various groups help identify
important problems, or do they diffuse attention from what could be
a focused strategy? I believe this will always be somewhat a
One thing I confirmed in the final installment of the 10-part
series “Taking the Pulse of
Puget Sound” is that nobody was ever serious about a deadline
established in the law creating the Puget Sound Partnership.
Restoring Puget Sound by the year 2020 remains on the books as a
goal that needs to be changed.
If officials acknowledge that the goal cannot be met, will the
Legislature and the public continue their support for the current
level of funding or perhaps increase support?
That gets back to my wondering about the true character of
Washington state and its citizens. Based on past legislation, this
state is clearly a leader in ecosystem protection. We have the
Shoreline Management Act, the Growth Management Act (with its
urban-concentration and critical-areas protections), Municipal
Stormwater Permits, Forest Practices Act and more.
Are we ready to go all the way, by setting interim goals for
2020 and looking to the long term? We will need to better track
progress, which means gathering more data in the field —
monitoring, if you will.
Monitoring is not as inspiring as restoring an important
estuary. But think of all the time and money spent on forecasting
the weather, which relies entirely on monitoring with costly
investments in satellites and equipment, all needing continual
Envision a significant role for experts who can describe changes
in the ecosystem and help us decide if our money is being well
spent. If weather reporters can hold a central role on the evening
news, why shouldn’t we have ecosystem reporters discussing
I wouldn’t mind hearing a report on the news something like
this: “We are seeing improved conditions in southern Hood Canal,
with scattered salmon spawning at upper elevations, and a 90
percent chance that oyster beds will be opened in Belfair.” (Just
kidding, of course.)
Puget Sound Partnership’s proposed budget, as submitted by the
governor, contains more than $1 million for assessing Puget Sound
recovery. That could be an important step to providing information
about how the ecosystem is responding to the hundreds of millions
of dollars spent on protection and restoration so far.
In writing about the future for the final part of the “Pulse”
series, I described a 2008 report from the University of
Urban Ecology Research Lab. The report identified the primary
“drivers” of change that would determine the future of the Puget
It was interesting to learn that if we are lucky about climate
change — or even if we’re not so lucky — the future is largely in
our hands. How will we react to economic ups and downs? How will we
address land use with millions of new people coming in? Will we
embrace technology as the final solution or look to nature for
The report describes six remarkably different scenarios, though
others could be constructed. Perhaps the worst one is called
“Collapse,” in which warning signs of ecological problems are
ignored and economic challenges are met by relaxing environmental
regulations and allowing residential sprawl. In the end, the
ecosystem cannot withstand the assault. Shellfish beds are forced
to close, and hundreds of species — including salmon and orcas —
Two scenarios hold more hopeful outcomes. One, called “Forward,”
includes public investments to purchase sensitive areas, including
shorelines. Growth becomes concentrated in cities, and people learn
to fit into the ecosystem. The other, called “Adaptation,” includes
grassroots efforts to save water and resources and improve people’s
ecological behavior. Protecting shorelines, floodplains and
wildlife corridors help reduce flooding and protect species that
could have been wiped out. Check out
“Scenarios offer glimpses of a possible future for Puget
Sound,” Kitsap Sun (subscription).
Joel Baker, director of Puget Sound Institute, capped off my
“futures” story with a sense of optimism, which I find contagious.
I don’t know if Joel was thinking of the Frank Sinatra song, “New
York, New York” which contains the line, “If I can make it there,
I’ll make it anywhere.” But Joel told me something like, “If we
can’t make it here, we can’t make it anywhere.”
Here are his exact words:
“As an environmental scientist, I find it interesting that
things are starting to come together. We continue to grow
economically, so we have the money.
“Energy is lining up with the environment, and we’re forcing the
restoration program to think holistically. It’s as much about
transportation as it is about sewage-treatment plants.
“The Pacific Northwest is technologically savvy; we have smart
people here; and we have the collective will to get things done. So
I’m optimistic about cleaning up Puget Sound. If we can’t do it
here, God help the rest of the country.”
I’ll never forget my visit this past summer to the Lofall dock
and nearby beach on Hood Canal in North Kitsap. It was a scene of
devastation, in which starfish of all sizes were losing their limbs
and decomposing into gooey masses.
