Amusing Monday: Deaf pit bull gains confidence while learning to surf

Every year about this time, dogs mount their surf boards to ride the waves in various surfing competitions, and each year new stories seem to emerge about human-canine bonds that grow out of this unusual sport.

Mr. Breakfast is a deaf pit bull who was rescued from the dog-fighting world and became the close companion of Liz Nowell of San Diego. Mr. B, as she calls him, was originally named Briggs. When Liz first fell in love with him, he was withdrawn and had some behavioral problems, as she explains in the first video. But thanks to her patience and understanding, this dog’s world has grown richer and dramatically better.

“Once his name changed to Mr. B, people began to see past his tough-looking exterior to the warm gooey lov-a-bull goof inside,” according to an article in Pit Bull Press. “In the past years, Mr. Breakfast has learned four new signs, learned how to surf and has developed a truly happy nature as our bond has developed.”

Mr. Breakfast was one of about 50 dogs entered in the 2019 World Dog Surfing Championship Aug. 3 at Linda Mara State Beach in Pacifica, Calif. The second video, produced by NBC Nightly News, describes the competition, including the overall winner, a French bulldog named Cherie, who sported a pink life vest.

“Cherie loves doing this,” said her owner, Dan Nykolayko of Newport Beach, as quoted in a story by Steve Rubenstein, staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. “You can tell. If a dog doesn’t want to do something, it isn’t going to do it.”

The news story reported that Cherie remained calm, even when “a couple of competitors sniffed her butt and tried to trash-growl her” right before the start of her event. A video of the extravaganza, attended by more than 2,000 people, was produced by the SF Chronicle.

For other cool stories of surfing dogs, check out last year’s chronicles of Sugar and Gidget, Water Ways, Sept. 10, 2018.

Coming up on Sept. 28 is another big dog-surfing competition in California, the annual Surf City Surf Dog event at Huntington Beach.

Yearlong pumping test will help define aquifers across Kitsap Peninsula

An unprecedented yearlong pump test of a deep water well in Central Kitsap is expected to provide a wealth of new information about our underground water supplies.

Joel Purdy, hydrogeologist for Kitsap Public Utility District, checks the flow at Newberry Hill Well 2, which is being pumped at 1,000 gallons per minute for a full year. // Photo: Christopher Dunagan

The 900-foot-deep well, off Newberry Hill Road, will be pumped continuously for a year, drawing water at a rate of 1,000 gallons per minute. Drawdown effects of the high pumping rate will be measured in 56 other wells — including those operated by Silverdale Water District, Kitsap Public Utility District, the city of Bremerton, North Perry Water District, Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor and others.

The pump test is designed to better define the extent of aquifers throughout Central Kitsap while increasing the accuracy of a groundwater model developed to predict water supplies across the Kitsap Peninsula.

“This is going to be one of the best data-gathering tests,” said Joel Purdy, hydrogeologist for Kitsap Public Utility District. “Hydrogeologists dream of doing this kind of aquifer test.”

The test well, known as Newberry Hill Well 2, draws its water from the extensive Seabeck aquifer, which is recharged by rains falling on forestlands throughout the central-southwest portion of the Kitsap Peninsula. The pump test, which began July 16, will measure how quickly water can move through the ground by measuring how fast unused wells get drawn down during pumping and how fast they recover afterward.

Silverdale Water District has turned off all of its deep wells and is operating only two shallower wells near Spirit Ridge and Island Lake on the north side of Silverdale. Those wells are providing the extra water needed for people watering their lawns during the summer, said Morgan Johnson, general manager of the water district. Those two wells probably won’t be needed once the fall rains arrive.

During the winter, any excess water from the pumping test will be sent through Silverdale to the KPUD’s Vinland water system in North Kitsap, so all of the water will be used during the yearlong experiment.

Pumphouse and reservoir for Newberry Hill Well 2, the site of a test to measure the extent of the Seabeck aquifer. // Photo: Christopher Dunagan

After a month of constant pumping so far, some slight signs of a drawdown might be observed in a Silverdale well located about 1.7 miles away near Newberry Hill and Dickey roads, Joel told me. In theory, the level in that well should stabilize within three months.

“There is nothing surprising about this so far,” Joel said.

Across the Kitsap Peninsula, various aquifers are generally defined by horizontal layers containing sand and gravel, which can hold water and allow it to move relatively freely through that layer. The aquifers are separated from each other by horizontal layers of fine-grain clay and silt that do not transmit water as readily.

The Seabeck aquifer is believed to be connected to aquifers north and east of Silverdale, including Bainbridge Island. It also has a connection to the Manette Peninsula, served by the city of Bremerton and North Perry Water District. The pump test, which involves monitoring wells at various depths, should help determine how readily the water moves horizontally through the entire region, as well as how readily the water moves from one layer to another.

In 2016, the U.S. Geological Survey completed development of a computer-based groundwater model that can be used to predict how much water is available in wells and streams, based on geological conditions and the amount of rain that falls in a given area. See Water Ways, March 12, 2016.

There are some indications that the USGS model over-estimates the rate that rainfall infiltrates into the ground and passes through the various aquifer levels, Joel said. By using the pump test for calibration, the model’s flow rate to deeper aquifers can be made more accurate.

