EarthFix Northwest Environmental News

Helping juvenile salmon migrate out to sea has long been difficult and controversial. Barging is a common way to get the fish around dams.

The salmon are hauled around eight dams in the Columbia and Snake rivers. Idaho Conservation groups say this practice harms fish — and needs to stop now.

Seven groups sent a letter to NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, asking the agencies to this spring stop sending salmon along their migration route in barges.

Northwest communities are getting their drinking water from aging infrastructure that is costly to maintain and prone to breaking down.

That’s the conclusion of a new report issued by the Olympia-based Center for Sustainable Infrastructure, which is affiliated with The Evergreen State College.

The center's director, Rhys Roth, said those water systems were state-of-the-art when they were built a century ago.

It's Raining, But Wildfire Season Is Starting In Washington

Apr 14, 2017

Despite a wet and windy spring, wildfire season officially begins in Washington state Saturday. Oregon’s fire season typically begins next month, depending on weather conditions.

As the season begins, fire officials caution people working in the woods or clearing land to have fire prevention equipment on hand.

Boardman is best known to thousands of people for its roadside attraction: a sprawling tree farm along Interstate 84. Acres of poplar trees sprouted in orderly rows along the highway running through Eastern Oregon.

Now, most of those plantation trees have been cut down, the land sold. Part of it will soon become Oregon’s second-largest dairy. Lost Valley Farms just received a key permit at the end of March. Its owners say the dairy should be up and running in a few weeks.

From the BelleWood Acres farmhouse in Washington's Whatcom County, you can see piles of apple crates and rows of trees that stretch for acres. This is the biggest apple orchard west of the Cascades.

“Spring time’s magical in the orchard,” says John Belisle, who owns the orchard with his wife, Dorie.

“There’s bees everywhere,” Dorie agrees. “The orchards hum with their working.”

An early warning system for earthquakes is expanding to Oregon and Washington — thanks to a group of universities and government agencies.

California has had the "ShakeAlert" system for a couple of years. And depending on where an earthquake hits, it can give nearby cities a warning of up to a minute or two. That’s enough for a train to stop, a lift to open, or for people to get out of a building.

Remodeling or repainting an old home can trigger federal requirements to prevent exposure to lead-based paint. Demolishing that same home does not.

Oregon lawmakers are now hoping to help close that regulatory hole by giving cities and counties the authority to regulate the control of lead dust from home demolitions.

Demolishing older homes coated with lead paint can release toxic lead dust that disperses hundreds of feet. Those demolitions have been on the rise throughout the Northwest’s rapidly growing areas like Portland and Seattle.

Northwest rivers are running high as all that winter snowpack melts into spring runoff.

And that means the region is producing too much of a good thing: carbon-free, renewable energy in the form of both dam-generated hydropower along with electricity from spinning wind-farm turbines.

That's prompted the federal government to take an action it avoided during the last four years of drought conditions: shutting down wind power.

Opponents Aim To Block State Funding For Methanol Plant

Apr 6, 2017

Opponents of a methanol refinery proposed on the Columbia River say Washington is poised to spend $12 million in public funds to help build the controversial plant.

They sent a letter to Washington lawmakers Thursday asking them to block that spending because it would pay for a dock and a road needed by methanol project developer Northwest Innovation Works.

Mountain biking enthusiasts in Portland may soon have more places to ride within the city, thanks to the new Off-Road Cycling Master Plan.

The goal of the plan is to provide more off-roading experiences for bicyclists within the city – including trail networks in parks and stunt tracks. But the most contentious part of the plan is the proposal to add additional areas for bikers inside Forest Park.

Using Whale Breath To Find Out What's Ailing Orcas

Apr 5, 2017

Scientists have a new tool to figure out what’s ailing Puget Sound’s resident orcas. They’re studying whale breath, which is no easy feat.

“We had petri dishes that were mounted on an extendable pole,” explains Linda Rhodes, with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center. “We had to position the boat close enough to the whale so that when it surfaced and exhaled we would be able to pass the petri dishes through the plume.”

The Environmental Protection Agency has said they will not ban an insecticide widely used on farms and orchards, including in Washington state.

This comes after recommendations from EPA scientists last year to ban the chemical in question, a pesticide called chlorpyrifos.

Chlorpyrifos was banned years ago for use in most household products.

In recent years, environmental groups have been petitioning to have it removed from agricultural use too. They say it can harm children.

What's Next For The Owyhee Canyonlands?

Apr 4, 2017

Last year, conservationists made a big push to convince President Obama to create a national monument in a vast area in Southeast Oregon known as the Owyhee.

It's a vast, rugged sagebrush steppe landscape with red rock canyons and unusual geology. But the proposal faced fierce resistance from ranchers and other locals in Malheur County. At the end of his term, the Owyhee was left off of Obama’s list of new and expanded monuments.

Four conservation groups are suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in an effort to limit the federal government’s use of deadly cyanide traps.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services killed a wolf using an M-44 cyanide trap targeting coyotes. The agency uses the devices to protect livestock from potential predators.

Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality has fined the Northwest’s biggest electronics recycler $164,000 for violating state hazardous waste laws.

Seattle-based Total Reclaim failed to label electronics shipments from its Portland facility as hazardous, despite their containing materials such as mercury and lead, according to DEQ spokesman Matthew Van Sickle.

Oregon's Bottle Deposit to Double Starting April 1

Mar 31, 2017

Oregon’s bottle deposit is increasing from 5 cents to 10 cents on April 1.

The Oregon Legislature decided in 2011 to increase the deposit if the redemption rate didn’t rise above 80 percent for two consecutive years. In 2015, the statewide redemption rate was only 65 percent.

“We expect that more Oregonians will choose to redeem their bottles and cans and we believe it will help continue to keep the bottle deposit and return program relevant and working for the 21st century,” said Jules Bailey with the Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative.

Researchers measured the snowpack on Mount Hood on Thursday and found Oregon’s snowpack is at 125 percent of normal.

Scott Oviatt, snow survey supervisor with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, said an above-average snowpack is a good sign for Oregon.

“Our April 1 water supply forecast values will reflect the amount of snow we currently have, so they should come out relatively optimistic with most areas forecast to have normal or above normal stream flows throughout the spring and summer,” he said.

But a lot can happen in the month of April.

People at home can now get a glimpse of the greater sage grouse mating ritual via a new livestream near Bend.

During mating season, male sage grouse strut near females, making a dramatic popping sound as they force air through big chest sacs.

The threatened birds gather at mating grounds, called “leks.” They’re sensitive to disturbance, so the live video stream is a good way to watch the unusual ritual.

You’ve heard of Keystone XL, the controversial pipeline rejected by the Obama administration but approved this week by President Trump.

And you know all about Dakota Access. That’s the oil pipeline that became a rallying point for Native American rights and environmental activism.

It’s expected to be up and running in April.

But have you heard of TransMountain, which could soon be the biggest pipeline of them all?

A judge has ruled that a federal lawsuit against Portland General Electric over water quality on the Lower Deschutes River can move forward.

In a lawsuit filed in August, the Deschutes River Alliance claimed PGE violated water quality standards for several years after installing a water-mixing device at Round Butte Dam. That’s one of three dams operated by the utility along the lower Deschutes River.