When I first started covering the environment for the Kitsap Sun
in the early 1980s, I convinced a state fish biologist to make me a
copy of a notebook containing information about salmon streams on
the Kitsap Peninsula.
Hand-drawn maps of streams, both big and small, along with field
notes about the migration of salmon, stream blockages and other
information were listed in that notebook. Through the years, the
information was updated, combined with other data and eventually
transferred to electronic databases for wider access.
A few years ago, much of this little-known information was
digitized into a map that could be accessed by anyone from a web
browser. The map, using a geographic information system, is such a
valuable tool that I wanted to make sure that readers of this blog
are aware of it.
It was given the name SalmonScape, and the map
shows salmon streams across the state (click “hydrography”); salmon
migration by species (“fish distribution”); stream blockages (“fish
passage”); and hatcheries, fish traps and major dams
The first 10 toxic chemicals to be reviewed under the amended
Toxic Substances Control Act were announced this week by the
Environmental Protection Agency. After review, these chemicals
could be banned or significantly restricted in their use.
As specified by law, the first 10 chemicals were chosen from 90
listed in the TSCA Work Plan, based on their high hazard and the
likelihood of human and environmental exposure.
Incidentally, seven of the 10 chemicals to be reviewed are
contaminants that have reached sources of drinking water at various
sites across the country. Six of the seven are known or suspected
of causing cancer in humans.
These are the seven chemicals known to contaminate drinking
The Environmental Protection Agency approved new water-quality
standards for Washington state this week, overriding a plan
approved by Gov. Jay Inslee and the state Department of
It was a rare posture for the EPA. Now the state will be
pressured to appeal the EPA standards to federal court. Cities and
counties as well as some industrial organizations are clearly
unhappy with the EPA’s action, while environmental and tribal
representatives got most of what they wanted.
The EPA action is especially unusual, given that this state is
known for some of the strongest environmental regulations in the
country. After much dispute, Ecology finally agreed to much higher
fish-consumption rates without increasing the cancer-risk rate,
leading to more stringent standards for many of the chemicals. But
Ecology had its own ideas for the most troublesome compounds with
implications for human health. They include polychlorinated
biphenyls (PCBs), arsenic and mercury. For background, see
Water Ways, Oct. 18, 2015.
Some news reports I saw this week said EPA’s action will lead to
salmon that are safer to eat. But that’s not at all certain, and
opponents say it is unlikely that the revised limits on chemical
pollution will have any practical effect on compounds that affect
While talking to researchers and investigating a variety of
biologically active compounds, I began to realize the complexity of
the body’s internal chemistry. I thought I knew something about the
endocrine system, but I never fully considered how one hormone can
trigger responses in multiple organs, including the release of
additional hormones, even creating feedback loops.
Some underwater ocean sounds remain a mystery, while other
sounds are well understood by NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental
PMEL’s acoustic division continues to find unusual sounds within
its long-term mission of recording and measuring ocean noise and
assessing potential problems created by noisy humans.
I remain intrigued by ocean sounds, and I can’t help but worry
about sensitive marine creatures, such as whales, that must live in
our modern world of noisy ships and machinery.
One mysterious sound nicknamed “Upsweep” was present when PMEL
began recording on the Navy’s SOSUS (Sound Surveillance System)
array in August 1991. The sound, which consists of a series of
upsweeping sounds, is loud enough to be heard throughout the
Pacific Ocean, according to PMEL’s
website. This sound was speeded up 20 times to be more easily
It has been hard to take the news that J-28, a 23-year-old
female killer whale named Polaris, is now missing and presumed dead
— even though I knew this news has been coming since August. It now
appears likely that her 11-month-old son J-54, named Dipper, will
not survive either.
I sadly reported on Polaris’ “super-gaunt” condition in
Water Ways (Aug. 24) after talking to Ken Balcomb of the Center
for Whale Research. Until recently, various whale-watching folks,
including CWR researchers, have reported that Polaris was still
alive. She was generally seen moving slowly and in poor shape, but
at times she seemed to have more energy, raising hopes that she
might recover. But the last sighting of Polaris was Oct. 19 in the
Strait of Juan de Fuca.
During a press conference Friday, Ken announced the death of
Polaris, as he spoke out to raise awareness about the plight of
Puget Sound orcas.
Ken said Dipper’s sister and aunt were attempting to care for
the young orphan, but no other lactating females have moved in to
provide milk, so he likely will die if he is not already dead.
Ken read a personally penned obituary for Polaris, noting
that she was popular with whale watchers, in part because she was
easily identified by a nick in her dorsal fin. She acquired the
distinctive mark when she was nine years old.
