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News, factoids, and insights from KUOW's newsroom. And maybe some peeks behind the scenes. Check back daily for updates.

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  • Conserve water? In the Northwest? Seattle utility asks for voluntary water reductions

    KUOW Blog
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    Just a couple days ahead of fall 2023 officially starting, there is snow in Washington's mountains and rain expected soon in the lowlands. Meanwhile, the region continues to deal with drought conditions, which have prompted Seattle Public Utilities to urge residents to voluntarily reduce water usage.

    The summit at Crystal Mountain got its first snow of the season Wednesday. It was just a light dusting that didn't stick around for very long. Snow also fell at the Sunrise entrance at Mount Rainier this week.

    Heavy rain is expected as early as Monday, when an atmospheric river is slated to arrive in the Puget Sound region. That could continue through Wednesday. The region needs it.

    Most of Washington state continues to deal with drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Parts of the Puget Sound region are dealing with "moderate" to "severe" drought conditions.

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  • Here's when Seattle Public Schools will announce possible school closures

    KUOW Blog
    caption: Students arrive for the first day of school on Wednesday, September 6, 2023, at Daniel Bagley Elementary School in Seattle.
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    Students arrive for the first day of school on Wednesday, September 6, 2023, at Daniel Bagley Elementary School in Seattle.
    KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

    The timeline to potentially close some Seattle schools is getting clearer.

    The district has not yet identified any specific schools on the chopping block, but has said closures could happen in fall 2024 as part of a plan to address a $104 million budget shortfall fueled by declining enrollment.

    “This year is going to be a tremendous challenge,” Superintendent Brent Jones said Wednesday at a school board budget work session.

    Under the new timeline, Jones would lay out the budget proposal in mid-November, which would likely include a list of any schools being shuttered.

    Leading up to that, in October, district officials plan to provide an update on the latest enrollment numbers and community feedback from its “well-resourced school” meetings over the summer, and share general budget cut strategies.

    District officials were able to close an even larger shortfall last year by draining a $42 million rainy day fund and making more than $30 million in cuts in the central office.

    But now, administrators said Wednesday that the district needs to focus on long-term, structural budget cuts — including likely school closures and consolidations.

    Despite the Washington state Supreme Court’s landmark McCleary ruling that funneled billions of new dollars into schools, administrators say funding doesn’t allow for students to get all the resources they need in schools with lower enrollment.

    “Small schools no longer match up with the state allocation model,” Art Jarvis, deputy superintendent of academics, said Wednesday.

    By launching a multi-year budget planning process and starting that process earlier in the year, Jones hopes to head off future deficits. As of Wednesday, district officials project a $129 million shortfall for the 2025-26 school year.

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  • How to keep carbon in Washington's forests

    KUOW Blog
    caption: A wildfire sparked by lightning burns through the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, south of Mount Rainier, Aug. 28, 2023.
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    A wildfire sparked by lightning burns through the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, south of Mount Rainier, Aug. 28, 2023.

    When forests burn, there is a specific type of environmental harm that might not immediately come to mind: Carbon stored in the trees is released into the atmosphere.

    A new study has found locations in Washington state where protecting trees could have the biggest impact on carbon storage and community safety.

    “When fire burns through an area, it releases a large part of that carbon by burning the tree up," said Michael Case, a forest ecologist with the Nature Conservancy.

    The Nature Conservancy, the University of Montana, and the U.S. Forest Service found forests in Central and Eastern Washington, California, and Arizona are hot spots — they pose the biggest risk of burning and leaking the most carbon into the atmosphere.

    Case says prioritizing thinning and burning stands within these hotspots could lower wildfire risks, and help with carbon storage.

    This comes after the federal government earmarked billions of dollars for reducing wildfire risks, forest managers are prioritizing what to address first.

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  • Seattle 'poised' to get serious about public drug use, Mayor Harrell says

    KUOW Blog
    caption: Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell announces new plans to address drug trafficking in downtown, while also providing resources for those addicted to drugs, April 19, 2023.
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    Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell announces new plans to address drug trafficking in downtown, while also providing resources for those addicted to drugs, April 19, 2023.
    Seattle Channel

    Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell made the city's new drug law official Wednesday, when he signed the recently passed bill. The law will take effect on Oct. 20.

