World’s Groundwater Supplies Draining Fast, NASA Study Says

June 17, 2015

Using a new approach — employing satellite data from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) — NASA researchers concluded that 21 of the world’s 37 largest aquifers are being depleted faster than they can recharge, posing a long-term threat to the world’s freshwater supply, according to the study released Tuesday.

Areas with aquifers under the most stress include India, northern China, the Middle East, Saharan Africa, and California’s Central Valley.

“Most of those aquifers are the ones that support the world’s major food production,” Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and co-author of the ground water study, told ABC News.

Researchers blame agriculture, population growth, climate change and water-intensive industries such as mining, for the alarming rates of groundwater depletion seen during the decade-long study period.

“Humanity has done a terrible job with groundwater stewardship,” Famiglietti said.

Groundwater is the primary source of freshwater for approximately two billion people worldwide, supplying 35 percent of the water used by humans, according to the NASA report. Underground aquifers come under increased stress during drought periods.

“Because of climate change, we will be seeing even less replenishment of those aquifers,” Famiglietti said.

As the world’s middle latitudes become drier, their aquifers will replenish less often, Famiglietti said. Combine that with an increasing demand for groundwater as the world population grows, and there may be a serious problem.

“It really paints a compelling picture for the problems of the future,” Famiglietti said.

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Toxic Algal Blooms And Warming Waters: The Climate Connection

September 30, 2013

SAMMAMISH, Wash. — A photograph displayed in Jacki and John Williford’s home commemorates a camping trip that would go down in family history.


The most memorable event from that outing in 2011 involved the mussels John and his two children collected from a dock near Sequim Bay State Park on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. The family took them back to their campsite and steamed them in white wine with garlic and oregano.


“It was really good. Like the best mussels in the whole wide world,” remembers their son Jaycee, now 7. “And they were huge.”


But his little sister’s memories of that day aren’t quite as fond.


“They had poison in them.” says 4-year-old Jessica as her parents look on. “They drinked the poisoned water.”


The mussels the Willifords ate around the campfire that night were indeed poisoned. But it was a natural type of poison. The shellfish had sucked up a toxin produced by a certain type of algae called dinophysis.


Dinophysis has been found around the world and documented in Northwest waters for decades. But scientists think it’s becoming more toxic as ocean conditions change, in part due to climate change.


Every year during the warmer months, blooms of algae dot Northwest waters. Some types of algae can release toxins, which poison shellfish and the people who might eat those shellfish.


In recent years, toxic algal blooms have been more potent and lasted longer. That has scientists trying to understand how our warming climate could be contributing to the problem.


But for the Willifords, the science is already hitting close to home.



First U.S. Case of Diarrhetic Shellfish Poisoning


The Williford’s encounter with what turned out to be diarrhetic shellfish poisoning wasn’t pretty. Soon after their youngest went to bed that night, Jacki and her husband John heard sounds of vomiting coming from the tent.


After a long night spent using pillowcases, towels and every spare article of clothing to clean up the mess, the Willifords decided to cut their vacation short, pack up their things and head home.


“It just broke your heart the next morning to have a 2-year-old sitting in her stroller with a cup and she would just be over there dry heaving into her cup,” Jacki Williford recalls. “I was like, how many two year olds can manage their own cup for throwing up?”


It turns out there wasn’t much public health officials could have done to prevent this family’s experience. The DSP toxin is expensive to detect –- and there had never been a confirmed DSP poisoning in the United States –- although it has made people in Europe and Japan sick.


The Washington Department of Health works with tribes and shellfish growers to test regularly for other naturally occurring toxins in shellfish. Other native algae produce toxins that can cause paralysis and amnesia.


It was only recently that dinophysis joined the ranks of algal troublemakers in the Northwest but it may be perfectly equipped to thrive in our changing waters.




‘Cellular Vampirism’


Neil Harrington watches the waters more closely than most. As a biologist for the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe he monitors shellfish every week for toxic algae contamination. Today he’s taking samples from the very dock on Sequim Bay where the Willifords harvested their toxic shellfish in 2011.


Harrington pulls up a cage full of mussels and oysters and starts picking some out for sampling. These shellfish, alongside water samples from this site, will be taken back to his lab to test for algae-related toxins. Some samples will also be overnighted to the Department of Health lab in Shoreline, Wa., which is a clearinghouse for the latest information on shellfish bed closures.


Harrington is particularly curious about dinophysis. Unlike a lot of algae that just float around and photosynthesize until the water turns phosphorescent or red or green, dinophysis has two tails that allow it to swim through the water. That means it can photosynthesize like a plant and prey on other single-celled organisms.



“So it’s sort of cellular vampirism,” Harrington chuckles. “The analog on land would be a carnivorous plant … a sort of microshop of horrors.”


And this super bug is on the rise in Northwest waters.


Agal blooms and climate change
2012 DSP levels in Puget Sound.


Agal blooms and climate change
2012 DSP levels on Washington coast.


As more people move to the Northwest and more land is developed, more fertilizers and nutrients runoff into waterways.


“The more nutrients you add to a water body, the more algae there is,” Harrington says. “And the more algae you get the more chance there is that some of those algae will be harmful.”


Now add climate change to the equation. As we move into a warmer climate, scientists say, there will be a longer growth season for harmful algal blooms to flourish — both in the marine environment and fresh waterbodies.


