Invasive species from San Francisco Bay — known as the most
infested waterway in the country — would have an open door for
entry into Puget Sound under a bill moving through Congress.
You may have heard this line before. I posted the same warning
last summer, when the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act, or VIDA, was
attached to the “must-pass” National Defense Authorization Act.
Ways, July 16). Opponents fought back and were able to strip
VIDA from the bill before final passage.
Now, with Republicans in control of both houses of Congress and
an anti-regulatory atmosphere in place, the bill’s passage seems
more likely this time — to the detriment of Puget Sound, the Great
Lakes and other waterways.
If VIDA passes, ships coming up the coast from California will
be able to take on infested ballast water in San Francisco Bay and
discharge it without treatment into Puget Sound. Invasive species
that hitched a ride in the ballast water would have a chance to
populate Puget Sound.
Seals and sea lions can no longer be ignored in the effort to
recover our threatened Puget Sound chinook salmon or our endangered
new study shows that seals and sea lions are eating about 1.4
million pounds of Puget Sound chinook each year — about nine times
more than they were eating in 1970, according to the report. Please
read the story I wrote for the Encyclopedia
of Puget Sound, also published in an abridged version in the
Seals and sea lions in Puget Sound get the first chance to catch
the chinook as they leave the streams and head out to the ocean.
Since they are eaten at a very young age, these small chinook,
called “smolts,” never grow into adults; they never become
available for killer whales or humans.
Based on rough estimates, as many as one in five of these young
fish are getting eaten on their way out of Puget Sound. If they
were to survive the seals and sea lions and one factors in the
remaining mortality rate, these fish could translate into an
average of 162,000 adult chinook each year. That’s twice the number
eaten by killer whales and roughly six times as many as caught in
Puget Sound by tribal, commercial and recreational fishers
combined, according to the study.
Since the beginning of the manned space program, astronauts have
been playing with water in microgravity conditions. The result has
been a large assortment of videos demonstrating the unique and
amusing properties of water.
In the first video on this page, Chris Hadfield, an astronaut
with the Canadian Space Agency demonstrates what happens aboard the
International Space Station when you ring out a soaked wash cloth
in the weightlessness of space.
The experiment was suggested by students Kendra Lemke and
Meredith Faulkner of Lockview High School in Fall River, Nova
Scotia. It was posted on YouTube in 2013.
The video shows that the surface tension of water is great
enough that the water keeps clinging when Hadfield rings out the
cloth. If you watch closely, however, you can see a few droplets
fly off when he starts to ring out the cloth.
Invasive saltwater snails, including dreaded oyster drills, seem
to be far more leery of predators than native snails under certain
conditions, according to a new study by Emily Grason, whose
research earned her a doctoral degree from the University of
Why non-native snails in Puget Sound would run and hide while
native species stand their ground remains an open question, but the
difference in behavior might provide an opportunity to better
control the invasive species.
Of course, snails don’t actually run, but I was surprised to
learn that they can move quite rapidly to find hiding places when
they believe they are under attack.
Like many marine animals, snails use chemical clues to figure
out what is happening in their environment. For her experiments,
Emily created a flow-through system with two plastic shoeboxes.
Chemical clues were provided in the upstream bin, while the
reaction of the snails was observed in the downstream bin.
The most dramatic difference between native and non-native
snails seemed to be when ground-up snails were deposited in the
upstream bin, simulating a chemical release caused by a crab or
other predator breaking open snail shells and consuming the tender
Two days before Donald Trump became president, the Puget Sound
Federal Task Force released a draft of the federal action plan for
the recovery of Puget Sound.
The Trump transition raises uncertainty about the future of this
plan, but at least the incoming administration has a document to
work with, as described by Steve Kopecky of the White House Council
on Environmental Quality. (See
Water Ways, Dec. 22.)
Speaking last month before the Puget Sound Partnership’s
Leadership Council, Kopecky acknowledged that the plan would go
through many changes over time, with or without a new
“That being said, the first one is probably the most powerful,”
he said. “It is the model that new folks are going to use, so we’re
trying to make sure that we have a good solid foundation model
before we all collectively go out the door.”