    “We are poised to address the crisis with the seriousness that it is,” Harrell said, after he and City Attorney Ann Davison toured Evergreen Treatment Services in Seattle's SoDo neighborhood Wednesday.

    Next, Mayor Harrell will issue an executive order sometime over the next few days, which will provide guidance for police on when to make arrests, and when to divert people to supportive programs. Seattle’s ordinance emphasizes that police should make arrests only if the person using drugs also poses a threat to others.

    “Our officers are up for that,” he said. “So they’re not playing the role of caseworker that has been misdescribed by some accounts. What they’re simply doing is assessing threat as they are trained to do, and quite frankly that is their core competency.”

    The tour at Evergreen was the first opportunity for Harrell and Davison to comment on the city's new law, which was controversial as it worked its way through the council process. They said that the tour wasn't timed to coincide with the passing of the ordinance. Instead, the visit was in honor of National Recovery Month. Evergreen offers medication-assisted treatment and wraparound services for adults with opioid use disorders.

    The Seattle City Council approved the bill Tuesday with a 6-3 vote, aligning the city's drug law with the state's law, making drug possession and public use a gross misdemeanor.

    Supporters expressed hopes that the new law will strengthen the city’s ability to respond to open-air drug markets and steer people to treatment and support before they overdose.

    City Attorney Ann Davison says she is “relieved” that the law was passed.

    “We really do need to be intervening with people in a meaningful way and making our public spaces safer, so I’m glad we can proceed on that,” she said, adding that her office will look at the cases that are referred by police to see if there are further opportunities to help people seek treatment and avoid prosecution.

    “We will look at each case and make that determination based upon the facts of that case,” she said. “Knowing that we are an additional place for that exit way into treatment.”

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  • First lady Jill Biden coming to Seattle this week

    KUOW Blog
    caption: First lady Jill Biden listens during a conversation at Homegirl Cafe in Los Angeles, Friday, Sept. 16, 2022.
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    First lady Jill Biden listens during a conversation at Homegirl Cafe in Los Angeles, Friday, Sept. 16, 2022.
    AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

    First Lady Jill Biden is slated for another visit to Seattle this week. Unlike many high-profile visits in the past, when politicians fly in and out of town within a day, Biden will spend Thursday and Friday in the area.

    The first lady is fundraising locally for the Biden Victory Fund, as part of the 2024 election campaign. This includes events in Shoreline and on Mercer Island, according to The Seattle Times, which cost thousands of dollars to attend.

    She also plans to talk about President Joe Biden's "Cancer Moonshot Initiative" at Seattle's Fred Hutch Cancer Center on Friday.

    RELATED: Vice President Kamala Harris visits Seattle, promotes 'Bidenomics'

    Biden is expected to arrive at King County International Airport in Seattle on Thursday evening, Sept. 21. As she is transported around the city, expect traffic delays throughout the region's roadways, especially on the freeways, such as I-5 through Seattle, and I-90 across Mercer Island.

    Biden's trip to Seattle is part of a West Coast tour that also includes Los Angeles and San Diego. She will travel through California on Saturday, following her appearances in Seattle.

    This is Biden's third visit to the Seattle area during her tenure as first lady. She previously visited the area in October 2022, when she spoke to students at Bates Technical College in Tacoma, and also came to support events for military caregivers and wounded soldiers. Biden also visited with military families and organizations during her March 2021 visits to Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Whidbey Island.

    The first lady's September visit to Seattle comes nearly a month after Vice President Kamala Harris came through to promote "Bidenomics" and the administration's efforts to combat climate change.

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  • Want some winter work? Seattle is offering free snow shovels

    KUOW Blog
    caption: Snow continues to fall on Tuesday, December 20, 2022, in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle.
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    Snow continues to fall on Tuesday, December 20, 2022, in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle.
    KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

    Live in Seattle and want a free snow shovel? You're gonna have to work for it.

    The city of Seattle is handing out free snow shovels to volunteers willing to clear walkways in their neighborhood during snowy times. The city is also handing out free snow melt and "shoveling tips."