The groundwater model is one tool used by experts to determine the effects of drilling a new well in a given area. Water must be available before the Washington Department of Ecology will issue a new water-rights certificate. Consideration must be given to any effects on nearby streamflows, which are maintained for salmon and other aquatic creatures.

The pump test is being conducted as a partnership between the KPUD and Silverdale Water District, which jointly operate the test well under a recently signed agreement. The partnership hired Aspect Consulting of Bainbridge Island to predict the outcome of the pump test based on the USGS groundwater model. Aspect will analyze the data from the test and prepare a report with recommendations once the test is complete next summer.

Newberry Hill Well 2 was drilled 18 years ago, but it has never been operated as a full-time production well. A joint agreement between the water district and KPUD allows each water purveyor to take an equal amount of water, up to 500 gallons per minute. The well can be used to supplement existing water supplies in the Silverdale area, and the KPUD has authority to move the water through Silverdale to North Kitsap, thanks to pipelines connecting the various water systems.

It is all part of a long-range plan, Morgan Johnson said.

“People have been asking, ‘Why are you building large pipelines from Silverdale to the rural areas? You are promoting growth,’” Morgan said. “I tell them, ‘No, we are not promoting growth; we are planning to bring the water to the development.”

The goal, established years ago by Kitsap County, the KPUD and regional water systems, has been to concentrate new development in urban areas and protect the environment in rural areas, as called for by the state’s Growth Management Act. With that in mind, water can be moved from the outlying forested areas by way of the aquifers themselves or through pipelines. By managing the water carefully, population growth can be accommodated for the foreseeable future.

The yearlong test will provide important information about the capacity and extent of the aquifers. That will help water managers ensure an ongoing supply for humans as well as fish and wildlife.

Amusing Monday: ‘Plein air’ art captures beauty of Columbia Gorge

More than 40 artists traveled to the Columbia River Gorge in late July to participate in what was essentially a four-day paint-off — a competition to see who could best capture the heart and soul connected to this rare and magnificent landscape.

“Bingen Skyline” by Lilli-anne Price, winner of the Friends of the Columbia Gorge Award in the Pacific Northwest Plein Air competition. (Click to enlarge.)
Photo courtesy of Friends of the Columbia Gorge

While I often feature artwork that receives recognition in children’s art contests, I was impressed by the professional paintings in the 14th annual Pacific Northwest Plein Air competition that was completed a little over a week ago, and I wanted to share them with you. The competition, sponsored by Maryhill Museum of Art, features artists from throughout the Northwest and a few from more distant locales.

Artists often tour the area in advance to select a vantage point that will inspire their creations. Most paintings include an image of the Columbia River, but some focus on Mount Hood or other features of the landscape, such as interesting trees or historic buildings. Plein air painting, made popular by French impressionists, calls for venturing beyond the studio walls to paint “en plein air,” which is French for “in the open air.”

“Vista House at Sunset” by Yong Hong Zhong, first-place winner in the Pacific Northwest Plein Air competition. // Photo courtesy of Maryhill Museum of Art

“The Gorge is just an amazing motherlode of a landscape for artists,” said Lilli-anne Price of Salinas, Calif., who was named the winner of a new Friends of the Columbia Gorge special award. “The day before the paint-off started, my husband and I were riding our bikes around the White Salmon area to scope out potential scenes. As we made our way around, we stopped for a rest in the parking lot of Skyline Hospital, and I knew instantly: There it is; this is where I want to paint.”

Lilli-anne’s painting, “Bingen Skyline,” is the first on this page. Her comments and a photo of her at work appeared in a news release from Friends of the Columbia Gorge. You can see more of her work on her website, Lilli-anne Price Fine Art.

“Sandy River Reflection” by Yong Hong Zhong, “Best Water” winner in the Pacific Northwest Plein Air competition. // Photo courtesy of Maryhill Museum of Art

“If conservation in the Gorge hadn’t happened, what would we paint?” she asked. “It’s important to see the natural beauty kept intact. Our planet is so beautiful; it’s everybody’s heart. If we don’t have this what do we have?”

Named as the first-place winner in the overall completion was Yong Hong Zhong of Lake Oswego, Ore. His watercolor, “Vista House at Sunset” is the second on this page, and you can see more of his work on his website. He also took the award for “Best Water” with his watercolor “Sandy River Reflection,” third on this page.

Runner-up for the Friends of the Columbia Gorge Award was Elo Wobig of Portland, Ore., with her oil painting “Shoulders of the Columbia River” (fourth on this page). Her website: Elo Wobig Fine Art.

Photos of all the winning paintings can be viewed on the Pacific Northwest Plein Air Facebook page. The paintings will be on display and available for purchase at the museum until Aug. 24.

“Shoulders of the Columbia River” by Elo Wobig, runner-up for the Friends of the Columbia Gorge Award in the Pacific Northwest Plein Air competition.
Photo courtesy of Friends of the Columbia Gorge

The plein air contest was launched in 2006 by Hood River artist Cathleen Rehfeld to make a stronger connection between art and nature in the Columbia Gorge. This was the first year that the Friends organization joined the contest with special awards.

The Maryhill Museum of Art, about two hours east of Vancouver, Wash., overlooks the eastern portion of the Columbia Gorge. It was originally intended as a mansion for Samuel Hill, who started the town of Maryhill, which was named for his daughter Mary. The unfinished mansion was dedicated as a museum after Hill’s land company failed. Read the full history on the museum’s website, where you can also see a description of permanent and special exhibitions.

