Manchester plant continues to excel in sewage treatment

The Manchester Wastewater Treatment Plant has done it again, earning a perfect performance award for compliance with its state water-quality permit.

The Manchester plant, operated by Kitsap County, remains ahead of the pack, being the only sewage-treatment plant in Washington state with a perfect score since the Department of Ecology launched its Outstanding Performance Awards program in 1995. That’s 28 years.

Port Townsend Wastewater Treatment Plant has maintained perfect performance for 20 years, and six plants have reached that level for 10 consecutive years. For this year alone, 111 treatment plants achieved perfect scores — about a third of all the plants in the state.

“Washington’s growing population creates a greater need for wastewater treatment every day,” said Heather Bartlett, manager of Ecology’s Water Quality Program in a news release. “Talented and proficient plant operators are critical to meeting this challenge and ensuring successful plant operations that protect the health of Washington’s waters.”

The number of plants with perfect scores has been generally increasing through the years. The secret to success is making sure that the equipment is up-to-date and well-maintained, that operators are well-trained and that expectations are high, as successive operators at the Manchester plant have told me through the years.

To reach a perfect score, plants must meet state pollution limits, monitor and report on effluent discharges, train for spill prevention and perform other tasks required by their discharge permits.

While Manchester and Port Townsend lead the way, six other plants have had perfect performance scores for 10 years or more. They are treatment plants at Clallam Bay Corrections Center, and the communities of Forks, Cle Elum, Moses Lake-Larson, Klickitat, Okanogan and Omak.

The list of award winners for this year include five treatment plants in Kitsap County: City of Bainbridge Island, City of Bremerton, Kitsap County Sewer District 7 (Fort Ward), Manchester and Messenger House Care Center on Bainbridge Island.

Ecology’s announcement of this year’s winners for sewer performance comes on the heels of an estimated 80,000-gallon sewage spill into Bremerton’s Sinclair Inlet over a two week period. A Navy sewer line apparently became clogged and redirected raw sewage into a stormwater outfall near Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, according to a story by reporter Julianne Stanford in the Kitsap Sun.

Manchester’s sewer facilities are undergoing a major upgrade with the reconstruction of three pump stations and replacement or renovation of sewer lines along the beach. For details, check out Kitsap County’s website on the sewer project.

Amusing Monday: Wearing data to show changes in climate

Ed Hawkins, a professor of climate science who brought us climate spirals (see Water Ways, May 28, 2016) has inspired a line of products with his “warming stripes” that connect global temperature to a straight-line visual pattern.

Climate change tie and related items: Zazzle

Neckties, pendants, coffee mugs and more are based on Hawkins’ striped design that helps people visualize how the Earth has warmed since the late 1800s. Each stripe represents a range of temperatures, from shades of blue in cooler years to shades of red in warmer years.

The tie on the model (shown here on Zazzle) presents the average temperatures for the entire globe, while the second image is Hawkins’ graphic for the contiguous United States. Hawkins, a professor at the University of Reading in England, is always looking for new ways to convey climate change to average people.

On the first day of summer in June, many television meteorologists across the country wore neckties bearing the warming stripes, according to a story by Jason Samenow in the Washington Post’s blog Capital Weather Gang.

Lines show annual temperatures for the contiguous U.S. // Graphic: Ed Hawkins

“It struck me as an opportunity to communicate climate change in the simplest way possible,” said Jeff Berardelli, a meteorologist at the CBS affiliate in Palm Beach, Fla., who organized the event. Check out #MetsUnite on Twitter.

Meanwhile, the Climate Museum, an organization based in New York, is using the design on a black T-shirt to celebrate its third year of existence and to raise money to create a permanent home for the museum. The museum will “cultivate a shared identity for a new and inspiring climate citizenship,” according to its vision statement.

The creative approach of using weather data and observations to create works of art apparently goes back many years. One of my favorite ideas comes from Lea Redmond of Leafcutter Designs, who knitted a scarf by observing the color of the sky each day and adding a row using that color. The result is a beautiful work of art with a natural connection to the real world. Check out the video above and another video by Lea that provides more details.

