Environment

Monday, January 19, 2015

Oil Spills Into Yellowstone River After Pipeline Breach

Posted By on Mon, Jan 19, 2015 at 10:09 AM

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Officials have confirmed that that an oil pipeline breach has spilled up to 50,000 gallons of oil into the Yellowstone River near Glendive, Mont.

The Great Falls Tribune is reporting that some of the oil made its way into the water, but much of the area was frozen over and might help reduce the impact.

Bridger Pipeline officials confirmed late Sunday that the company had shut down a 12-inch pipeline.

"Our primary concern is to minimize the environmental impact of the release and keep our responders safe as we clean up from this unfortunate incident," said Bridger spokesman Tad True.

Regulators from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality have responded to the area.

In July 2011, an Exxon Mobil pipeline broke under the river, releasing 63,000 gallons of oil, triggering state and federal fines of up to $3.4 million.
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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Interior Secretary Orders New Strategy in Dealing with 'Frequent Intense Wildfires'

Posted By on Tue, Jan 6, 2015 at 10:20 AM

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell handed down a so-called "secretarial order" this morning, calling for a "comprehensive science-based strategy to address the more frequent intense wildfires that are damaging vital sagebrush landscapes and productive rangelands," particularly pointing to Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Oregon and California.

Jewell said the new strategy will take effect immediately, beginning with the 2015 fire season. The order is designed to reduce the size, severity and cost of rangeland fires and would address the spread of cheatgrass and other invasive species.

The order also includes the creation of a Rangeland Fire Task Force, which will include Interior Deputy Secretary Mike Connor and five assistant secretaries.

Meanwhile, Jewell is facing a court-ordered 2015 deadline to address threats to greater sage-grouse. She said today that the new strategy is part of a centerpiece to conserve and protect sagebrush habitat.

“To protect these landscapes for economic activity and wildlife like the greater sage-grouse, we need a three-pronged approach that includes strong federal land management plans, strong state plans, and an effective plan to address the threat of rangeland fire,” said Jewell.
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Thursday, January 1, 2015

Court Hearing Set for Monday on Clearwater, Snake Dredging

Posted By on Thu, Jan 1, 2015 at 11:28 AM

Lower Clearwater River
  • Lower Clearwater River
A  federal courtroom in Seattle will be the scene of a hearing Monday, Jan. 5 when opponents of dredging the Clearwater and Snake Rivers appear for a hearing on a preliminary injunction. A coalition of environmentalists and representatives from the Nez Perce tribe have filed a lawsuit to stop the dredging project. 

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it is prepared for the massive dredging, which would remove nearly 400,000 cubic yards of sediment from the riverbed in order to clear the channel for commercial river traffic. Native American tribes say the dredging would imperil the Pacific lamprey, a ceremonial food, whose numbers have already greatly declined. The tribes and environmentalists want an injunction to put the $6.7 million project on hold until the matter is resolved.

This morning's Lewiston Tribune reports that the Corps is actually looking to accelerate the dredging project  and has secured additional funds to bring in more equipment and manpower to begin dredging.

"The Corps made available additional funds to the contract to justify directing the contractor to begin acceleration efforts," Corps spokesman Bruce Henrickson told the Tribune.

The clock is ticking, as the Corps said there's a 76-day window to complete the dredging, which originally had been slated to begin Dec.15.


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Monday, December 29, 2014

Road Deicers of the Future: Made From Beets, Tomatoes and Barley?

Posted By on Mon, Dec 29, 2014 at 8:30 AM

Trying to make icy roads less treacherous for motorists is tough enough; doing so in an environmentally appropriate way has been nearly impossible. Millions of tons of salt and chemical deicers are dumped on the nation's highways by road crews for good reason—the U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that deicing reduces winter road crashes by as much as 90 percent.

But researchers at Washington State University want to pave the way toward more environmentally friendly methods of reducing ice and snow on roads. The Associated Press reports that WSU is teaming up with the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and Montana State University to conduct a study for the newly formed "Center for Environmentally Sustainable Transportation in Cold Climates."

It's not just the environment that could benefit from an alternative. The center estimates that the U.S. spends $2.3 billion annually to remove highway snow and ice, plus another $5 billion to mitigate the hidden costs, including the impacts of salt and chemical deicers on the environment and roads.

One WSU researcher said she's particularly interested in the development of less corrosive deicers made from beet and tomato juice. She's also working on an alternative ice-melt made of barley residue from vodka distilleries.


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Saturday, December 27, 2014

Controversial Plan to Dredge Clearwater/Snake Rivers Heading to Court

Posted By on Sat, Dec 27, 2014 at 8:53 AM

The  U.S. government's $6.7 million plan for massive dredging of the lower Snake and Clearwater rivers could ultimately hinge on the fate of a fish: the Pacific lamprey. Long used as a ceremonial food for Native American tribes, the fish's numbers have greatly declined.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to remove nearly 400,000 cubic yards of sediment from the riverbed in order to clear the navigation channel for commercial traffic. The plan was the begin dredging by mid December, but the Corps has since pushed back its schedule to Jan. 12.

