Chinook born in the Nisqually River are being taken into protective custody by the Nisqually Indian Tribe.
The tribe is trapping and spawning natural-origin chinook this fall because so few have returned in recent years. Instead of passing naturally produced chinook above a tribally operated weir, the tribe will truck them to its nearby Kalama Creek Hatchery.
“We’re seeing a sharp decline of natural-origin chinook returning to the river, so we want to make sure these fish are as successful as they can be,” said David Troutt, natural resources director for the tribe.
At Kalama Creek, the fish are being spawned by hand. Their offspring will be released into the river next spring.
To make sure some chinook spawn in the wild, the tribe will release up to 600 adult hatchery-produced chinook into the upper watershed. That way, even more naturally produced chinook will leave the river next year.
“The genetic difference between natural and hatchery-origin chinook on the Nisqually is small,” Troutt said. All of the chinook in the river are descendants from an imported hatchery stock planted decades ago.
The native chinook stock was killed off in the 1960s in large part due to poor hydroelectric practices that left the river dry for months at a time.
Five years ago, the tribe began closely managing the mix of natural and hatchery-spawned fish in the river to help mitigate hatchery influence on the stock.
“Our goal is to let the natural habitat, instead of the hatchery environment, drive adaptation of the stock,” Troutt said. “By mixing in natural-origin fish at the hatchery, we bring in better genetic traits to improve salmon productivity. This means more fish for everyone.”
Recent declines in chinook productivity because of poor ocean conditions drove this year’s drastic action. “Instead of bringing in just a few, we need to bring in every single natural fish we can to protect them,” Troutt said.
A new study shows that stormwater runoff from urban roadways is so toxic to coho salmon that it can kill adult fish in as little as 2½ hours.
But the research by Seattle scientists also points to a relatively easy fix: Filtration through a simple, soil-based system.
“It’s basically … letting the Earth do what it does so well, what it has done for eons: cleaning things up,” said Julann Spromberg, a toxicologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and co-author of the report published Thursday in the Journal of Applied Ecology.
Scientists have long suspected that the mixture of oil, heavy metals and grime that washes off highways and roads can be poisonous to coho, but the study is the first to prove it.
The research got its start more than a decade ago, when habitat-restoration projects began coaxing a trickle of coho back to several urban streams in the Puget Sound area. But many of those fish died before they could spawn. And the deaths seemed to coincide with rainstorms that sent runoff surging through drainage pipes and into the waterways.
In some place, like Longfellow Creek in West Seattle’s Delridge area, up to 90 percent of females were killed.
“It was apparent that something coming out of those pipes was causing it,” Spromberg said.
She and her colleagues tried to reproduce the effect in the lab. But the artificial mixture of oil and other chemicals they concocted had no effect on the fish.
So their next step was to try the real thing: Actual runoff, collected at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Centerfrom a downspout that drains a Highway 520 onramp near Montlake.
“When we brought out the real urban runoff: Bang! They were down, they were sick, they were dead,” said co-author Jenifer McIntyre, a researcher at Washington State University’s Puyallup Research and Extension Center.
In experiments at the Suquamish tribal hatchery near Poulsbo, every coho exposed to the runoff died — some within a few hours, all within a day. Before death, the fish became lethargic, rolled around and swam to the surface as if gulping for air, McIntrye said.
The fact that actual runoff proved fatal while the scientists’ concoction did not underscores an unsolved mystery about which chemical or combination of chemicals are so toxic to the fish. It could be any number of compounds that weren’t part of the artificial brew, including byproducts of oil and gasoline combustion, chemicals released by tires or tiny particles from brake linings, Spromberg said.
“We still need to keep looking at what exact compounds are involved.”
But whatever the chemical culprit, the scientists found it could be removed by passing the runoff through 55-gallon drums packed with layers of gravel, soil and compost. None of the fish exposed to the filtered stormwater died or fell ill.
“It was remarkable,” McIntyre said.
The finding is a strong endorsement of rain gardens, grassy swales and other “green” alternatives to traditional drains and pipes designed to collect stormwater. The idea is instead to let the runoff percolate through the ground, as it did before so much of the area was paved and developed.
“We should be seeing more and more of these systems in the future,” McIntyre said.