    RELATED: Seattle snow advice for (snickering) Midwest transplants

    The idea is for local volunteers to keep walkways clear for residents who cannot easily do this themselves, such as the city's seniors.

    If you want in on the free work supplies, act fast. The deadline to apply is Sept. 30.

    In order to apply, Seattleites are instructed to inquire with their local block watch captain. No block watch captain? Then email

    The Northwest is about to enter the fall season, and it's too early to make accurate winter predictions. In other words, it's unclear how much snow we can expect over the coming months. So far, weather officials are predicting a warmer than average fall season with slightly less than average rainfall. The same outlook goes for the upcoming winter, too. Still, as true Northwesterners know, it only takes a tiny amount of snow on the ground to create deceptive and dangerous icy conditions.

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  • Seattle City Council passes controversial drug ordinance

    KUOW Blog
    caption: A drug user displays two blue fentanyl pills she is smoking in downtown Seattle, October 22, 2021.
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    A drug user displays two blue fentanyl pills she is smoking in downtown Seattle, October 22, 2021.
    KUOW Photo/Anna Boiko-Weyrauch

    The Seattle City Council voted 6-3 Tuesday to make drug use and possession a gross misdemeanor under city law, ending a period of uncertainty about who is responsible for enforcing those minor crimes.

    The vote allows the city attorney to prosecute drug cases, but also encourages a “public health approach” to addiction, which would emphasize pre-trial and pre-arrest diversion and treatment programs.

    The bill doesn't contain any new funding for drug treatment.

    RELATED: Seattle program addresses gap in opioid crisis — post-overdose support

    Mayor Bruce Harrell said he will “not waste any time in signing” the law and will also be issuing an executive order which, among other things, will clarify how he wants Seattle Police to enforce the new law.

    Councilmembers Lisa Herbold, Debora Juarez, Andrew Lewis, Sara Nelson, Alex Pedersen, and Dan Strauss Voted in favor of the new drug law. Voting against it were Councilmembers Tammy Morales, Teresa Mosqueda, and Kshama Sawant. The bill's passing was greeted by a mix of applause and boos in the council chambers.

    Earlier this year, the council considered a similar law that failed by one vote. Councilmember Andrew Lewis was viewed as the swing vote in that failed attempt. He had been leaning “yes,” but changed his mind and voted against the bill after heated public comment in which some community members raised concerns that the law would resurrect the failed “war on drugs,” which disproportionately harmed people of color.

    The new ordinance includes suggestions to the Seattle Police Department (SPD), encouraging officers to consider whether a drug user “presents a threat of harm to others” before making arrests, for example.

    RELATED: UW researcher says there's a simple way to help people addicted to fentanyl

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  • The best time to apply for an AC unit, before federal funding cools off in Washington

    KUOW Blog
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    Dyer Oxley / KUOW

    A program that helps low-income families in Washington state access air conditioning units is at risk, as pandemic funding runs out.

    “There hasn’t been a widespread need for cooling until the 2021 heat domes,” said Brian Sarensen, director of Washington state's Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

    The program helps families access AC units, furnace replacements, and other home heating and cooling needs. Sarensen notes that the state has historically focused on helping people heat their homes. The AC program came online in late 2020.

    During the pandemic, the federal government nearly doubled the budget for this program, but now that extra funding is coming to an end; funding that is crucial to the AC program, Sarensen said.

    “We've been able to get cooling to low-income households," he said, adding that without more funding, the program will start asking difficult questions. “How much should we set aside for the summer? Does that impact keeping people warm in the winter?”

    The program tried to spread out the extra federal funding to avoid going over a funding cliff, however, it still won't have enough money to serve everyone.

    The state's program uses heat disparity maps and other calculations to determine how much money each area needs. Then money is distributed to local community action agencies. Families can apply for assistance through these local agencies, however, if your local agency uses all of its funding for the season, you cannot get an AC unit.

    Sarensen said that, this past summer, almost half of the local agencies shut down before the end of the season due to running out of funds.

    The next round of AC funding begins October 2. It is recommended that families apply for air conditioning units during the off season — fall and winter — for better chances at receiving a unit before funding runs out.