Artists are attracted to the annual plein air competition not only by the possibilities of landscape painting but by the museum’s hospitality. Receptions allow the artists to show off and sell their paintings, with a portion of the proceeds going to the museum. A figure painting workshop was offered this year by artist Randall Sexton.

Orcas hunting for salmon: Not worth the effort in Puget Sound?

Trying to understand what motivates Puget Sound’s killer whales is difficult enough when the orcas are nearby. But now that they have abandoned their summer home — at least for this year — researchers are not able to easily study their behaviors, their food supply or their individual body conditions.

L-84, a 29-year-old male named Nyssa, was thought to be in good health when he went missing.
Photo: Center for Whale Research

Not so many years ago, we could expect the orcas to show up in the San Juan Islands in May, presumably to feast on spring chinook returning to the Fraser River in British Columbia and to streams in northern Puget Sound. Those chinook have dwindled in number, along with other populations of chinook in the Salish Sea, so it appears that the orcas may not come back at all.

Apparently, they have decided that it isn’t worth their time and effort to set up a summer home in the inland waterway. They have gone to look for food elsewhere, such as off the west coast of Vancouver Island, where it is harder for researchers to tell what they are eating and exactly where they are going.

The whales were out there somewhere this past week when Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research announced that three whales had been missing long enough to declare them deceased. He had been consulting with experts and observers in Canada. See my Water Ways post from Tuesday.

Food is the big issue for the southern resident killer whales. They have been judged to be in overall worse body condition than the northern residents — an entirely separate group that normally stays farther up the coast in British Columbia. Experts are reporting that the northern residents have been venturing south more often than they used to. Perhaps the cultural divide between the two resident groups has begun to weaken.

It’s all in the realm of speculation, of course. Last year, I shared some ruminations about what could have happened if the endangered southern residents had not grown up in a culture of eating chinook salmon. I mentioned some interesting research papers on the topic. See Water Ways, Aug. 30, 2018.

Food is the key. Despite other problems that humans have caused — including toxic chemicals, noise and general disruption — food is at the heart of the matter. When you are hungry and searching for food, you don’t have much time for social interaction — and making babies takes a back seat to survival.

Even when southern resident females do get pregnant, they suffer a high rate of miscarriage, often coming late in pregnancy. Food and stress are related to these problems, according to research by Sam Wasser, director of the Center for Conservation Biology whose work I reported in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound in 2016.

Although the term “starvation” is often tossed around loosely, few if any of the dead whales are actually starving to death from lack of available food. They may have stopped eating when they got sick or for some other reason. Illness can be brought on by a weakened condition in conjunction with reduced immunity caused by toxic chemicals in their food. It’s more complex than “starvation,” as writer Jeff Rice of the Puget Sound Institute points out in a new story posted in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

A low reproductive rate and unexpected deaths continue to drive the population downward. Some deaths can be predicted when the whales loose so much body fat that they reach a condition called “peanut head,” but other deaths come quickly and unexpectedly.

“We had expected two of the three deaths, having chronicled their decline during the past year,” Ken Balcomb said in an email on Friday. “But L84’s death was unexpected. He was a vibrant male who appeared healthy.”

When apparently healthy whales disappear, experts are left wondering what happened. Years ago, this kind of sudden disappearance was more typical of their final departures, because the whales were in better condition. Other factors, such as ship strikes and Navy operations were sometimes suspected, and disease is always a lurking threat.

Finding ways to improve the chinook runs should help the whales, and that effort continues despite some disagreement about how to go about it. But larger forces are also at play, such as long-term shifts in ocean conditions and changes in the climate that reverberate through the entire food web.

Laura Blackmore, executive director of Puget Sound Partnership, issued a statement Thursday that reflects what many Northwest residents may be feeling.

“We are deeply saddened to learn of the presumed deaths of three endangered southern resident orcas, L84, K25, and J17,” Laura wrote. “These new losses cut deeply, and we grieve with all those who mourn these symbols of Puget Sound.

“Our orcas are dying because the marine environment they live in is ailing and there are too few salmon for them to eat,” she continued.

“The Puget Sound Partnership stands with Governor Inslee, the governor’s Southern Resident Orca Task Force, and the many tribes, government agencies, organizations, businesses and individuals who are committed to helping recover the orca population. Together, we can help by restoring salmon runs, quieting the waters of Puget Sound, and getting toxic chemicals out of our waterways.”

New government policies and laws are being implemented, she said. Meanwhile, there are some things that we all can do. Here are her suggestions for individual action:

  • Help restore salmon runs. Volunteer on a habitat restoration project. See for links to organizations involved in habitat restoration.
  • Quiet the waters of Puget Sound. If you’re a boater, give orcas space. Follow the BeWhaleWise guidelines for whale watching.
  • Keep toxic chemicals out of our waterways. Stop using toxic chemicals in your home or on your landscape; fix vehicle leaks; and have your vehicle oil changed by a professional.
  • Learn about southern resident orcas, and pass the information on to others.
  • Speak up for orcas. Vote. Make sure your local, state, and federal representatives know how important orcas are to you.