Coho, which were once abundant throughout the Northwest, may be particularly vulnerable to toxic runoff because they spawn in the fall, prompted by seasonal rains. Habitat destruction, fishing and other factors almost certainly contributed to the species’ precipitous decline, Spromberg said.
Chum salmon, whose habitat and spawning seasons overlap those of coho in many places, don’t appear to be as affected by runoff — something the scientists plan to investigate this fall.
Perhaps the major limitation of the study is the small sample size. Only 60 coho were used in the experiments, 20 in each of two experimental and one control groups. The scientists were lucky to get that many, thanks to the cooperation of the Suquamish Tribe, McIntryre said.
Also, the urban runoff collected near Montlake was undiluted in the experiments and represents about the worst possible case: runoff from a busy highway in a big city, a DOE official who was not involved in the study pointed out.
“It’s great that the treatment gets rid of toxicity from this nasty stuff,” Karen Dinicola of DOE’s stormwater program wrote in an email. But it’s particularly challenging to retrofit urban-collection systems with greener alternatives, she said.
But the results of the research could help guide future development in rural watersheds where coho runs remain, the researchers said. And it can also be used to help inform urban-restoration projects as well, so fish aren’t lured back to appealing habitats, only to be clobbered by toxic runoff.
The researchers are preparing for their next round of studies, which will include tests to zero in on what is actually killing the coho.
The rain that soaked the region Wednesday also filled their runoff-collection barrels, Spromberg said.
“We only have one shot a year, when the fish come back and we can do the experiments and take the samples,” she said. “Hopefully, with this rain we’ll have more fish coming in soon.”
TAHOLAH, WA (7/9/15)—Federal District Court Judge Ricardo Martinez handed down a decision today favoring the Quinault Indian Nation, as well as the Quileute Tribe, confirming the tribes’ right to fish in the ocean. The case, which was first filed in 2009, pitted the two tribes against the Makah Tribe in a territorial battle for fishing rights.
“We make every effort to avoid intertribal conflicts such as this, and that was certainly the case here, but the Makah Tribe, joined by the State of Washington, brought this lawsuit to limit the Quinault Nation’s treaty ocean fishing so Quinault was forced to defend its treaty rights. We are very fortunate to have federal court to resort to in those rare instances when we need it.”
Judge Martinez ruled that Quinault Nation’s Usual and Accustomed fishing area extends 30 miles out to sea from the Tribe’s reservation on the Olympic Peninsula.
“We are obviously very pleased with this decision,” said President Sharp. “We had no doubt whatsoever that our fishing heritage includes the ocean, and that was confirmed by the judge” she said.
The decision confirms that Quinault fishers will be able to continue fishing in the ocean for generations to come.
Judge Martinez accepted the Quinault Nation’s evidence regarding its heritage and reservedtreatyrights. This lawsuit was part of the 1974 U.S. v. Washington (Boldt) case which confirmed tribal treaty fishing rights. That case was supported by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1978.
“Winning this case will not only help secure our long held ocean fishing heritage for our fishermen; it will also help us continue to manage ocean fish stocks properly. We will work with the Makah Nation, as well as other tribes and other governments to help assure that there are healthy stocks of salmon and other species in the ocean environment for many generations to come,” said President Sharp.
The Quinault Nation was represented in the trial by Eric Nielsen of Nielsen, Broman & Coch of Seattle. Quinault attorney Ray Dodge also contributed significantly to the case, which resulted in an 83 page decision by Judge Martinez, much of which documents the extensive long term relationship of the Quinault people with the ocean.
Effects of climate change and the ongoing loss of salmon habitat came home to roost at this year’s tribal and state salmon fishing season setting process. The result was some of the most restrictive salmon fisheries ever seen in some areas.
A record low snowpack, low stream flows and increasing water temperatures, combined with the results of ongoing habitat loss and declining marine survival, forced the co-managers to sharply cut harvest this year to protect both hatchery and naturally spawning chinook stocks.
The co-managers set seasons based on the need to conserve the weakest salmon stocks. The goal is to protect the weakest stocks while also providing limited harvest on healthy stocks which are mostly hatchery fish.
Last year’s salmon runs throughout Puget Sound returned far below expectations. Those fish that returned faced low stream flows that led to water temperatures soaring to 75 degrees or more in some places. Water temperatures 70 degrees or higher can be lethal to salmon. Last year many adult salmon – both hatchery and wild – died before they could spawn or reach a hatchery.