One can also use the daily temperature to create rows in an afghan or blanket. Sharon MacDermaid of Grand Rapids, Mich., said it took her between 30 and 45 minutes a day to crochet one row. That’s around 200 hours or more to complete the entire blanket showing daily temperatures for an entire year. The second video shows the blanket during a television interview with Sharon. Instructions and video tutorials on creating these kinds of afghans are available on The Crochet Crowd.

Another example is a “globally warm scarf” as described by Joan Sheldon of Sheldon Fiber Designs. Joan is a marine scientist who infuses her discussions about yarn and crochet techniques with references to scientific data. As she describes on her webpage:

“One of the things I learned during this project was that, even though I was already familiar with this dataset scientifically, I experienced it in a new and more personal way while creating my scarf: putting a yarn color away because I wouldn’t need it again, or getting out a new color that I hadn’t needed before, really drove home the changes as I worked through the timeline.

“I enjoyed sharing this more emotional connection to the science when I exhibited my scarf in November 2015 at the Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation meeting during an experimental session called ‘Artistic Pathways to Scientific Understanding.’ We had a wonderful time learning about how other researchers integrate their scientific and artistic interests, and it was interesting to see how many different ways a scientific study could be presented without losing its core messages.”

An orca mom’s mourning adds new clue to another mysterious death

UPDATE: Aug. 11, 9 p.m.

After I posted this blog entry this evening, I received this note from Ken Balcomb:

Hello all,
J35 frolicked past my window today with other J pod whales, and she looks vigorous and healthy. The ordeal of her carrying a dead calf for at least seventeen days and 1,000 miles is now over, thank goodness. She probably has lost two others since her son was born in 2010, and the loss of her most recent may have been emotionally hard on her.


It has been heart-breaking to follow the story of the 20-year-old orca mom named Tahlequah (J-35), who has been carrying her dead newborn calf for nearly three weeks. But Tahlequah’s travails might add new insight into the mysterious death of a 3-year-old orca, who washed up on the Long Beach Peninsula in 2012.

Ken Balcomb, the dean of killer whale research in Puget Sound, has always maintained that the young whale, designated L-112, was killed by a concussive blast of some sort that caused massive trauma inside her skull. He suspects that military operations were to blame.

A 3-year-old orca known as L-112 shown here before her death in 2012.
Photo: Center for Whale Research

The Canadian Navy acknowledges that it was conducting exercises near the U.S.-Canada border up to seven days before the dead whale was found. The activities, which included the use of sonar and detonations, started 85 miles northwest of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and ended up inside the Strait. The detonations were said to be too small to kill a whale except at a very close range.

The official cause of death was “blunt force trauma.” The final report did not rule out an explosion as a possible cause of death, but investigators said a glancing blow from a boat or even another whale could cause a similar injury.

Even if military activities were to blame for the death of the young orca, the whale washed up at least 200 miles to the south, where prevailing currents in the ocean were going in the opposite direction. The official conclusion was that the dead animal probably died close to the Columbia River and was pushed northward by the currents.

Ken noted at the time that dolphins have been known to support their dead or injured relatives for a few days, but the idea that a whale could be pushed 200 miles or more seemed to be ruled out by the investigators.

I remember talking about the incident with Erich Hoyt, a researcher who has been telling stories about whales since the 1970s. The possibilities of what might have happened to L-112 were too easily dismissed, he said. See Water Ways, May 3, 2014.

“This brings to mind the crash of the Malaysian jetliner,” Erich said, as I quoted in Water Ways. “You know something unusual happened, but it defies almost any explanation you bring up. Scientists tend to come up with explanations that are the simplest … but they should be careful not to rule anything out.”

Of course, Erich was talking about Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which disappeared in March 2014 with almost no trace. The 500-page final report (PDF 10 mb) on the incident, released last month, closes the investigation without a conclusion, much like the story of L-112.

We’re now confronted with Tahlequah, who has captured the attention of people throughout the world for her dedication to her dead baby. (See NOAA’s website for updates.) She has carried the dead calf while managing to stay with her family group. The dead neotate, who lived about 30 minutes, is Tahlequah’s second calf — as far as we know. Her first-born is Notch (J-47), now 8 years old.

That gap of eight years since Notch was born makes one wonder if Tahlequah might have had another calf that died before her latest one. If so, how would she have responded to that death? Could her ongoing devotion to her latest calf be a reaction to the loss of two calves in a row? We also believe that our Southern Resident killer whales may be experiencing miscarriages at an alarming rate, thanks to studies by Sam Wasser, director of the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington.