Three more orca deaths take census count down to 73 Southern Residents

Four orca deaths and two births over the past year brings the official population of southern resident killer whales to 73 — the lowest number since the annual census was launched in 1976.

L-84, a 29-year-old male named Nyssa, is among three southern resident orcas newly listed as deceased. Here he is seen catching a salmon. // Photo: Center for Whale Research

This evening, the keeper of the census — Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research — sadly announced the deaths of three orcas who have not been seen for several months.

In past years, Ken waited until he and his staff have several opportunities to search for any whales that appear to be missing. But this year the whales have stayed almost entirely away from their traditional hunting grounds in the San Juan Islands, where they once stayed for nearly the full summer.

In an unusual move this year, Ken relied on reliable observers from the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans as well as other biologists along the west coast of Vancouver Island. The missing whales were not seen during multiple encounters with the Canadians, Ken told me.

The reason the whales have not spent any time in Puget Sound is fairly obvious, Ken said. Their primary prey, chinook salmon, have not been around either.

We can hope they are getting enough to eat wherever they are.

“They were finding fish up north off Tofino,” Ken said. “They were not big salmon, but there were lots of eight-pounders. They seemed to be getting those.”

Tofino is about 140 miles up the west coast of Vancouver Island from Victoria. At Swiftsure Bank, near entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the whales appeared to be going after sablefish, also known as black cod, according to reports.

“They were eating those and then chasing some salmon,” Ken reported.

It is often speculated that the reason that southern residents specialize in chinook is the amount of calories they get from the fatty fish, compared to the amount of energy they must expend to catch them. This cultural preference was adopted by the whales perhaps thousands of years before chinook populations were decimated by human development.

Ken is under contract to the federal government to deliver a count of the southern residents as of July 1 each year, based on sightings in Puget Sound. He has until October to provide a final report, but the numbers are certain enough now to end the speculation.

“We are saddened to report that three adult killer whales (orca) are missing and presumed dead as of July 1, 2019,” Ken announced this evening in a news release.

“These whales are from the extremely endangered southern resident killer whale population that historically frequents the Salish Sea almost daily in summer months. Due to the scarcity of suitable chinook prey, this population of whales now rarely visits the core waters of its critical habitat: Puget Sound, Georgia Strait and the inland reach of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.”

The three whales he has declared deceased:

  • J-17, a 42-year-old female named Princess Angeline: A matriarch in J pod, Princess Angeline was the mother of Tahlequah (J-35), who carried her dead calf on her head for an unprecedented 17 days. Princess Angeline, named after Chief Seattle’s daughter, was reported in poor health during the winter. She is survived by two daughters, Tahlequah (J-35) and Kiki (J-53); a son, Moby (J-44); a granddaughter, Star (J-46); and a grandson, Notch (J-47).
  • K-25, a 28-year-old male named Scoter: He should have been in the prime of his life, but reports of poor body condition started in the winter. Scoter is survived by two sisters, Spock (K-20) and Deadhead (K-27), and a brother, Cali (K-34).
  • L-84, a 29-year-old male named Nyssa: He was the last of a large family group known as the L9’s.

The first of the four whales to die since July 2018 was Scarlet (J-50), who was the subject of rescue actions last summer and the subject of an ongoing controversy about what should or should not have been done to save her. See Water Ways, Sept. 14, 2018. I also featured Scarlet in a story about intervention with killer whales, Encyclopedia of Puget Sound, Feb. 4, 2019.

The two calves born into the southern resident clans this year were L-124 (gender unknown), born in January to L-77 (Matia), and J-56, an unnamed female born in May to J-31 (Tsuchi).

The current population of 73 southern residents is the lowest since 1976, when Ken first began his orca population survey following capture operations that removed a significant number of orcas for the aquarium trade. His first count was 71, but the actual population may have been higher, since this was so early in the survey. The population recovered to 98 animals in 1995. Since then, the trend has been generally downward with only a few upticks.

Increasing the urgency to restore natural salmon runs is the only hope of saving the killer whales, Ken told me, adding that government officials are off track by increasing hatchery production and allowing more fishing.

“They are not looking at the death spiral,” he told me.

In July 2018, we reported that two deaths and no births had taken place in the previous year, dropping the southern resident population from 77 to 75. Now the official population has dropped again by two, with 73 animals still surviving.

Amusing Monday: Some places on Earth are too dangerous for swimming

For people who love to swim, the allure of water can be overwhelming. Most people enjoy a sandy beach where waves lap gently on the shore. A few demand the thrill of a 50-foot breaker as they ride their surf board on the edge of tragedy.

For swimming, there is a place in Hawaii that has become known for both extremes, depending on weather and sea conditions. It’s called Queen’s Bath, and it is on the northern edge of Kaua˙i. The first video begins with the pleasant waters of this tide pool, once reserved for royalty.

At 1:49 in the video, we begin to see the dangerous side that occurs when big waves crash over the entire area. As the music on the video turns sinister, notice that people are no longer in the picture. The video was produced by HawaiiGaga.Com, which specializes in Hawaiian vacation rentals and provides useful information for visitors.

I first learned about Queen’s Bath this past weekend when my wife Sue pointed out a video that apparently has been circulating for three years with a total of 4.3 million page views. The video — second on this page — is titled: “Dead Pool: See why it’s called the pool of death.” It’s a thrilling video, and swimming is not recommended in this area that has a direct opening to the sea.