This year’s returns of hatchery and wild salmon are expected to be about 30 percent lower across the board than last year’s poor returns. Lake Washington chinook provide a good example of why this year’s fishing seasons needed to be more restrictive.
Hatchery and wild salmon returning to Lake Washington must pass through the most urbanized parts of western Washington where they are confronted by polluted stormwater runoff, barriers and low stream flows. When combined with the effects of elevated stream temperatures, the results can be deadly for salmon.
The Muckleshoot Tribe, which tracks salmon migration into the lake through the Ballard Locks, quickly realized the extent of last year’s low returns and took action to protect the remaining fish. The tribe sharply reduced or eliminated planned harvests, including culturally important ceremonial and subsistence fisheries. But by then most of the damage had already been done. Despite tribal sacrifices, Lake Washington wild chinook populations were further diminished and hatchery egg-take goals were unmet.
Given last year’s poor returns and the increased effects of climate change and habitat loss, the tribes were stunned when the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife – apparently at the prodding of sport fishermen – proposed even higher chinook sport harvest this year. Their proposal included a mid-Puget Sound fishery targeting chinook in an area where the weak Lake Washington run congregates. But the tribes rejected the proposed harvest increases and the fisheries were withdrawn, leading to howls of protest from some anglers.
The package of fisheries developed by the co-managers for 2015 reflects the reality of lower abundance and reduced fishing opportunity for everyone. Good salmon management requires us to balance the needs of the resource against the desire by some to catch more fish every year. That is why we must have strong leadership to make the tough decisions needed to protect the resource.
The treaty tribes believe that salmon must be managed in the best interest of those who will follow seven generations from now. We will not allow tomorrow’s salmon to be sacrificed for today’s harvest.
By Lorraine Loomis, Chair, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission
Gov. Jay Inslee wants to change the cancer risk rate used to set state water quality standards from one in one million to one in 100,000. That is unacceptable to the treaty Indian tribes in western Washington. We refuse to accept this tenfold increase in the risk of getting cancer from known cancer-causing toxins, and you should, too.
The cancer risk rate, along with the fish consumption rate, are key factors in determining how clean our waters must be to protect our health. The more fish we eat, the cleaner the waters must be.
Water quality standards are supposed to protect those who need protection the most: children, women of childbearing age, Indians, Asian and Pacific Islanders, sport fishermen, and anyone else who eats local fish and shellfish. When the most vulnerable among us is protected, so is everyone else.
The federal Clean Water Act requires that states develop water quality standards to ensure our waters are clean enough to provide healthy fish that are safe for us to eat. But the state has been operating under outdated and inadequate water quality standards developed more than 20 years ago, and has missed every deadline since then for updating the standards as required by federal law. The state admits that its current water quality standards don’t adequately protect any of us.
Under his plan, Inslee would correctly increase the fish consumption rate from a ridiculously low 6.5 grams per day (about one bite) to 175 grams per day, the same protective rate as Oregon’s. But he would effectively cancel out that improvement by decreasing our protection under the cancer risk rate.
Further complicating matters, Inslee ties development of the new state water quality standards to a $12 million statewide toxics reduction program that will require legislative approval. That is unlikely given the $2 billion state budget shortfall.
Inslee’s proposal would also require the Legislature to grant the Department of Ecology more authority to regulate toxic chemicals. That is also highly unlikely given the Legislature’s historic reluctance to grant Ecology more power to control chemicals in our environment.
The plan also calls for revising standards for 167 chemicals that the Clean Water Act requires states to monitor in our lakes, rivers and marine waters. But standards for 58 of those – including cancer-causing chemicals like dioxins and PCBs – will stay the same.
At its core, Inslee’s plan does more to preserve the status quo than result in any real improvement to our water quality standards. It is a political solution to a human health issue. The concept of a larger toxics reduction program to tackle pollutants at the source is a good one, but it is not an acceptable substitute for strong water quality rules. We should have both.
We know that Inslee and previous governors have struggled with updating the state’s water quality rules for decades because of complaints by industry that new water quality rules could increase their cost of doing business. But an economy built on pollution cannot be sustained.
Fortunately, at the request of the tribes, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said it will step in to develop new standards this year if the state is unable.
