EarthFix Northwest Environmental News

Thursday is the 105th anniversary of what's been dubbed "The Big Burn," a devastating wildfire that burned three million acres in Washington, Idaho and Montana, killing 80 people and changing the entire U.S. approach to forest fires.

A renewable energy company in Portland has cities across the globe taking a closer look at their water pipes.

Lucid Energy has designed a hydropower system that draws power from drinking water as it makes its way to the tap. Its turbines are small enough to fit inside a city water pipe, and they tap the power of gravity as water flows through.

Young People Sue Obama Over Climate Change

Aug 17, 2015

Eleven young Oregonians are among the 21 youth from around the country who have filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration, alleging that the failure to take action to slow catastrophic climate change violates their Fifth Amendment rights.

Crews continued to battle wildfires throughout the Pacific Northwest under hot conditions.

Statewide, more than 1,000 people were evacuated over the weekend.

The Canyon Creek Complex is burning more than 37,000 acres Sunday in the John Day area at least 26 homes have been lost to the fire.

Dean Elliot stands beside the smoldering remains of his home of 53 years.

"You could have put all the water you had on this," said Elliot. "And it would have never slowed it down."

He and his wife evacuated Friday just minutes before the Canyon Creek Complex ripped down a ridge and along the creek where they lived. They took with them clothes, some photos, money and two of their three cats. They couldn't find the third cat, but they're hoping it escaped the fire.

Oregon Becomes No. 1 Wildfire Fighting Priority

Aug 14, 2015

As wildfires continue to spread, officials say the state's resources are stretched thin. Oregon is the No. 1 national priority, said Koshare Eagle with the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center.

"We have a limited number of resources, and all of the resources are 100 percent engaged and committed on these incidents," said Eagle. "We don't have additional planes and helicopters to call in."

Could A Mushroom Save The Honeybee?

Aug 14, 2015

Honeybees need a healthy diet of pollen, nectar and water. But at a bee laboratory in Eastern Washington, Steve Sheppard fills their feeding tubes with murky brown liquid from the forest.

His bees are getting a healthy dose of mushroom juice.

“If this does what we hope, it will be truly revolutionary,” said Sheppard, who heads the Department of Entomology at Washington State University. “Beekeepers are running out of options.”

The State of Oregon will start looking for a buyer willing to take the Elliott State Forest off its hands. The State Land Board voted Thursday to move ahead with plans to sell the public forest located near Coos Bay.

The Elliott is managed as part of the Common School Fund, and is obligated to make money for public schools. But with declines in timber sales in recent years, the state has been losing money on the land.

Investigators Say Lawnmower Sparked Stouts Creek Fire

Aug 13, 2015

Fire investigators said Thursday that southern Oregon's Stouts Creek Fire seems to have started by a lawnmower used in violation of local orders.

Nearly 1,600 firefighters are battling the blaze, due east of Canyonville and north of Grants Pass, which has burned more than 23,000 acres. It has filled the air above Crater Lake National Park with a heavy haze of smoke.

ODOT Reopens Long Stretch Of I-84

Aug 13, 2015

A section of Interstate 84 in eastern Oregon closed for several hours Thursday due to nearby wildfires, according to a release from the Oregon Department of Transportation. At one point, the highway was closed for more than 160 miles between Ontario and Pendleton.

Three fires in Eastern Oregon continued to grow in size Thursday, and forced immediate evacuations in some areas. The fires grew due to high winds, low humidity and hot temperatures.

Conservation groups are accusing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of withholding research showing a federal plan to kill seabirds on the Columbia River would not actually benefit salmon and steelhead.

Earlier this year, the agency approved a controversial plan to shoot around 11,000 double-crested cormorants to protect threatened and endangered fish. Studies show the birds eat up to 20 percent of young salmon and steelhead as they swim down the river to the ocean.

The U.S. Coast Guard says it has notified five Greenpeace protesters they are being fined $5,000 each for interfering with the safe operation of a vessel, during their effort to blockade a Royal Dutch Shell icebreaker in Portland for repairs.

The protesters facing the fines include three who dangled on lines below the St. John's bridge for 40 hours, and two support staff who were on the deck of the bridge.

The violations have been referred to a Coast Guard hearing office in Virginia. The protesters have the right to appeal.

Delayed Shell Icebreaker Arrives In Arctic

Aug 12, 2015

Shell’s wayward icebreaker made it to the company’s Arctic Ocean drilling site Tuesday. The arrival of the Fennica after a month’s delay means the company could get to drill for oil beneath the Chukchi Sea this summer.

Currently, Shell only has permission to do shallower drilling into non-oil-bearing rocks off Alaska’s northwest coast.

With the Fennica steaming toward the Arctic, Shell submitted an application to the Interior Department on Thursday for permission to drill into deeper, oil-bearing rocks.

Groundwater levels in Oregon’s Klamath Basin have dropped as much as 25 feet in the past 15 years. A new report from the U.S. Geological Survey shows there is a relationship between the declines and pumping by farmers in the region.

Drought is a double-whammy for groundwater. Not only do farmers rely more on wells when rivers run low, there’s not much water available to seep back into, or recharge, the aquifer.

Last month, the Oregon Health Authority released a health advisory for the Ross Island Lagoon in the Willamette River, due to an algae bloom that has produced low but detectible levels of toxins.

A huge swath of wilderness in Idaho will now be protected from development, thanks to legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama on Friday.

The signing ceremony concluded a 40-year effort that was supported by environmentalists, ranchers, recreation groups and Idaho's Congregational delegation.

Idaho Public Television/EarthFix producer Aaron Kunz and Idaho Statesman writer Rocky Barker have been following the process. They teamed up to produce this video report.

Algae Advisory Lifted For Vancouver Lake

Aug 7, 2015

Clark County's Public Heath Department lifted a swimming advisory at Vancouver Lake Friday, after officials found algae levels no longer pose a threat.

Posted signs will be updated if conditions change said county health officer Dr. Alan Melnick in a statement.

"We are pleased to announce that the lake is again safe for swimming and other recreational uses," Melnick said. "We urge people to be watchful and avoid any pockets of the lake that might have a scummy texture and a green, bluish, brownish, or reddish-green color."

The tsunami that struck Japan four years ago sent about 5 million tons of debris into the Pacific Ocean.

On Friday, workers began unloading one million pounds of that debris from a barge in south Seattle.

Much of the debris washed up on a remote stretch of Alaskan coastline. After three years of planning, state and environmental groups — financed by a $5 million gift from Japan — spent the past month collecting things like buoys, fishing nets and personal items from victims of the 2011 tsunami in Japan.

Drought across the region prompted the U.S. Department of Agriculture to designate counties in Idaho, eastern Washington and Oregon, and even parts of Montana, as natural disaster areas.

In a release, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said he and President Obama want to ensure that “agriculture remains a bright spot in the nation’s economy” despite the drought.

A largely unredacted lease between the Port of Vancouver, Washington and companies looking to build the largest oil-by-rail terminal in the country has been released as the result of a legal settlement.

The proposal, called the Vancouver Energy Project, is a joint-venture backed by oil company Tesoro and logistics company Savage Industries.

The lease, turned over Wednesday, contains only three redactions, which cover proprietary information about pricing between the Port of Vancouver and Tesoro-Savage.