Environment

KUOW's environment beat brings you stories on the ongoing cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, alternative energy, the health of the Puget Sound, coal transportation and more. We're also partnered with several stations across the Northwest to bring you environmental news via EarthFix.

The state of California is asking a basic question right now that people often fight over: What's a fair way to divide up something that's scarce and valuable? That "something," in this case, is water.

There's a lot at stake, including your very own nuts, fruits and vegetables, because most of the water that's up for grabs in California goes to farmers. This year, some farmers will get water, and others will not, simply based on when their land was first irrigated.

Mount Rainier officials are expecting high traffic this summer along the Wonderland Trail and the various park hot spots, like Spray Park pictured here.
KUOW Photo/Kara McDermott

Marcie Sillman talks to Tracy Swartout,  deputy superintendent of Mount Rainier National Park, about the growing popularity of the Wonderland Trail. 

Picture yourself at a noisy bar. You realize that you have been shouting at your date all night in order to be heard. Well, orcas in Puget Sound are in kind of the same situation.

Marla Holt, a research biologist with NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center, has found that loud boat noise forces endangered orcas to raise the volume of their calls.

But the question, Holt says, is "so what? What are the biological consequences of them doing this?”

The city of Cascade Locks and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife have filed paperwork for a water rights swap. The move would allow Nestle to bottle spring water in the Columbia Gorge.

Under the proposed transfer, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife would permanently give up 225 gallons per minute of spring water. That water would go to the city Of Cascade Locks.

That sounds like a lot, but it is a small fraction of the water the state controls to supply the Oxbow Fish Hatchery, located in Cascade Locks.

The volcanic ridges of the Cascades have long been poked and prodded by people who want to know what kind of geothermal energy they'll find beneath the surface.

But many of the Northwest's hot spots are on public lands. And in some cases, federal land managers have prevented access by companies seeking to convert that magmatic force into clean electricity.

California is parched. Wells are running dry. Vegetable fields have been left fallow and lawns are dying. There must be some villain behind all this, right?

Of course there is. In fact, have your pick. As a public service, The Salt is bringing you several of the leading candidates. They have been nominated by widely respected national publications and interest groups.

There's just one problem: Not all of these shady characters live up to their nefarious job description. Let us explain.

1. Almonds

A piece of a commercial fishing boat that was ripped from Japan's coast by the March 11, 2011 tsunami has turned up on near Oregon four years later, carrying a small diaspora of live yellowtail jack fish, native to east Asian waters, according to state park officials.

In the past few years, students at hundreds of colleges and universities have started pushing their schools to divest from fossil fuel companies as a way to slow climate change.

The campaign has had some notable wins in the past year. But at tiny Swarthmore College, outside of Philadelphia, where the movement was born, students have been staging a sit-in for nearly a month to try to make their voices heard.

Test pencil
Flickr Photo/mammal (CC-BY-NC-ND)

If you don’t like standardized tests, how should we assess our kids’ learning? Do we really want to ban all cell phone use in the car, or do we just say we do? And can a flotilla of kayaks block a giant oil derrick-pulling cargo carrier?

Bill Radke debates this week’s news with KIRO 7’s Essex Porter, Crosscut’s Knute Berger and Seattle Channel’s Joni Balter.

California is four years into a historic drought, and water for human use is vying with the water needs of wildlife, such as threatened salmon.

In parts of northern California, an explosive and unregulated increase in marijuana cultivation is contributing to the problem. Now, a study says the impact of pot grows on fish-bearing streams is threatening their survival.

Researchers monitoring water levels in streams in Humboldt and Mendocino Counties last summer say the water impacts of cannabis grow operations are dramatic.

Activists Urge Wyden To Stop 'Fast Track' Bill

Apr 9, 2015

Labor and environmental advocates are urging Sen. Ron Wyden to oppose a bill that would "fast track" the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal.

Activists rallied outside Wyden’s Portland office Wednesday afternoon. They were calling for the senator to step away from a "fast track" bill that could limit lawmakers’ ability to amend later trade agreements.

The TPP trade deal has been a target for labor and environmental groups. In part, because many of the details have been kept confidential from the public.

Mt. Hood Snowpack At Record Low Ahead Of Final Measurement Thursday

Apr 9, 2015

This is the time of year when mountain snowpacks are usually at their deepest. But as of last week, three quarters of Oregon’s long-term snow monitoring sites had the lowest snowpack levels on record. On Mt. Hood, the final snow survey of the season will be conducted Thursday.

Julie Koeberle is a Snow Hydrologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. She sat down with OPB’s Kate Davidson to talk about the year’s snowpack and what lies ahead.

A snowpack that is less than 20 percent of the normal amount has farmers and ranchers in southern Oregon worried, but the region’s rafting guides say in spite of the limited snowfall they expect to have plenty of water to float on this summer.

Pete Wallstrom, a guide and owner of Momentum River Expeditions, says he’s getting lots of calls from clients wondering if they should cancel their trips on Oregon’s iconic Rogue River due to drought.

Columbia River Gorge.
Flickr Photo/Nietnagel (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Marcie Sillman talks to Brett VandenHeuvel, the executive director at Columbia Riverkeeper, about why the re-negotiation of a treaty between Canada and the United States is important for the Columbia River. 

The Northwest’s most iconic bird could get a conservation boost in the coming years.

On Wednesday the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is announcing it will review the protection status of the Northern Spotted Owl. The result could be an endangered species listing.

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