EPA Regional Administrator Dennis McLerran announced in December that the agency will keep a close eye on the progress – or lack of progress – of the state’s effort to update our water quality standards. The agency has begun a rulemaking process in parallel with the state effort now under way. If the state develops standards acceptable to EPA, the agency will pause and work with the state to finalize the new standards. If the state is unable, EPA will continue its process and adopt new standards for the state.
This promise by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Regional Administrator McLerran demonstrates true leadership. They clearly recognize the federal government’s trust responsibility to protect the health and treaty rights of the tribes, which also benefits everyone else who lives here.
We appreciate EPA’s willingness to protect the integrity of our state’s environment and water-based resources that are central to human health and treaty rights. We hope the state will step up before EPA has to step in to make sure our water quality standards protect all of us.
While funding for Washington’s “basic education” remains a potential budget-buster, some legislators are beginning to worry about a $2.4-billion financial pitfall involving culverts and salmon streams.
In 2013, a federal judge ordered Washington state to replace nearly 1,000 culverts that block or impede fish passage along Western Washington streams. The $2.4-billion cost, as estimated by the Washington State Department of Transportation, amounts to about $310 million per biennium until the deadline of 2030.
Nobody has even begun to figure out how to come up with that much money, although the WSDOT has pretty well spelled out the problem for lawmakers.
In the current two-year budget, the state is spending about $36 million to replace fish-passage barriers, according to Paul Wagner, manager of the department’s Biology Branch. That’s not including work on major highway projects.
WSDOT is asking to shift priorities around in its budget to provide $80 million per biennium for fixing culverts.
Meanwhile, Gov. Jay Inslee’s 12-year transportation plan calls for increasing revenues to provide money for various improvements throughout the state, including $360 million for culverts spread over the 12-year period.
Even if all that funding comes to pass, the state would only make it about halfway to the goal set by the court when the 2030 deadline passes.
Although funding is a serious matter, the effect of fixing the culverts sooner rather than later could boost salmon habitat and help with salmon recovery, transportation officials acknowledge.
As of 2013, the agency had completed 282 fish-passage projects, improving access to nearly 1,000 miles of upstream habitat. Another 10 projects were added in 2014.
Because the lawsuit was brought by 21 Western Washington tribes, the court order applies to 989 Western Washington culverts, of which 825 involve significant habitat. The case is related to the Boldt decision (U.S. v Washington), which determined that tribes have a right to take fish, as defined by the treaties, and that the state must not undermine the resource.
The court adopted a design standard for culverts known as the “stream simulation” model, which requires that the culvert or bridge be wider than the stream under most conditions and be sloped like the natural channel.
In an effort to gear up for culvert work, the Department of Transportation established four design teams to prepare plans for 34 fish-passage projects for the next biennium and scope out another 75 projects. State officials hope that by having teams to focus on culverts and bridges, design work will become more efficient. Agencies also are working together to streamline the permitting process.
In Kitsap County, the Highway 3 culvert over Chico Creek presents a real challenge for the department, Paul Wagner told me. Everyone recognizes the importance of Chico Creek, the most productive salmon stream on the Kitsap Peninsula. But replacing the undersized culvert with a new bridge would cost more than $40 million — more than the entire budget for culverts in the current biennium.
“There are a lot of culverts,” Wagner said, “and our challenge is that those on the state highway system are more complicated and involved.”
Not only are the state highways the largest, he said, but they usually cannot be shut down during construction. State highways typically have more complicated utilities and drainage systems, and work may require buying new right of way.
Those are all issues for Chico Creek, which was rerouted when the highway was built in the 1960s. The stream was directed into a new channel parallel to the highway, crossing under the roadway at a 90-degree angle.
The new design would restore the original channel, crossing under the road at a steep angle that makes for a longer bridge. The new route also could involve changing the interchange at Chico Way.
“That project is definitely one we need to get at,” Wagner said, “but it eats up a lot of the money we need for other projects.”
Removal of a county culvert under Kittyhawk Drive has increased interest in removal of the state highway culvert, which lies immediately upstream of the newly opened channel where the county culvert was removed. See Kitsap Sun(subscription), Aug. 26, 2014.
The Legislature will determine how much money will be allocated to culverts and to some extent which ones get replaced first. New taxes could be part of the equation for the entire transportation budget, a major subject of debate this session.
