Geology experts in Washington and Oregon have produced an
easy-to-read brochure that can help people understand landslide
risks, the underlying geology of slides and precautions that could
avoid a disaster.
I have written a lot of words about landslides through the
years, often relating stories of people involved in a catastrophic
slope failures. But this new publication excels as a concise
discussion of what people need to know if they live on or near a
After the Oso landslide in the Stillaguamish Valley three years
ago, I wrote a piece in the
Kitsap Sun to help residents of the Kitsap Peninsula understand
the risks they could be facing. Now I can point people to this
graphically rich pamphlet, called
“A Homeowners Guide to Landslides for Washington and Oregon” (PDF,
3.8 mb). It was produced by the Washington Department of
Natural Resources and the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral
“Our job is to understand Washington’s complex geology and how
it impacts the people who live here,” Washington State Geologist
Dave Norman said in a
news release. “We want to make sure we put that information
into their hands.”
Shellfish and toxicology experts with the Washington State
Department of Health are rushing to test new samples of geoducks
from Poverty Bay near Federal Way. Poverty Bay is the apparent
source of the geoducks that triggered a Chinese ban on the imports
of all bivalves from the U.S. West Coast.
Since I wrote about this issue in
Water Ways last Tuesday, state health officials have learned
that arsenic — not paralytic shellfish poison — was cited by
Chinese health officials as the cause of their concern in the
Poverty Bay geoducks.
Past studies by state researchers have concluded that arsenic is
not a health concern in shellfish taken from Puget Sound, based on
sampling from some of the most polluted bays in the region. A
letter (PDF 118 kb) sent last week from the U.S. Seafood
Inspection Program to China’s health officials calls for China to
lift its unusual ban. The letter cites a 2007 health assessment on
arsenic in geoducks from Poverty Bay, where the giant clams were
deemed safe to eat.
As a precaution, Washington Department of Natural Resources has
closed the 135-acre Redondo Tract in Poverty Bay to shellfish
harvesting until the Chinese ban can be resolved, according to a
statement issued Friday from Public Lands Commissioner Peter
One of the complicating factors in dealing with arsenic in
shellfish is that the organic forms (primarily arsenobetaine) are
not toxic, yet they are far more prevalent than the toxic inorganic
forms (arsenic III and
arsenic V ).
It is far easier to measure total arsenic than to separate
organic from inorganic forms, so researchers often make
assumptions. To be extra safe, they have assumed for years that
toxic inorganic arsenic is less than 10 percent of total arsenic.
Now, they have begun to rely on more recent
geoduck studies from Seattle’s Richmond Beach (PDF 327 kb) that
showed the inorganic form of arsenic to be less than 1 percent of
Dave McBride, a toxicologist with Washington’s Department of
Health, told me the Chinese were reporting levels of arsenic at 1.7
parts per million, but they failed to say whether that was total
arsenic or inorganic arsenic. The Chinese health limit was reported
as 0.5 parts per million inorganic arsenic.
It also makes a difference whether the whole geoduck was tested
or just the edible parts. The skin, which is generally discarded
when cooking, appears to concentrate more arsenic than other parts,
but the levels still are not high enough to be a concern.
Assuming inorganic arsenic at 1 percent of total arsenic the
maximum value is .05 parts per million for shellfish from Poverty
Bay. That’s one-tenth the level of concern reported by the
Initially, Poverty Bay was an issue because of two sewage
outfalls in the area and the proximity to Tacoma’s former ASARCO
smelter — even though most airborne pollution landing on the water
gets well dispersed. But the formal health assessment allayed
concerns about arsenic and other metals as well.
Arsenic always raises initial concerns, because its inorganic
form is known to disrupt the metabolism of multi-celled organisms,
including humans. Also, it has been known to cause cancer. Because
inorganic arsenic levels in shellfish are normally low, no federal
or state standards have been established.
In response to the Chinese ban, the Department of Natural
Resources went out yesterday and collected new geoduck samples from
Poverty Bay. The idea will be to present findings on both total
arsenic and inorganic arsenic, thanks to more sophisticated
analytical equipment at the Department of Health laboratory.
Three geoducks will be put together to create a composite
sample. In all, two composite samples each will be associated with
12 different locations in the bay, according to McBride.