As I told Ken, we all know so little about any actual deaths. After not seeing an animal for a time, Ken and the Center for Whale Research will declare it “missing and presumed dead.” Most of the time we don’t know how the whale died or how the relatives grieved before moving on with their lives.

I don’t know that anyone will reopen the investigation into the death of L-112, named either Sooke or Victoria. I’ve heard some support for a new discussion in light of recent developments. Ken told me this week that people will need to rethink their positions if they believed it was not possible for a whale to die in Northwest Washington and end up in Southwest Washington with currents running the opposite direction. We now know what one grieving mother is capable of doing.

L-112 where she was found dead on the Long Beach Peninsula in 2012.
Photo: Northwest Fisheries Science Center

I don’t need to recount all the facts in the case of L-112. The official investigative report (PDF 82.2 mb), which includes a very readable summary, can be found on the website of the National Marine Fisheries Service. Ken’s response (1.1 mb) to the report reveals his viewpoint. I’m listing my ongoing coverage in Water Ways at the bottom of this page.

Even if L-112 were “bombed” as Ken once described it, there are other pieces of the puzzle that need to be put into place — such as the location of the whales at the time, the source of the blast, and the effects on L-112’s closest relatives, who would normally be nearby. Is it possible that other military activities occurred and were never reported, or do we now have all the facts we will ever get?

Ken, who served as an acoustics technician in the U.S. Navy, has been suspicious of what military officials say since March 2000 when he observed first-hand the deaths of many beaked whales in the Bahamas during Navy exercises with sonar. Ken said the injuries to those whales appeared similar to the head trauma of L-112. It took a month for the Navy to even admit that the Bahaman exercises had taken place, Ken once told me, and it took another two years and much scientific evidence before the Navy acknowledged its role.

Check out my reporting of that incident in the Kitsap Sun, first on June 15, 2000, and then on Jan. 1, 2002.

Scott Veirs, an acoustic expert with Beam Reach Marine Science and Sustainability School, has been trying to solve the mystery of L-112 since he first heard the sounds of sonar and detonations on hydrophones at the time of the incident. Scott, who has summarized his investigation in an ongoing blog post, made this comment:

“What is clear is that in February 2012 we experienced a sequence of events that should motivate us all to understand the potential risks of generating loud noises, particularly during military activities, in the habitat of marine animals that we value and that rely heavily on sound for their survival.

“Until we have divorced our military training and testing areas from the critical habitat of the SRKWs, and mitigated potentially harmful sources of underwater sound with attention to their annual migratory patterns, we will continue to run the risk of SRKWs suffering the type of acoustic trauma that may have killed L-112.”

Blog posts about L-112 in reverse chronological order:

Amusing Monday: Words cannot dampen the essence of rain and snow

After I woke up one morning last week, I noticed that there was a thin layer of water coating the outdoor furniture and concrete around our house. I stepped outside and felt a fine mist in the air. I wondered, could this be the “scattered showers” that weather forecasters had talked about?

Surely, a “mist” is different from “showers,” which is also different from “rain.” But where does one end and another begin according to the experts? A little help from the glossary of the American Meteorological Society revealed that the proper term for a very light precipitation is “drizzle.”

My curiosity got the better of me, and I found myself going deeper and deeper into the terminology for precipitation, both official and unofficial, first in English and then in other languages.

Starting with the lightest precipitation, we have fog, which is not really precipitation, because the condensed water vapor is not falling. The same goes for mist, which consists of water droplets too fine to fall, so they drift about suspended in the air. To qualify as mist, the visibility must be greater than 1 kilometer, or 5/8 mile. Less than that is fog.

With drizzle, the water droplets are small — less than 0.5 millimeters (0.02 inches) — and they may appear to float on air currents, but they eventually fall to the ground. Mizzle, also known as Scotch mist, is a “combination of thick mist and heavy drizzle occurring frequently in Scotland and in parts of England,” according to the AMS glossary. Scotland also gives us Haar, a “cold mist coming from the ocean to the east of Scotland or England.”