Water purveyor for King County cities donates water rights for White River
Joint News Release: Department of Ecology, Cascade Water Alliance, Muckleshooot Indian Tribe
LAKE TAPPS – It’s the largest trust water donation in Washington state history. Enough water to fill a football field 130 miles deep will stay in the White River for perpetuity.
The Washington Department of Ecology has signed an agreement with a consortium of five cities and two water and sewer districts in King County for permanent and temporary trust water donations that will protect flows for fish in the river through 2034 and beyond.
“Big things happen when the state, local governments and tribes come together to form strategic partnerships,” said Ecology Director Maia Bellon. “This historic donation protects water levels for fish, guarantees water supplies for people, and preserves Lake Tapps as a vital community asset for decades to come.”
On Jan. 17, 2015, Cascade Water Alliance will make its permanent donation of 684,571 acre feet of water to the state’s Trust Water Rights Program. The donation will preserve instream flows and protect fish habitat in a stretch of the White River that flows through the Muckleshoot Tribal Reservation. Cascade is the water purveyor for eight King County cities and two water and sewer districts.
This month’s transaction completes the agreement Cascade made with Ecology in 2010 to donate a portion of the water rights it acquired in the purchase of Lake Tapps in Pierce County to the trust water program. In addition, Cascade will donate another 154,751 acre feet of water to the Temporary Trust water rights program until 2034.
The trust water donation keeps water in the river for the benefit of fish, wildlife, recreation and the natural environment. Ecology has agreed not to approve or issue new water right permits for 20.7 miles of the White River in what is known as the Reservation Reach between Buckley and Sumner. Several salmon species use this stretch of the river for migration, spawning, rearing and flood refuge.
“For more than 90 years diversions from the White River at Buckley have largely de-watered the stretch of river that flows through our Reservation,” said Muckleshoot Tribal Council Chair Virginia Cross. “The water donations restore and will permanently preserve river flows through the Reservation that allow recovery of healthy fish runs. We are pleased to have had the opportunity to work with the Cascade Water Alliance to achieve this historic goal.”
The trust water donation is the culmination of a water rights package that has converted Lake Tapps in Pierce County into a future municipal water supply for 50 years or longer for Bellevue, Redmond, Kirkland, Issaquah, Tukwila and the water and sewer districts serving the Sammamish Plateau and Skyway.
Ecology approved the transfer of water rights from Puget Sound Energy (PSE) to Cascade and issued new municipal water rights to Cascade in 2010. PSE sold Lake Tapps to Cascade in 2009 after PSE no longer needed the lake as a reservoir for hydroelectric power operations.
In its purchase of Lake Tapps as a future drinking water supply for nearly 400,000 residents and 22,000 businesses in eastern King County, Cascade agreed to preserve the lake for the benefit of surrounding homeowners, boaters, swimmers and anglers.
“We are honored to make this donation a reality,” said Cascade Board Chair John Marchione, mayor of Redmond. “It’s the culmination of our regional collaboration with our partners around Lake Tapps – the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, the Lake Tapps homeowners and the four cities surrounding the lake – Auburn, Bonney Lake, Buckley and Sumner. Our work together helped make possible municipal water for the future, instream flows and a summer recreational lake.”
SEDRO-WOOLLEY, Wash. — The house was going to be modest, 1,300 square feet with a big porch looking out over acres of fields. Next to it would be a garage with a caretaker’s apartment over it.
“I’m kind of an old guy already,” Richard Fox said, standing in the pouring rain on his property and gesturing to the spot where he and his wife’s dream retirement home was to be built. A handful of drenched cows looked on, vaguely curious.
“We’re not trying to break the law. We’re just trying to build a house. That’s all we’re trying to do,” he said. “Let us move on with our lives.”
Richard and Marnie Fox already have the plans in place. The well is drilled. The septic is in.
But Skagit County won’t issue them a building permit. By doing so, the county says, it would be violating a rule established in 2001 that says there has to be a certain amount of water left in the Skagit River to protect fish. And drilling more domestic wells like the Foxes’ will deplete the flow of the river.
The case will be heard Tuesday in Snohomish County Superior Court. The Washington Department of Ecology and the Swinomish Tribe are intervening in the case.