Edible geoduck tissue will be separated from the “gutball,”
which may be prepared by
some Chinese cooks, I’m told. If enough samples are
available, the whole geoduck (minus the shell) may be tested as
well, or possibly just the skin.
One long day of processing is planned for Thursday, and the
samples will be run through analytical equipment over the weekend,
McBride told me. A report on the findings can be expected next
The Navy is continuing its efforts to control commercial
over-water structures in Hood Canal. The idea is to buy subtidal
conservation easements from the Washington Department of Natural
Resources, which owns these deep-water areas.
The first easement was proposed for the Jefferson County side of
Hood Canal (map at right). The easement application is now working
its way through a formal review process. The proposal received a
lot of attention when it was announced in May, in part because of
the potential to derail the controversial pit-to-pier project. A
story I wrote for the
Kitsap Sun on May 15 describes the overall goals of the Navy’s
program and its potential effects.
After that initial announcement, I was surprised that the Navy
and DNR seemed reluctant to talk about the next phase, which turned
out to be a second easement along the Kitsap County shoreline from
the Hood Canal bridge to the county line near Holly. I described
that proposal in a story I wrote for the
Kitsap Sun yesterday (subscription).
Both proposed easements fall under the Department of Defense
Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative (REPI).
Liane Nakahara, spokeswoman for Navy Region Northwest, said the
need for the Kitsap easement, like the one in Jefferson County,
relates to protections of Navy operations, including testing and
training in legally defined ranges:
“The proposed restrictive easement over the bedlands would
protect these ranges from incompatible development that may limit
the Navy’s ability to use the approved ranges and continue
operations in the future. In addition to the protection of the
Navy’s military operating areas, the proposed easement will provide
new protections for sensitive marine ecosystems.”
I’m not sure where the Navy will go with its next easement
proposal. Work continues on upland properties in some areas. See
reporter Ed Friedrich’s story about a related agreement two years
ago, when the Navy began buying easements in the Dabob Bay area of
(Kitsap Sun, Oct. 8, 2011). Officials are saying almost nothing
about the next steps. But I have seen a map that purportedly shows
the “area of interest” regarding the Navy’s REPI efforts. The area
outlined includes all of Hood Canal and the regions around Indian
Island, Keyport and Bremerton.
For the Jefferson County easement, the DNR issued a
“determination of nonsignificance” during the environmental review.
An appraiser has been hired to estimate the value of the easement
and determine what the Navy should pay the state for lost
Thorndyke Resource, which proposed the pit-to-pier project, has
been pushing for increased environmental review, rather than the
limited review undertaken so far by the DNR. It appears that if the
proposal moves forward, the Navy and DNR are likely to face a
lawsuit from the company.
Here are three recent documents related to the proposed
Jefferson County easement:
An easement requested by the Navy to prevent industrial
development along the western shoreline of Hood Canal appears to be
the first of its kind in Washington state.
One can envision this easement as a strip of underwater area
from the Hood Canal bridge south to a spot just south of the
Jefferson-Mason County line near Eldon, as I described in a
Kitsap Sun story on May 15.
In most areas, the protected bedlands will be defined by their
depths, from 18 feet below the average low tide to 70 feet down.
More than 4,000 acres of state-owned bedlands would be covered by
“The practical effect of the agreement will be to preclude new
near-shore commercial or industrial construction along the areas of
the Hood Canal and neighboring waterways managed by DNR where the
Navy operates,” states a joint press release issued by the
Navy along with the
Washington Department of Natural Resources.
It was quickly recognized that this could mean the end of the
controversial pit-to-pier project for loading gravel onto ships and
barges. If the developer, Thorndyke Resource, is unable to obtain a
state lease for the proposed pier, the project would be dead in the
water. The company, which has been working on the project for
years, does not intend to give up without a fight.
Since the story first came out, the Navy has been preparing to
conduct an appraisal, which will involve hiring an independent
contractor, according to Liane Nakahara, spokeswoman for Navy
Region Northwest. Once the appraisal work begins, it will take at
least a couple months to complete, she said. Then the Navy and DNR
must each approve the appraisal results.