This morning's Lewiston Tribune reports that the Nez Perce tribe and a coalition of environmental groups are set to face-off with feds in a Seattle courtroom beginning Jan. 5. The tribe argues that dredging threatens the future of the Pacifc lamprey, which returns to the Lower Snake to spawn. But the Corps insists that it found no lamprey in its survey of the river. The tribe countered that the Corps conducted a brief study that didn't fully cover the region.  Plus, opponents say the Corps hasn't seriously considered any alternatives to dredging.

The navigation channel is approximately 14 feet deep, but can be as shallow as 7 feet deep in some spots.
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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Foothills Levy Dollars Buy Boise Expanded Access to Castle Rock Reserve

Posted By on Wed, Oct 29, 2014 at 2:31 PM




The city of Boise has made a land purchase that will allow the public expanded access to Castle Rock Reserve from the East End neighborhood.

Castle Rock Reserve has been accessible to the public since the city first established the space in 1990, and access has been enhanced by the establishment of the Ridge to Rivers trail system, but the $5,000 purchase of the long, narrow .44-acre stretch of land located between 600 and 610 N. Coston St. will connect Coston to Hot Springs Trail near the street's intersection with East Franklin Street.

Funds for the parcel were drawn from the two-year, $10 million Foothills serial levy. So far, the levy has bought or protected more than 10,735 acres of wildlife habitat, historic sites and recreation areas. With the Coston Linkage purchase, the fund now sits at $1.75 million.
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Sunday, October 19, 2014

EPA Threatens Fines for Hanford Radioactive Waste Near Columbia River

Posted By on Sun, Oct 19, 2014 at 10:54 AM

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY
  • U.S. Department of Energy
If the U.S. Department of Energy doesn't clean up stagnating radioactive waste right next to the Columbia River at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington, the Environmental Protection Agency intends to fine it $10,000 per week.

The Northwest News Network reports that there's a huge concrete swimming-pool-esque basin on the site at the K-West rector, which was closed in the early 1970s. Workers dumped hot irradiated rods in there until they cooled, and then were shipped off. But in the late 1980s, thousands of the rods were left behind.

The Department of Energy has been working to clean up the site for a long time, but the EPA isn't satisfied with the pace and says the department is way behind. The basin was supposed to be cleaned up in 2002, but the department says it didn't get enough funding from Congress to finish the job.

It has two weeks to start negotiations or face weekly fines until clean-up begins.


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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Idaho Fish and Wildlife Supervisor Wants to Avoid ESA Protection for Sage Grouse

Posted By on Wed, Oct 1, 2014 at 11:40 AM


Mike Carrier, supervisor of the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Office, speaks to a crowd at the Idaho Environmental Forum about endangered species in the state on Sept. 30. - JESSICA MURRI
  • Jessica Murri
  • Mike Carrier, supervisor of the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Office, speaks to a crowd at the Idaho Environmental Forum about endangered species in the state on Sept. 30.

At the most recent Idaho Environmental Forum on Sept. 30, the new supervisor of the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Office, Mike Carrier, spoke on the mission of his office, endangered and threatened species in the state, and what goes into developing a conservation strategy to further protect Idaho's wildlife.

He addressed a crowd of more than 60 people representing government agencies like the Department of Environmental Quality, the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service and Idaho Fish and Game, colleges like Boise State University and the University of Idaho, conservation groups like Idaho Rivers United and the Idaho Conservation League, activists, businessmen and anyone else interested in the topic. Carrier offered a glimpse into the inner-workings of the state's wildlife conservation and recovery efforts.

Carrier assumed this new position in February, but his resume includes many years working with the governor of Oregon as an advisor on natural resources and environmental issues, a stint as the director of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, and a variety of positions for natural resource agencies in Iowa and Indiana. 

Probably to no one's surprise, Carrier brought up the sage grouse first. He said the greatest threat to the bird is loss of habitat—primarily coming from invasive species like cheat grass and unnaturally catastrophic wildfires. 

"In 2010, the service assessed the status of the sage grouse and determined that it warranted [Endangered Species Act] protection at that time," Carrier said. "But the service's ability to protect it was precluded by other funds."

Since then, pushed along by a recent settlement from conservation groups wanting better sage grouse protection, Carrier's office agreed to make a final determination on whether or not to list the species by September 2015—something Carrier would like to avoid. He set to work helping to create a state plan along with Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter's sage grouse task force to "fully substitute the ESA protection."

"Even if the ESA protection is applied, which we're all hoping it won't be because we think we can get more conservation work done more quickly without ESA in the way," Carrier said. "I'm still confident that the Idaho plan affords us the opportunity to protect sage grouse without significant disruption of traditional uses of public land."

