Tag Archives: Seattle

Swimming a river called Green/Duwamish to open our eyes to the promise

By swimming the entire Green/Duwamish River in King County, Mark Powell hopes to show that the river’s full length — roughly 85 miles from the mountains to Puget Sound — is a single system worthy of protection and restoration.

I believe that most people have heard about the Duwamish Waterway in Seattle, a channelized, industrialized section of the lower Duwamish River where decades of pollution are being cleaned up, one step at a time. But how much does anyone know about the upper end of the river, which begins as a trickle of crystal clear water in the Cascade Mountains south of Snoqualmie Pass?

Mark Powell
Mark Powell

“Almost nobody knows the river well, not even the people who live along the river,” Mark told me.

Mark, the Puget Sound Program director for Washington Environmental Council. said the idea of swimming the entire river came to him during the kickoff of a new Green/Duwamish Watershed Strategy by King County and Seattle. The plan is to identify all the significant problems in the watershed (map, PDF 1.1 mb) and to increase restoration efforts where needed.

“I thought this would be an interesting way to connect with people,” Mark said. “I’m a guy who likes to get outdoors, so this is a personal commitment I could make.”

Mark swam around Bainbridge Island in the winter of 2008-09. ““By swimming the whole coastline, I’m not just diving to the pretty spots. I’m forced to look at the gross parts,” he told reporter Michelle Ma in a story for the Seattle Times.

So far, Mark has been swimming the upper and middle portions of the Green/Duwamish River. He said his biggest surprise is finding pockets of good habitat everywhere he goes.

Earlier this month, he was accompanied on the river by Sheida Sahandy, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership, and Martha Kongsgaard, chairwoman of the partnership’s Leadership Council. A few days before they swam the river near Auburn, the Leadership Council approved new “vitals signs” indicators for “human health” and “human well-being” to emphasize the human connection to the Puget Sound ecosystem. See “Water Ways” July 30.

The human connection was still on Sheida’s mind when I talked to her about a week after her trip to the Green River. The most “eye-opening” part of the swim for her was the condition of “this incredibly beautiful natural element coursing through a very urban landscape.”

She saw evidence of people living along the river in less-than-desirable conditions, she said. There were barbecues and trailer houses but no suggestion that people had any connection to the river — except that some individuals apparently were using it as a toilet, she said.

“I haven’t quite wrapped my head around that, but it feels very right that we are considering human well-being,” she explained. “On the one hand is what we have done to the river. On the other hand is what we have done to ourselves. We need to figure out how it all links together.”

Mark’s adventures on the river are chronicled in a blog called “Swim Duwamish.” He hopes to swim every section of the river where he is allowed to go and be safe. A portion of the Green River controlled by the city of Tacoma has no public access, because it is a source of the city’s water supply. Rapids in the Green River Gorge are said to be dangerous, so Mark will look for a guide to help him. And because of heavy marine traffic in the Duwamish Waterway, he may use a boat to escort him on his approach to Seattle’s Elliott Bay.

The Green/Duwamish River may be the most disjointed river in Puget Sound, both physically and psychologically. People who have seen the industrialized lower river find it hard to visualize the near-pristine salmon stream spilling clean water down from the mountains. It is the upper part that provides the inspiration to clean up the lower part, Mark told me.

“If there was a reason for sacrificing a river, you could find it in the Duwamish,” he said. “But we can’t afford to sacrifice even one river. To me, this is what protecting Puget Sound is all about. By the time the pollution gets to Puget Sound it is too late.”

If salmon can make it through the gauntlet in the lower river, they may have a fighting chance to spawn and produce a new generation of Green River fish. Improving their migration corridor is not an impossible dream.

I suggested to Mark that the name of the river be officially changed to “Green/Duwamish” or “Green-Duwamish” to help people recognize that this is a single river from the mountains to Puget Sound. After all, the name “Salish Sea” has helped some people realize that we share an inland waterway with Canadians. The other name-change option would be to call it Duwamish all the way.

Until I started reading about the Duwamish, I didn’t realize how this river once captured water from the Black River and the White River as well as the Green River and the Cedar River. But the system has changed drastically over the past century or so.


As you can see in the map on this page, the Green River once joined the White River and flowed north, picking up waters from the Black River. The Black River, which took drainage from Lake Washington, picked up water from the Cedar River.

Where the Black River merged with the White River, it became the Duwamish all the way to Puget Sound.

Two major events changed the rivers’ flow and subsequently the nomenclature. In 1906, a flood diverted the White River to the south into the channel of the Stuck River, which flowed into the Puyallup River. Shortly after that, the White River was artificially confined to keep it flowing south. Because the river flowing north contained water only from the Green River, the name “White” was changed to “Green” downstream to where the Duwamish began.

The other big event was the construction of the Lake Washington Ship Canal in 1917 to connect the lake with Puget Sound. The construction lowered the lake by more than 8 feet, with the lake level controlled by the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks. The Black River, which had taken the discharge flow from Lake Washington before construction, then dried up. The Cedar River, which had flowed into the Black River, was diverted into the lake.

