All posts by Christopher Dunagan

Amusing Monday: Finding new ways to ride a bike across the water

When a man rides a bicycle across the River Thames in London, people stop and stare — and that’s exactly what 35-year-old Dhruv Boruah wants them to do, as he picks up trash floating on the river.

His message is about plastic pollution. He wants people to know that when plastic gets into the environment, it tends to stay there, breaking into tiny pieces that contaminate the food web.

“I like to be on the water for the adventure,” he said in an interview this month in the London Evening Standard, “and the bike is so unique that it’s a good conversation starter to talk to people and raise awareness about the dangers of plastics, micro-plastics and toxic chemicals to stop these ending up in the ocean.”

Boruah, a management consultant, turned his attention to plastic pollution after a yacht race took him from London to Rio de Janeiro. He couldn’t help but notice the massive amounts of plastic trash floating in the ocean. Upon return, he launched The Thames Project, which has raised awareness about plastic pollution and recruited others to clean up the river and its canals, both on water and off.

I was amused by Boruah’s methods as well as his message, as revealed in lectures on YouTube. In a Tedx talk in April, he began by stating, “A friend once asked me, ‘Is the water in the bottle or is the bottle in the water?’” In another talk in July, he started by explaining how plastic saved his life — so he is not questioning plastic’s value, only its use and disposal.

As for biking on the water, I realized that I haven’t written about this form of transportation since I first saw a pontoon bike making the trip from Bainbridge Island to Bremerton in 2007. I recall reporter Tristan Baurick’s story in the Kitsap Sun about commuter Nat Hong, a Bainbridge resident employed at Olympic College in Bremerton.

Today, you can find numerous commercial kits to build yourself a portable pedal boat or convert a regular bicycle into a boat. Boruah’s boat bicycle is made by the Shuttle Bike Company of Italy. The assembly of five different commercial pedal-boats are demonstrated in a video by Eye Tech.

Home bike crafters seem to be everywhere on the Internet talking about their floating bikes, many of which are amphibious — meaning they can convert quickly from land to water. One bike, invented in India by Migha Shajan, grew out of a tragic ferry accident and a desire to cross the water safely. Check out the video on YouTube by Invis Multimedia.

A Mythbusters video (second on this page) features a bicycle converted with the addition of five-gallon water jugs. When I saw Adam Savage riding the bike unsteadily up to the edge of a swimming pool, I thought he would surely tip over in the water. But it was never much of a problem. He even reinstalled the bike chain, which had slipped off, without leaving the water.

A unique approach to a floating bike was taken by Berto Aussems, who basically tied a bicycle to an inflatable raft in which the bottom had been removed. Power and steering are provided by an outrigger motor driven with a portable hand drill (third video).

After reviewing lots of videos showing commercial and home-built designs for water bikes that involve all sorts of cumbersome installation and conversion efforts, I was taken to a whole new level of consciousness by the amphibious motorcycle. You just get on and ride — crossing both land and water with ease — as shown in the last video.

Impassioned task force faces the challenge of saving endangered orcas

Passion for saving Puget Sound’s killer whales is driving an exhaustive search for ways to restore the whales to health and rebuild their population, but hard science must contribute to the search for workable answers.

I recently updated readers on the efforts of the Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force, appointed by the governor to change the course of a population headed toward extinction. Read the story I wrote for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound or the version reprinted in the Kitsap Sun.

I began the story by mentioning the term “no silver bullet,” a term I have heard numerous times from folks involved in the task force. They are emphasizing how difficult it is to restore a damaged ecosystem, while orcas wait for food at the top of a complex food web. All sorts of people are looking for a quick fix, something that will increase the number of Chinook salmon — the orcas’ primary prey — within their range, which includes the Salish Sea and Pacific Ocean from Vancouver Island to Northern California.