Rain comes into play when the droplets are larger than 0.5 millimeter. The intensity of rain is defined as light rainfall when accumulation is no more than 0.10 inch per hour and never more than 0.01 inch in six minutes. Moderate rainfall is between 0.11 and 0.30 inch per hour and never more than 0.03 inch in six minutes. Heavy rainfall is more than 0.30 inch per hour or 0.30 inch in six minutes.

Showers, which have always had me confused, are derived from a cumuliform (vertical-forming) cloud and characterized by sudden onset and ending, usually with large droplets and accompanied by a rapid change in sky conditions. We can have rain showers, snow showers and sleet showers. There are also sprinkles, when the showers are light.

That brings us to the category of frozen precipitation. Freezing drizzle consists of tiny droplets that fall as liquid but freeze upon impact to form a frozen glaze. Freezing rain is basically the same with larger drops, while freezing fog forms the glaze when it comes into contact with exposed objects. The temperature of the water droplets for all three types is generally below freezing, so ice forms the instant they hit a surface. Again, fog is not really precipitation, but there is such a thing as ice fog, which occurs when the condensation freezes and hangs in midair.

When objects on the ground are cooler than the air but not below freezing, we get dew. When objects on the ground are cooler than the air and below freezing, we get frost. Like fog, these are not precipitation.

A snowflake forms when a multitude of ice crystals come together. When snowflakes grow heavy enough, they fall to the ground as snow. If they melt on the way down, we get rain. Sleet, which is frozen rain, forms when snow refreezes or when rain freezes on its way down. Graupel, an official term in the glossary, consists of snow particles surrounded by ice. Often called snow pellets, graupel is smaller than hail.

Hail is basically ice balls between 5 and 50 millimeters (0.2 to 2 inches) across, usually forming when the wind keeps the ice balls aloft to take on more and more moisture.

Besides all the types of precipitation, meteorologists have definitions for precipitation events. Besides showers, we have storms, in which winds rise to between 56 and 63 knots (64 to 72 mph). Snow flurries are technically snow showers, especially when snows are light and brief. Blizzards are at the opposite end of the spectrum, with heavy snow, low temperatures and strong winds.

Some events don’t fall within the standard definitions. “Cloudburst” and “downpour” are unofficial terms for heavy rain. A deluge generally refers to flooding, but it can mean an extended downpour. “Virga” is an official term, meaning precipitation that falls from a cloud, often in streaks, but evaporating before reaching the ground. A squall is a strong and sudden onset of wind, so a rain squall includes the element of rain.

A monsoon is a seasonal wind persisting in one direction. I thought it had something to do with rain, but that is only a recent interpretation. “Monsoon” is from the Arabic word “mausim,” meaning season. It was first applied to the winds over the Arabian Sea, blowing six months from the northeast and six months from the southwest. The word has become popular throughout the world, and monsoons in India are well known for their heavy rains.

I was amused by the ongoing debate over the word “thundershower.” For example, one TV viewer in Cleveland took local meteorologist Mark Johnson to task for using the term while talking about the weather on TV station WEWS, the local ABC affiliate.

“What meteorology school did Mark Johnson go to?” the viewer demanded to know. “The one in the bottom of a Cracker Jacks box???? WHAT in the world is a THUNDERSHOWER…? Is he insane, because he certainly is not funny. Annoying would be a more fitting description…. Time to teach the ole man some new, technically-correct terminology or just replace him altogether with someone who knows how to speak properly. Thank you.”

Mark Johnson took the comment in stride, saying he rarely uses the term — which does not officially exist — but he tries to connect with viewers who may invision “thunderstorm” as something severe.

“Technically,” he said, “every rumble of thunder is logged as a TRW, a thunderstorm. But who am I forecasting for? Other scientists or the general public? Is a light rain shower with a brief rumble of thunder really a storm to you? Probably not.

“Broadcast meteorology is about taking information that can be very technical, and changing it into language and images that viewers can more readily understand and, more importantly, use to plan their daily lives,” he added.

Personally, I see nothing wrong with thundershower, which conveys thoughts of a smattering of lighting and thunder amidst a moderate downpour. Officially, a thunderstorm is a local storm from a cumulonimbus cloud with lightning and thunder, usually with strong winds and heavy rain or hail. After all, the AMS glossary recognizes thundersnow, which is simply snow at the surface accompanied by lightning and thunder in the sky. It seems that the glossary simply needs a new definition for thundershower.