    Sarensen understands that getting an air-conditioner, as temperatures cool down, is not at the top of people’s minds, noting that “with the population that we're serving, they're moving from crisis to crisis.” He says people are worried about winter, “they're not thinking about cooling their houses in the summer. They're thinking about whether I can afford to live above 60 degrees and put food on my children's plates.”

    Recent studies have shown that neighborhoods that have more people of color and lower incomes tend to be hotter. These areas generally have less green space and more buildings, creating a heat island.

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  • Little Mermaid makes a big splash at Seattle's 5th Ave Theater

    KUOW Blog
    caption: Diana Huey in The 5th Avenue Theatre's original production of Disney's The Little Mermaid.
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    Diana Huey in The 5th Avenue Theatre's original production of Disney's The Little Mermaid.
    Tracy Martin

    The 5th Avenue Theatre’s original production of the Disney classic, “The Little Mermaid,” is a magical experience with familiar characters, recognizable songs, and a few wonderful surprises that wowed the opening night crowd in Seattle, packed with kids.

    We meet Ariel and Prince Eric who are both struggling with finding their place. They come from royalty in their respective worlds — Ariel, the daughter of King Triton in the sea, and Eric, heir to the throne on land — but neither has a sense of belonging.

    Prince Eric wants the freedom of life at sea as a sailor, and Ariel often skirts her duties as princess. Her desires are crystalized when she wonders, “What if home is not where you are, but a place you discover?”

    Through song, dance, and fantasy, this production explores the meaning and significance of finding where you belong, and also tackles the relationship between parents and their adolescent youth who are finding their paths in the world that may not meet the parents' expectations.

    Here’s what to expect

    Being the 35th anniversary of this Disney classic, most attendees will likely know the story being told. What impressed me with this production was the work of flight sequence choreographer Paul Rubin, scenic designer Kenneth Foy, lighting designer Charlie Morrison, and choreographer John MacInnis. While viewing a story I knew so well, the staging and choreography made for a performance that still felt fresh.

    The production created the illusion of characters swimming by using cables that suspended the sea creatures high above stage. The fluid motions by the actors dazzled the young audience, and Scuttle the seagull was able to spend most of his stage time flying above the stage. The seamless transitions from suspension to being grounded were a highlight. We would see mermaids swimming above, then be grounded momentarily, and whisked back into the air, as they swam away.

    A standout moment in the production was Ariel’s performance of “Part of your World.” Diana Huey, who played Ariel, sang this song while suspended high above the stage and audience. Huey kept the illusion of floating in the water, while providing an incredible vocal performance that captivated us all and concluded in an uproarious applause.

    Another memorable moment featured Ursula, played by Shaunyce Omar, performing “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” The dark and tentacled background design, and eerie green and purple lighting that engulfed not only the stage, but the walls and ceiling as well, set the tone for this villainous rendition. The fractured lighting looked like it was refracted from water, and the way it exceeded past the stage itself put us as the audience inside Ursula's evil lair. Her henchmen, clad in light-up costumes, would glide across the stage in wheelie shoes. This was a nice touch and added to the different forms of motion on stage with characters flying and swimming. It also helped keep the attention of younger audience members, like my daughter, who is 6.

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  • Covid dashboard upgraded to include flu and RSV in Washington state

    KUOW Blog
    caption: The Washington State Department of Health updated its Covid dashboard in September 2023 to include other respiratory viruses, such as influenza and RSV.
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    The Washington State Department of Health updated its Covid dashboard in September 2023 to include other respiratory viruses, such as influenza and RSV.
    Washington State Department of Health

    What became widely known as Washington state's Covid dashboard over three pandemic years, has now received an upgrade. The dashboard now includes information on Covid, influenza, and and RSV.

    The new dashboard went live Monday, showing data on viral activity, hospitalizations, ER visits, and deaths from each virus. It will be updated weekly through April 2024, covering the peak season for all three viruses.

    RELATED: What will Washington's virus season look like in 2023?

    As of the publishing of this blog post, viral activity remains low, however, there is an uptick in Covid cases (which began in August). That Covid spike is still much lower than previous spikes during pandemic years.