At the press conference, Ken talked about the most concerning
problem facing the orcas: a shortage of chinook salmon, their
primary prey. The food shortage is exacerbated when the whales burn
fats stored in their blubber, causing the release of toxic
chemicals from their blubber into their bloodstream. Chemicals can
affect the immune and reproductive systems, as well as other
Water Year 2017, which began on Oct. 1, got off to a rip-roaring
start this month in terms of rainfall, and now records are falling
for October rainfall totals across the Kitsap Peninsula.
As shown in the three charts on this page, the graph started
climbing steeply above the lines shown — including the green lines,
which denote the highest annual precipitation recorded for the past
25 to 33 years.
So far this month, 19.5 inches of rain have fallen at Holly,
which has averaged about 7 inches in October for the past 24 years.
As you can see in the annual rainfall map at the bottom of this
page, Holly lies in the rain zone on the Kitsap Peninsula — the
area with the greatest amount of rainfall in most years. With four
days left in the month, Holly has about an inch to go to break the
record of 20.5 inches going back to 1991.
Chum salmon are beginning to make their way into Central and
South Puget Sound, which means the orcas are likely to follow.
Given this year’s dismal reports of chinook salmon in the San
Juan Islands, we can hope that a decent number of chum traveling to
streams farther south will keep the killer whales occupied through
the fall. But anything can happen.
On Oct. 2, orcas from J and K pods — two of the three Southern
Resident pods — passed through Admiralty Inlet and proceeded to
Point No Point in North Kitsap, according to reports from Orca
Network. The whales continued south the following day and made
it all the way to Vashon Island, according to observers.
On Tuesday of this week, more reports of orcas came in from
Saratoga Passage, the waterway between Whidbey and Camano islands.
See the video by Alisa Lemire Brooks at the bottom of this page. By
yesterday, some members of J pod were reported back of the west
side of San Juan Island.
The movement of chum salmon into Central Puget Sound began in
earnest this week, as a test fishery off Kingston caught just a few
chum last week, jumping to nearly 1,000 this week. Still, the peak
of the run is a few weeks away.
It is hard to imagine the restoration of the Skokomish River
ecosystem without the involvement of Rich Geiger, a longtime
engineer for Mason Conservation District. Rich had a way of
explaining technical aspects of environmental restoration, and he
was a tremendous help to me through the years.
Rich, who was 59 years old, died unexpectedly two weeks ago.
I got to know Rich in 2008 and 2009 while working on a series of
stories about the Skokomish River. My research involved interviews
with members of the Skokomish Tribe, farmers, loggers and longtime
residents of the area. For the final story, I talked to Rich about
what was wrong with the river and what needed to be done to reduce
the flooding and restore the ecosystem. He taught me a lot about
The Skokomish, if you didn’t know, is the largest river in Hood
Canal, and it exerts a great influence on the long, narrow waterway
with its amazing diversity of habitat.
“Something has bothered me about this river for a long time,”
Rich said, as quoted in my story for the
Kitsap Sun. “I have been doing a great deal of reading about
river systems and sediment transport,” he continued. “To boil it
down, the sediment is too heavy to be moved by the depths we think
are there in the Skokomish.”
Fast and deep water contains the force to move larger rocks, he
told me. Somehow the river was able to move large gravel out of the
mountains, but it never made it all the way to Hood Canal. Digging
into the gravel bars, Rich found layers of fine sediment wedged
between layers of larger rock — evidence that the energy of the
river had changed suddenly at various times.
Rich collaborated with engineers from the U.S. Bureau of
Reclamation, U.S. Geological Survey and Army Corps of Engineers.
Eventually, they came to understand the river well enough to
develop a plan for restoration. Throughout the process, Rich was
willing to take time to help me understand every aspect of the
restoration alternatives. I will always be grateful for his
expertise and patience.
in January 2014, the plan was completed and accepted by ranking
officials in the Army Corps of Engineers. I called Rich for his
reaction to the important milestone.
“We are very glad to be at this point, because we are talking
about a physical project moving forward and not just more
planning,” he told me. “We asked the Corps to produce a single
integrated restoration plan, and they did.” To review a brief
summary of the plan, see
Water Ways Jan. 26, 2014.
The final plan by the Army Corps of Engineers became
incorporated into the Water Resources
Development Act, including $19 million proposed for the
Skokomish project. The bill was approved, first by the U.S. Senate
and then by the House. A few details still need to be worked out,
but after years and years of planning, the Skokomish project became
virtually assured of funding just a week after Rich died.
Mike Anderson, chairman of the Skokomish Watershed Action Team,
said Rich had always been the “brains of the collaborative.”