My guides on the excursion were three women who had been
watching for changes in sea stars as part of a volunteer monitoring
program being conducted up and down the West Coast. The three were
shocked at what they saw on the trip, as I described in a story for
Kitsap Sun as well as in a blog post in
Many questions remain about the mysterious affliction known as
“sea star wasting syndrome.” For one, why were the sea stars
affected over such a wide area, all at about the same time?
As described in the report, the researchers went to museums with
sea stars preserved in alcohol and found that the virus was present
in specimens collected as long ago as 1942 at various West Coast
sites. Minor outbreaks of the wasting syndrome have been reported
through the years, but obviously something much bigger is taking
A change in the environment, such as ocean acidification, has
been suggested as one possibility. A change in the virus, such as
we see for the flu virus in humans, is another idea. It could also
be related to an over-population among the sea stars
Jeff Adams of Washington Sea Grant, who is leading the local
monitoring program in Kitsap County, said it is good that
researchers have found something to go on, but other causative
factors are yet to be discovered.
“Why and where; those are two of the things still on the table,”
Jeff told me. “What are the environmental factors that drove this
much larger die-off? Was it something that made the virus more
prevalent or something that made the sea stars weaker?”
Jeff noted that the cause of death may not be the virus itself
but rather opportunistic pathogens that attack the sea stars after
their immune systems are weakened by the virus.
“Density may have played a factor,” he said. “Sea star
populations have been thick and strong over the past 12 years. When
you get a lot of individuals in close proximity, you can get sudden
changes. Marine populations fluctuate quite a bit naturally.”
Jeff hopes to maintain the volunteer monitoring program for
years to come, not just to track the disease but to understand more
about the cycles of marine life. Of course, he would like to be
able to report on an ongoing recovery of sea star populations from
their current state of devastation. Will the recovery occur in
patches or uniformly at all monitored sites?
“Ideally, this will run its course, and we will start seeing
juveniles showing up over the course of the summer,” he said. “How
many of them will disappear?
“Ideally, we will be able to maintain some sites for much
longer. For me, as a naturalist, there are lots of questions about
natural historical cycles that have not been addressed. A lot of
critters are facing challenges (to their survival).”
In Puget Sound, these challenges range from loss of habitat to
pollution to climate change, and the predator-prey balance will
determine whether any population —and ultimately entire species —
Linda Martin, one of the volunteers who gave me a tour of the
Lofall beach, said she was glad that researchers have identified a
viral cause of the sea-star devastation, but it remains unclear how
that is going to help the population recover.
Because of the timing of low tide, the three women have not been
to Lofall since early October, when the population was “completely
depleted,” according to Linda. But they are planning to go back
“We are anxious to go out and see if there is anything there,”
she said. “We have not seen any juveniles for a long time.
Originally, when we started out, we were seeing uncountable numbers
As for the new findings, I thought it was interesting how the
researchers removed tissues from diseased sea stars then filtered
out everything down to the size of viruses. After that, they
exposed one group of healthy sea stars to a raw sample of the fluid
and another group to a heat-treated sample. The raw sample caused
disease, but the heat-treated sample did not.
They then used DNA techniques to identify the virus, which was
found in larger and larger concentrations as the disease
progressed. Check out the research report in the
Proceedings of the NAS (PDF 1.1 mb).
Jeff Barnard of the
Associated Press interviewed researchers involved in the study
and others familiar with the problem.
An ultra-high-resolution computer model ties weather into
greenhouse gas emissions, and the resulting animation shows
whirling and shifting plumes of carbon dioxide and carbon
Ultimately, the greenhouse gases disperse into the atmosphere,
increasing concentrations across the globe and contributing to
global warming. It’s almost too complex to comprehend, but it is a
As you can see from the video, carbon dioxide levels are more
significant in the Northern Hemisphere, where the emissions are out
of phase with the Southern Hemisphere. That’s because the seasons
are opposite, with the maximum growth of vegetation taking place at
The reds and purples are the highest concentrations of carbon
dioxide. The dark grays denote the highest levels of carbon
monoxide, caused mainly by large forest fires.
