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environment

Polluted Stormwater Damages Fish's Ability to Survive

Feb 13, 2018

Each time it rained during an eight-week period in the winter of 2015, someone from Jenifer McIntyre’s team drove up to Seattle and collected stormwater near the Highway 520 bridge across Lake Washington.

It was a rainy stretch, so that meant 25 trips.

After each trip, McIntyre says, "we would bring the dirty runoff to the fish" — the larval fish the team was rearing in Indianola on the eastern side of Puget Sound  — "and expose them to that for 24 or 48 hours."

The Interior Department plans to expand energy development on public lands and offshore to pay for the National Park Service's maintenance backlog.

In the Pacific Northwest, the needs range from washed-out roads and trails at Mount Rainier National Park to repairing bridges and parking lots at the Olympic National Park.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke says the parks’ maintenance backlog is $11.7 billion. The entire Interior Department’s backlog is $16 billion.

The Forest Service has given its consent for exploratory mining on public land near Mount St. Helens.  

The Canadian mining company Ascot USA wants to take 63 rock-core samples in Washington’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest, which involves creating 2-3 inch boreholes down into the earth. The company is testing for valuable mineral deposits – including copper and gold.

It's not clear how many trees on private property in Seattle have been cut down for development projects.
KUOW Photo/Gil Aegerter

Tree advocates say if Seattle wants to do a better job counting and preserving trees, it should follow the lead of its suburbs.

A Japanese farm introduced a new crop this winter: an organic banana with a peel that's thin enough to eat. In a nod to this appealing outer covering, Setsuzo Tanaka, the banana's inventor, has named his creation the Mongee ("mon-gay") banana — which means "incredible banana" in Japanese.

It’s 8 o'clock on a rainy, windy Saturday morning, and John Hoac and Brandon Teeny just got to school —  Cleveland High in south Seattle. They’re here to measure air and noise pollution on campus.

Last month, a Washington state resident was fined more than $8,000 for poaching three wolves in 2016. DNA evidence linked him to three separate kills, but other poaching cases remain unsolved. 

The emergency seems to be over for now at the slow-moving landslide at Rattlesnake Ridge near Yakima, Washington. The state has taken down the warning signs and lights on the highway below.

But for some, the drive is still nerve wracking. They’ve coined a phrase for driving quickly past the slide: “Shooting the Gap.”

In "The Burning Question," KUOW takes a close look at Seattle’s goal of carbon neutrality and what it would take to get there. It turns out a lot of those solutions are right around us.

So, what would it be like to wake up in a Seattle that’s really on track to be carbon neutral? Here are seven snapshots of what success might look like. 

Over the weekend, Washington state tightened the screws—again—on an Atlantic salmon farming operation. The state Department of Natural Resources Saturday terminated the lease for Cooke Aquaculture's Cypress Island fish farm near Anacortes.

Tony Largier grows apples, plums and nectarines at Little Oaks Farm, near Villiersdorp, in South Africa's Western Cape province. It's a beautiful piece of land in a valley between mountains. The closest peak gets snow in the winter.

We walk amid his nectarine trees.

"This variety is summer bright. It's sweet, crunchy. It's a good nectarine. It's one of the newer varieties," says Largier.

He and other farmers in the area pull water from the nearby Elandskloof Dam — part of a network of dams that farmers, villages and the City of Cape Town share.

kids drawings
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Compost-pooping robot dog! Smog-cleaning penguins! Treehouses! Wikes (wind + bikes)!!! 

Those are just a few of the fantastic and whimsical ideas submitted to our drawing contest that asked kids to imagine one way Seattle can save energy.

Pedestrians cross the street at Amazon headquarters in Seattle in September.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Carbon emissions by the tech giants that dominate cloud computing are surging, even as companies like Amazon and Microsoft take steps to tame their climate impact.

The Seattle-area competitors — two of the nation’s largest electricity consumers — take different approaches to their clouds' carbon problems. One favors sunshine; the other, secrecy. Internal documents obtained by KUOW break through that secrecy.

Seattle folk singer and restaurateur Ivar Haglund
Courtesy of Ivar’s

Kim Malcolm gets advice from KUOW reporter David Hyde on what seafood to order to lower your carbon footprint as a part of our series "The Burning Question: What would a climate friendly Seattle actually look like?" 

Poet Melinda Mueller
KUOW Photos / Gil Aegerter

What will it take for Seattle to become climate-friendly?  That's The Burning Question this month on KUOW.

In this interview, reporter David Hyde put the question to Melinda Mueller, a Seattle high school biology teacher and a poet, and the author of "The After," a book of poems that imagines the world after humans have gone extinct. 