Carrier also talked about other species straddling ESA protection, like bull trout and woodland caribou. On bull trout, Carrier said two previous attempts to create a recovery plan for the fish were never completed, but he feels confident in attempt number three.

"The approach we're taking this time is much more pragmatic," he said. "It's one that stresses the elimination of threats to the bull trout across its range, rather than trying to his a population number that may or may not be achievable." 

He said his office is shooting for a realistic population, "because of reasons beyond our control, population numbers may not be restored."

And on woodland caribou, he shared his fears of losing northern Idaho's herds.

"The small herd we've been focusing on all these years is so small and this herd is so slow to increase in number and that location is so vulnerable to degradation that there's great concern that these animals may become extricated from its US habitat before anything can be done to reverse its decline," Carrier said.

He said those three species take up most of his office's time, but some time is also devoted to other flora and fauna including slickspot peppergrass, wolverines, Canada lynx, the yellow-billed cuckoo and the southern Idaho ground squirrel.

Carrier told the crowd what he sees the most threatening to Idaho's fish and wildlife—population growth and land development, as well as climate change. But he said he sees opportunities within the state for profound strides in conservation.

"The first opportunity I see is the many on-going conservation cooperations with the agency and environmental groups underway already," he said. "The other opportunity that really helps us going forward is Idahoans' deep appreciation that this is a place of endless beauty—as expressed by the amount of time our citizens spend enjoying the outdoors—and the recognition that this beautiful place cannot be sustained without conservation."
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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Wood River Valley's Water Table is Dropping

Posted By on Wed, Sep 24, 2014 at 12:09 PM

Several Wood River Vally residents started noticing silt in their bathtubs, brown water running out of their faucets, and lawn sprinklers no longer working due to low water pressure. The Idaho Mountain Express reports that Wood River Valley residents' wells are drying up.

"The water table is dropping out from under a lot of the wells out there," Ray Freeman of Wood River Drilling and Pump told IME. "The water table is going down drastically."

One reason, Freeman said, is that when older homes were built, not that many people were using wells, so they weren't drilled very deep. Now that there's more crowding in subdivisions relying on well water, a few residents are having to have their wells drilled deeper. One homeowner is paying $7,000 to have her well deepened from 114 feet to 220 feet.

Continued development could also be sucking the groundwater dry. City code does require subdivision developers to show there's adequate water available for domestic use and fire protection, but the county planning director told the newspaper he didn't know of any subdivision that's ever been denied due to insufficient water. 

Another reason for the dropping water table comes from this summer, which followed two winters with low snowfall. Jim Bartolino is an Idaho groundwater specialist for the U.S. Geological Survey and he said a recent USGS study showed declines in wells that pull from tributary watersheds in the area.

"All the water is coming from precipitation that falls in that watershed," he told IME. "In a dry year, the wells in these tributaries are going to get hammered."

The water table is likely to continue to drop as the ground freezes, restricting water's ability to percolate into the ground and refill the aquifer.
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North Idaho Brainstorms Strategies for Potential Oil Spill Clean-Up

Posted By on Wed, Sep 24, 2014 at 11:14 AM

An oil train passes by the Deschutes River. - OREGONLIVE
  • OregonLive
  • An oil train passes by the Deschutes River.
With an increase in rail traffic carrying crude oil from North Dakota, three northern Idaho counties are starting to create strategies to contain a possible oil spill. Boise State Public Radio reports that the trains carrying crude oil cross the Idaho Panhandle at least twice a day, traveling along lakes and rivers and over bridges. 

Emergency response managers in Boundary, Bonner and Kootenai counties are nervous about what would happen if a train derailed. Kootenai County's emergency manager Sandy Von Behren told BSPR that her county is developing a detailed geographic response plan similar to plans that exist in the Puget Sound area and Columbia River Basin. Her county wants to make sure places like the Kootenai River and Lake Pend Oreille is protected.

The developing strategies would let emergency managers quickly handle a spill that takes place in an inaccessible waterway by nailing down the closest point of access. 

"And also where are the most available resources that are quick and close by," Von Behren said. The plans will also consider spills coming from boats and highway traffic, as well as leaks in underground oil pipes.

This revamping of oil spill action plans comes after the northwest's region-wide strategy for dealing with such emergencies came under sharp criticism from conservation groups. Friends of the Columbia Gorge and the Center for Biological Diversity notified the Environmental Protection Agency and the Coast Guard this month that they intend to sue if the federal agencies don't make changes.

"Oil trains pose an enormous danger we can't overlook," Jared Margolis, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, told OregonLive. "We need spill response plans that acknowledge that risk and protect vulnerable wildlife."

The groups claim emergency response plans haven't been updated to handle increased tanker cars moving across the region.

"This report [from the U.S. Government Accountability Office] underscores the fact that the Department of Transportation is moving far too slowly to protect lives and safeguard our environment," said Mollie Matteson, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity in a news release. "We can't afford to wait another five years."
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