This is just the latest skirmish in an ongoing war over the future of water use in the Skagit River watershed. The Foxes are one of more than 450 homeowners who have been denied access to well water because of what is called the Instream Flow Rule. The rule established a water right for fish that trumps property owners who want to tap into groundwater reserves after the rule went into effect in 2001.
The rule has meant precipitous drops of up to 80 percent in property values for those 450-plus homeowners because the state has effectively invalidated their water rights.
For those landowners and other would-be developers in the area it’s a tough pill to swallow; especially when it’s pouring rain and there are flood warnings in place for the Skagit River.
For Richard Fox, it doesn’t help that his property has turned into a mini-lake. But that is not always the case. During the late summer months conditions here and elsewhere in the Skagit basin are dry. That’s when groundwater is a critical source of water for the Skagit and its tributaries. If more property owners, like the Foxes, are allowed to suck groundwater out via their wells, that will take water away from fish when they need it most, Ecology and the Swinomish Tribe assert.
During the drier parts of the year, groundwater can make up between 40 and 90 percent of the water in Skagit River tributaries (of which there are more than 2,000), according to research done by the Department of Ecology in preparation for the 2001 Instream Flow Rule. Other research from the U.S. Geological Survey supports those findings.
“This is the critical timing problem that we face,” said John Rose, a hydrogeologist with the Washington Department of Ecology. “We have these periods where the primary amount of inflow into our rivers is groundwater. It happens when we’re having the biggest drawdown due to human use and then right immediately afterwards, when we’re at the lowest levels, is when you have the fish runs.”
It may seem like an intractable problem, but Ecology has been exploring ways to offset the water usage of new development by installing rainwater catchment systems and trucking in water. Ecology is also speaking with hydropower operators on the river – Puget Sound Energy and Seattle City Light – to see about getting them to release more water from above the dams during those late summer months to accommodate the higher demand.
Rainwater catchment systems present an added cost for property owners, as do water truck deliveries.
“It’s just not necessary,” said Zachary Barbornias of Just Water Alliance. “Who’s going to pay for that?” Just Water Alliance has joined with Washington Realtors, the Building Industry Association of Washington, the Washington State Farm Bureau and others to petition the state to repeal the instream flow rule, arguing that Ecology’s proposed mitigation attempts are costly and “provide little or no actual benefit to instream resources.”
Zachary Barborinas is the head of the Just Water Alliance, which opposes the instream flow rule because it limits development. Credit: Ashley Ahearn.
“We support all of the habitat restoration that goes on and millions that are spent. We, as taxpayers, pay for that,” Barborinas said, “but Ecology at the same time should be setting aside water for people. That’s the bottom line.”
In 2006 Ecology brokered a deal with Skagit County that would have satisfied Barborinas and other landowners by changing water allocations in order to allow for development in the Skagit basin. The Swinomish Tribe sued Ecology, saying it had no right to change the rule to allow for any more wells. That battle went all the way to the State Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the Swinomish in October of last year.
The Fox case represents the next round in the ongoing legal battle between development interests and environmental interests in the Skagit watershed, and it is wearying for everyone.
“Washington State Supreme Court has ruled on this issue already,” said Larry Wasserman, referring to the 2013 State Supreme Court decision. Wasserman is the environmental policy director for the Swinomish Tribe, which is intervening in the Foxes’ case on Tuesday. He’s worked on this issue on behalf of the tribe for more than 20 years. “This is settled law and the science behind that rule and that law has been well established, well vetted and supported fully by the Washington Department of Ecology.”
The Swinomish and other tribes argue that the river has been depleted, bit by bit, as each new home or development has gone in over the years and no further groundwater depletion should be allowed.
“At some point you reach a point where any additional impact is too much,” Wasserman said. “And if we say, ‘Well just these 400 or 500 landowners’ [which would include the Foxes], what happens to the next landowner that comes along and makes the same argument, and the next one after that? The issue is we have an inadequate amount of water right now.”
The Swinomish Tribe and Ecology have both indicated that they will appeal if the court rules in favor of granting the Foxes a building permit on Tuesday. And so the fight will go on, with countless more dollars spent on legal fees by the state, the tribes and building interests.
“This is kind of ground zero for the state right now for water issues,” Barborinas said. State legislators have been meeting with interested parties in the Skagit to brainstorm possible legislative solutions to the water fight.