Algae thrive in warmer waters. They also like it when snowmelt flushes fresh water into the marine environment.


That influx of fresh water makes for a nice layering effect and dinophysis knows how to use those conditions to their advantage.


“They can go to the surface into that fresher layer and photosynthesize during the day and then they can swim down and access nutrient-rich waters at night,” says Vera Trainer, an expert on harmful algae with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle. “So we believe that there will potentially be an increase in them in the future.”


In an important paper published in 2008, Stephanie Moore, another expert on toxic algae with NOAA, highlighted the concerns in the scientific community about how ocean acidification, the ugly step-child of climate change, could contribute to the rise of toxic algal species. “A more acidic environment would favor, among others, the dinoflagellates — the group of phytoplankton to which most harmful algae belong,” Moore wrote. Vera Trainer, a co-author on the paper, suggests we may be entering a “dinoflagellate regime.”


Trainer’s department at NOAA has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars developing equipment that will monitor algae and toxins in the water column.


In the shellfish beds of Samish Bay south of Bellingham, Wash., Moore is beta testing the latest algae monitoring instrument. It’s called an Environmental Sample Processor and in about three hours, the ESP automatically collects water, analyzes the samples and sends a photograph that shows how many harmful algal species are present in the water at that moment.




Because of its speed and accuracy, Moore says the ESP has the potential to revolutionize harmful algae monitoring. “I would still be driving back from the site in that amount of time and wouldn’t be anywhere close to being able to report on the abundance of five harmful algal species,” Moore says. “So this is a huge advancement in our ability to keep tabs on what’s going on.”


With the ESP, Moore can get word to public health officials much more quickly.


Jerry Borchert is one of those public health officials. He’s the guy responsible for making sure all the shellfish harvested along Washington’s 800 miles of coast is safe to eat. The shellfish industry in the state generates $270 million annually.


At the Department of Health lab north of Seattle, Borchert works closely with his team to analyze thousands of shellfish samples every year. If the toxin levels are too high, he closes beaches to shellfishing.


This summer marked the first time he had to close beaches in south Puget Sound because of high levels of DSP toxin. But the trend, overall, has been upwards in recent decades.


“There’s more closures happening repeatedly,” Borchert says. “They’re starting earlier, they’re lasting longer. They’re happening during the winter time where they never used to occur. It is real. We are seeing more toxic blooms.”


The Department of Health is spending $80,000 per year, on top of its regular budget, to test for the toxin that causes diarrhetic shellfish poisoning. That’s what made the Williford family sick.


And it’s making Borchert’s life harder. He’s had to hire more staff, expand sampling sites and sample more throughout the year.


“Things are constantly changing but changing in a more negative fashion so I have to do more to be prepared for this and it’s ongoing,” Borchert says as his shoulders slump. He has a resigned, tired look in his eye.


“For every one thing we learn it seems to lead to 100 more questions,” he says.


This season the Department of Health closed shellfish beds in six counties around Puget Sound because of high levels of DSP. Fortunately, no one got sick.


But in the years to come, Borchert says he expects to be more and more busy.


Story and audio by Ashley Ahearn. Video and additional reporting by Katie Campbell. Photos as credited.



Anacortes Election to Induce City Council Members to Terminate Water Agreement?

Anacortes, Wash.

A letter of  request to the Anacortes City Council for a written termination of the Tethys Enterprises water agreement that would have resulted in a one-million-square-foot bottling plant–the largest in North America–entitled up to five million gallons of water per day. Tethys CEO Steve Winter withdrew from the agreement and moved to Ireland.

TO: Council Member Ryan Walters, Council Member Eric Johnson, Council Member Cynthia Richardson, Council Member Erica Pickett, Council Member Brad Adams, Council Member Brian Geer, Council Member Bill Turner

Dear Council Members:

The muddlement of the City of Anacortes-Tethys Enterprises water agreement stands for a city process gone wrong during this mayoral and city council election. Now is the time to rekindle citizen trust by voting to terminate the Tethys water agreement in writing.

The city council voted to approve the agreement, voted for its extension and now needs to vote to terminate the agreement, lest a loophole remain, allowing Tethys to assign its water agreement to another corporation.

Mayor Dean Maxwell stated in a KUOW Radio interview aired on Sept. 23, 2013, that, “he believes the deal is dead.” In the people’s eye, his belief is no guarantee that the deal is dead. Now is the time to rekindle citizen trust, guaranteeing no loophole that will carry mistrust and fear and continue to paralyze our town.

Tethys was secretly brought to town, negotiations among the mayor, city council and Tethys occurring secretly and citizens given one day’s notice in the Skagit Valley Herald of the agreement before city council discussion and voting approval.

I was among ten citizens who personally approached Mayor Maxwell at city hall before he signed the agreement. We requested a public hearing. Mayor Maxwell refused, saying that the agreement was “the city’s business.”

This year’s election is about “the people’s business.” Candidates are quick to promise respectful citizen involvement regarding development and the town’s vision. Anacortes needs a fresh start.

Defending Water in the Skagit River Basin requests, on behalf of Anacortes citizens, that you put a written termination of the water agreement with Tethys on your agenda and vote to terminate the agreement by Oct. 14, 2013. Now is the time to rekindle citizen trust in the city council to perform “the people’s business” during this election.