    With Covid added to the seasonal viruses, the word "tripledemic" has been thrown around, implying that three viruses will have spikes around the same time. Such spikes could strain hospital systems.

    As KUOW recently reported, state Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah has noted that, “Concerns remain that an increase in cases from all, or one, of these respiratory viruses will lead to challenges in our communities and our health-care system, We want people to take the precautions now because that's going to help our health-care system.”

    An updated Covid vaccine is rolling out this month. A flu vaccine is recommended for people six months and older, while an RSV vaccine is recommended for infants and people ages 60 and older.

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  • Renton man gets 3+ years for plot to burn Seattle police union building

    KUOW Blog
    caption: A box of Molotov cocktails that was found outside the headquarters of the Seattle Police Officers Guild after a Labor Day protests, Sept. 7, 2020.
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    A box of Molotov cocktails that was found outside the headquarters of the Seattle Police Officers Guild after a Labor Day protests, Sept. 7, 2020.
    Seattle Police Department

    A 35-year-old Renton man has been sentenced to more than three years in federal prison for his part in a plot to burn the Seattle Police Officers Guild building in 2020.

    Justin Christopher Moore pleaded guilty in September 2022 to bringing Molotov cocktails to a protest march outside the headquarters of the Seattle Police Officers Guild on Labor Day 2020. On Sept. 13, 2023, he was sentenced in federal court to 40 months.

    Prosecutors argued that the act outside the police union's building was inherently dangerous, given that there were more than 1,000 people participating in the march that day.

    RELATED: Seattle police union responds to controversial bodycam video

    “Moore’s offense was extremely dangerous and created a substantial risk of injury to numerous bystanders," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Greenberg for the Western District of Washington in statement. "Moore carried the box of 12 Molotov cocktails in a crowd of over 1,000 people who were participating in the protest march. All of them were in harm’s way if one of the devices had exploded.”

    Moore pleaded guilty to carrying a box of the explosives to the protest on Sept. 7, 2020. When police smelled gasoline among the crowd, they moved the protesters back from the guild's building. Police later found the box of Molotov cocktails in the building's parking lot.

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  • Out of line or out of context? Seattle police union responds to controversial bodycam video

    KUOW Blog
    caption: Body cam video of a Seattle police officer on a phone call, commenting on a fatal collision with a pedestrian in January 2023.
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    Body cam video of a Seattle police officer on a phone call, commenting on a fatal collision with a pedestrian in January 2023.

    The week started with news of a bodycam video showing a Seattle officer laughing and joking after a woman was fatally struck by a speeding patrol car. And the week ends with the Seattle Police Officers Guild responding to the fallout that has now gone international.

    “The Seattle Police Officers’ Guild understands the attention and outrage surrounding the viral video, which captures highly insensitive comments regarding the death of Jaahnavi Kandula by Officer Dan Auderer,” reads the statement. “Without context, this audio is horrifying and has no place in a civil society.”

    The statement reiterates what Auderer has already told local conservative media, that his joking and laughter was meant to mock lawyers. The video only captures one side of the conversation between two officers — union vice president Auderer and union president Mike Solan.

    The full statement can be read here. It includes a comment from SPOG as a whole, as well as a letter from the officer that was sent to Seattle's Office of Police Accountability.

    RELATED: Bodycam captures Seattle police officer laughing in wake of fatal collision

    Marco Monteblanco is the president of a different union, the state’s Fraternal Order of Police. He said officers in his membership are distressed by the statements made by Auderer.

    “Those types of comments only bring negative impacts not only to our profession, but brings up the horrible tragedy to the victims,” he said.

    But Monteblanco was encouraged to see that the Seattle Police Department self-reported the video to the Office of Police Accountability, the police watchdog agency.

    In January of this year, a different officer, Kevin Dave, was traveling more than 70 mph en route to a 911 call when he fatally struck 23-year-old Jaahnavi Kandula on Dexter Avenue North. Kandula, an Indian graduate student at the Seattle branch of Northeastern University, was taken to Harborview Medical Center where she died.

    Police Chief Adrian Diaz called the collision a “terrible tragedy for all involved,” in a statement released in January.

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