By the way, there is a great article in Grist magazine about new words coming about from the increasing number of extreme weather events. We now have “heat dome,” a huge high-pressure system that traps hot air; “rain bombs,” which are extreme downpours officially called wet microbursts (first video on this page); and “corn sweat,” a humid condition caused by planting lots of corn.

The Dutch have some interesting words for different kinds of weather, as described in “Dutch Review” magazine. Rory, a self-described “Irish guy,” provides us an interesting perspective on Irish weather in the second video on this page.

The third video provides an interesting perspective on the weather from Quark, the extra-terrestrial Ferengi character from “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.”

The final video is from a list of 119 songs about rain posted by Flourish Anyway, with videos for most of those high on the list.

Map of sea level predictions can assist waterfront owners

A sophisticated analysis of sea-level rise in Puget Sound and along the Washington Coast offers shoreline residents and land-use planners a new map-based tool to assess potential flood hazards for the coming years.

Click on map to access online interactive map
Map: Washington Coastal Hazards Resilience Network

Sea-level rise depends on two factors: how fast the oceans rise and the rate of vertical land shifts. Uplift, such as what occurs along the Washington Coast, slows the rate of sea-level rise relative to waterfront property. Subsidence, which occurs in Central Puget Sound, results in elevated tides sooner than in stable or uplifting areas. One map on this page shows the measured uplift and subsidence and another shows the uncertainty in that measurement.

Ian Miller, a coastal hazards specialist at Washington Sea Grant, has worked on studies that describe sea-level rise in Island County and on the Olympic Peninsula. The new report, titled “Projected Sea Level Rise for Washington State” (PDF 10.4 mb) goes well beyond what he and his colleagues have done before. It takes a more detailed look at where the land is uplifting and subsiding, according to Miller, the lead author on the new report that involves work by scientists at Sea Grant and the University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group.

The result is a prediction of sea-level rise at 171 locations, covering every shoreline in Washington state — as opposed to more general predictions made in previous studies, including regional and national studies by others.

The goal this time, Ian told me, was to develop an analysis that could be used for predicting future high tides at any shoreline segment in the state. Actual sea-level rise will depend on how much humans can reduce greenhouse gases in the coming years and other factors. Results in the report are given for both high and low scenarios based on climate models, and the findings are presented as probabilities of occurrence.

In Bremerton, for example, the analysis predicts that there is a 90 percent chance that the sea level will rise by 6 inches or more by 2070. At the same time, the probability is 50 percent that the rise will be at least 1 foot by 2070 and 10 percent that it will reach 1.7 feet by that year. That’s under the low greenhouse gas scenario.

Under the high scenario, there is a 90 percent chance that the sea level in Bremerton will reach 7 inches by 2070, a 50 percent chance that it will reach 1.2 feet and a 10 percent change that it will reach 1.9 feet.

In some cases, a rise in the high tide level by just 6 inches can result in serious property damage, especially if winds and waves increase as a result of more intense storms. For Bremerton, there is a 16 percent chance that this level will be reached by 2030, a 50 percent chance it will be reached by 2040 and a 75 percent chance it will be reached by 2050, according to the report.

The new report can help landowners think more clearly when deciding where to locate new buildings on their property, whether to move existing buildings and what to do about failing bulkheads. I covered the issue of planning for sea-level rise for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound. Check out:

And in Watching Our Water Ways:

Clicking on the map at the top of this page will take you to the online interactive map. Looking at the online map, click on any shoreline location to download the data tables, which may look a little intimidating at first. But don’t worry. Just use the tabs at the bottom to pick a high (RCP 8.5) or low (RCP 4.5) greenhouse gas scenario. You will see two tables for each scenario. In the top table, pick a year (vertical list) and a probability (horizontal list) to get the projected sea level rise (in feet). In the bottom table, pick a year along with sea level rise to get the probability of that level being reached.

Sea-level rise is accelerating as time goes on, as predicted by climate models and supported by recent studies. (See the report on satellite readings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.) One hundred years from now, there is a 90 percent chance that sea level will be at least one foot higher in Central Puget Sound and a 50 percent chance that it will be at least two feet higher.

