Category Archives: Drinking water

Overall, last year was very warm in Washington state

Last year, Washington state experienced its fifth-hottest year in 120 years of records maintained by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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.

Temps

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 decade.

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.

Precip

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 year.

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 Southeast.

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 tomorrow.

Amusing Monday: Unusual water towers draw public attention

I never realized how many water towers across the United States have been disguised as other objects.

Take the giant catsup bottle in Collinsville, Illinois, for example. The water tower, built in 1949, stands 170 feet tall and holds 100,000 gallons.

Catsup bottle water tower, Collinsville, Illinois. Photo Catsup Bottle Preservation Group
Catsup bottle water tower, Collinsville, Illinois // Photo: Catsup Bottle Fan Club

It was originally built for the G.S. Suppinger Company, which bottled Brooks old original rich and tangy catsup in the town. Today, the brand is owned by Birds Eye Foods, which produces the catsup in Canada.

Thanks to preservation efforts, the giant catsup bottle was saved from demolition by the Catsup Bottle Preservation Group, which restored the water tower in 1995. It was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002 and is widely recognized as a prime example of 20th Century roadside Americana, according to a special website all about the catsup bottle.

Leaning Tower of Niles, Illinois Photo: Lawrence Kestenbaum
Leaning Tower of Niles, Illinois
Photo: Lawrence Kestenbaum

Then there is the Leaning Tower of Niles, located about 15 minutes north of O’Hare International Airport in Niles, Illinois. The tower was built in 1934 by businessman Robert Ilg to disguise water-filtration equipment for two swimming pools used by employees of Ilg’s air-ventilation company, according to an article in the Chicago Tribune. The story says the tower is in need of additional restoration work. Photo courtesy of Lawrence Kestenbaum.

The “House in the Clouds,” as it is called, is a structure built to disguise what residents considered to be a hideous 50,000-gallon water tank on a hill in the community of Thorpeness, Suffolk, England. The bottom of the steel structure also was enclosed to provide living accommodations. In 1979, the metal tank inside the structure was removed piece by piece and lowered to the ground, according to the website “House in the Clouds.” Today, the entire five-story structure can be rented out as a vacation home. Photo courtesy of Andrew Dunn.

House in the Clouds, Thorpeness, Suffolk, England Photo: Andrew Dunn
House in the Clouds, Thorpeness, Suffolk, England // Photo: Andrew Dunn

Several other websites show all sorts of crazy water towers. One of the best is “12 Weirdest Water Towers on Earth,” which gives a brief history of each one. If you need more detail, an Internet search will provide historical details for most of these.

Other good websites are:

“Unusual, Intriguing Water Towers”

and

“People who live inside water towers.”

Amusing Monday: Water ‘towers’ combine art with lighting technology

Inspired by a book called “Gifts of Unknown Things,” British artist Bruce Munro created colorful towers made of water bottles, in which the colors shift and change in response to the music emanating from within.

In his book, author Lyall Watson tells about meeting a young maiden on an Indonesian island. She possesses the magical gift of seeing sounds in color. Watson also describes a natural pulse of the Earth, resonating at 69 beats per day, which is why Munro chose to construct exactly 69 of his towers, as a tribute to the author. Munro’s artwork was first put on display in 2010 at Salisbury Cathedral, Wiltshire, England.

The six-foot towers, shown in the first video, are each made from more than 200 water bottles stacked in a uniform array and illuminated by optical fibers. Music is played on speakers within the towers with a soundtrack created to show the musical diversity of people throughout the world. You must watch these full-screen for maximum effect.

Munro, 55, has embraced light as an art form, developing a special knowledge of fiber optics and other technology. For nearly 20 years, he has taken his art to new levels, reflecting the character of the world he sees around him and drawing inspiration from music, literature and science.

Munro’s website shows off his work, from large-scale installations to small lighted sculptures. His YouTube chapter reveals many of the installations — including how they are set up — in a video format.

In the second video on this page, Munro talks about his work in relation to a 2013 exhibit at Cheekwood Gardens in Nashville. The interview became part of the Creators’ Project, a forum that celebrates the combination of art and technology. See more images on the Creators Project Blog.

A shorter interview was conducted for the Virginia Pilot when Munro opened an exhibit in October at the Hermitage Museum & Gardens in Norfolk.

The video below is called “Field of Light,” which Munro has changed several times for specific locations. This one was at Holburne Museum, Bath, Somerset, England.