Sandra Spargo
Defending Water in the Skagit River Basin/The Alliance for Democracy

Cc: Mayor Dean Maxwell

Oregon, Washington issue Columbia River fish warning

Originally published September 23, 2013Health officials in Oregon and Washington said Monday that people should protect themselves against mercury and PCB contamination by limiting consumption of certain fish species from a 150-mile section of the Columbia River.

The Oregon Health Authority and the Washington Department of Health said people should eat no more than one meal a week of resident fish — those that live year-round in the same place — between Bonneville and McNary dams. Resident species in the Columbia include bass, bluegill, yellow perch, crappie, walleye, carp, catfish, suckers and sturgeon.

A meal is defined as a piece of fish the size and thickness of one’s hand.

Officials also recommend not eating any resident fish taken between Bonneville Dam and Ruckel Creek, one mile upstream.

The advisory does not apply to migratory fish, such as salmon and steelhead, because they spend most of their time at sea.

“We’ve suspected for quite some time that there may be contamination in the Columbia River, and the thing that was missing was measured data,” said Dave Farrer, public health toxicologist for the Oregon Health Authority.

Only recently have researchers had the resources available to measure toxicity in Columbia River fish, he said.

The states said they’re unsure how long the advisory will last.


Polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, are toxic chemicals that do not break down in the environment. They were widely used in electronic components until they were banned in the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.

Officials advised against eating any resident fish caught near Bonneville Dam after researchers measured extraordinarily high levels of PCB contamination in resident fish there. The most contaminated sample measured 183 parts per million, Farrer said, and the threshold for an advisory is 0.047 ppm.

Upstream from Bonneville, mercury is the concern, Farrer said.

Mercury and PCBs build up over time. Developing fetuses, nursing infants and small children are most vulnerable to their negative health effects, so it’s especially important that women of child-bearing age heed the advisories, officials said.

Officials recommend pregnant women eat migratory fish for the beneficial protein, omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients.

“The message isn’t to not eat fish at all,” Farrer said. “We want people, especially pregnant women, to eat fish. We just want them to choose fish correctly. We hope these advisories are a good tool to help them.”

Monday’s announcement drew an immediate response from Northwest tribes, who called on state and federal leaders to find long-term solutions that improve water quality.

“The new advisories once again pass the burden of responsibility from industry and government to tribes and people in the region,” Yakama Nation Chairman Harry Smiskin said in a released statement. “Rather than addressing the contamination, we are being told to reduce our reliance on the Columbia River’s fish. This is unacceptable.

“The focus should not be ‘do not eat’ — it should be ‘clean up’ the Columbia River.”

The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, which includes the Yakama Nation, has urged Washington and Idaho to beef up their water quality standards. Oregon adopted new rules in 2011 that are among the most stringent in the country.


Water compact: Klamath shows value of negotiation

Guest Editorial in Missoula, Montana

Michael Gale (Missoulian, Sept. 17) seems to think that events in Oregon’s Klamath Basin illustrate the danger of entering into a Flathead Reservation compact. Actually, the reverse is true.

Part of the problem is that Gale doesn’t really appear to know what happened on the Klamath. What actually happened is that the state of Oregon determined that the Klamath Tribes have a “time immemorial” right to in-stream flows on Klamath tributaries, which entitles them to make a call on irrigators using water from those streams. And in this very low water year, that’s what they did. When a senior water user shuts down a junior, there is no implication that the senior’s use of water is “more important” than the junior’s. All it means is the senior was there first. It may not lead to the best use of water, but that’s the way Western water law works.

It’s also important to note that the Klamath irrigators who were cut off this summer were not protected by any “paper agreements.” In fact, they declined to participate in the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, which seeks to assure that there is enough water, equitably shared, for both fish and agriculture. Other irrigators with rights junior to those of the tribes, who did enter into the agreement, have not had their water cut off.

Like the Klamath Tribes, the Salish and Kootenai tribes almost certainly have a valid claim to extensive time immemorial in-stream water rights. These rights are a matter of law and not a creation of the compact. On the contrary, under the compact, the tribes have agreed to exercise their rights in a way that protects existing junior users, including irrigators. The Klamath experience demonstrates the value of this kind of negotiated settlement, and the perils of rejecting it.

Sen. Dick Barrett,

Senate District 47,



Ocean of Change: Changing chemistry of seawater poses lethal threat to marine life

Published:  Sept. 22


Oregon fishermen tell stories of strange events on the Pacific Ocean that have made them shudder over the past half dozen years.

The Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery on the state’s north coast watched oyster larvae die en masse for three years in a row in the mid-2000s — depriving oyster farms along the entire West Coast of seed oysters.

Florence crabber Al Pazar saw baby octopuses, an inch or two long, climb up his crab lines to escape the sea waters in the 2005 season. When he pulled up his pots, the crab were dead.

Eugene fisherman Ryan Rogers, who drags in great piles of salmon on an Alaska purse seiner, has instead brought up nets full of jellyfish in recent years.

“Sometimes we’ll catch 4,000 or 5,000 pounds of jellyfish. They spray all around. We get stung,” he said. “It makes it difficult to bring your net in. You have to let it go and lose the salmon that are in your net.”