Following those changes, the Green River and the Duwamish became essentially the same river, with the total flow perhaps one-third as much as it had been before the changes. If you are interested in this history and other geological forces at work in the area, check out the 1970 report by the U.S. Geological Survey (PDF 53.1 mb).

Amusing Monday: Video shows transformation
of Seattle’s waterfront

I’ve always heard that downtown Seattle and its waterfront area were built on a massive amount of fill, but I never knew how massive until I viewed the video on this page.

According to the researchers involved, Seattle is “one of the most dramatically re-engineered cities in the United States.”

The video was completed two years ago, but I had not heard of it until I read a recent blog post by archeologist Peter Lape, researcher Amir Sheikh, and artist Don Fels, who together make up the Waterlines Project. The three have collaborated to study the history of Seattle by focusing on how the shorelines changed over time. As they state in the blog post for the Burke Museum:

“For more than ten years, we’ve worked as an informal group, known as the Waterlines Project, to examine Seattle’s past landscapes. Drawing from data gathered by geologists, archaeologists, historians and other storytellers, we are literally unearthing and imagining our collective pasts…

“What have we found? Among other things, Seattle is one of the most dramatically re-engineered cities in the United States. From the dozen or so settlers who founded it on Coast Salish land in 1851 to its current status as America’s fastest growing city, hardly a decade has gone by without its residents taking on some major ‘improvement’ projects affecting its shorelines.”

The maps and photos collected during the Waterlines Project will take you back to another time. Thanks to photographer Asahel Curtis, much of the history of our region has been preserved for us to see. Some of his notable photographs on the waterfront theme:

Bremerton leading in national ‘water challenge’

Bremerton continues to lead cities its size in the National Mayor’s Challenge, a program sponsored by the Wyland Foundation to encourage people to conserve water and energy, reduce waste, and do other conservation-minded things.

The challenge runs through April, so there is still time to join with other Bremerton residents or else boost the results for any city you wish to support. The pledge is basically a list of 17 conservation questions, and you just check a box for commitments you are willing to make — either with new practices or with ongoing good habits. To start, you name your city.

Bremerton was the winner last year among cities with populations from 30,000 to 100,000. As they did last year, Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent and her staff have done a good job in spreading the word about the contest, which includes prizes. I’ve seen posters in local stores and restaurants.

As the mayor said in a news release:

“Water is Bremerton’s remarkable resource. I encourage all Bremerton residents to pledge to learn more about their water and energy use at home. This challenge, which runs through April, is an exciting opportunity to learn about water wise habits as we engage in a friendly competition with other cities across the nation to create a more sustainable environment.”

Following Bremerton in its population category are Folsom, Calif., and then Greeley, Colo.

Since I wrote a story about this for the Kitsap Sun (subscription) on April 11, Seattle has moved up from seventh to fourth place among the largest cities (600,000 and over). No other Washington cities have made it into the top 10 for any population group.

In Kitsap County, Port Orchard is ranked 44; Poulsbo is ranked 162; and Bainbridge Island is out of the running at this point.

Other Washington cities in the top 100:

Gig Harbor, 46
Tacoma, 58
Vancouver, 59
Lacey, 64
Redmond, 74

Several other cities are close to 100. If anyone sees his or her city moving into the top 100, please let me know.

Amusing Monday: Just another rainy day

Today is the first day of summer, and I’m not sure what to expect from the weather. Winter rains just keep coming, crimping Father’s Day activities yesterday and making me wonder what will happen now that summer is officially here.

We are living the stereotype for Western Washington weather. You know the jokes:

  • It only rains twice a year in Seattle: August through April and May through July.
  • What does daylight-saving time mean in Seattle? An extra hour of rain.
  • What’s the definition of a Seattle optimist? A guy with a sun visor on his rain hat.
  • How to predict weather in Seattle: If you can see Mt Rainier, it’s going to rain. If not, it already is.
  • A newcomer to Seattle arrives on a rainy day. He gets up the next day and it’s raining. It also rains the day after that, and the day after that. He goes out to lunch and sees a young kid and asks out of despair, “Hey kid, does it ever stop raining around here?” The kid says, “How do I know? I’m only 6.”

I’m mostly serious when I tell newcomers that you can expect three months of summer in Western Washington — but not all at once, and don’t try to guess when it will come and go.

There’s the joke about the honest weatherman who says, , “Today’s forecast is bright and sunny with an 80% chance that I’m wrong.”

So, with the hope that we’ll get to see some nice weather this year, here are a few riddles, quotes and facts about rain:

Q: What’s the difference between a horse and the weather?
A: One is reined up and the other rains down.

What do you call it when it rains chickens and ducks?
A: Foul (fowl) weather.

Everybody is talking about the weather but nobody does anything about it. – Mark Twain

Largest rainfall on record: Tropical Cyclone Denise, Jan. 8, 1966, 71.9 inches (6 feet) in 24 hours, La Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean off the East Coast of Africa. (See Wikipedia for other rainfall records.)