Coho salmon add to viewing experience in Gorst Creek

Gorst Creek is the place to go right now when looking for migrating salmon — not only chum but also coho, all decked out in their bright-red spawning colors, according to Jon Oleyar, who surveys East Kitsap streams for the Suquamish Tribe.

Jon called me last night with the news the coho, which adds some excitement to the salmon-watching experience.

Coho often hide along the stream edges, making them hard to spot. That’s why I generally focus the attention of salmon watchers on the more abundant chum, which race right up the middle of the streams. But it’s great when coho add themselves to the mix.

Jon reported that the coho can be seen easily in Gorst Creek at Otto Jarstad Park off Belfair Valley Road.

“There are a ton of fish in there,” he said, “and there are a lot of coho, bright red.”

He said there were also plenty of chum, some that have been in the stream awhile and others that have just arrived.

Bremerton Public Works officials, who manage the park, have not objected to people parking outside the park gate and walking into the park, where salmon-viewing platforms were built along the stream by the Kitsap Poggie Club.

One good spot, Jon said, is near a pipe where water from the nearby salmon-rearing operation pours out into the stream. Salmon seem to get confused and try to jump up into the pipe before heading on upstream.

Gorst Creek contains one of the latest chum runs on the Kitsap Peninsula, and people may be able to see salmon there until the end of the year. I often tell local residents that Jarstad Park is a good place to take out-of-town visitors during the holidays.

That’s especially the case this year, when the chum run in the Chico Creek system has basically run its course. The peak of the run typically comes at Thanksgiving, but this year it was about two weeks early, Jon tells me. While this year’s run was a decent size, he said, the stream right now is mostly a “smelly graveyard.”

“It is one of the earliest runs I’ve seen here,” he said of the Chico chum. “To have everything dead by Thanksgiving is very unusual.”

Another possibility for seeing salmon is Dogfish Creek, which runs through Poulsbo. “There might be a few stragglers in Dogfish Creek,” Jon said.

It’s not too late to take a look at any of the viewing spots listed on my salmon viewing map of the Kitsap Peninsula, but don’t go in with high hopes of seeing a lot of salmon at this time of year. Gorst, it appears, is the one sure bet at the moment. (The map also contains tips for observing salmon, which can be easily spooked.)

It’s worth noting that the rains this fall continue to be nearly ideal for the salmon, coming in with just enough intensity and frequency to keep the streams flowing at a good level without flooding. I covered this issue in Water Ways on Oct. 31.

“It has been perfect for salmon,” Jon told me yesterday. “Those early storms brought up the streams, and the fish that were coming in early had plenty of water.”

When the rains eventually dropped off, springs created by those rains kept the streams flowing until the next rains arrived. As a result, salmon were able to distribute themselves as far upstream as they could go. That does not happen every year.

A torrential downpour could still cause flooding and disrupt salmon eggs incubating in the gravel, but for now things look good on the Kitsap Peninsula.

As for total rainfall, we were on a record pace for the month of October across most of the Kitsap Peninsula, as I reported in Water Ways at the end of last month. But, as you can see from the charts below, we dropped off the record pace in early November but remain above average for the water year, which begins Oct. 1.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hansville

Central Kitsap

Holly

Amusing Monday: ‘If we cared about the environment …’

“I can’t believe we lost the glaciers!”

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 theme:

Kitsap rains: not too much, not too little for salmon and aquifers

The on-and-off rains over the past two weeks are nearly perfect for both spawning salmon and for recharging shallow groundwater supplies, experts say.

Chum salmon in Chico Creek. Kitsap Sun photo
Chum salmon in Chico Creek.
Kitsap Sun photo

For October, total rainfall ranges from about 5 inches at Hansville to 12 inches at Holly, according to rain gauges managed by the Kitsap Public Utility District. Fortunately, those rains have not been delivered to us in only a few days.

The intermittent nature of October rains has allowed the streams to maintain their flows without flooding. They’ve also allowed infiltration into the ground without excessive runoff.

“It is the good kind of rain,” said Bob Hunter, interim manager of Kitsap PUD. “We’ve had a couple of days when we’ve had 2-plus inches, but we haven’t seen the streams flash.”

In other words, the streams have not risen excessively fast. Bob attributes that to how dry the ground was before the rains began. Soils were able to absorb much of the early rainfall before stormwater runoff began to increase. Pauses between the rainstorms allowed more of the water to soak into the ground.

“It just goes to show you the variability that we have around here,” Bob told me.