SEATTLE — As the waters of the Pacific warm, methane that was trapped in crystalline form beneath the seabed is being released. And fast.
New modeling suggests that 4 million tons of this potent greenhouse gas have escaped since 1970 from the ocean depths off Washington’s coast.
“We calculate that methane equivalent in volume to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is released every year off the Washington coast,” said Evan Solomon, a University of Washington assistant professor of oceanography and co-author of the new paper, which was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. The modeling does not indicate whether the rate of release has changed as temperatures warm, but it does strengthen the connection between ocean temperature and methane behavior.
Solomon and his colleagues first learned about the methane leaks when fishermen started sending them photographs of bubbles coming up out of the deep.
“They’re really low quality phone shots of their fish finders, but every single location they gave us was 100 percent accurate,” Solomon said.
On a cruise this past summer, Solomon and his colleagues gathered core samples from the ocean floor, about one-third of a mile deep, at the spots where the fishermen reported seeing bubbles.
And sure enough, mixed in among the sediment, were crystalized methane deposits.
“It looks like slushy ice,” Solomon said. But it certainly behaves differently. “If you took it from the sediment and lit a match or put a lighter on it, it will go into flames because of all the gas.”
Methane can exist in a gas, liquid and crystalline form. The crystalline version, or methane hydrate, occurs at cold temperatures and under pressure – conditions that can be found at certain depths of the ocean. But as deep sea waters warm, scientists believe those crystals will dissolve, releasing the methane in bubbles that can change ocean chemistry and contribute to atmospheric change once they escape at the sea’s surface.
“It’s a way to contribute to ocean acidification if you have a lot of this gas coming out and being oxidized in the water column,” Solomon said.
The methane release isn’t just happening in Washington waters, Solomon says. More sampling needs to be done but the same conditions for methane hydrate release exist from Northern California to Alaska. “So it’s not a Washington central thing,” says Solomon, who is looking forward to further study of this issue. “It should be happening off of Oregon, off of British Columbia as well.”
Other research has found similar patterns of methane release in the Atlantic and off the coast of Alaska.
By Lorraine Loomis, Chair, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission
Years of declining funding combined with a current $2 billion state budget deficit leaves the treaty Indian tribes in western Washington wondering if the Department of Fish and Wildlife will be able to meet its natural resources management responsibilities.
The shortfall led Gov. Jay Inslee to instruct state agencies to submit budget reduction options equal to 15 percent of the money they receive from the state’s general fund. While there is hope that the governor might spare some or all of the nearly $11 million in budget cut options proposed by WDFW, the results would be devastating if they become a reality.
Hatchery closures and production cuts would mean the loss of more than 30 million salmon and steelhead annually. Fewer enforcement officers would be employed, leaving some areas with little or no coverage. Resource protection would be further decreased by reductions to the department’s Hydraulic Project Approval program that regulates construction in state waters.
In just the past six years, the department has cut more than $50 million from its budget, much of it from hatchery production. During that time tribes have picked up the tab to keep salmon coming home for everyone who lives here. Tribes are doing everything from taking over the operation of some state hatcheries to buying fish food and making donations of cash and labor to keep up production at other state facilities. That is in addition to the 40 million salmon and steelhead produced annually at tribal hatcheries.
Meanwhile, wild salmon populations continue to decline because of the ongoing loss of habitat that state government is unable to stop. The loss of wild salmon and their habitat has already severely restricted the tribes’ abilities to exercise our treaty-reserved fishing rights. Additional state budget cuts would only worsen the situation.
Budget problems do not excuse the state from its obligations to follow federal law and uphold commitments made by the United States in treaties with Indian tribes. Our treaties and the court decisions that upheld them are considered the “supreme law of the land” under the U.S. Constitution. As salmon co-manager with the tribes, the state of Washington does not have the option of turning its back and walking away.
Hatchery programs are especially important to fulfilling the treaty right that salmon must be available for tribes to harvest. Without hatcheries and the fish they provide, there would be no fishing at all by anyone in western Washington. We must have hatcheries for as long as natural salmon production continues to be limited by poor habitat.
Further cuts to WDFW’s budget would be another step backward in our efforts to save the salmon. Gov. Inslee should look someplace else for the funding that the state needs. He should not try to balance the state budget on the backs of the fish and wildlife resources and the people who depend on them.