Environment

Stories about the environment focused on the Pacific Northwest, with many from KPLU's Environment reporter, Bellamy Pailthorp.

Courtesy Andrea Matzke

Plans to put a dam on one of Washington’s most scenic rivers have been called off.

The Snohomish County Public Utilities District says it has a better plan for the area on the Skykomish River near Index. But opponents of the project say it’s still too early to declare a victory. 

Snohomish County PUD was planning an inflatable weir for the bend in the river near Sunset Falls, not far from Index. The utility said it had a design that would rise and fall with the river, making it safe for endangered fish runs and minimally disruptive to the scenic value of the area.

Anna King

Hundreds of Chinook salmon are being rounded up and loaded into tanker trucks that will drive them around the cracked Wanapum Dam in southweast Washington.

The Columbia River will remain drawn down at least until June, which means fish can’t reach their traditional ladders. Engineers are working on extensions and water slides of sorts to get fish ladders working again. But work to install this new equipment has been difficult, with cranes, man baskets and the whipping wind.

Gabriel Spitzer / KPLU

As the search for victims of the Oso mudslide continues, scientists are monitoring its effects on endangered fish runs.

The cloudiness of the Stillaguamish River due to sediment washing down after the slide is a big concern. But it looks like initial fears of devastation are giving way to optimism. 

NWRFC

Irrigators, hydropower dam operators and tugboat captains are sitting pretty across most of the Northwest, according to the latest regional water supply forecast presented Thursday.

AP Photo

Less than four years ago, there were virtually no shipments of crude oil by rail car through Washington state. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to see the dark-gray tanks at crossings all over the state.  

U.S.  Senator Patty Murray, D-Wash., held a hearing with top transportation and safety officials to discuss potential safety measures to protect communities in the face of more growth.  

Andrew Russell / Flickr

A federal fisheries management panel approved what some charter captains are calling the best ocean fishing season in 20 years.

Meeting at a hotel in Vancouver, Washington, the Pacific Fishery Management Council on Wednesday adopted the 2014 season quotas unanimously after days of lengthy negotiations between commercial troll and recreational fishing representatives, treaty tribes and government regulators.

The quotas are a big turnaround from the recent past when ocean salmon fishing was sharply curtailed or not allowed at all.

Erin Falcone / Cascadia Research under NOAA permit 16111

Think about how long you can hold your breath, then consider this.

Northwest-based whale researchers have documented a new breath-hold record among mammals. They timed a dive by a beaked whale that lasted 2 hours and 17 minutes.

A paper published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS One by scientists with the Cascadia Research Collective of Olympia revealed two new records. The researchers tagged Cuvier's beaked whales, a rarely-seen species which forages in deep ocean waters worldwide, including off the U.S. West Coast.

Jeff Roberson / AP Photo

Seattle may join several other cities in a campaign calling for a federal ban on the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms. A resolution on the issue has passed out of committee, and will be considered by the full council on Monday. 

The resolution calls for an end to routine feeding of antibiotics to animals, which critics say is leading to drug-resistant superbugs that harm human health. 

Kyle Stokes / KPLU

Local leaders in Darrington bowed their heads and observed a moment of silence at 10:37 a.m. Saturday, exactly one week after the deadly mudslide wreaked havoc in nearby Oso.

Search and rescue workers, firefighters and other first responders marked the moment in front of Darrington's fire station, standing in steady rain that continues to hamper rescue efforts at the site of the slide 12 miles down the road.

Kyle Stokes / KPLU

Leaders of the Snoqualmie Tribe announced it would donate $275,000 to six groups and agencies responding to last weekend's deadly mudslide in Oso.

Tribal elders announced donations of $50,000 to the Oso, Arlington and Darrington fire departments on Friday. They'll also contribute $50,000 apiece to the Red Cross and the Cascade Valley Hospital Relief Foundation, in addition to $25,000 to the Snohomish County Search & Rescue K-9 team.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

Though much of the Puget Sound region is "especially vulnerable" to landslides like the one that claimed 14 lives in Snohomish County over the weekend, only a handful of Washington homeowners' insurance policies would cover damages from a similar disaster.

25 Years Later, A Look Back At The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill

Mar 24, 2014
Kimbal Sundberg / Alaska Dept Fish and Game

At midnight 25 years ago, a ship called Exxon Valdez hit Bligh Reef in Alaska's Prince William Sound, spilling enough crude oil to fill 17 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Gary Kramer / AP Photo/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Don’t be alarmed if you hear the eerie sound of wolves howling in the distance at noon today. The group howl heard in the city will be put on by humans.

The howl is a protest action aimed at stopping active management programs that allow the killing of a species, which, until recently, was listed as endangered under federal law. 

hj_west / Flickr

Federal regulators have given unanimous approval for an underwater energy project powered by the tides in Washington’s Admiralty Inlet.

Two turbines will take advantage of the fast-moving currents and daily tidal movements in the busy passage west of Whidbey Island, at a depth of about 200 feet.

Tom Banse

Once upon a time, salmon and steelhead swam more than a thousand miles upriver to the headwaters of the mighty Columbia River, at the foot of the Rockies in British Columbia.

Those epic migrations ended in 1938 with the construction of Grand Coulee Dam.