Actually, it appears to me that the title needs to be corrected. Queen’s Bath is not called the “pool of death,” according to sources that I would consider authoritative. That title has been applied, however, to another location on Kaua˙i called Kipu Falls. The site, which was featured in the film Raiders of the Lost Ark, is on private property. The owners have declared it off-limits to the public following a series of deaths and injuries, according to Hawaii News Now and other sources.

The “Dead Pool” video, while thrilling, was not actually filmed at the Queen’s Bath but at a tidal precipice on the way to Queen’s Bath. The aerial photo by labels the tide pools and describes the hazards along the way.

“Although the scenery and bath are a pleasant excursion for capable hikers, like many ocean attractions on Kaua˙i the area should be approached with caution,” states the description. “Visiting the Queen’s Bath without appreciating the potential hazards can be deadly….

“Many are confused about the location of the tide pool,” the webpage points out. “There are other areas where it is also possible (but more dangerous) to swim.”

The labels on the aerial photo show two other tidal areas, one near the open ocean that should never be attempted and one mentioned as “a popular spot for locals who like to jump off the 15-foot ledge,“ says the website. “As alluring as it looks, don’t be tempted to swim here. The inlet is subject to massive turbulence and exiting can be difficult.”

There’s another crazy video that shows a boy being washed off the cove’s ledge during a huge tidal surge. After he escaped the raging waters, an interviewer asked what the experience felt like. The boy’s answer: “Like being flushed down a toilet.”

Perhaps the final word comes from a segment featured on Inside Edition (third video this page). Posted in February, the story mentions the death of 23-year-old Lucy Cheng of Los Angeles, who was swept out to sea by a rogue wave last December. Queen’s Bath can be both beautiful and treacherous, as Inside Edition’s chief correspondent Jim Moret describes. Gates to the area are closed by local authorities when the waves become too dangerous, but perhaps Queen’s Bath is one place that some people should never go.

Other videos of beautiful and dangerous places:

Old bulkhead to be removed on Ross Point, a major surf smelt beach

Ross Point, the most popular fishing spot for surf smelt in Kitsap County, will become a little more friendly to the little fish following the removal of a concrete bulkhead along the shore of Sinclair Inlet.

Brittany Gordon, habitat biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, examines an old bulkhead about to be removed from Sinclair Inlet.
Photo: Christopher Dunagan

The bulkhead removal, scheduled to begin Aug. 12, will create more spawning area for surf smelt, an important food source for salmon and other fish. Smelt also are favored eating by some people, who typically catch them with dip nets.

In addition to increasing smelt habitat, the project will enhance the migration of young salmon along the southern shore of Sinclair Inlet. Like most bulkheads built in the tidal zone, this 84-foot-long structure forces juvenile salmon to swim into deeper water out from shore, making them more vulnerable to predators.

Getting rid of this bulkhead can’t be considered a major restoration project, yet it is one more step in improving the critical shoreline habitat for marine species, according to Brittany Gordon, habitat biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

As we walked along the shore near the bulkhead, Brittany told me that it isn’t clear why the bulkhead was built in the first place. It appears there might have been a house on the site at one time, given the ornamental and fruit trees nearby. The property is now owned by the Department of Fish and Wildlife, which maintains a pullout for cars plus a primitive trail from Highway 166 (Bay Street).

Ross Point, Sinclair Inlet

Ross Point and nearby Ross Creek, as well as most of the Sinclair Inlet shoreline, were important to Native Americans before the arrival of settlers, according to Leonard Forsman, chairman of the Suquamish Tribe.

“I’m not sure if there was a winter village there,” he told me, “but it is one of the many places that people camped for a few days to a week at a time.”

The area was called Scusad, meaning “Star” in the Lushootseed language, he said, adding that the tribe supports the bulkhead removal.

Beginning in October, one can usually see cars parked along the roadway as fishers go down to catch their share of the smelt spawning on Ross Point, which is about 1.3 miles west of Port Orchard City Hall and about 2 miles east of Gorst. WDFW provides a fact sheet on smelt and smelt fishing (PDF 1.6 mb). A new regulation requires a license (saltwater or combination) when fishing for smelt in saltwater.

Access to the Ross Point beach will be closed from Aug. 12 to 19, provided the removal project goes according to schedule.

Surf smelt are an important food for salmon as well as being prized by some humans.
Photo: WDFW

Heavy equipment will be operated from the uphill side of the bulkhead without going down on the beach, Brittany said. Once the concrete structure is removed, experts will assess how the fill material behind it should be managed. If it is naturally clean dirt, it could be allowed to erode freely with the tides. Other options including removing some of the fill and overtopping with clean sediment.

The bulkhead removal is estimated to cost $40,000, including studies and design. The money comes from the ASARCO settlement fund — the result of compensation for natural resource damages from the Tacoma smelter. The money, managed by the Department of Ecology, was originally allocated to the Harper Estuary restoration in South Kitsap, but funding fell short for construction of a bridge that is still needed to complete that project.

The length of the concrete bulkhead is 60 feet parallel to the shore. At each end, the wall extends 12 feet back perpendicular to the shore, for a total of 84 feet. Around the ends, the dirt has been scoured away at high tide, creating a further threat to small salmon following the shoreline.