The Environmental Protection Agency said in a surprise announcement Friday that it is putting on hold a plan to do away with Obama-era proposals to restrict mining at a southwest Alaska watershed. But the EPA also said it would continue to consider permit applications from those hoping to extract copper and other minerals from the proposed Pebble Mine.

The proposed Pebble Mine is located about 200 miles southwest of Anchorage and roughly 100 miles upstream from the Bristol Bay watershed, one of the world's most important sockeye salmon fisheries.

Pedestrians cross Pike Street in front of the Convention Center on Tuesday, December 12, 2017, in Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

You might think that before a massive project like the convention center expansion is approved, Seattle would decide how the city’s ambitious climate change goals might be affected.

You’d be wrong.


Mussels cling to netting of a collapsed Atlantic salmon farm off Cypress Island on Aug. 24, 2017.
April Bencze

Washington state officials are looking at some new suspects in the collapse of an Atlantic salmon farm: sea creatures clogging the floating structure’s nets.


There are around 12,000 paid on-street spaces in Seattle (that does not include private parking) .
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Make no mistake: The rising cost and declining amount of on-street parking downtown are part of a much bigger plan to reduce Seattle's carbon footprint.

Lynn Tompkins peers down at a red-tailed hawk laid across a small exam table at Blue Mountain Wildlife’s clinic in Pendleton, Oregon.

It’s out cold.

“She was in very good shape until she got zapped,” Tompkins says as she removes the bandage on the hawk’s left wing, revealing a raw wound.

The bird was electrocuted a week earlier near Boardman, likely the result of a run-in with a power line.  

Parade-goers carry a blow-up planet Earth while marching in the Fremont Solstice Parade.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

OK, you’re a climate warrior: You take the bus, downtown or to California. You eat vegan.

But do you have to be so insufferable about it?

Some people don’t have all of the options that you do.

The last herd of caribou found anywhere in the lower 48 states is in the Pacific Northwest. To be clear, this caribou herd is tiny.

“Today, these are the last 11 that occupy habitat in the Lower 48.”

This year, trucks and other heavy-duty motors in America will burn some 3 billion gallons of diesel fuel that's made primarily from vegetable oil. They're doing it, though, not because it's cheaper or better, but because they're required to, by law.

The law is the Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS. For some, especially Midwestern farmers, it's the key to creating clean energy from American soil and sun. For others — like many economists — it's a wasteful misuse of resources.

“This is a drawing of a bus that runs on electricity. More people will take the bus.”
Tala, Age 6

Hey parents, families or teachers! Do your kids like to draw? 

Invite them to enter KUOW’s climate-friendly drawing contest. Winners will take home prizes and may have a chance to discuss their ideas on air!

The contest is part of our series on climate change, The Burning Question.

sea levels seattle
Seattle.gov

Jack Block Park seems like an unlikely leisure spot, tucked among railroad tracks and Port of Seattle cranes. But it also provides a panoramic view of West Seattle, downtown and Harbor Island.

In maps created by Seattle Public Utilities, parts of Jack Block Park in West Seattle are colored red. Those are the areas that meteorologist and mapmaker James Rufo-Hill said could someday be underwater as sea levels rise due to climate change.


Ely Thomas, 7, runs from water spilling over a set of stairs that normally lead to the beach during a King Tide at Alki Beach Park on Friday, January 5, 2018, in West Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Tom and Marie Cawrse live on the far east side of Port Townsend, on the northeast point of Washington's Olympic Peninsula, right on the beach. 

Since their house was built three decades ago, ice caps have been melting and the ocean's been expanding as it warms up.


Smoke from an approaching wildfire looms over a home near Twisp, Wash., Aug. 19, 2015.
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

Kim Malcolm talks with Dr. Philip Mote about how climate change is changing Washington state. Mote is director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute. Previously, he was the Washington State Climatologist.

To get to zero carbon emissions by 2050, Seattle would have to make dramatic cuts, starting now.
KUOW Illustration by nope.ltd

For more than 15 years, leaders of the Emerald City have been promising that Seattle will lead the nation in fighting climate change.

But the lofty words have been matched by continuing clouds of carbon emissions: Seattle dumps as much heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the sky today as it did 25 years ago.


KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

More electric vehicles. More charging stations. More transit. Congestion pricing for cars. Funds for affordable housing. And lobbying for a statewide carbon tax. Those are just some of the ideas Mayor Jenny Durkan and her supporters are considering to help Seattle meet ambitious carbon-emissions goals.  


Climate activists want Washington state to be powered exclusively by renewable energy within 10 years. They rallied at the state Capitol Monday—the first day of the legislative session.

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