Scientists — including many at Oregon State University — are beginning to define the cause of these events. They call it ocean acidification and hypoxia.

Wind, currents and ocean chemistry conspire to create pools of corrosive waters that can be lethal to key commercial species in Northwest waters — and favorable to some nuisance species, such as jellyfish.

The die-off of coral reefs has been publicized everywhere from Australia to the Indian Ocean to the Caribbean. But less well known are the problems surfacing on the West Coast of North America — where people may have more cause to worry.

“Scientists are learning that ocean acidification is hitting waters off the West Coast earlier and harder than elsewhere on the planet,” Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber said recently.

Kitzhaber in August appointed five Oregon State University scientists to a multistate panel that’s charged with determining the extent, causes and effects of ocean acidification along the Pacific coast.

Acidification is a potential threat to shellfish and other marine life and also to thousands of jobs that depend on them, according to the governor, so the state needs a clearer understanding of what’s happening in Oregon’s waters.

Oyster growers, crabbers and fishermen have reported losses in the millions related to the strange events.

“Equally evil twin”

The precise cause is poorly understood but, study-by-study, experts in chemical and physical oceanography, biogeochemistry, marine biology, ecology and physiology are building a picture of the problem.

They theorize that acidification is spurred by a rapid increase in the amount of carbon dioxide taken up by the ocean, which sets off a chemical reaction that sours the waters. Scientists estimate that the world’s seas are 30 percent more acidic than they were before the industrial revolution 200 years ago.

Top marine ecologist Jane Lubchenco, who’s on leave from OSU to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, calls ocean acidification the “equally evil twin” of climate change. Both involve excess carbon dioxide and both are inhospitable to life.

Readings taken out in the center of the Pacific show fluctuations around an average that is stepping ever upward, said George Waldbusser, a professor of ocean ecology and biogeochemistry at OSU. But the coastline of Oregon and Washington see higher levels of acidity because deep ocean currents drive cold, acidified waters from the east Pacific to the west.

Each May and June, winds along the Oregon Coast switch directions and begin shoving warm surface waters away from the shore, and that allows upwellings of those cold deep waters, which are devoid of oxygen and dangerous to sea life.

Scientists call it “hypoxia,” which means devoid of oxygen. Fishermen call these areas “dead zones” because the sea life that can swim away does and those creatures that can’t die.

In 2006, a dead zone off Oregon covered 1,800 square miles of ocean and lasted for four months, according to an OSU report.

This and other “severe episodes” make Oregon an excellent research subject, OSU assistant professor Francis Chan said at the most recent meeting of the governor-appointed West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel.

Shells and brains

In the past half dozen years, science has focused on the effect of acidification on Northwest marine life, including oysters, pollock and tiny sea snails called pteropods.

Oyster larvae strain to make their protective shells in acidic waters and if the pH — scale of acidity and alkalinity in water — drops too low they die. Any other shell-building sea creature is vulnerable to the same problem.

“I am totally worried about it,” Portland-based Nature Conservancy ecologist Dick Vander Schaaf said. “You need to have juveniles to have more oysters. We’re very concerned about barnacles and their ability to form shells.”

Besides young oysters, shell builders include clams, abalone, scallops, sand dollars and sea stars. Crabs, too, build skeletons on the outside, so they could eventually be harmed.

Steve Rumrill, the shellfish program leader at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, worries about razor clams, mussels, Dungeness crab and red sea urchins.

Acidification also affects tiny organisms that float in the waves and serve as feed stock for fish — of all sizes — and even whales.

Rumrill, for example, worries about the microscopic larval form of Dungeness crab, which hang in the water column and feed coho salmon and gray whales. And pteropods dissolve when sea water gets too acidic, studies show. They are a chief staple of pink salmon.

“We are really in the infancy of understanding the extent of this problem — and it’s one that’s going to outlast all of us,” Rumrill said.

An early study on how corrosive waters affect fish was done in Australia on clownfish, like Nemo. The orange-and-white fish normally stick close to protective reefs, but in acidic waters they wander, including into the jaws of predators.

Newport-based scientist Thomas Hurst ran tests on juvenile walleye pollock at the Hatfield Marine Science Center. In acid waters, their brain signals were so scrambled that they couldn’t seem to recognize their regular foods. The result ultimately may be bad news for surimi eaters.

For fishermen, the news is strange and unsettling. Newman’s Fish Co. owner Dwight Collins wearies of the trail of news stories that follow each new discovery.

“This whole climate change, and such, some days I don’t even want to read about it because it is so scary,” he said.

Whiskey Creek discovery

The big break in scientific understanding of ocean acidification, though, happened in an oyster hatchery on the north Oregon Coast over the past five years. Hatcheries raise larval oysters in mammoth tanks until they form shells and can be planted in the ocean to grow to harvestable size.

But the larvae at Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery at Netarts Bay, near Tillamook, inexplicably began dying at an alarming rate — 70 to 80 percent — each year for three years, said Waldbusser, the OSU professor.

The oyster die-offs at Whiskey Creek were dire for the entire $100 million West Coast oyster industry, he said.

“Most of the independent growers on the West Coast get their oyster larvae from that hatchery,” Waldbusser said.

“Growers would call up the hatchery and say, ‘We want seed’ and they had to tell them, ‘We don’t have any.’ Imagine if you were growing corn and you called up the seed supplier and they said, ‘Sorry, we don’t have any corn for you to grow.”