The location of the bulkhead along the high-tide line places it within the prime spawning area for surf smelt, which lay their eggs in gravel. See the WDFW document “Forage fishes and their critical habitat” (PDF 415 kb).

Like all bulkheads, the one at Ross Point also blocks natural shoreline erosion, which is how the beach obtains a continuing supply of sand and gravel. Those materials are essential for spawning by forage fish, including surf smelt and sand lance. The lack of sand and gravel results in a hardened substrate overlain by nothing but rocks that don’t wash away.

The bulkhead to be removed from Ross Point is 60 feet across the front with a 12-foot perpendicular section on each end. // Photo: Christopher Dunagan

The Ross Point project provides a chance for the Department of Fish and Wildlife to practice what it preaches.

“We try to be good stewards of the lands we own,” Brittany said. “It is a challenge because of our limited resources.”

Environmental agencies encourage shoreline property owners to remove bulkheads wherever feasible. For many properties in Puget Sound, bulkheads are not needed, because the rate of erosion is so slow. In some cases, spawning habitat can be restored to a more natural condition while limiting erosion by replacing a bulkhead with “soft shore” techniques, such as logs and large rocks along the upper edge of the beach.

I’ve talked to many shoreline property owners who, following restoration, are thrilled to have a naturally sloping beach where they previously confronted a sudden dropoff.

A program called Shore Friendly Kitsap can provide experts for free to help property owners assess the benefits and risks of bulkhead removal and offer grants up to $5,000 for design, permitting and construction. “Shore Friendly” services may be different in other counties, so check out “Resources in your area.”

For information about the Ross Point bulkhead removal, contact Fish and Wildlife officials:

  • Brittany Gordon, 360-620-3601,, or
  • Doris Small, 360-902-2258,

Amusing Monday: Sand sculptors worldwide continue to amaze

While I have never been to Revere Beach, I look forward each year to photos of the amazing sand sculptures from a competition that brings people from throughout the world to this location just north of Boston.

The winning entry in the Revere Beach sand sculpting contest was “Nest” by Mélineige Beauregard of Montreal, Canada. // Photo: Revere Beach Partnership

Adding to the enjoyment of the Revere Beach International Sand-Sculpting Festival are longtime sand-sculptors Dan Doubleday and Meredith Corson-Doubleday, who bring the event to life, especially for distant viewers, with their expert commentary on all the pieces. I also appreciated the slide show created by professional photographer Greg Cook on his Wonderland website.

The sand sculptures are evaluated using four categories: (1) degree of difficulty, (2) originality and creativity, (3) quality of sculpting, and (4) overall visual impact.

In the two videos on this page, Dan and Meredith conduct their fourth-day “walkthrough” together, as the sand sculptures take on their final forms. At the time that Dan and Meredith recorded their commentary, they did not know who the winners would be, so I would like to add some help with that:

Day Four Walkthrough, sculptures 8-15 (first video)

The video opens with a sculpture created by Tacoma’s Sue McGrew called “Eye of the Tiger.” It reflects Sue’s new-found love of boxing. The work is impressive, although Sue did not place at Revere Beach this time around.

At 4:24 in the video, we see “Shell-ter” by Jonathan “Jobi” Bouchard of Montreal, Canada, the second-place winner in the competition. It is his interpretation of what it means to be homeless and forced to find a place to stay while living on the streets.

At 8:12 is a sculpture by Dan Belcher of St. Louis, who took fifth place with “Trance,” showing two isolated eyes staring at a person. Dan pointed out the tall, heavy, and nearly vertical edge to the piece, which shows sort of an engineering ability to the craft.

“Guardian Angels,” third place, by Ilya Filimontse of Russia.
Photo: Revere Beach Partnership

The winning sculpture, by Mélineige Beauregard, also of Montreal, appears at 11:45 in the first video. She mentions in the awards ceremony that her piece, titled “Nest,” reflects the feeling of “love and shelter” that she is feeling in her new relationship. She sort of demonstrates in the sculptors’ video at 4:14.

Also in the first video, at 12:41, is the third-place winner, Ilya Filimontse of Russia with his impressive piece “Guardian Angels.” You can see a portion of the sculpture in a photo on this page, but go to Greg Cook’s photos to see the full thing, including the back. The wings are amazingly fragile, as Dan and Meredith point out, and early in the production one wing partially collapsed and had to be rebuilt. There is some special meaning to the mismatched wings, as Ilya points out in the sculptors’ video at 5:20.


Day Four Walkthrough,
sculptures 1-7 (second video)

At 1:07 in the second video, we see the People’s Choice winner Sudarsan Pattnaik of india. It’s a powerful image of ocean pollution with the message “Save our oceans; stop plastic pollution.”

The always-intricate Sculptors’ Choice award comes up at 2:26 with Belgium native Enguerrand “Mac” David’s piece about Notre-Dame Cathedral.

At 8:56, we see the fourth-place sculpture, “An Ode to Apathy” by Abe Waterman of Prince Edward Island, Canada. This was my personal favorite, because Abe was doing something with colored sand that I have never seen before. The technique works perfectly to distinguish the continents from the oceans as the Earth breaks apart. Meanwhile, a human observer sits and eats his popcorn as he watches it happenen.