Bill Putman, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt,
Maryland, said it a
“While the presence of carbon dioxide has dramatic global
consequences, it’s fascinating to see how local emission sources
and weather systems produce gradients of its concentration on a
very regional scale. Simulations like this, combined with data from
observations, will help improve our understanding of both human
emissions of carbon dioxide and natural fluxes across the
The animation was produced with data from measurements of
atmospheric conditions plus the emission of greenhouse gases, both
natural and man-made. The simulation, called “Nature Run,” covers a
period May 2005 to June 2007. Engineers can use the model, called
GEOS-5, to test satellite observations.
According to studies, last spring was the first time in modern
history that carbon dioxide levels reached 400 parts per million
across most of the Northern Hemisphere. Concentrations are
continuing to rise, mainly from the burning of fossil fuels. Levels
were about 270 ppm before the Industrial Revolution.
The GEOS-5 computer model is being used in tests known as
Observing System Simulation Experiments (OSSE), which can help
satellite observations tie into weather and climate forecasts.
“While researchers working on OSSEs have had to rely on regional
models to provide such high-resolution Nature Run simulations in
the past, this global simulation now provides a new source of
experimentation in a comprehensive global context. This will
provide critical value for the design of Earth-orbiting satellite
It’s one of the many sardonic lines in a new BuzzFeed video
called “If we cared about the environment the way we care about
sports,” which you can view below.
BuzzFeed is an
off-the-wall website that has somehow morphed into serious journalism while holding
onto its humorous and satiric side.
On YouTube, BuzzFeed Central is
where you will find at least four channels of odd and humorous
videos. I’m not sure how to sort through all these weird videos,
but I found several amusing clips that are related to our water
“Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting
This quote kept running through my mind as I completed the
eighth part of our series “Taking the Pulse of Puget Sound.” The
latest installment, published in Sunday’s Kitsap Sun, is about water
It seems from my interviews that we should have enough water in
the Puget Sound region to serve the needs of people while
maintaining streamflows for fish and other aquatic organisms. It’s
all about managing the resource, as I describe in the story.
What isn’t so clear to me is what we need to do about water
rights, and this is where the real hangup can come in. People,
governments and developers are allowed to reserve vast amounts of
water for various uses, then they simply need to “use it or lose
it.” That does not encourage conservation.
Water rights are considered a property right. Even if the
Legislature had a plan for clearing up all the conflicts, it would
not be easy. So far, the courts have been fairly strong in
upholding individual water rights, even when the needs of society
call for a new direction.
We’ve all encountered belligerent people who speak out loudly
about their property rights. They’ll say, “This is my property, and
I’ll be damned if I will have the government telling me what I can
and cannot do with my property.”
Well, I’m sorry. But that battle is over. Zoning laws have been
upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. Reasonable restrictions can be
imposed on the use of property to protect the rights of the
neighbors and the entire community.
But water rights are fairly entrenched and inflexible. It may be
in the best interest of a community if a farmer could find ways to
grow his crops with less water and share the surplus with a growing
population. But is it fair to expect the farmer to give away his
water rights for free, or should he be paid a sizable amount of
money to set free the water he is holding hostage? Maybe he will
need that water in the future, given the uncertainties of climate
And then there is the groundwater-permit exemptions for single
family homes, allowing withdrawal of up to 5,000 gallons per day of
water from a well — even though most families use only a few
hundred gallons a day. In addition, the courts have ruled that
farmers may use an unlimited amount of groundwater for watering
livestock. All these water rights are recorded on the books,
competing with other water rights — including instream flows to
protect water in the streams for fish and other aquatic
Such water rights can be issued until there is no water left to
appropriate or until there is a real water shortage and people
generally agree that an adjudication is necessary. That’s when the
courts begin to sort out who is using what water and for how long,
trying to resolve the tangled claims and conflicts. While it may
seem like the most reasonable solution, the adjudication process
involves historical evidence and legal rulings that never seem to
end. Such an adjudication has been underway in the Yakima basin for
40 years, according to the Department
of Ecology website.
While water supplies in the Puget Sound region seem to be
generally adequate for years to come, it is unlikely that people
and governments will find a way to share this precious resource,
setting the stage for ongoing legal battles.
“Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting
While this quote is commonly attributed to Mark Twain, there is
no evidence he ever said it. See the blog entry by Michael Doyle of
McClatchy Newspapers. Trying to prove that
Twain never said it, however, is virtually impossible. It reminds
me of the effort it may take to prove that one of our ancestors put
his water rights to “beneficial use,” thus guaranteeing a quantity
of water for all time.