I can’t imagine how difficult it will be to estimate how much
money the state could lose by locking up this strip of underwater
area for decades. If the pit-to-pier project were a certainty, then
it would be easier to figure out how much revenue the state would
lose by blocking that one lease. But what would be the probability
of the pit-to-pier project getting all the required permits if the
easement were not a factor?
What other types of development would be foreclosed by the
Navy’s easement along Hood Canal, and where might these projects be
located? If one could assume that the Jefferson County shoreline of
Hood Canal would never be developed with marinas or piers anyway,
then the loss would be zero and the Navy’s easement would be cheap.
These are the questions that will drive an appraiser crazy.
I’ve always wondered how much ecological good comes from
removing old creosote pilings from along the shoreline, as the
Washington Department of Natural Resources has been doing in its
Creosote Removal Program.
I was given a new perspective on the problem Tuesday, when I
visited the Doe-Keg-Wats estuary. (See my story in
Wednesday’s Kitsap Sun.) Now I am better able to see the value
of removing creosote logs. Still, I wish a few more quantitative
field studies would be done.
The report draws this important conclusion (p. 84):
“Overall, the laboratory and field studies described above
indicate that treated wood structures can leach PAHs (polycyclic
aromatic hydrocarbons) and other toxic compounds into the
environment. However, the degree of PAH accumulation to sediment
associated with these structures appears to be relatively minor in
many settings, particularly in well-circulated waters….
“Nevertheless, there are several factors that suggest that a
precautionary principle might be applicable to certain treated wood
uses. First, the above studies typically have evaluated responses
at the community level (e.g., the benthic invertebrate studies) or
to tolerant life stages (e.g., adult oysters and mussels). However,
the level of environmental protectiveness applied to T&E
(threatened and endangered) species (such as endangered salmonids)
should occur at the individual rather than the
population or community level.
“Moreover, field studies have indicated that PAHs can accumulate
to potentially deleterious concentrations in poorly circulated
water bodies or when the density of treated wood structures is high
compared to the overall surface area of the water body. As a
result, site-specific evaluations of risk should be conducted for
treated wood projects that are proposed for areas containing
sensitive life stages, species of special concern, or where water
circulation and dilution are potentially low….”
This brings us to Doe-Keg-Wats, which appears to be one of the
most pristine estuaries in the Puget Sound Region. Take a look at
the aerial photo at the bottom of this page.
Washington state will receive $417,000 as the result of
agreements with three shellfish growers who had planted clams and
oysters on state land, as I reported in a story in
today’s Kitsap Sun.
These encroachments onto state tidelands were deemed
unintentional, and the growers will be allowed to keep their
shellfish in place until they mature. After harvest, the growers
will pay the agreed-upon assessment.
These three latest cases and an earlier one essentially dropped
into the lap of the Washington Department of Natural Resources. Two
were identified by area residents, and two were identified by one
of the growers.
I first started writing about this issue two years ago, after
Taylor Shellfish Farms was found to be encroaching onto state
tidelands. At the time I suggested in
Water Ways that it may be time to open this Pandora’s Box and
determine where all such encroachments can be found.
Since then, the state has elected a new public lands
commissioner, and Peter Goldmark appears willing to slowly open
this box and take a look inside.
Aaron Toso, spokesman for DNR, told me yesterday that agency
staffers are developing a computer model that will help prioritize
where to search for possible encroachments onto state tidelands.
For a variety of reasons, some areas have been surveyed better than
others, and it makes sense to start with areas where the state is
likely to recover some money.
The state is not subject to adverse possession law, so I suspect
DNR will be able to recoup the cost of the effort — although I was
told two years ago that the money recovered goes into the Aquatic
Lands Enhancement Account, which can’t be used to search for
encroachments. If true, that means DNR must find the money
elsewhere in its budget to conduct the search. Perhaps the
Legislature could remedy the problem by allocating a percentage of
the money recovered to this effort until everyone is satisfied that
the growers are staying on their own property.