Just added this morning are two sculptors’ videos, in which the artists present their work in the same order as their plots and what was presented by Dan and Meredith. They present many thoughtful and amusing insights. One video shows plots 8-15. The other shows plots 1-7.

A video of the awards ceremony includes an introduction of the sculptors and some additional commentary. (You can skip the first 24 minutes, which just shows people milling around without sound.) Other related videos can be seen on the RevereTV Channel on YouTube.

Other competitions

It appears to be a good year for Mélineige Beauregard, who took first place in June at the Hampton Beach Master Sand Sculpting Contest in New Hampshire. Her piece in that competition is called “Breaking Out,” and you only get the full impact back looking at the front and then the back, as shown in the image on this page.

Front and back of the piece titled “Breaking Out” by Mélineige Beauregard, first place at the Hampton Beach Master Sand Sculpting Competition.
Photo: Hampton Beach Village District

For other photos at the Hampton Beach event, see the slideshow at the bottom of the website for the Hampton Beach Village District or look at the official Facebook page.

By the way, Sue McGrew will build a sand sculpture at Sammamish City Hall next month as part of the Sammamish Party of the Plateau celebration. The 16 tons of sand will be dropped off on Monday, Aug. 12, and she will work on the sculpture until the following Thursday. The event is sponsored by the Sammamish Arts Commission.

Other upcoming events include:

Climate Sense: Arctic burns as climate issues gain political attention

It’s next to impossible to keep up with all the new information coming out about climate change, but I thought I would share some new reports that I found interesting.

For the first three months of this year, I provided a weekly report called “Climate Sense.” I am still trying to gauge how often to write these posts or drop them altogether. I am not conducting original reporting; I’m just offering some reading material. Perhaps regular readers of this blog prefer their own news sources. As always, I am open to suggestions.

Item 1: The Arctic is burning

The Arctic is hot and dry this summer. Fires are burning through longtime stores of carbon in the peat soil and emitting unprecedented levels of carbon dioxide that could contribute to climate change. That increases the risk of future fires — a dangerous feedback loop, according to Thomas Smith, an assistant professor in environmental geography at the London School of Economics.

“These are some of the biggest fires on the planet, with a few appearing to be larger than 100,000 hectares (380 square miles),” Smith told reporter Morgan Hines of USA Today. “The amount of CO2 (carbon dioxide) emitted from Arctic Circle fires in June 2019 is larger than all of the CO2 released from Arctic Circle fires in the same month from 2010 through to 2018 put together.”

The Guardian, which produced the video on this page, provides links to a number of sources in a story titled “’Unprecedented’: More than 100 Arctic wildfires burn in worst-ever season.”

Item 2: Memorial for a glacier

Glaciers — essentially the beginnings of many rivers around the world — are melting away one-by-one because of climate change, triggering various effects on the local ecosystem.

Two anthropologists from Rice University, Cymene Howe and Dominic Boyer, decided to erect a plaque to an Icelandic glacier that has met its demise.

“This little glacier on a little mountain, in a country far away on the edge of the world, is something that indexes a much larger story that affects the entire planet,” Boyer was quoted as saying in a story by Morgan Krakow in the Washington Post.

The monument reads: “Ok is the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as a glacier. In the next 200 years all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it.”

On a related topic, scientists are learning that glaciers that come into contact with the ocean are melting faster than previously predicted — because they are melting from both the top and the bottom. Nina Pullano of Inside Climate News reports on new findings from a scientific study.

Item 3: Is climate crisis a political issue?

Andy Stone, host of the “Energy Policy Now” podcast from the University of Pennsylvania, speculates in writing about whether climate concerns among the American public has reached a point that could help determine the presidential election.

“A critical question, given the growing number of warnings from the likes of the U.S. government and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change …, is whether the country has finally reached the point where climate will in fact be a decisive issue for voters at the polls,” he writes in Forbes. “Environmental sociology (yes, there is such a field) refers to this as a question of salience. When it comes to decision time, does the voter prioritize environment?”

Andy’s final answer is not definitive, but it is hopeful.

Meanwhile, CNN has announced that it will host a “town hall” on climate change issues for Democratic candidates in the presidential race in September. Candidates who meet the criteria for the September debate organized by the Democratic National Committee will appear one at a time before an audience in New York City.

Congress is also paying more attention to the climate crisis, as both Democrats and Republicans are remarkably trying to coming to terms with a tax on greenhouse gases.

“The push to regulate greenhouse gas emissions come as both Democrats and Republicans face pressure from their constituents, and in some cases the fossil fuel industry itself, to regulate carbon emissions that lead to climate change,” writes Miranda Green for “The Hill.”

“The influx of legislation is surprising some observers who have long called for action on climate change,” Miranda noted. “They say they wouldn’t have believed a year ago that there would have been such a push.”

She quoted Carlos Curbelo, a former Republican congressman from Florida who lost his reelection bid last year after proposing a carbon-pricing bill.

“I can tell you from what I know is that we are worlds apart from the Congress that I left at the beginning of this year,” he said. “Today, not just rank and file from moderate districts, but leading Republicans, senior Republicans are stepping out on the issue, making it clear that the debate should be over solutions, not over science or anything else of that nature, and for me it’s a sign of real progress.”

Item 4: Auto emissions deal and federal intervention

California officials announced this week that they have reached agreement with four automobile manufacturers to produce cars with better fuel mileage, leading the way to a new national standard. McClatchy/Sacramento Bee, July 25.

