Program envisions fewer floods and more salmon

2016 aerial view of completed Calistoga Reach levee project in Orting, WA. Image courtesy: CSI Drone Solutions and Washington Rock Quarries, Inc. Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2H_NK6U2_zw

2016 aerial view of completed Calistoga Reach levee project in Orting, WA. Image courtesy: CSI Drone Solutions and Washington Rock Quarries, Inc. Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2H_NK6U2_zw

This week in Salish Sea Currents: PSI senior writer Christopher Dunagan reports on a new approach to flood control in Puget Sound. Rivers, scientists say, can be contained by setting them free. Conservationists hope this is good news for salmon recovery.

The story is part of our ongoing series on the science of Puget Sound recovery. Funding for the series is provided by the Environmental Protection Agency.

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PSI study links happiness to interactions with nature

Lani Matthews, 13, is chased down the Buckley Cemetery hill by her dog, Kona, in February. A study finds a link between interactions with nature and happiness for people in the Puget Sound area. Drew Perine dperine@thenewstribune.com Read more here: http://www.thenewstribune.com/news/local/article143536044.html#storylink=cpy

Lani Matthews, 13, is chased down the Buckley Cemetery hill by her dog, Kona, in February. A study finds a link between interactions with nature and happiness for people in the Puget Sound area. Drew Perine dperine@thenewstribune.com

Can nature make you happy? Science weighs in: A recent study by PSI social scientist Kelly Biedenweg found that Puget Sound residents reported increasing happiness the more they engaged with the natural environment.

“We (in the Pacific Northwest) are pretty much the leaders in trying to understand how happiness and integration with the environment relate to each other,” Biedenweg told The News Tribune, which featured the study in its April 7th edition. Biedenweg has been working with the state of Washington to identify indicators of human well-being such as happiness, physical and psychological health and economic prosperity for the Puget Sound region.

The study was published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology and was funded by The National Science Foundation and the Environmental Protection Agency. It was based on online surveys of 4,418 area residents across eleven Puget Sound counties.

A version of The News Tribune story was also published on April 9th in The Olympian. 

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Finding a strategy to accelerate Chinook recovery

Fir Island Farms habitat restoration monitoring in Skagit County. Project provides rearing habitat for young threatened Chinook salmon along with other wildlife. Copyright: Bob Friel

Fir Island Farms habitat restoration monitoring in Skagit County. Project provides rearing habitat for young threatened Chinook salmon along with other wildlife. Copyright: Bob Friel

New in Salish Sea Currents: We continue our series on Puget Sound’s EPA-funded Implementation Strategies. This week we take on Chinook recovery.

As threatened Chinook populations continue to lose ground, the state is looking to new strategies to reverse the trend. In the Skagit watershed, the scientists — and the fish — are among those leading the way.

Puget Sound-area writer Bob Friel reports from the newly-established Fir Island Farms Reserve where he witnessed the discovery of the very first Chinook to be found at that restoration project.

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Study of eelgrass shows populations steady across Puget Sound

Eelgrass provides critical habitat for many Puget Sound species. Photo courtesy of NOAA and the Seattle Times

Eelgrass provides critical habitat for many Puget Sound species. Photo courtesy of NOAA and the Seattle Times.

Although eelgrass populations have declined in some parts of Puget Sound, overall numbers for the aquatic plant have remained steady ecosystem-wide, according to an analysis of 41 years of data from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The study, published in the Journal of Ecology, was co-authored by Puget Sound Institute lead ecosystem ecologist Tessa Francis and was aided by a team of University of Washington student assistants who sorted through more than 160,000 notebook entries to parse out survey findings.

The data comes from long-time surveys of Pacific Herring, which also included the detailed observations of eelgrass abundance. (We first wrote about this treasure trove of hand-written notebooks in a PSI blog focusing on its implication for herring studies.) The paper was co-authored by a team of scientists from NOAA, PSI, Earth Resource Technology, The Nature Conservancy, WDFW and the University of Washington School of Environmental and Forest Sciences.

The researchers say the findings give some hope that eelgrass meadows may be more resilient than expected to pressures such as climate change, but they caution that sharp declines in some areas are a source of concern.

“The fact that eelgrass has been stable over the last 40 years tells you that things are probably not getting worse, but it doesn’t mean that things are good,” study co-author Phil Levin, of the University of Washington and The Nature Conservancy told the Seattle Times today.

PSI’s Francis was also quoted in the Seattle Times story and called the findings “promising in terms of recovery, because it’s a lot easier to think of what we might do on a local scale, than to think of what we might do on a grand, ecosystem scale.”

Eelgrass is an aquatic flowering plant that provides important habitat for young salmon, herring, Dungeness crabs and many other species. You can read about efforts to restore eelgrass beds in Puget Sound in our magazine series Salish Sea Currents.

Read more about the new eelgrass paper in The Seattle Times and UW Today.

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The impacts of rogue chemicals on Puget Sound

In early 2016, scientists at NOAA made headlines when they reported finding 81 different man-made chemicals in the tissues of juvenile chinook salmon in Puget Sound. Among those chemicals were drugs such as cocaine and Prozac.

This was the first time scientists had made these findings for the region’s salmon, but it has been well-understood that marine waters the world over are becoming an alphabet soup of rogue chemicals. In varying degrees, these chemicals are settling into the bodies of every species analyzed in Puget Sound, including humans.