This week, tribes from both sides of the U.S.-Canada border along with scientists and policymakers are meeting in Spokane to figure out how Columbia River fish could be restored to their entire historical range. The idea draws passionate supporters, but has unknown costs that you might be asked to help pay.

University of Washington

It’s often said that the best way to reduce our carbon emissions is through energy conservation. One way to do that more effectively is by using computer technology to make the electric grid more intelligent.  

It’s known as smart grid technology and for the past two years, the U.S. Department of Energy has been spending $178 million to test it in five Northwest states.

One of the biggest demonstration projects is on the campus of the University of Washington where knowledge of when power is used is saving big money.

Bellamy Pailthorp

Washington state has banned hatchery-raised steelhead from three tributaries of the Upper Columbia River basin. The aim of these so-called "gene banks" is to maintain strongholds for wild fish, and the state plans to designate additional gene banks in the future.

So why were the state and federal governments back in court this week, defending the decision to place a new hatchery on the Elwha River as part of the dam removal process?

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

Puget Sound Partnership, one of the state’s newest agencies, is holding a two-day meeting on salmon recovery this week. 

On the agenda is a presentation called “report card forum,” but there won’t be an announcement of a letter grade. That’s because there isn’t yet a grading system in place, says Jeaneatte Dorner, the agency’s Director of Local Ecosystem and Salmon Recovery.

“And until we actually have that system in place, it’s sort of like we don’t have the test scores to actually give a grade,” she said.

Earl Steele / Flickr

Steelhead trout may be Washington’s official state fish, but they also make up some of the region's most vulnerable populations, first listed as threatened in the Columbia River basin in 1998. 

In an effort to reverse their decline, the state has designated three tributaries of the Columbia River as wild steelhead gene banks, which means they’re off-limits to hatchery fish.

Olympic National Park

A centuries-old red western cedar tree in Olympic National Park fell victim to a storm over the weekend.

Olympic National Park spokesperson Barb Maynes said the beloved tree known as the “Kalaloch cedar” split in two on Saturday, and a large portion of it fell away.

“It certainly has been an iconic tree for many, many years,” said Maynes. 

Evan Vucci / AP Photo

U.S. senators pulled an all-nighter Monday night to call attention to climate change. Democrats Brian Schatz of Hawaii and Barbara Boxer of California led the effort to shine light on the need for more curbs on carbon emissions.

Sen. Maria Cantwell and Sen. Patty Murray were both present for the event. Cantwell took the floor early Tuesday morning following more than 12 hours of testimony. She said the issue isn’t about the future; it’s about negative effects that industries here are already seeing.

AP Photo/Washington Dept. of Fish & Wildlife

Exactly three years have passed since a huge tsunami in March 2011 took thousands of lives in Japan and washed whole villages out to sea. Suspected tsunami debris started arriving on our shores the following December, but it's been less than feared.

USGS

Three years ago today, a massive earthquake ripped through Japan, and the resulting tsunami sent thousands of tons of debris floating toward North America.

But a tsunami could also happen right along the Northwest coast, on the Cascadia subduction zone, which stretches from northern Vancouver Island to California’s Cape Mendocino.

Matthew Brown / AP Photo

Seattle has joined Spokane and Bellingham in passing a resolution to restrict oil shipments by rail until further review.

The Seattle City Council unanimously passed the resolution co-sponsored by council member Mike O’Brien and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray.

AP Photo

Seattle is on its way to joining Spokane and Bellingham in demanding tougher scrutiny of oil trains traveling through the city. A resolution that would restrict oil shipments until further review has passed out of a city council committee, and is scheduled for a vote before the full council on Monday.

Michael Matti / Flickr

Washington would have an official state waterfall under a measure heading to Gov. Jay Inslee's desk.

House Bill 2119 passed through the Senate 46-3 Tuesday. It would designate Palouse Falls in southeastern Washington as the official state waterfall.

AP Photo/Grant County Public Utility

Water behind the Wanapum Dam near Vantage is being drawn down 26 feet to relieve pressure on the big crack in the structure. Officials say dozens of engineers are on site, and more around the country are studying the problem.

Robin W. Baird / AP Photo/ Cascadia Research Collective

Active sonar is the Navy’s best weapon to detect the presence of hostile submarines. But that same powerful underwater pulse of sound can harm or even kill whales and other marine mammals.

Now, the Navy is seeking permission to continue using a huge swath of the Northwest coast, from northern California to the Canadian border, for a wide range of naval training and practice, including sonar. The Navy says it’s taking precautions to protect whales, but others say it’s not enough. 

Al Grillo / AP Photo

Washington's U.S. senators are praising a decision by the Environmental Protection Agency for starting a process that could potentially restrict the development of proposed gold-and-copper mine in southwest Alaska.

The EPA on Friday asked Alaska and those behind the proposed Pebble Mine to make their case for the project.

Courtesy of Washington Sea Grant

Garfield High School students will put their smarts to the test to defend their title at the annual Orca Bowl at the University of Washington this weekend.

In a competition that slightly resembles the TV game show “Jeopardy,” 20 teams from around the state will try to answer multiple-choice questions about marine sciences, many of them specifically geared toward this year's theme of ocean acidification. Then finalists from Ocean Science Bowls around the country will meet again in May to vie for the national title. This year, it's taking place for the first time in Seattle.

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