But the Trump administration wants to role back the California standard and impose a rule that prohibits California or any state from requiring stricter emissions standards. McClatchy/Sacramento Bee update, July 25.

“The Trump administration is pursuing one national standard and certainty for the entire auto market,” Environmental Protection Agency spokesman Michael Abboud was quoted as saying. “This voluntary framework is a PR stunt that does nothing to further the one national standard that will provide certainty and relief for American consumers.”

California officials maintain that any added costs for producing more fuel-efficient cars would be offset by fuel savings.

“Climate Sense” is my attempt to share some of the important research, political developments, fascinating viewpoints or inspiring opinions that I come across during my reading. For a further explanation, read my first Water Ways post of 2019: “Climate Sense: I would like to share what I learn during this coming year.”

Sewage spill in Seattle triggers warnings in Kitsap County

It was a tale of two health advisories that created a bit of confusion in Kitsap County following a major sewage spill last week from King County’s West Point treatment plant.

A beach closure in Kitsap County included the eastern shoreline of Bainbridge Island north of Eagle Harbor plus North Kitsap from the Agate Pass bridge to Point Jefferson between Kingston and Indianola.

Brown color designates areas closed to shellfish harvest because of pollution. Click to see state map for details on closures.
Map: Washington State Department of Health

The closure area was determined in part by computer models, which showed that spills of sewage, oil and other substances are capable of crossing Puget Sound from Seattle and hitting the shore of Kitsap County, according to Scott Berbells, section manager for shellfish growing areas, a division of the Washington State Department of Health.

Such a scenario occurred in December 2003, when 4,800 gallons of heavy fuel oil spilled from a barge at the Chevron/Texaco Facility at Point Wells, south of Edmonds. The oil crossed Puget Sound and damaged shellfish beaches in North Kitsap. See Kitsap Sun, Dec. 31, 2003.

The latest spill, about 3 million gallons of raw sewage mixed with stormwater, occurred at West Point in Seattle’s Magnolia area — about 20 miles south of Point Wells.

The exact trajectory of a spill depends greatly on winds and tidal currents, but state and county health officials tend to be cautious, thus the closure of Kitsap County’s shoreline. Water-quality testing has not revealed the presence of bacteria from the West Point sewer spill, but the tests are limited to a few areas, according to John Kiess, environmental health director for the Kitsap Public Health District. It is best to be cautious in these situations, he said.

The two health advisories that led to some confusion are a no-contact advisory, which advises people to stay out of the water, and a shellfish-closure advisory, which strongly suggests that nobody take shellfish from affected beaches. Commercial shellfish growers must comply with mandated closures.

The no-contact advisory was in place from July 19 to July 22, when it was lifted. John Kiess told me that the public should have been notified of a 21-day shellfish closure, which will remain in effect until Aug. 9. The notice of the shellfish closure went out today.

Any confusion among health officials was because the 21-day shellfish closure is a fairly new way of addressing closures for recreational shellfish harvesting, John said, noting that the county works with the state for consistent policies.

The 21-day closure was actually designed for commercial shellfish growers, according to Scott Berbells. It was adopted from federal Food and Drug Administration rules imposed within the last couple years, he said. The state policy — followed by Kitsap County — has been to announce recreational shellfish closures consistent with commercial closures.

Scott explained that shellfish closures last a lot longer than no-contact advisories. If shellfish pick up the pollution in their tissues, it generally takes a lot longer for the shellfish to become clean again, whereas contaminants in the water will become diluted in a short time, making it safe to swim in a few days.

As for the models that predict pollution plumes, several are available, including at least one in King County being used to determine where shellfish beds can be safely opened to commercial harvest.

Click on the map to go to an animated simulation of the plume created by an oil spill in Seattle.
Graphic: University of Washington Coastal Modeling Group

One model, which recently became available for public use, provides a three-day forecast of water temperature and chemistry, based on tides, water circulation and other factors. Developed by the University of Washington Coastal Modeling Group, the model is called LiveOcean. You can view a simulation of an oil spill on a page titled “Forecast of surface salinity and simulated oil spills.” Click on the start button and notice how an oil spill in Seattle creates a plume that can reach Bainbridge Island and even points north.

“LiveOcean works a lot like the weather forecast models that we all rely on every day,” states the opening to a description of how the model works. “It takes in information about the state of the ocean, atmosphere and rivers on a given day, and then uses the laws of physics (and a large computer) to predict how the state of the ocean in our region will change over the next few days.

“The things that the model predicts are currents, salinity, temperature, chemical concentrations of nitrate, oxygen, carbon, and biological fields like phytoplankton, zooplankton, and organic particles. It does this in three dimensions, and allowing continuous variation over the full 72 hour forecast it makes every day.”

One reason for creating LiveOcean was to help shellfish growers decide when to plant oyster seed and conduct other activities during a time of ocean acidification. Oyster growers in particular want to avoid certain cultivation practices when water conditions become deadly to oyster larvae.

The primary driver of ocean acidification is growing amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but acidification is also influenced by excess nitrogen, such as from sewage-treatment plants.

Washington Department of Ecology is investigating the latest sewage spill from the West Point plant after a much larger spill in 2017. For details, read the news release from Ecology and check the related links.