At first, the hatchery thought it was a disease that was killing the larvae. But treatments didn’t help. The hatchery’s scientist, Alan Barton, had a hunch that the acidity of the sea waters from Netarts Bay that supplied the hatchery’s tanks was killing the larvae.

He contacted OSU chemical oceanographer Burke Hales, who in 2010 lent the hatchery monitoring equipment that could test the acidity of the waters. Subsequent experiments found that treating the tank waters with sodium carbonate, basically Tums, reduced the larval deaths.

With OSU’s monitoring equipment, the hatchery learned to react when the pH started dropping into the acidic zone. Measurements over time helped it pinpoint hourly, daily and monthly fluctuations in acidity.

“Funny story,” Waldbusser said, when Hales asked for return of the (OSU) equipment for a research project, “the hatchery basically said, ‘Too bad we’re keeping it.’”

The hatchery’s misfortune brought critical insights to the scientists.

“There’s a window of time that (larvae) appear to be very sensitive to acidification, but if there is enough carbon dioxide in the water, even the later stages of larvae are going to be sensitive,” Waldbusser said. At some point on the pH scale, the shells of adult shellfish would be compromised, he said.

Washington takes note

The discovery in the Whiskey Creek tanks was the first straight-line connection between ocean acidification and damage to marine life — and demonstration of harm to a food source and an industry. Losses to oyster growers were on the order of $100 million, Waldbusser said.

“The work that we’ve been doing here in Oregon at the hatchery has helped really pave the way for a lot of other places to start addressing the issue,” he said. “I’m really proud of that work we’ve done.”

The Northwest shellfish industry — the bulk of it located on Puget Sound and Willapa Bay in Washington — took the lessons at Whiskey Creek to heart. In February 2012, then-Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire appointed a Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification that wrote an action plan to combat the problem.

The Washington Legislature, based on the panel’s recommendations, invested $1.82 million in a new center on ocean acidification at the University of Washington to study the problem and aid shellfish growers.

But some oyster growers were too worried to wait around for science. Goose Point Oyster Co. in Willapa Bay, for example, didn’t want to rely on just the Whiskey Creek hatchery. The company, instead, built its own hatchery at Hilo, Hawaii, far away from upwellings and dead zones. When the seed oysters are ready, the company ships them home to Willapa Bay.

Search for solutions

The hunt for immediate ways to protect the Northwest shellfish industry is on.

Scientists want to be able to make short-term predictions about when acidification is on the rise so hatcheries can turn off their water intakes or otherwise protect their brood.

The Washington panel recommended a selective breeding program for shellfish aimed at creating new breeds of oysters that are resistant to acid waters.

Another strategy: oyster shell recycling.

In acidic waters, the shells, which contain calcium carbonate, slowly dissolve and buffer the waters around the seeded oysters — again it’s the “Tums effect,” Waldbusser said.

Shell recycling projects that collect shells from oyster houses and seafood processors have existed for years in Maryland, Virginia and most recently in Louisiana, where New Orleans restaurants contribute mountains of shells. Northwest oyster shells generally go to landfills.

The Washington panel debated introducing shell recycling to the Northwest, but there’s an issue that made participants wary. It’s herpes, basically, Waldbusser said. California oyster growers have been plagued with the virus, but it hasn’t spread to the Northwest.

Imported California oysters shells could get in the mix and infect Northwest oysters.

“It’s a real issue. You don’t want to contaminate or infect populations in Washington or Oregon,” Waldbusser said. Recyclers on the East Coast exposed recycled shells to sunlight for months before returning them to the sea, but that treatment is not yet proven to stop disease, Waldbusser said.

Overall, these short- term steps might help a bit with rising acidity — the Washington panel referred to them as “buying time.”

“But that’s only going to carry us so far,” Waldbusser said. “Fundamentally, at the base of it, we have to address carbon dioxide emissions. That’s not going to change.”

The increased carbon dioxide in the ocean is related to increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, studies suggest.

Waldbusser is not prepared to pin the problem on climate change caused by greenhouse gases created by burning fossil fuels — mostly in car engines — but time will tell.

“There’s predictions that the timing and intensity of upwellings will become worse with climate change on our coast,” he said.

The Washington panel doesn’t mince words: It’s No. 1 conclusion is that carbon dioxide emissions are the most significant driver of ocean acidification.

The solutions are the same ones recommended for curbing climate change: large scale deployment of plug-in vehicles, car sharing, mileage-based insurance, low-carbon fuel standards, transportation planning, energy efficiency standards, weatherization and solar panels.


2013 Oregon drought calls for action on climate change

Posted: Sunday, September 22, 2013 

Almost 2,000 feet deep, Crater Lake is the deepest body of water in the United States, a beautiful gem of southern Oregon. Fed by overhead snow and rain, the lake is one of the cleanest and purest in the world. Gazing upon the breathtakingly bright blue waters of the lake is something you never forget.

But there is trouble in paradise. During the past 21 years, I have spent my summers living in Crater Lake National Park. Looking out my bedroom window, I noticed winters are becoming shorter, warmer and less snowy. It looks to me like it has been raining more and snowing less in the months of May, June, September, and October. This change in the weather has led me to become very worried about climate change.