While the state is not subject to adverse possession, there may
be some legal disputes with the state over the meaning or intent of
the original deeds. That may be one reason why DNR officials have
been reluctant to open this Pandora’s Box. And, since private
landowners do fall under the potential for adverse possession, we
may see some growers claiming ownership to private tidelands where
the original owners simply failed to defend their property
I anticipate that DNR officials will experience some strife as
they pry open Pandora’s Box. But I prefer a version of the mythological
story in which the box also holds the power to defeat all the
evils and usher in an era of harmony. That power is called
The Washington Department of Natural Resources is hosting an
interesting conversation this week about the potential of leasing
state-owned tidelands for geoduck aquaculture.
A typical geoduck farm involves seeding tiny clams on the beach
and protecting them from predators for about two years. Normally, a
section of PVC pipe is inserted into the beach, one surrounding
each clam. The DNR is providing a variety of
background information in support of this week’s
Each day this week, a new question about geoduck aquaculture is
being raised. The participants in this forum are the very people
involved in the debate at the local and state levels, so one can
learn a great deal about this debate by skimming through the
On Monday, the question was: Are there effects of geoduck
aquaculture on public access and aesthetics, and if so, how can
they be mitigated?
Most of the commenters were opposed to geoduck farming on state
lands, saying that the tubes were ugly, intrustive and restricted
public access in various ways. Geoduck farmers also weighed in,
saying the problems are minimal when the farms are managed
Tuesday’s question was: When seeking to balance the public
benefits from state-owned aquatic lands, how much of a priority
should DNR give to job creation and revenue generation when
developing a geoduck aquaculture program on state
This lively discussion involved a range of interests discussing
the balance between jobs/economic benefits versus protection of the
ecosystem. Some people made the point that money raised by leasing
state land can be used for environmental restoration.
On Wednesday, the question turned to: What does science
tell us about the impacts of geoduck aquaculture on Puget
I found this discussion more confusing, in part because
references to scientific studies were mixed in with personal
observations. Many of the comments were interesting, but the
discussion was too scattered to really address the scientific
questions, for which some studies are still under way.
Today’s forum is called “unknowns”: If DNR moved forward on
a program leasing state-owned tidelands for geoduck aquaculture,
are there significant unknowns that we need to be aware of, and if
so, what are they?
As of the time of this posting, only a couple people had weighed
in today, but you may want to comment on this item or on any of the
topics in previous days. One can navigate through these various
topics from the main page of DNR Forum.
I would like to know what you think of this forum by DNR and if
we might want to encourage discussions like this on other important
issues of the day.
I’ve always wondered why our natural resource agencies have such
widely varying regional boundaries. If anyone knows the history of
these various regions, please let me know.
Gov. Chris Gregoire yesterday announced a reorganization of the
state’s natural resource agencies. While consolidation of entire
agencies was taken off the table, plans are moving forward to
consolidate the regions and possibly regional offices of multiple
agencies. See my story in
today’s Kitsap Sun.
We’ll talk more about the new Natural Resources Cabinet and
other elements of the reorganization in the future. For now, take a
look at the regional boundaries for our three major resource
Department of Ecology: Kitsap County is in the
Region, along with King, Snohomish, Skagit, Whatcom, Island and
San Juan counties. The regional office is located in Bellevue.
Department of Fish and Wildlife: Kitsap County
is in Region 6,
along with Pierce, Thurston, Mason, Jefferson, Clallam, Grays
Harbor and Pacific counties. The regional headquarters is in
Montesano, on the way to the Pacific Ocean.
Department of Natural Resources: Kitsap County
is in the South
Puget Sound Region, along with King, Pierce and Mason counties
and portions of Snohomish and Lewis counties. The headquarters is
in Enumclaw, northwest of Mount Rainier.
It won’t be as easy as one might think to fight tradition and
create a new uniform set of regions for all three agencies. But
times have changed, and these particular regions may not work as
well as when they were originally set up. I’m fairly certain that
agency heads will start with agreed principles for setting the
boundaries, considering population, travel time, ecological
functions and other things.
I like the idea of creating regional headquarters in the same
place for all agencies, so that various staffs could work in
concert. Because of the cost of construction, the agencies might
not be housed in the same buildings at first, but putting regional
staffers in the same town or city would be a good start.