Weather the Weather

Whether the weather be fine
Or whether the weather be not,
Whether the weather be cold
Or whether the weather be hot,
We’ll weather the weather
Whatever the weather,
Whether we like it or not.

Thanks to Julian T. Rubin for compiling most of these rain-related jokes.

Amusing Monday: Salmon says … smile!

Coming out of the recent legislative session, People for Puget Sound wanted to create some kind of video for Earth Day. But the group didn’t have much money for production costs. So staffers approached the folks at Visual Media Group in Seattle.

“We get really serious about a whole lot of stuff,” said Mike Sato, communications director for People for Puget Sound. Everyone began thinking that it might be time to offer something humorous, and folks at the VMG were willing to help.

“They came back with a script, saying it is going to be light, but it is going to have a point,” Sato said.

After a few minor script changes, everyone was on board, and producer Rich Rudy began working on casting, costumes and locations.

If you haven’t viewed the video, called “Salmon Says, Fight Pollution,” please do so now (by clicking on the video player below). Then read on for more information about how this video came about.

It was Cheryl Isen, a marketing and public relations expert with connections to both People for Puget Sound and Visual Media Group, who suggested the two groups work together.

“We were all too happy to throw in our time and do this PSA (public service announcement) for them,” Rich Rudy of VMG told me. “We are trying to give back to the community, and we had free rein over the creatives.”

The actor in the salmon suit is Dartanion London, a standup improv comedian who works in the U. District while attending college. He also donated his time to the cause.

“We sent the script to him with the basic idea. We call it an emotional map that he was going to improvise around,” Rich said.

The production was more complicated than you might think. Every location was approved with officials, from the Westlake Fountain to the Pike Place Market to a pier owned by the Port of Seattle. Bystanders in the video are volunteers who offered their services, mostly folks associated with People for Puget Sound.

A costume was designed, put together and scheduled for delivery on the day of the shoot. Then the seamstress called Rudy in tears. The fish suit was gone. She had placed it in the backseat of her Mercedes, and the car was stolen.

In a kind of gallows humor, the joke became: “If anyone sees a guy in a fish suit driving around in a Mercedes, be sure to call 911,” according to Rich Rudy.

It turns out that another environmental group, Save Our Wild Salmon, had a suit for its mascot, Buster — the wild Snake River sockeye. In fact, there were extra suits available, and so the shoot was back on.

Some of the greatest moments occurred when the human-sized fish became engaged in dialog with a salmon at Pike Place Market. Unfortunately, one of the street musicians had been watching and began singing as soon as the shooting started. The music drowned out the dialog and most could not be used.

There is some talk about going back for another try at the fish market. A video from the numerous funny outtakes also is in the works, organizers say.

Of course, everyone hopes the PSA will appear on one of the local television stations. But that will be up to the various PSA coordinators who select which pieces to run in the various time slots.

Geoduck companion appears on ‘Prairie’

Garrison Keillor

Earlier this month, Garrison Keillor and his live variety show, The Prairie Home Companion, performed at the Paramount Theater in Seattle. He actually conducted two shows, the first on March 27, the second on April 3.

As Keillor generally does when he travels throughout the country, he visits with local people and fills the discussions with references to local places, events and folklore.

“If dry socks and dry underwear are very important to you, this may be the wrong place for you to move to,” he quips during his second show.

I bring this up to call attention to a segment in which Keillor calls to the stage Jeff Adams of Washington Sea Grant and author of the blog “Sea Life” on the Kitsap Sun website.

You’ll find Jeff’s segment at 81:58 in the player at right.

Keillor was impressed that Jeff was an opera singer, which is something I did not know. But that’s a story for another time, Keillor says. Adams was there to talk about our local sea life, and the naturalist begins by telling the prairie visitor about our whales.

Jeff Adams

Jeff mentions the recent visits by the seal-eating transient orcas, which have been intimidating the migrating gray whales, according to recent observations. (See Water Ways March 30 and April 12.)

“I’m not going to take my child to see an orca whale bite the head off a seal,” Keillor says in a shocked tone. “That would scar her for life. Do you have more peaceable animals around here?”

“We do, we do,” Jeff says, pulling out a live geoduck.

“He’s naked!” says Keillor, recoiling, “… and he’s outgrown his shell by about 9 inches! … I’ve never seen anything like it, and I’m not sure I want to eat it, so you’re on your own.”

Adams also talks about our giant Pacific octopus and tells Keillor that there are plenty of places to hike around here.

In writing about the experience in his blog, Jeff said he was a bit intimidated before he went on:

“It was a fabulous feeling and an honor. I have to admit though… I couldn’t help but be a bit nervous. In the past, my musical alter-ego has been on stages big and small, singing everything from country to opera. This was different. I was going to be talking about something I loved, both personally and professionally, with a master of wit and improvisation… with no real preparation. Eek!”

But watching how the show was handled before he went on put Jeff somewhat at ease. I believe that Adams did an admirable job of demonstrating his passion and bringing a slice of our local water life to a national audience.

Jeff Adams displays a geoduck clam for Garrison Keillor and the audience at Seattle's Paramount Theater.
Photo courtesy of The Prairie Home Companion