The quickest and simplest answers:

  • Increase the number of fish produced in hatcheries,
  • Kill large numbers of seals and sea lions that eat Chinook,
  • Tear down four Snake River dams, or
  • Strategically reduce fishing that catches Chinook before the whales have a chance to eat them.

If any of these ideas seems like a quick-and-easy solution to you, then read my story for an overview of the problem and then go deeper by reading up on the subject. Each of these issues is subject to extensive scientific and political debate.

While my story touched on these issues, I will try to cover them more thoroughly as the task force goes about its deliberations and develops an emergency plan scheduled for completion this fall. The task force is also asked to develop a long-term strategy for the whales, which probably involves restoring a healthy food web — an effort coordinated by the Puget Sound Partnership.

I have to admit that I was amused by an online comment in the Kitsap Sun: “It is an easy fix,” the commenter asserted. “Stop all salmon fishing for several years; yes, including the Indians.”

I’m not sure the writer even read my story, but I have heard this simple proposal before. It definitely sounds easy, and eliminating all salmon fishing would be an interesting experiment. But the tremendous economic, political and cultural consequences makes the idea a nonstarter. Besides, the whales wouldn’t even touch the large numbers of chum, pink, sockeye and coho salmon produced naturally and in fish hatcheries throughout the Northwest.

Some experts do believe that fishing should be curtailed further to protect wild Chinook and other “weak stocks.” Certainly the benefits and problems of hatcheries remain a subject of ongoing scientific and social debate. The killer whales bring a new urgency to the discussion of salmon management — but humans remain part of the equation.

I can see how the killer whale task force is trying to maneuver through a minefield of political, economic and social issues to solve an environmental problem. Solutions must be logical and convincing to build enough support for action — even when the goal is to save something universally cherished, such as the killer whales. And so passion and hope continue to be blended with science, and we will see what comes out in the end.

At the last task force meeting, the death of a newborn orca was on the minds of many members, as national and international news reports described the mother, named Tahlequah, carrying her dead calf for days on end. The members also were thinking about a 3-year-old calf that was near death from malnutrition as experts prepared to take steps to bring her food and medication (NOAA Fisheries website).

While the task force’s efforts are focused on what the science tells us, Stephanie Solien, co-chair of the group, started off the meeting with a heartfelt discussion about how people are feeling a desperate need to help the orcas.

“What the J-pod orcas have clearly shown in their actions speak more profoundly than any human words,” she said. “This is what they have told the world: It is human actions that are responsible for the dead and stillborn calves, the sick and starving adults and the declining condition of the environment in which they live.

“As the grieving mother orca labored through the Salish Sea carrying her dead calf without rest, she brought us all to attention, demonstrating that her future and the future of her species is in our hands right now…,” she said. “We are together in what we feel, and we must be together in our actions. The only option for her survival and for ours is to act collectively with one strong determined will.”

You can listen to Stephanie reading her entire statement at 6:23 in the first video on this page.

Maia Bellon, director of the Washington Department of Ecology, was among others who reflected personally on Tahlequah’s loss and the human connection.

“There is nothing worse than a parent who has to let their child go, and many of us have had those experiences within our lives,” Maia said, adding that emotion can be a force to bring people together with a common goal.

“I am feeling strength from this room and know that we have a chance here and now to seize the opportunity to make a difference for the future of the killer whale,” she continued. “I close by giving a scientific fact: Killer whales need to eat to survive. That’s science. We have an obligation from the bottom of our food web all the way to the top to make this happen. And that includes restoring and sustaining a healthy ecosystem.”

Maia’s statement begins at 35:28 in the first video, and there are other heartfelt thoughts offered as each task force member has a chance to speak during the introductions. The remainder of the first video covers initial options presented by the leaders of the task force’s working groups.

The second video includes reports that followed a break-out session in which members gave their opinions about the various options. A public comment period begins at 40:35 in that video.

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 23 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 RevereBeach.com posted some nice photos on the website massive.com. 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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