Category Archives: Water storage

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.”

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: Raise the river or move the ocean?

A feigned controversy involving Robert Redford and Will Ferrell is bringing some light-hearted attention to a serious effort to restore the Colorado River delta.

In a series of videos released last week, Redford reaches out for public help to restore the delta where the Colorado River once flowed into the Gulf of California. The new campaign, called “Raise the River,” is based on buying up old water rights and putting the water into the river.

“So please,” Redford says, “will you join me at ‘raisetheriver.org’ and find out how you can get involved?”

William Ferrell doesn’t buy idea, and he mocks Redford’s approach:

“We got ol’ Sundance ridin’ around, trying to raise the Colorado River and restore its flow,” Farrell says. “I say, ‘Do we really need more river?’ I mean, hell, we got plenty of ocean. Let’s move it… The way to fix this thing is to send money, so myself and some other scientists can begin the process of moving a small portion of the ocean back toward the wet part of the river.”

As you can see from the video on this page, Redford maintains his serious posture throughout the back-and-forth banter, while Farrell seemingly tries to provoke him.

I believe these videos fully qualify as an “Amusing Monday” post, but I can’t avoid touching on the more complete story, which goes beyond fun and games. As Jill Tidman, executive director of the Redford Center, stated in a news release:

“We saw this idea of a fictitious debate between Mr. Redford and Mr. Ferrell as a novel way to generate greater awareness of the very serious issues facing the Colorado River. Bringing a sense of humor to the effort opens the door for a much greater audience and offers everyone a chance to be part of winning this campaign—and this is one we are going to win.”

The media campaign, developed by the ad firm Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners of Sausalito, Calif., will roll out new videos with Redford and Ferrell through April. A related event is planned for television on March 22 — World Water Day — when “The History of Water” premieres on PIVOT TV. That’s channel 197 on Dish and 267 on Direct TV. PIVOT is not listed for the local cable outlets in Kitsap County.

Campaign supporters are excited about an event starting on March 23, when the United States and Mexico will release about 105,000 acre-feet of water into the Colorado River below the Morelos Dam on the U.S. Mexican border. An initial high flow for several days will be followed by a lower flow for nearly eight weeks.

Francisco Zamora Arroyo, director of the Colorado River Delta Legacy Program at Sonoran Institute, stated in a news release:

“The pulse flow is a vital part of our ongoing restoration efforts. We know that relatively small amounts of water can make a big difference in the health of the delta region.”

In a brochure, “Raise the River” (PDF 1.4 mb), organizers report that this flow, which is less than 1 percent of the river’s annual average flow, will begin to restore the wetland forests and marshes of the delta.

The goal is to raise $10 million to restore 2,300 acres by 2017. To restore an acre of delta, it takes about 8 acre-feet of water flowing in the river, according to the brochure, and it costs about $450 to buy an acre-foot from the holders of existing water rights. By conserving water, residents, farmers and other water users can maintain their activities while contributing to the restoration of this unique ecosystem.

Other sources of information:

Raise the River Facebook page

Save the Colorado

I’m just beginning to learn about this exciting project. Others with personal connections to the Colorado River should feel free to share their thoughts below.

Amusing Monday: Music from drops of water

It was a highly ambitious project. The idea was to turn the sounds of water — dripping, falling, flowing — into musical notes, and then record a song for everyone to hear.

When I first heard a brief sample of this “Water Rock” on KING-5 News, it was presented as one man — Shinya Kiyokawa — recording the sounds of nature. When I looked into it, I learned that the musical production involved two dozen people under the direction of Morhiro Harano, whose Japanese advertising agency produced the music video for a Sony commercial. Shinya Kiyokawa is given a “music” credit.

Take time to listen to the music in the video above. The classical composition, Pachelbel’s Canon in D, is familiar to most people, I think. But I’ll admit that I struggled at first to hear an actual song in the sounds of water. Then I listened to the first part of this music video on YouTube, and when I went back and played the water music again, every note came to life.

I appreciated this project even more after I watched another video that showed how much work went into gathering the sounds and putting the “water rock” video together. Check out “Making of ‘Water Rock.’”

So what has this got to do with the Sony corporation? Personally, I think Sony was looking for a commercial connection just to see what Morhiro Harano could do with this challenge. (Another musical video project of Morhiro’s is featured at the bottom of this page.) But here’s Sony’s explanation:

“The abundant groundwater in Kumamoto area is used by local residents and businesses alike. Kumamoto Technology Center (Kumamoto TEC) of Sony Semiconductor Corporation uses the groundwater in the fabrication of semiconductors such as high quality image sensors.

“In recent years, the groundwater level has dropped sharply, attributable to a decline in the amount of land used as rice paddies cultivation and an increase in land used for residential purposes. Since 2003, Our Kumamoto TEC has worked with local farmers, an environmental NGO, and agricultural cooperatives on groundwater recharge.