The science confirms my observation. In 1931, rangers first began keeping track of the average annual snowfall at Crater Lake. Since then, the totals have been trending downward by decade from an average of 614 inches in the 1930s to about 455 inches last decade. Even more alarming, this last winter, 2012-13, Crater Lake received about 355 inches.

Climate researchers expect the trend to continue. They predict the Pacific Northwest will experience even less snow and warmer temperatures in the decades to come.

Most snow that falls in the park eventually leaves here to nourish the river sheds of southern Oregon such as the Klamath River Basin. Less snow falling in the park means less water is leaving the park to support southern Oregon cities, ranches, farms, and wildlife downstream.

According to the National Weather Service, Southern Oregon is currently under a persistent drought that may last until the end of October, if not longer. This spring, the USDA designated Klamath, Lake, Harney and Malheur counties as drought disaster counties. According to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Klamath Basin experienced the second driest January-through-March on record.

This current drought is an alarm bell telling us that it is time for Oregonians and Americans to stand up and take action on climate change.

The National Academy of Sciences, U.S. Department of Defense, American Meteorological Society, and even the Catholic Church all say climate change is real and caused by humans. According to NASA, over 97 percent of climate scientists agree on this.

It’s getting bad, but we can limit the damage if we choose.

Humans pump more than 90 million tons of carbon dioxide a day into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, more than 33 billion tons each year. For over 150 years, scientists have known that CO2 traps the earth’s heat. Since the industrial revolution, we’ve increased the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere by over 40 percent.

Earth now has a “fever,” and the global average surface temperature has increased by 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit or 0.8 Celsius. The impact of climate change is felt worldwide by more extreme floods, heat waves, and droughts, like we are currently experiencing in southern Oregon.

One of our leading climate scientists, retired NASA climatologist Dr. James Hansen, says the best way to reduce the threat of climate change is for Congress to quickly pass carbon fee and dividend legislation.

A national carbon fee would tax fossil fuels — oil, coal, and natural gas — as they are extracted from the ground or arrive in port. This tax would cause fossil fuels to become increasingly expensive. At the same time, non-polluting renewable energy — solar, wind, and geothermal — would become increasingly attractive investments because of their relatively cheaper cost. Revenue from the carbon fee would be used to give Americans an evenly distributed dividend check to offset rising energy costs associated with the fee.

The beauty of Crater Lake National Park and surrounding southern Oregon, plus the current drought, should inspire us to do everything we can to limit the threat of climate change for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren.

The best way to limit future droughts threatening our farms, cattle ranches, salmon fisheries, and drinking water supply is to take action on climate change. That action, a national fee on carbon with revenue returned to households, will only happen if local Southern Oregon citizens tell our members of Congress, such as Congressman Greg Walden and U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, to make it so.


Tethys’ Pullout of Bottling Plant Draws Mixed Response

Anacortes American
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Tethys’ pullout draws mixed response

Reactions are mixed to the announcement last week that Tethys Enterprises backed out of its plans for a bottling facility on the island.

Some residents were pleased the proposed 1-million-square-foot plant is off the table while others are lamenting the potential jobs lost. But all are looking to the future and how Anacortes could plan to best utilize the property — and how to attract a business that more people can get behind and support.

In a letter sent to Mayor Dean Maxwell last week, Tethys CEO Steve Winter said the project was viable, but the company and its principals had other opportunities come up over time. They opted to halt their efforts on the bottling plant project.

Tethys has worked on the project for several years and signed a water contract with the city in late 2010.

Winter has not answered requests for further comment.

Sandra Spargo, who organized Defending Water in the Skagit River Basin, said she’s received about 200 emails since the announcement last week.

“I am getting a lot of emails from people who are happy about this,” she said. “I am relieved but cautiously relieved because I don’t know what this means.”

She has heard from residents who still have questions: Can Tethys sell the water contract to another company? Has Tethys reimbursed the city for all expenses? Will the city still pursue the urban growth area expansion request?

Mayor Dean Maxwell said the contract is “dead.” In order to transfer water rights, Tethys would have to make a request and it would have to be OK’d by the City Council. He said there’s been no request. He said a new company couldn’t meet deadlines built into the contract anyway.

“It’s just not going to happen,” he said.

Tethys has one more small payment to the city to reimburse it for all expenses, Maxwell said.

He said the city will discuss the UGA expansion request after the November election. It could be rolled into the city’s 2016 comprehensive plan update — but that’s up to the City Council.

“There’s no urgency now,” Maxwell said.

City Council member Ryan Walters said he’d like the city to send a letter to Tethys thanking them for their time and indicating the contract is terminated because they say they will not fulfill their side.

“I think we need to clean that up,” he said.

Walters said he wasn’t surprised Tethys backed out. He said the idea didn’t seem conceivable. The plant was proposed to be the largest in the country, but Tethys hadn’t bottled beverages before and it didn’t appear to have any real assets, he said.

“It didn’t really strike me as a very serious effort,” Walters said.

Peggy Flynn, who met Winter in an MBA program in 1986, introduced him at some of the community events he attended.

She said Anacortes has lost the economic benefits of a construction project that would have hired 250 workers and spent $500 million to build the facility as well as the potential for a significant number of well-paying jobs.