It will be interesting to see whether state employees and
outside observers settle on more, fewer or the same number of
natural resource agencies than we now have in Washington state. As
I describe in a story in
today’s Kitsap Sun, just about everything is on the table for
When I first moved here in the 1970s, we had a Department of
Fisheries along with a Department of Wildlife. Enforcement officers
were assigned to one agency or the other, but they often rendered
assistance to their fellow officers downstream or out in the
At some point in the past, I believe the state operated with a
single Department of Fish and Game. Then after trying two agencies
for a number of years, they merged into one again: the Department
of Fish and Wildlife.
This time, we could see a greater shakeup, as Gov. Chris
Gregoire has called for a review of all natural resource agencies.
That means we would add into the discussion these departments:
Ecology, Natural Resources, and Parks and Recreation.
Does it make sense to consolidate agencies for a greater sharing
of limited resources or stay with a greater number of agencies to
hone the mission of the organization. Does one way result in fewer
managers, or do you just trade top-level directors for middle
Would it be better to have law enforcement officers focused on
specific duties, or should they all be cross-trained to do the same
thing? Should State Patrol officers learn about trees, deer and
fish and help out with poachers in the woods — or is this going too
I don’t know the answers, but I really am interested in the
outcome. The analysis has begun within documents filed on a new
Natural Resources Reform Web page linked from the Governor’s
Web site. It’s clear there’s much work yet to be done.
As for the number of scientists who need to stand in a stream
Water Ways, Sept. 3), I guess some people are promoting the
notion that one person could collect stream data for all three.
Folks at the Puget Sound Partnership have talked about
standardizing water-quality data, for example, but this issue is
more complex than that.
One thing that caught my attention is the number of programs
related to natural resources outside of Fish and Wildlife, Ecology,
Natural Resources, and Parks. These programs may be brought into
one of the agencies resulting from the reorganization. Here are
some of those programs and where they currently reside:
Shellfish, drinking water and nuclear waste: Department of
Growth management: Department of Commerce
Comprehensive land-use plans and ordinances: Growth Management
Rates for energy and solid waste collection: Utilities and
Fines and land-use permitting: Environmental Hearings Office —
including Pollution Control Hearings Board, Shoreline Hearings
Board, Hydraulic Appeals Board, Environmental and Land Use Board
and Forest Practices Appeals Board
For those who have an inclination to delve into this issue,
there are plenty of things to consider.
Reporter Austin Jenkins of KUOW offered a piece
this week about a government reform study under way in Washington
state, particularly involving three natural resource agencies.
He quoted Gov. Chris Gregoire from her second inaugural address,
in which she raised the issue: “We have three agencies managing
natural resources, each with its own scientists standing in the
same Washington stream. We need to reform and we will.”
When I heard the example of the scientists in the stream, my
reaction was not to be alarmed about government inefficiency.
Instead, it suggested to me that government officials — even at the
highest levels — have no clue about how science works.
I would not be alarmed to see a bunch of scientists from even
the same agency standing in that stream at different times. We
could have, for example, a bunch of fisheries biologists, each
focused on his own discipline — stock identification, population
dynamics, pathology, behavior, genetics, not to mention regulatory
We could have something similar for other state agencies, and
then there are university scientists and independent researchers,
all adding to what we know about that stream. OK, the stream would
need to be especially important or interesting to warrant that much
attention, but the number of scientists involved from one or more
agencies says nothing about the need for government reform.
I have no doubt that Gov. Gregoire knows something about
science, having served as director of the Washington Department of
Ecology. I suspect that a speech writer working for her simply
chose a poor example to make a point.
I’m sure the governor would agree that we don’t need clumsy
reform conducted by people who fail to understand science or the
inner workings of natural resource agencies. I felt reassured after
talking to the governor’s policy director, Robin Arnold-Williams.
Reform, she told me, may not mean consolidation of entire
“There might be realignments or better ways to share and
coordinate,” she said. “The governor’s number-one priority is to
I could speculate about the ways our natural resource agencies
could better coordinate. But I am patient enough to wait until next
week. That’s when a committee working on such reforms plans to
release a list of ideas for review by the public and everyone
First, comes a full discussion, Arnold-Williams said. After
that, the best recommendations will be forwarded to the governor,
commissioner of public lands and the Fish and Wildlife Commission,
who could well make some significant changes.