They say every snowflake is different. That may be hard to
believe until you realize that snowflakes are really quite large on
the molecular scale and that snowflakes come in various shapes and
sizes, created under an enormous number of varying conditions.
In fact, most snowflakes are so different from one another that
the effort to categorize their shapes has never been completely
successful. In 2013, one research group came out with a new
classification of 121 different types of snow crystals, ice
crystals and solid precipitation. Check out the paper in
But what really got me started on this topic was the beauty of
snowflakes and wondering how they form. I offered a view of some
stunning still photos in
Water Ways in 2014. This time, I thought we could take a look
at snowflake formation.
I really like the first video on this page, complete with music.
I didn’t realize until later that the video does not show snowflake
formation at all. Rather it shows the sublimation of snowflakes
(their disappearance) played in reverse.
One of the goals established by the Puget Sound Partnership is
to improve freshwater quality in 30 streams throughout the region,
as measured by the Benthic Index of Biotic Integrity, or B-IBI.
Simply described, B-IBI is a numerical measure of stream health
as determined by the number and type of bottom-dwelling creatures
that live in a stream. My latest article published in the Encyclopedia
of Puget Sound describes in some detail how this index works.
Here’s the basic idea:
“High-scoring streams tend to have a large variety of ‘bugs,’ as
researchers often call them, lumping together the benthic species.
Extra points are given for species that cannot survive without
clean, cool water. On the other hand, low-scoring streams are
generally dominated by a few species able to survive under the
Because benthic invertebrates have evolved over time with salmon
and other fish, many of these important “bugs” are primary prey for
the fish that we value highly. Said another way, “healthy” streams
— as measured by B-IBI — tend to be those that are not only cool
and clean but also very good habitats for salmon.
Restoring Puget Sound to a healthy condition by the year 2020 is
an unrealistic goal that needs to be addressed by the Puget Sound
Partnership, according to the latest performance audit by the Joint
Legislative Audit and Review Committee.
It’s a issue I’ve often asked about when talking to people both
inside and outside the Puget Sound Partnership. What’s the plan?
Are we just going to wait until the year 2020 and say, “Ah shucks;
I guess we couldn’t reach the goal.”?
Puget Sound Partnership, the organization created by the
Legislature to coordinate the restoration of Puget Sound, is on the
right track in many ways, according to the
preliminary audit report. But the Partnership needs to address
several “structural issues” — including coming up with realistic
goals for restoration.
Nearly everyone who deals in scientific information learns to
read simple charts and graphs to help visualize the data. As a
reporter, I’m often looking for the right graph to bring greater
meaning to a story. In a similar way, some people have been
experimenting with rendering data into sound, and some of the more
musically inclined folks have been creating songs with notes and
As with graphs, one must understand the conceptual framework
before the meaning becomes clear. On the other hand, anyone can
simply enjoy the music — or at least be amused that the notes
themselves are somehow transformed from observations of the real
The first video on this page, titled “Bloom,” contains a “song”
derived from microorganisms found in the English Channel. The
melody depicts the relative abundance of eight different types of
organisms found in the water as conditions change over time. Peter
Larsen, a biologist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne
National Laboratory in Illinois, explains how he created the
composition to Steve Curwood, host of the radio program “Living on
Detailed planning and design, followed by thoughtful
construction projects, have begun to tame the stormwater menace in
Clear Creek, an important salmon stream that runs through
Silverdale in Central Kitsap.
Stormwater has been identified as the greatest pollution threat
to Puget Sound. In Kitsap County, many folks believed that the
dense development pattern in and around Silverdale has doomed Clear
Creek to functioning as a large drainage ditch for runoff into Dyes
But reducing stormwater pollution is not beyond the reach of
human innovation, as I learned this week on a tour of new and
planned stormwater facilities in the Clear Creek drainage area. The
trick is to filter the stormwater by any means practical, according
to Chris May, director of Kitsap County’s Stormwater Division and a
key player in the multi-agency Clean Water Kitsap program.
Projects in and around Silverdale range from large regional
ponds of several acres to small filtration devices fitted into
confined spaces around homes and along roadways.