October marks the beginning of the 2015 “water year.” Although we are just a month into the start of the year, the rainfall has been closely tracking all-time highs at some rain gauges — including Holly, which has been monitored since 1999. (See charts below.)

Meanwhile, the rain pattern in October was nearly perfect for salmon, said Jon Oleyar of the Suquamish Tribe, who walks the East Kitsap streams to count migrating salmon as they arrive.

“It seems like we’ve had storms coming in every couple of days, so they are not right on top of each other,” Jon said. “That gives the streams some time to recede.”

When there is not adequate flow, the salmon often wait for the streams to rise. On the other hand, too much flow can wash salmon eggs out of the streambed.

Last week’s rains got the chum salmon moving into most of the East Kitsap streams, Jon told me.

“I checked Chico Creek on Wednesday, and there were almost 11,000 fish in there and going up about as far as they can get,” he said.

A good escapement for the Chico Creek system is between 12,000 and 15,000 chum, and there is still more than a month left — assuming a typical timing of the run, he said. But things are looking a little different this year, he noted, and the bulk of the run may have arrived already.

One indication that timing could be different this year is that Gorst Creek already has a fair number of chum salmon — perhaps 500 — yet the Gorst Creek run usually comes in later and continues well into December.

Is it possible that all or most of the salmon runs are coming in early? It’s a question that only time will answer.

Jon told me that he’s a bit water-logged at the moment, trying to count fish in the rain with the streams running high.

“I’m pretty happy about it,” Jon said. “I have my fish up where they need to be, but it’s just hard to count them right now. If you’re a fish, this is really working for you.”

In the charts below, found on the Kitsap PUD’s website, you can see that October’s rainfall has been tracking the record high rainfall at these stations. Of course, the “water year” has barely begun, so anything can happen. (Click on images to enlarge.)

Rain-Holly

Rain-CK

Rain-Hansville

Can we escape water fights in Puget Sound?

“Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over.”

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 resources.

Craig Greshman of Gresham Well Drilling drills a new well on Virginia Point in Poulsbo. Kitsap Sun photo by Larry Steagall
Craig Greshman of Gresham Well Drilling drills a new well on Virginia Point in Poulsbo.
Kitsap Sun photo by Larry Steagall

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 change.

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 creatures.

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 over.”

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.

Click on image to download the complete graphic
Click on image to download the complete graphic (PDF 2.8 mb).

Amusing Monday: Students relate to water with art

Each year, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection holds a student art and poetry contest on the theme of water resources, including water conservation and wastewater treatment.

Betty Jin, grade 6-7, Nathaniel Hawthorne Middle School, Bayside, N.Y.
By Betty Jin, grade 6-7, Nathaniel Hawthorne Middle School, Bayside, N.Y. / NYC Department of Environmental Protection

This year’s contest attracted 580 entries among students from 68 schools in the region. All participants received a “Water Ambassadors” certificate, and 39 were named as this year’s “Water Champions.”

“The Water Resources Art and Poetry Contest is an engaging way to teach students about the infrastructure that supplies more than half the state’s population with clean drinking water and has helped dramatically improve the health of our waterways,” said DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd in a news release, which includes a list of the 39 winners.

I’ve chosen three of my favorites to show you on this page, but you can see all the entries on the Department of Environmental Protection Flickr page.

From the news release:

“DEP manages New York City’s water supply, providing more than one billion gallons of water each day to more than nine million residents, including eight million in New York City.

By Tasnim Ahmed, grades 10-12, Newcomers High School, Long Island City, N.Y.
By Tasnim Ahmed, grades 10-12, Newcomers High School, Long Island City, N.Y.

“The water is delivered from a watershed that extends more than 125 miles from the city, comprising 19 reservoirs and three controlled lakes. Approximately 7,000 miles of water mains, tunnels and aqueducts bring water to homes and businesses throughout the five boroughs, and 7,500 miles of sewer lines and 96 pump stations take wastewater to 14 in-city treatment plants.

“DEP has nearly 6,000 employees, including almost 1,000 in the upstate watershed.

“In addition, DEP has a robust capital program, with nearly $14 billion in investments planned over the next 10 years that will create up to 3,000 construction-related jobs per year. This capital program is responsible for critical projects like City Water Tunnel No. 3; the Staten Island Bluebelt program, an ecologically sound and cost-effective stormwater management system; the city’s Watershed Protection Program, which protects sensitive lands upstate near the city’s reservoirs in order to maintain their high water quality; and the installation of more than 820,000 Automated Meter Reading devices, which will allow customers to track their daily water use, more easily manage their accounts and be alerted to potential leaks on their properties.”