Unlike any previous report in Washington, predictions for changes in vertical land movement in the new report are based on three different sources of information: variations in tide gauges, “leveling surveys” used by highway engineers and data from continuous global positioning satellites. For the satellite data, the analysis of sea-level rise took into account separate assessments of land movement calculated by five different organizations.

By analyzing the sources of data for vertical changes across the landscape, the researchers were able to provide a range of uncertainty for each of their 171 shoreline locations. Knowing the level of confidence for water reaching a given level in a specified amount of time can help people decide whether they are willing to accept the risk or begin planning for the future.

I’ve gone through the map, looking at a variety of waterfront locations in Washington state. In the lists below, I’ve grouped the cities to show how much the sea level is expected to rise by 2050, using a 50 percent probability and a high greenhouse gas scenario.

0.1 foot
Neah Bay

0.3 foot

0.4 foot
Ocean Shores, Ozette

0.5 foot
Aberdeen, Point Roberts, Port Angeles

0.6 foot
Bellingham, La Push, Queets, San Juan Island

0.7 foot
Anacortes, Hoodsport, La Conner, Sequim

0.8 foot
Bremerton-Port Orchard-Silverdale, Everett, Gig Harbor, Hansville, Port Townsend, Poulsbo-Suquamish-Bainbridge, Seattle, Shelton, Tacoma, Vashon Island (most), Whidbey Island

0.9 foot
Ballard, Edmonds, East Vashon-Des Moines, Federal Way, Port Ludlow, Shelton

1.0 foot
Kingston, Olympia

Additional information on this project:

Amusing Monday: Get out and enjoy the cool rivers in our region

Given the heat wave of the past few days, I realize that I should have been floating down a river. I’m envisioning cool water splashing people on a boat as the sun beats down from above. I recall feelings of calm while traveling across flat water, followed by the invigoration of roiling rapids.

To get you started, Seattle Magazine offers a few suggestions, and there are numerous rafting companies advertising online to help you tackle more challenging waters.

This year happens to be the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and I’ve been watching some videos that I would like to share. The law was designed to preserve the free-flowing nature of rivers that contain outstanding natural, cultural and recreational values.

“The act is notable for safeguarding the special character of these rivers, while also recognizing the potential for their appropriate use and development,” states an introduction on the federal government’s Wild and Scenic Rivers website. “It encourages river management that crosses political boundaries and promotes public participation in developing goals for river protection.”

The 1968 legislation came at a time that dams were being proposed all over the country. Sen. Frank Church, a Democrat from Idaho, was among the first to push for a bill to block dam construction on designated rivers. Conservation groups wanted a bill that would protect environmental values, and sports groups wanted support for recreational areas. Republican lawmakers, however, were not too keen on locking up natural resources.

Secretary of Interior Stewart Udall, who had served as a U.S. representative from Arizona, had been a supporter of dam projects, but he came to understand the value of protecting the natural environment. Udall proposed a bill on behalf of President Lyndon Johnson to bring balance to the issue.

Republicans and Democrats worked together on a compromise by limiting the number of rivers designated “wild and scenic” within the legislation itself. Eight rivers were listed, while more than two dozen others were moved into a study mode with criteria spelled out in the law to guide designation of future rivers.

It’s worth pointing out that this was a time in history when Democrats and Republicans were able to work together on difficult issues, something that rarely happens today. The vote for approval was unanimous in the Senate, with only seven representatives voting in opposition in the House.

Today, nearly 13,000 miles on 208 rivers are designated under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. While many people see that as a great accomplishment, groups like American Rivers point out that this is less than one-fourth of 1 percent of all the streams in the U.S. (See the federal government’s website or American Rivers website and check out the interactive map on the National Park Service website.)

To qualify as a Wild and Scenic River, a stream must have one of these three qualities:

  • Wild Rivers: Designated river sections must be free of impoundments with clean water in an essentially primitive watershed with no road access.
  • Scenic Rivers: Designated river sections must be free of impoundments with shorelines or watersheds mostly primitive, but they may be accessible by roads.
  • Recreational Rivers: Designated river sections are readily accessible by road or railroad with some shoreline development and/or impoundment or diversion.

In Washington state, the Wild Olympics campaign is an effort to designate new wilderness areas along with portions of 19 rivers as Wild and Scenic. (Check out the map of proposed rivers on the Olympic Peninsula or read the news release that accompanied the latest introduction of a bill in Congress called the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.)