“We’ve lost what would have been the most environmentally and technologically advanced beverage manufacturing plant in the world,” Flynn said — citing plans for biodegradable and recyclable packaging materials, reduced and recycled wastewater, and the use of rail instead of trucks.

She said the good news is that Anacortes still has water rights and can look for other economic opportunities going forward.

Spargo said now is the time for a community discussion.

“I think this is an opportunity for the community to come together and give their vision of what they would like to see out there as possibilities,” she said. “We need a plan. We need a plan for all our city.”

She sees the grassroots Defending Water group continuing to have a voice in the process.

Walters said he’d like to see the city continue to explore the current comprehensive plan proposal that would limit the size of facilities on industrial property.

“If something is going to be massive, 1 million square feet, then we need to look at it and it needs to be not outright allowed,” he said.

The approval process wouldn’t have to take long, he said. As it is now, a massive facility could come in for a building permit with environmental review, but without council consultation. He said in the future water shouldn’t be the focus.

“When we look at economic development look for industries that provide good jobs — not industries that use water,” Walters said.

Tethys timeline

• April 2008 — Tethys Enterprises is formed.

• April 12, 2010 — Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson, in a letter to Tethys CEO Steve Winter, says the city will discontinue any further work on the proposed agreement to build a bottling plant there. He cited a concern that Tethys refused to link water provided to the number of jobs created.

• Sept. 13, 2010 — The Anacortes City Council approves a contract to provide up to 5 million gallons of water a day to Tethys. The contract, dated Oct. 1, 2010, requires the company to provide a legal description and map of property for the development. It must be at least 30 acres, served by rail and within the city limits.

• October 2010 — Defending Water in the Skagit River Basin was formed as a “grass-roots educational influence to promote citizen input regarding the contract signed between the City of Anacortes and Tethys Enterprises.” It is associated with the Alliance for Democracy.

• Sept. 26, 2011 — The City Council approves a contract extension, requiring Tethys to find property by Dec. 1, 2012.

• July 31, 2012 — The City of Anacortes requests adding about 11 acres off Highway 20 near Stevenson Road to its urban growth area. The site was being eyed for Tethys. At the time, Mayor Dean Maxwell said the city will benefit from the added industrial property no matter what ends up there.

• Oct. 10, 2012 — The county requests more information from the city about its UGA request.

• Nov. 29, 2012 — Tethys gets title commitments for 30.33 acres of property at Highway 20 and Reservation Road near Stevenson Road. At the time, Winter told the American the 30.33-acre site was just part of the plan. It also proposed to use about 11 acres the city requested to be added to its urban growth area and, at the time, Tethys was in discussion with other property owners.

According to the contract, Tethys then had two years to complete the necessary studies and apply for permits. The plant was required to be up and running by June 1, 2018, according to the contract.

• April 9, 2013 — Skagit County commissioners hold a public hearing on the city’s UGA expansion request. Speakers brought up issues including traffic concerns, the size of the proposed Tethys plant, the city infrastructure to support any amount of acreage outside the presently designated city limits and the Tethys project being out of scale for the site and nearby communities.

• July 10, 2013 — Skagit County commissioners voted unanimously to docket the City of Anacortes UGA expansion request, allowing the review process to continue. An environmental review process was the next step.

• Sept. 10, 2013 — The city announces Tethys has backed out of its proposal.

Fate of Northern California at Stake in Trinity River War

September 16, 2013


The Hoopa Valley Tribe applauds a recent decision by a federal judge to allow the federal Bureau of Reclamation to open the Lewiston dam and release Trinity River water needed to avoid a replay of the 2002 fish kill in the Klamath River.

The lifting of the restraining order holding back these flows, which was requested as part of a lawsuit by the Westlands Water District and San Lois & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, is good news for this year’s record run of salmon.

The fact that a last minute lawsuit could have caused a catastrophic fish kill in the Klamath River demonstrates the need for long-term solutions to water issues in the Klamath, and it’s largest tributary, the Trinity River.

It is regrettable that this latest lawsuit has reignited the war for the Trinity River, one of the fiercest in the history of California water. At stake are Northern Californian’s way of life, including thousands of years of tribal existence, and commercial and sport fishing economies.

In this suit, irrigators located hundreds of miles from the Trinity River revived arguments that water for salmon, environmental conservation and cultural preservation should more profitably be used to grow crops. These crops are grown with subsidized water on marginal lands.

This latest attempt to use environmental laws to block water for environmental protection is especially hypocritical and deplorable if we look at the history of the Trinity water struggle.

The last battle for the Trinity was twelve years ago. Then, a federal appeals court rejected similar efforts by these same water users that would have blocked salmon restoration in the Trinity River.

The laws, permits and contracts that established the nearly 60-year old priorities for Trinity water are clear. Westlands and the San Luis & Delta-Medota Water Authority have always known that federal law gives Trinity needs priority over their use of Trinity River water, yet they continue to use obstructionist tactics to hold up water releases when the fish need it most.

Moreover, the broad scope of the crisis affecting our fishery involves irrigation and hydropower generation in Oregon and the controversial Bay Delta Conservation planning process in California.