Many are pharmaceuticals that pass through sewage treatment plants. Others, such as flame retardants (also known as PBDEs) can bind to the dust and blow out to sea. Some simply persist in the environment and pass through the food chain. Often these chemicals occur in vanishingly small traces, sometimes in the parts per trillion.

The big question, scientists say, is not whether these chemicals are in the environment, but which of them are the most dangerous. Could something in such trace amounts cause harm? And what happens when more than four million residents of the region all contribute to the problem?

That is the topic of our latest story in Salish Sea Currents. Christopher Dunagan reports on some of the effects of chemicals known as contaminants of emerging concern. The story covers a range of contaminants, from pharmaceuticals like Prozac and birth control to industrial chemicals. Some of the findings are surprising — tiny amounts of birth control in the water can actually change the sex of some fish species — and in other cases the ramifications are unknown but potentially disturbing. Take a read and you will never look at wastewater and our chemically-dependent culture the same way.

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Will Ballard Locks withstand a major earthquake?

Ballard Locks from the air. Photo: Jeff Wilcox (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/jeffwilcox/4805933588

Ballard Locks from the air. Photo: Jeff Wilcox (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/jeffwilcox/4805933588

Concerns are growing that an earthquake or major ship accident could cause a failure that would halt ship traffic — or, worse, drop water levels in Lake Washington and Lake Union by up to 20 feet. That could mean stranded boats, disabled bridges and big problems for salmon restoration.

Read the story in Salish Sea Currents on the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound. 

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Climate change will reshape Puget Sound’s biodiversity, report says

As world leaders meet this week in Paris to discuss global climate change, a new report from the University of Washington looks at expected climate impacts in the Puget Sound region. Christopher Dunagan wraps up his three-part series on the report’s findings with a focus on the region’s species and habitats.

Coast Range Subalpine Fir groves in meadow near Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, Olympic National Park, WA. Photo: Wsiegmund (CC-BY-SA-3.0) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:HurricaneRidge_7392t.jpg

Coast Range Subalpine Fir groves in meadow near Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, Olympic National Park, WA. Photo: Wsiegmund (CC-BY-SA-3.0) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:HurricaneRidge_7392t.jpg

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Coping with climate change: local farmers face uncertain future

Puget Sound’s shifting climate may mean big changes for the region’s farmers, according to a new report commissioned by the Puget Sound Institute. New patterns of droughts and floods, along with changes in the growing season will influence the way crops are grown — and even the types of crops that thrive in the region. Christopher Dunagan brings us part two of our series on the report’s findings.

Aerial view of flooding of the Snoqualmie River Valley in December 2010. Photo: King County

Aerial view of flooding of the Snoqualmie River Valley in December 2010. Photo: King County

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Impacts of diving ducks on herring populations

herring_graph

Herring productivity in relation biomass (Francis et al.).

Puget Sound Institute Lead Ecologist Tessa Francis attended the 2015 meeting of the International Congress for Conservation Biology earlier this month in Montpellier, France. She presented results from her recent work with colleagues at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center evaluating the impacts on Puget Sound herring populations of herring egg predation by seabirds and other predators.

The group is evaluating the causes of local declines in herring subpopulations, or “stocklets,” and suspect that heavy egg predation by diving ducks, especially scoters, may be preventing some herring populations that are already at low levels from recovering. Using a combination of in situ incubations and predation exclusion devices, Francis and her colleagues estimated that predation accounted for between 75 and 99.6% of egg mortality in several Puget Sound stocklets, including the sharply declining Cherry Point herring stocklet. They further found that high egg mortality rates are associated with stocklets that have been declining in recent years or decades.

Pacific herring are a foundational species in Puget Sound, owing to their critical position in the marine foodweb, and the Puget Sound Partnership has set recovery targets for herring. These results suggest that an assessment of the impacts of early life stage mortality on population trends, and prospects for recovery, warrants further investigation.

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Airport offers a glimpse at tightening stormwater regulations

Alaska Airlines 737 taking off from Sea-Tac Airport with Mt Rainier and Central Terminal in background. Photo: Port of Seattle by Don Wilson

Alaska Airlines 737 taking off from Sea-Tac Airport with Mt Rainier and Central Terminal in background. Photo: Port of Seattle by Don Wilson

How does one of the West’s busiest airports deal with extreme stormwater, and what does that mean for water quality standards in the rest of the state?

Read the latest article from Salish Sea Currents in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound. 

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Puget Sound stormwater fixes could cost billions

Raindrops on a cafe window.  Photo: Jim Culp (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/jimculp/7140363701

Raindrops on a cafe window. Photo: Jim Culp (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/jimculp/7140363701

Pollution from stormwater has been called one of the greatest threats to Puget Sound. How much will it cost to hold back the rain? A new EPA-funded study says the price could reach billions per year, a figure that dwarfs current state and federal allocations.

Read the article in Salish Sea Currents.

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Nature inspires new approach to flood control

Aerial photo of Hansen Creek restoration site in Skagit County, WA. October 15, 2010. Photo: Kari Neumeyer/NWIFC

Aerial photo of Hansen Creek restoration site in Skagit County, WA. October 15, 2010. Photo: Kari Neumeyer/NWIFC

Every year, winter rains bring the threat of millions of dollars in property damage, or even the loss of life, from floods. Rivers have historically been channeled and tamed to protect towns and farms in low-lying floodplains, but research shows that this approach may actually be making flooding worse while at the same time threatening Puget Sound’s salmon. At Hansen Creek in the Skagit Valley, scientists say nature is the best engineer. Read Eric Wagner’s story in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound’s Salish Sea Currents series. 

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