“During May to October, nearby paddy fields are filled with water drawn from a river prior to planting and/or after harvesting, causing the water to penetrate into the soil and ultimately return to the groundwater reserves. In FY 2012, we replenished approximately 2.19 million cubic meters of groundwater, which is equivalent to its water use in the same year.”

“Water Rock” has received attention from professional advertisers, including Ad Week. Reporter Tim Nudd writes “The hills were alive with the sound of music. Now, it’s the rivers.” The article gives full credit to the people working on “Water Rock” and harkens back to a previous music video by the same producer. The earlier video involves a ladderlike xylophone built down the side of a mountain. You’ll just have to see it for yourself (below).

Bremerton tops other cities in water competition

UPDATE, Friday, 4-3-2013, 12:55 p.m.
It appears that Bremerton was the only Washington city to make it into the top 10 in any of the population categories, according to the final list. (PDF 127 kb).
——

Bremerton residents pushed their city into the top spot among hundreds of cities competing in the National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation.

water

Residents from cities across the country were asked to “take the pledge” and do things to save water around their house. Bremerton took first place among cities with populations from 30,000 to 100,000.

I don’t believe any other city in Washington state made it into the top 10 for their populations, although Seattle came close. We may know more later today, when the winners are announced on the website My Water Pledge.

“Water is Bremerton’s remarkable resource,” said Mayor Patty Lent in a news release (PDF 53 kb). “I appreciate the support of our residents during this contest and encourage everyone to learn more about their water and energy use at home. This contest was a fun opportunity to learn about water-wise habits and create a more sustainable environment.”

By being from one of the five winning cities, Bremerton residents will be eligible for hundreds of prizes to be awarded in the competition, sponsored by the nonprofit Wyland Foundation. Prizes include a Toyota Prius, custom-designed lawn sprinkler systems, low-flow shower heads and Lowe’s gift cards. Anyone who submitted a pledge will be eligible for a separate drawing for a $1,000 shopping spree at Lowe’s.

“The Mayor’s Challenge highlights the impact of each person’s environmental efforts,” said Water Resources Manager Kathleen Cahall in the news release. “The city’s prize for participating in this contest is increased awareness about the importance of our water resources.”

Last year, the first year of competition, Bremerton finished in the top spot among medium-sized cities in Washington and third among cities in the West.

Kitsap’s future involves sharing water resources

Sharing water resources over a wide region is an idea that goes hand-in-hand with the Growth Management Act’s strategy of concentrating population in urban areas while protecting rural areas.

Of course, the first level of action is water conservation. But the ability to take water from one aquifer with an adequate water supply while protecting an overtaxed aquifer somewhere else makes a lot of sense.

That’s the idea behind building new pipelines to connect numerous water systems across a good portion of Kitsap County, including Silverdale. I described the latest steps in this plan in a story published in Monday’s Kitsap Sun.

Rainfall

Thirty years ago — before the Growth Management Act was passed — I recall talking to folks at the Kitsap Public Utility District, who declared that they were not in the land-use business and had no intention of getting involved in land-use battles. It was the job of the Kitsap County commissioners to decide where to put the growth, they said. The PUD staff and commissioners believed their role was to provide water for the growing population, wherever it goes. Check out this Kitsap Sun story from Feb. 25, 2001.

The state’s Municipal Water Law of 2003 clarified that the KPUD could deliver water from one place to another throughout its service area — which is all of Kitsap County. That allows water to be brought to developed areas in North Kitsap, where annual rainfall is half of what we see in the forested areas of Southwest Kitsap, where the Seabeck aquifer is located. (See annual precipitation map on this page.)

Many environmentalists have objected to certain portions of the Municipal Water Law, especially sections that included developers as municipal water suppliers — a move they say opens the door for abuse by financial interests.

One of the big concerns in water management is that pumping too much from an aquifer — especially a shallow aquifer — could disrupt the subsurface flows and springs that maintain stream levels in the summer and early fall. Adequate streamflows are needed for many species, not the least of which are salmon.

With adequate monitoring, as needed for planning, experts can track groundwater levels and streamflows to avoid such problems. Pipelines allow aquifers to be “rested” when needed. And elected PUD commissioners can be held accountable for their decisions regarding the regional management of water.

Future water supplies and the right to use the water constitute one of the most complicated issues in environmental law. A 2003 paper by the Washington Department of Ecology, called “Mitigation Measures Used in Water Rights Permitting” outlines some of the methods being used to protect natural systems and competing water rights. Mitigation for use of the Seabeck aquifer, which is an important water supply in Kitsap County, is described briefly on pages 19 and 20.

Take the ‘water pledge’ to boost your ‘city’

UPDATE, May 4

The “Mayor’s Challenge” is over, and Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent says she is pleased that Bremerton placed first in Washington state and third out of more than 100 medium-sized cities in the West.

Read the news release issued by the mayor.
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