Spring Chinook return to the Skokomish River to start a new salmon run

Spring Chinook salmon are being reared at a new hatchery on the North Fork of the Skokomish River. The hatchery is owned and operated by Tacoma Public Utilities. // Photo: Tacoma Public Utilities

For the first time in decades, an early run of Chinook salmon has returned to the Skokomish River in southern Hood Canal.

These bright, torpedo-shaped hatchery fish are the first of what is expected to become an ongoing run of spring Chinook as part of a major salmon-restoration effort related to the Cushman Hydro Project. Eventually, the salmon run could provide fishing opportunities for humans and orcas.

“it is pretty exciting,” said Dave Herrera, fish and wildlife policy adviser for the Skokomish Tribe. “Our objective has always been to restore the salmon populations that were once here.”

Andrew Ollenburg, Cushman fish facilities manager for Tacoma Public Utilities, reported that 19 spring Chinook — 15 females and four males — have been captured at the base of the lower Cushman Dam on the North Fork of the Skokomish River. As of this week, biologists estimated that 50 or 60 spring Chinook were in the river farther below the dam — and more are coming.

These fish are among the survivors of 131,000 yearling Chinook released into the North Fork in 2016. That was before two new fish hatcheries were constructed as part of a wide-ranging legal settlement that cleared the way for a new federal hydropower license for the Tacoma-owned dams. The dams, built in the 1920s, blocked fish passage until recently, when new facilities were built for trapping and moving fish past the dams. For background, see Water Ways, Jan. 13, 2009.

Before the dams were built, the Skokomish River supported a variety of Chinook salmon runs, including both spring and summer Chinook in the North Fork. Some of the most productive habitat was inundated by Lake Cushman above the upper dam, but the dams were not the only problem facing salmon in the watershed.

“In brief, a combination of effects, escalating in intensity over time, far exceeded the productive resiliency of the indigenous populations for sustaining themselves,” states the “Recovery Plan for Skokomish River Chinook Salmon” (PDF 15.5 mb). “Hydro development, water diversion, floodplain development, estuarine alterations, liquidation of old growth forests, greatly expanded fishing patterns — all of these contributed to the extinction of the aboriginal Chinook populations in the Skokomish River.”

After the dams were built, a small number of spring Chinook continued to spawn in the North Fork below the dams during years when flows were adequate. But official documents from the early 1990s calls the spring Chinook extinct.

Eggs for the new run of spring Chinook came from fish returning to the Marblemount Hatchery, located on a tributary of the Skagit River in North Puget Sound. They were reared for a year at the Lilliwaup Hatchery on Hood Canal before their release into the North Fork. That hatchery is managed by the group Long Live the Kings.

Biologists reported the first of the adult spring Chinook swimming up the North Fork in June, a few weeks later than their counterparts returning to the Skagit, Andy said. These fish had farther to go to reach the southern end of Hood Canal, he said, but they should be ready for spawning in about two weeks — on schedule with those returning to Marblemount.

“Tribal biologists were the first to spot them in the river,” Andy said. “They said they don’t look like any Chinook they’ve ever seen before.”

He said the fish appeared sleeker, somewhat like a torpedo, as opposed to the rounder-looking fall Chinook that return to other hatcheries in the area.

“We don’t know how long the run will last,” Andy said, but hatchery managers will take steps to keep the early Chinook separated from a fall hatchery stock in the Skokomish.

This year’s spring Chinook returns to the North Fork will be used to collect eggs for the next generation to be reared at the new hatchery. More eggs will be needed from Marblemount until enough fish return to the North Fork to provide about 450,000 eggs each year. That will typically require about 100 females, Andy said.

If things go well, some of the spring Chinook returning to the Skokomish will eventually be released above the dams to spawn in the upper North Fork, where pristine habitat awaits them in Olympic National Park. This stock could also be used to rebuild a run of spring Chinook in the South Fork. Details are yet to be worked out in consideration of habitat quality and genetic consequences for fish that would spawn naturally.

Some of the Chinook returning this year could be 3-year-old “jacks” released in 2017. That year, 400,000 eggs were started at Lilliwaup before the newly hatched fish were transferred to tanks at the new hatchery for rearing. Since then, eggs from Marblemount have been taken directly to the new North Fork hatchery. Further testing is expected to reveal how many jacks arrived this year among the first spring Chinook run in modern times.