Central Valley farmers are not the only party to blame for this crisis. If Upper Klamath Lake in Oregon was not overdrawn last year, and more water had been released from Iron Gate Dam, the Klamath River would not be in as dire a situation. If Warren Buffett’s PacifiCorp would stick to its promise to remove the Klamath Dams instead of stalling dam removal through the manipulation of California’s water quality laws, water would be cleaner and cooler in the Klamath.

We cannot let wasteful corporate farming continue to diminish and pollute our rivers and groundwater to the point they cannot sustain fisheries or communities. The 2002 Klamath River fish kill was devastating not only the Tribes of the Klamath and Trinity Rivers, but also to coastal fishing communities.

It was also a wake up call for the stakeholders of the Klamath watershed, including California and Oregon. However eleven years, and millions of dollars in hearings and meetings, later very few solutions to the problem have been implemented.

There is a path forward. We have prepared long-term, comprehensive and science based solutions to the Klamath and Trinity crisis. We invite California and Oregon water managers to discuss them with us.

Danielle Vigil-Masten is the chairwoman of the Hoopa Valley Tribe.




Drought Driving New Water Deals in the West, Part One

Tony Barboza | 9/9/13
On a June morning, Scott White and a colleague from his agency, the state Water Resources Department, park their pickup near a green pasture and barn outside Bly, Ore. A rancher, his wife and son meet the government men at the gate, their faces tight with barely suppressed anger. Low snowpack and stream flows prompted Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber to declare a drought emergency in the Klamath Basin in April, and the watermasters are here to shut off the irrigation water the family needs to sustain their fields through temperatures pushing 100 degrees.

This is just one of the hundreds of personal visits that watermasters are paying to ranchers and hay farmers who draw from the headwaters of the Klamath River, which runs 250 miles from southern Oregon’s high desert to the fog-shrouded redwoods of the California Coast. The crews, working in pairs, offer a sympathetic ear to frustrated ranchers, but carry radios and file itineraries with state police for their own safety as they step through wire fences and straddle ditches to measure stream flows, close headgates and turn off pumps.

Anywhere else in Oregon, officials would simply phone people to tell them to turn off their own irrigation systems, says White, a 35-year-old who wears waterproof hiking boots and covers his bald head with a baseball cap on parched summer days.

“But this is a first in this basin.”

After a 38-year process, this March the state of Oregon recognized the 3,700-member Klamath Tribes — the Klamath, Modoc and Yahooskin people — as the most senior water-rights holders in the Upper Klamath Basin. In June, fearing the drought would decimate their traditional fishery of endangered Lost River and shortnose suckers, the tribes exercised their rights to keep water in the lake and upper tributaries that feed into the Klamath River.

The federal government joined the tribes, using its senior rights to ensure the flow of water to 1,400 other farms on the Klamath Project on the California-Oregon border. Hundreds of Upper Basin ranchers and other junior water users, including federal wildlife refuges, were cut off; even Crater Lake National Park has had to truck in drinking water for campers.

“People are hurt, they are angry, and I think there’s grieving,” says Roger Nicholson, who raises cattle in the Wood River Valley near Fort Klamath. He received a card ordering him to shut off in July. “To lose the productive ability of our land is almost like the loss of a family member. It’s deep down.”

The tribes agonized over the decision, says Tribal Council Member Jeff Mitchell, knowing it would fan the flames of one of the West’s most intractable resource conflicts. People here have fought for generations over water and the fish, farms and hydroelectric dams it supplies, and the consequences have been widespread, including massive fish die-offs, toxic algae blooms in reservoirs and salmon declines that have closed 700 miles of coastline to fishing, from the Columbia River to Monterey, Calif.

Some have worried that this summer’s drought might also kill the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, which was supposed to resolve those water-distribution conflicts while restoring habitat throughout the 15,000-square-mile Basin. Partly because many Upper Basin irrigators and others never signed on, the settlement has languished in Congress for over three years. But the latest crisis may actually provide the push needed to finally move the complex and fragile détente.

The shut-offs have brought Nicholson and other holdouts to the table to join tribes and government officials for an urgent round of talks aimed at finding a swift resolution. “This is our one chance to fix the Klamath system,” says Mitchell. “And it’s fixable.”

Struggles over water in the Klamath famously boiled over in 2001, when the federal government halted water deliveries to Klamath Project farmers to protect endangered suckers and salmon. U.S. marshals were called in to protect irrigation headgates from angry demonstrators, who formed a “bucket brigade” to manually divert water to irrigation canals in an act of civil disobedience. The Bush administration resumed water deliveries the following year, but that left river flows so low during the fall chinook salmon run that thousands of fish died, devastating downstream fisheries.

Three years ago, a coalition of dozens of onetime adversaries — including farmers, fishermen, tribes and environmentalists — signed a widely lauded truce. Under the agreement, the Klamath Tribes would not use their water rights to cut off the farmers who are part of the Klamath Project, a 1905 federal irrigation project that transformed an arid stretch of the California-Oregon border into productive farmland. The farmers agreed to accept less water during dry periods in exchange for greater certainty of deliveries from year to year.

The tribes, meanwhile, would benefit from restoration projects and receive 92,000 acres of forest, a small portion of the 1.8 million acres they lost when the U.S. government dissolved their reservation in 1954. In a companion deal, the electric utility PacifiCorp agreed to remove four hydroelectric dams on the river, allowing salmon to return to parts of the Klamath and its tributaries that have been blocked for nearly a century.