“Rich was the holder of the technical vision of the watershed
restoration,” Mike noted. “He understood how all the different
parts of the watershed — from the mountains down to the estuary and
beyond — work together.
“When we started out, he acknowledged that he did not know what
the answers would be for the valley. One of his great achievements
was getting the GI (general investigation) completed and the …
support for authorization. He felt rightly proud of completing that
“Mr. Speaker, Richard was not only an environmental advocate and
steward, he was also a leader in the community. He excelled at
fostering collaboration and consensus among diverse community
stakeholders, including private landowners, businesses, Native
American Tribes, and local, state, and federal agencies, to achieve
Rich was born April 12, 1957, and graduated from Billings Senior
High School. He attended Gonzaga University in Spokane, where he
became an ROTC Cadet and earned a bachelor’s degree in civil
engineering. After graduation, he served as a lieutenant in the
Army’s 82nd Airborne Division and advanced to rank of major.
In 1994, he took a job with Mason County Public Works
Department, where he held a variety of engineering positions. In
2001, he joined the Mason Conservation District as district
The family has suggested that memorials be made to the
Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, a non-profit
organization committed to alleviating the suffering caused by
mental illness. The foundation awards grants aimed at making
advances and breakthroughs in scientific research.
Padilla Bay, an extensive inlet east of Anacortes in North Puget
Sound, could become known as an early stronghold of the invasive
European Green crab, a species dreaded for the economic damage it
has brought to other regions of the country.
After one young green crab was found in Padilla Bay on Sept. 19
Ways, Sept. 24), three more crabs were found during an
extensive trapping effort this past week. All four crabs were
captured at different locations in the bay. These four live crabs
followed the finding of a single adult green crab in the San Juan
Islands — the first-ever finding of green crabs anywhere in Puget
Ways, Sept. 15).
With these new findings in Padilla Bay, the goal of containing
the crabs to one area has become a greater challenge. Emily Grason,
who coordinates a volunteer crab-surveillance program for
Washington Sea Grant, discusses the difficulty of putting out
enough traps to cover the entire bay. Read her report on the
fist day of trapping:
“Similar to our trip to San Juan Island, we are conducting
extensive trapping in an effort to learn more about whether there
are more green crabs in Padilla Bay. One difference, however, is
scale. Padilla Bay is massive, and it’s hard to know exactly where
to start. On San Juan Island, the muddy habitats where we thought
crabs would do well are well-defined, and relatively limited.
Padilla Bay, on the other hand, is one giant muddy habitat — well,
not all of it, but certainly a huge portion. We could trap for
weeks and still not cover all of the suitable habitat!”
In all, 192 traps were set up at 31 sites, covering about 20
miles of shoreline. The crab team was fortunate to work with the
expert staff at the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research
Reserve, a group of folks who know the area well and had worked
with shoreline owners to get approval for access.
Three of the four green crabs caught in Padilla Bay were young,
probably washed into the bay during last winter’s warm currents,
Emily said in her wrap-up
report of the effort.
“All of the detections of European green crabs occurred on the
east portion of the bay,” she wrote. “Though the sites varied
somewhat in the type of habitat, all of the crabs were found
relatively high on the shore, in high salt marsh pools, or within a
few meters of the shore.
“Padilla Bay has about 20 miles of shoreline, and, at last count
in 2004, there were 143 acres of salt marsh habitat in the bay,”
she continued.”These numbers suggest that there are a lot of places
European green crabs could live in Padilla Bay, and protecting the
bay from this global invader will undoubtedly require a cooperative
Yesterday, the response team held a conference call to discuss
what to do next. Team members agreed that no more intensive
trapping would take place this year, Sean McDonald of the
University of Washington told me in an email.
Winter is a tough time to catch crabs. Low tides shift from
daytime hours to nighttime hours, making trapping more difficult.
Meanwhile, crabs tend to lose their appetite during winter months,
so they are less likely to go into the traps to get food, experts
Researchers, shellfish growers and beach walkers are being asked
to stay alert for the green crabs, not only in Padilla Bay but also
in nearby Samish and Fidalgo bays.
The Legislature will need to provide funding to continue the
citizen science volunteer monitoring program, which provided an
early warning that green crabs had invaded Puget Sound. Whether the
crabs will survive and in what numbers is something that demands
more study and perhaps a major eradication effort.
Meanwhile, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife would like
to expand its overall Aquatic Invasive Species Program with
additional efforts to prevent invaders from coming into Puget
Sound. For information, check out my story on invasive species in
of Puget Sound — specifically the section titled “Biofouling
still mostly unregulated.”