Andy said excitement is running high as people recognize the start of the new salmon run, which is expected to evolve more localized traits based on conditions in Hood Canal. The new hatchery also is being used to supplement existing stocks of coho salmon and steelhead trout surviving in the Skokomish River system.

A second new hatchery has been built at Saltwater Park on the shore of Hood Canal near Hoodsport. The goal is to restore a run of sockeye salmon — a species that migrated in and out of a much smaller Lake Cushman before the dams were built.

The new sockeye hatchery is receiving eggs from the Baker Lake Hatchery, located on a tributary of the Skagit River in North Puget Sound. After hatching, the sockeye fry are placed in Lake Cushman, where they will grow until they begin their migration downstream. A collection facility on the lake uses flowing water to attract the downstream migrants, which are then moved past the dams. I wrote about the sockeye restoration for the Kitsap Sun in July 2014.

For additional details about the two hatcheries, check out the article and photos by the National Hydropower Association. Additional information can be found on the website of Cushman Fisheries Program.

Amusing Monday: Sand sculptors continue to shape offbeat creations

We’re near the peak of sand sculpture season, and the works being created this year by artistic sand masters seems to be as good or better than ever.

“Muse” by Pavel Mylnikov, first place at the Revere Beach International Sand Sculpting Festival.
Photo: Revere Beach Partnership

The latest event this past weekend was the Revere Beach International Sand Sculpting Festival in Revere, Mass., billed as America’s first public beach.

The first photo on this page shows the top prize winner in the contest titled “Vanishing Muse,” and the artist is Pavel Mylnikov. The second photo shows the People’s Choice Award, titled “A Nouveau Love” by Rachel Stubbs.

See all the winning photos on the Facebook page of the Revere Beach Partnership. Photographer Joe Siciliano of posted some nice photos on the website Meanwhile, WBZ-TV in Boston produced a video of the event.

Another recent event, held in June, was the Hampton Beach Master Sand Sculpting Classic in New Hampshire. Photographer Matt Parker of Seacoast Online put together a nice photo gallery of the sculptures along with the artists at work. (If necessary, scroll down to June 18.)

In Cannon Beach, Ore., the annual Cannon Beach Sandcastle Contest attracted large teams of sculptors at various skill levels. The NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt visited the festival and produced a national story, shown in the video on this page. Results of the contest along with pictures can be seen on the festival’s website.

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Starfish continue to baffle researchers with mysterious disease

Five years after a mysterious disease began killing millions of starfish and turning their tissues to mush, the decimated population has yet to recover. Meanwhile, researchers continue to struggle to identify a cause for the disease, which appears to have uncertain ties to viruses and possibly environmental conditions.

In Puget Sound, it’s not as easy as it once was to find a diseased sea star, which seems to be a promising sign until you consider how many have died. As I learned last week during an outing to Lofall in North Kitsap, the total number of starfish remains low compared to four years ago, and recovery has been minimal, if at all.

Under the Lofall dock, volunteers have observed that the number of sea stars is still low, but sick ones are no longer common.
Photo: Christopher Dunagan

Local volunteers have been observing sea stars at Lofall since the beginning of 2014. I first visited the site the following summer with three retired women who lead the monitoring effort there. (See Water Ways , June 17, 2014.) They are still making regular trips at low tide, counting and measuring the starfish and looking for signs of disease.

“The numbers are way down,” noted volunteer Barb Erickson as we stood beneath the Lofall dock last Friday, “but we haven’t seen many sick ones. We also aren’t seeing the little ones.”

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Getting lost in the tangle of connections called the Puget Sound food web

I’m increasingly amazed at the interwoven nature of the Puget Sound food web. Whenever I become focused on a specific species — Chinook salmon, for example — one of the first questions I ask is: What is this species eating?

I soon learn that the answer depends on the size of the individual doing the eating. Prey for a baby salmon is much different from prey for an adult.

If you really want to learn about why a species is doing well or poorly, you need to look beyond prey availability for your species of interest and find out what the prey are eating as well. Healthy prey must be abundant for any species to do well, so the prey of the prey must also do well.

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