EarthFix Northwest Environmental News

The Portland Water Bureau plans to resume using the Bull Run watershed as its drinking water source this week.

The bureau stopped using Bull Run water in February and switched to its backup source, water from the Columbia South Shore Well Field after it repeatedly detected small amounts of a single-celled parasite called cryptosporidium.

Tests over the past month have continued to detect cryptosporidium in the water, in low concentrations. Thirteen out of 47 samples have tested positive for cryptosporidium.

How Traffic Is Drowning Out Frogs' Mating Calls

Mar 13, 2017

Chances are you’ve heard the Pacific chorus frogs’ call before. Its classic “rib-bit” is featured in basically any movie that needs frog noise.

The Pacific chorus frogs’ call is ubiquitous in the Northwest. But the amphibians are having more and more trouble hearing themselves.

Traffic is drowning them out.

During mating season the chorus of “rib-bit” “rib-bit” “rib-bit” attracts the females to ponds where they mate.

One of the three boilers at King County’s West Point Wastewater Treatment Plant is back on line, heating water to the ideal temperature for the microorganisms that digest Seattle’s sewage. That’s an improvement since February, when an electrical outage followed by a mechanical failure caused massive flooding inside the plant.

There are nights when a phone call wakes Elizabeth Sanchey out of a dead sleep. At the other end, a voice alerts her to a snowy wreck with a semi-truck leaking oil or a logging truck that’s crashed on the Yakama Nation Reservation in Washington's Columbia River Basin.

And even through the fog of sleep, she knows this call is important. When gasoline or oil gets spilled, it needs to be cleaned up — and her hazmat crew is the one to do it.

Oregon’s backlog of expired water quality permits is among the worst in the country, meaning the state has let facilities discharge pollutants at levels that may violate current protections for the state’s waterways.

That's the argument of a lawsuit filed in Multnomah County today by two environmental groups seeking to force the state’s Department of Environmental Quality to update hundreds of old permits.

Port Of Vancouver Extends Oil Terminal Lease

Mar 7, 2017

A Vancouver project to build the largest oil-by-rail terminal in the country will continue for now. After a contentious meeting Tuesday filled with passionate testimony, Port of Vancouver commissioners approved a lease extension for the controversial project.

The standing-room-only meeting went on for more than three hours. People lined up as early as 8:30 in the morning to sign up for public comment. Many sat in an overflow room, waiting to testify.

King County Releases Findings On Sewage Plant Failure

Mar 7, 2017

King County released preliminary findings Tuesday of what went wrong at the West Point Wastewater Treatment Plant. This February, an electrical failure there caused flooding and a massive dump of sewage into Puget Sound.

First, an electrical failure shut down the pumps that move treated wastewater into the sound. While electricians were trying to fix that, devices that measure how much raw sewage is in the plant also failed. Tanks filled up, and the plant flooded.

Eastern Oregon Wolf Recovery Enters Next Phase

Mar 7, 2017

There’s good news and bad news for wolves in eastern Oregon. The good news: they just hit another population milestone, showing the recovery effort is working.

The bad news for the predators? It’s getting a little bit easier for humans to kill them.

Oregon wildlife officials have counted at least seven breeding pairs of wolves for three straight years in the eastern part of the state. This indicates a degree of stability in that wolf population. It also triggers a change to how wolves are managed in the region.

West Coast energy regulators met Tuesday in Seattle to renew their pledge to join forces in reducing the region's shared carbon footprint.

The chairs of the Washington, Oregon and California utility commissions cited as one of their goals the improved integration of the West Coast's power grids.

Washington's peak energy draw happens when people turn up their thermostats in the winter. Meanwhile, Californians' heavy reliance power is during the summer, when air conditioners are running, said Dave Danner, chair of the Utilities Commission of Washington.

For the fiscal year ending this June, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has spent $28 million on Puget Sound restoration and monitoring. It has channeled those funds through tribes, nonprofits and local governments, which carry out the on-the-ground work.

Next year, that would drop to $2 million under the White House proposal revealed this week.

Many other EPA programs would be reduced or eliminated. Overall, the agency's funding would drop from to $6.16 billion next year from $8.24 billion this fiscal year. (That's down from a 2010 high of $10.3 billion).

What's the best way for Oregon to reduce its contributions to climate change? Supporters and opponents weighed in Wednesday at a legislative hearing on five bills that aim to reduce Oregon's carbon emissions.

A tiny brown bat wriggles about John Huckabee’s gloved hands, voicing its displeasure with a high-pitched series of screeches and squawks.

The wildlife biologist expertly grasps one of the bat's wings and unfolds it. Bending close, he searches for telltale signs of infection.

“There are a few small deep pigmented areas of scarring,” Huckabee said, turning the bat over in his hands. “But overall looks like he’s in very good shape.”

Three top elected officials in Oregon are now embroiled in a messy political struggle over whether to privatize an 82,500-acre state forest near Coos Bay.

The infighting among Gov. Kate Brown, Treasurer Tobias Read and Secretary of State Dennis Richardson — the three members of the State Land Board — is highly unusual in a state dominated by Democratic officials who tend to prize cooperation over confrontation.

State fishery managers on the West Coast are releasing ocean salmon forecasts this week. And things aren’t looking good – especially for fishermen off the coasts of Oregon and Northern California.

“I would generally characterize it as a very poor season for both coho and chinook," said Eric Schindler of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

He said things are looking especially bad for salmon returning to the Klamath River and its tributaries. The Klamath is the most important river for Oregon’s ocean chinook fishery.

President Trump on Tuesday issued an executive order that will start to rollback clean water rules. In the Northwest, environmentalists say that could be bad news for threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead. Farm and industry groups are lauding the order.

Advocates say the rule protects countless headwater streams and wetlands in the Pacific Northwest; if ununprotected they could eventually be developed with roads, housing, or more logging operations.

Cowlitz County has approved a key permit for a controversial methanol plant proposed on the Columbia River in the port city of Kalama.

The county’s hearing examiner Mark Scheibmeir concluded on Monday that the $1.8 billion project may proceed – provided developer NW Innovation Works complies with a long list of shoreline development permit conditions that require environmental and safety protections.

Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson on Saturday criticized Gov. Kate Brown for reversing her position on privatizing the 83,000-acre Elliott State Forest.

Richardson — who last year became the first Republican elected to statewide office in Oregon since 2002 — spotlighted the controversial proposal to sell the forest during a speech to more than 1,500 social conservatives gathered in Portland. They were at the Oregon Convention Center for an annual event known as the Freedom Rally.

If there's one thing that's clear from Wilbur Ross's financial disclosure forms, it's that the billionaire nominee for secretary of commerce lives in a world most Americans can only fantasize about.

A track for vehicles was recently discovered illegally crossing the boundary into Oregon's Eagle Cap Wilderness, despite the Wilderness Act's prohibition against motorized access to such protected areas.

America’s energy future is often cast as a battle that pits fossil fuels such as coal and gas against wind, solar and other renewable energy sources. But in the Pacific Northwest, we've already slashed greenhouse gas emissions — and saved big bucks — with a clean energy source that often doesn't even get mentioned in policy debates.

Dan Cunningham is installing an adjustable metal frame, covered in red fabric, in the open front door at a house in Ashland, Oregon.

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