Miranda Torn, grades 4-5 , Blue School, downtown New York City
Miranda Torn, grades 4-5 , Blue School, downtown New York City

Amusing Monday: Evolution of the ‘water babies’

Can we ever really get enough videos of “water babies”?

It’s a silly question, as if we could ever satiate our Internet appetite for video clips of cats, dogs and teenage monologues.

But you have to admit there is something magical about babies swimming around under water like jellyfish, their arms and legs moving in a rhythmical fashion. Nobody taught them to do this.

Before I tell you how “water babies” evolved into Spider Man, I’d like to remind you of the human connection between mothers and babies. The first video shows how moms have somehow calmed their fears and learned to release their infants into a watery void. As for the babies, it seems their adjustment is minimal. (Oh, yes, there’s a dad in there, too.)

The second video covers the same subject from a different perspective. We learn about the “diving refliex” that gives human babies special powers to make a fully equipped diver look incredibly clumsy.

So this blog entry is the third time I’ve talked about swimming babies since 2010, when I recalled the Evian water babies and their synchronized swimming and other impossible feats, all produced on a green screen to sell a bottle of water. See “Amusing Monday” for Aug. 8, 2010. I also listed several videos of “dancing babies.”

In 2012, I stayed on the point of real-life swimming babies, including not only humans but also sea lions, beavers, hippos, otters, kangaroos, turtles and elephants. See “Amusing Monday” for Jan. 20, 2012.

Emma Bazilian of Ad Week magazine recalls how Evian began using babies to sell bottled water in 1998, when the first “water babies” commercial appeared. (“At least there was actual water involved,” she notes.)

Emma goes on the say: “Evian has a long history of incorporating creepy CGI babies in its ads, and an equally long history of viewers gobbling it up like it’s some variety of highly addictive crack cocaine.”

So we find ourselves watching “Roller Babies” commercials and then last year’s “Baby & Me,” which transports people back to their earliest days of life by staring at their reflection in a window. More interesting, I think, was when Evian took us behind the scenes for “The Making of Baby & Me.”

So what should come next in this evolution from swimming babies to time travel? The answer arrived last month, when the Amazing Spider Man began seeing his childhood image in front of a window. You can check out what happened in the third video player on this page.

“And that’s it,” as Emma Bazilian says. “No explanation of what this has to do with Evian, apart from the brand’s ‘Live Young’ tagline at the end. We don’t even get to see Spider-Baby’s cute little face.”

Maybe we’ll never know what baby Spidy looks like, but if you put “baby swimming” into a Google search and hit the “video” tab, you’ll get a chance to view 66 million videos of what I presume are mostly babies and water.

Bremerton leading in national ‘water challenge’

Bremerton continues to lead cities its size in the National Mayor’s Challenge, a program sponsored by the Wyland Foundation to encourage people to conserve water and energy, reduce waste, and do other conservation-minded things.

The challenge runs through April, so there is still time to join with other Bremerton residents or else boost the results for any city you wish to support. The pledge is basically a list of 17 conservation questions, and you just check a box for commitments you are willing to make — either with new practices or with ongoing good habits. To start, you name your city.

Bremerton was the winner last year among cities with populations from 30,000 to 100,000. As they did last year, Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent and her staff have done a good job in spreading the word about the contest, which includes prizes. I’ve seen posters in local stores and restaurants.

As the mayor said in a news release:

“Water is Bremerton’s remarkable resource. I encourage all Bremerton residents to pledge to learn more about their water and energy use at home. This challenge, which runs through April, is an exciting opportunity to learn about water wise habits as we engage in a friendly competition with other cities across the nation to create a more sustainable environment.”

Following Bremerton in its population category are Folsom, Calif., and then Greeley, Colo.

Since I wrote a story about this for the Kitsap Sun (subscription) on April 11, Seattle has moved up from seventh to fourth place among the largest cities (600,000 and over). No other Washington cities have made it into the top 10 for any population group.

In Kitsap County, Port Orchard is ranked 44; Poulsbo is ranked 162; and Bainbridge Island is out of the running at this point.

Other Washington cities in the top 100:

Gig Harbor, 46
Tacoma, 58
Vancouver, 59
Lacey, 64
Redmond, 74

Several other cities are close to 100. If anyone sees his or her city moving into the top 100, please let me know.