Friday, September 30, 2011

Sediment, Salmon and Counting All the Costs

Bellingham Bay salmon

I am attending a sediment pilot project meeting next week. The meeting is to explore possible sediment removal within the Nooksack River for flood control purposes. Proponents for gravel removal from the river tend to think sediment removal is a "common sense" approach to flood control. These kind of situations are hard for geologists that have knowledge and information that contradicts what is to some "common sense". To be clear for those "common sense" gravel removal proponents, I have advocated for gravel removal on streams in the past when the data or clear observations dictated that sediment removal was an appropriate approach for public safety and necessary flood/erosion hazard reduction.

Flood and river erosion control proponents tend to see the benefits of the project as it relates to a specific piece of land. There is of coarse a cost beyond the cost of the project. Plentiful, cheap, wild fish is a benefit to living in western Washington. There is a cost when the habitat for those fish is not considered as much as it should be. I will be thinking of those very tasty inexpensive salmon dinners I had last week during the meeting. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Wasting Gas for a Short Term Gain in the Bakken

What follows are some observations I made in the Bakken Oil Field this summer that I was reminded of in a recent New York Times article. I finish with an opinion regarding a possible policy position that North Dakota perhaps should consider given the lack of Federal policy on the matter of wasting a natural resource.

Bakken Formation oil well and gas flare to the right, North Dakota

As noted previously HERE the Bakken Formation oil boom has overwhelmed the capacity for moving oil from the oil field development. The huge surge of workers has also overwhelmed the communities. Several friends asked me what was going on in North Dakota because they had trouble finding motel rooms in the area during cross country trips. What is going on is drilling, hydrofracturing, well development and oil production and all the infrastructure that goes with it. 

This oil boom has also outpaced infrastructure to move associated natural gas from the oil fields to markets. The market demand for oil is so great that natural gas is being flared throughout the Bakken fields as can be seen by the small well flare above. The New York Times recently reported on the gas flaring north-dakota-wasted-natural-gas.

Emissions of CO2 are often compared for various energy sources. While the burning of a gallon of gasoline produces CO2 emissions, the total CO2 emissions associated with that gallon of gas will vary depending on where the oil that produced that gallon of gas was produced. This is one of the reasons the oil tar sands in Alberta are generating controversy. The tar sands oil takes a lot of energy and CO2 emissions to produce - much more than most other oil fields.

The CO2 emissions for producing oil in the Bakken Formation should be much lower, but by simply flaring the natural gas, the production CO2 emissions are much higher than otherwise. Besides the CO2 emissions, this is a wasteful policy. Except that it is not a policy because the United States has no policy when it comes to burning off well field gasses. The lack of policy has more to do with the rarity of flaring in the United States.

A long view energy policy would be a means of reducing such waste and have the side benefit of saving natural gas and electric energy rate payers money. But how to set such a policy? North Dakota perhaps should think of adding a tax to all natural gas generation regardless of whether it is sold or not. At the federal level, perhaps a more rapid permitting process for the needed pipelines and possibly electric power plants. Coal fired electric power plants are already located not far from the Brakken fields. Perhaps some incentives to co-locate natural gas fired power plants. Activists opposed to tar sand oil pipelines may advocate for pipelines to serve this lower CO2 oil and gas field. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Whatcom County Council Supports San Juan Island National Conservation Area

A few months ago I posted a bit on the proposed San Juan National Conservation Area national-conservation-area-and-san-juan. Sam Crawford, Chair of the Whatcom County Council brought forward a resolution supporting the San Juan Island National Conservation Area with three small pieces of land in Whatcom County as part of the National Conservation Area sam-crawford-proposes-supporting. He brought the resolution forward in August. After digesting the issue for a month, the Whatcom County Council passed the resolution of support with a 7-0 vote on September 12.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Kelli Linville, Mayor Candidate, Delivers a Fine Speech at Nelson's

Kelli Linville speaks to gathering at Nelson's Market

Kelli Linville gave a nice talk at Nelson's Market. She is running for the mayor of Bellingham. Politics at many levels has and will shape the Washington landscape in a variety of ways. If you care about our state and local landscapes, you will likely be confronted with political involvement in some manner. Certainly has been true in my case!

I was asked to introduce Kelli and I tried to give Kelli a nice introduction to the friends and neighbors that showed up at Nelson's. In listening to Kelli, it is clear she has researched city issues very carefully. But my main reason for supporting her is her work ethic and her sense of fairness and good governance. These strengths tend to lead to very wise decisions regarding our communities and our landscapes. I have ample experience with Kelli and am confident she will make a terrific mayor.

Kelli gave a very good speech on issues facing Bellingham and how her approach to good governance is what our local community needs. Issue after issue is best determined by having a robust public process that informs decision makers. Its the kind of hard work Kelli does so well.

As a final note on the coal politics that has come to dominate our community, a friend pointed out that the next mayor of Bellingham might be determined by an issue that the mayor has no authority on - coal trains passing through Bellingham to a proposed shipping terminal northwest of Bellingham. The current mayor has come out very strongly opposed to the coal terminal, but so has Kelli. There is no difference between them on this issue bellingham-mayoral-candidates. Regardless, the current mayor has decided to make the coal issue the central theme of his campaign. He is fortunate that the City Council took no action on his proposed resolution in favor of the terminal in October 2010 25oct2010_Resolution Supporting Coal Terminal.

It was a pleasant evening at Nelson's market after being gone for several days. A nice talk, time with neighbor friends, good beer and Monday Night Football.

Nelson's Market when it was Standard Grocery and before the streets were paved

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Gravel Beach Link

Back in August I added a new blog on the side bar. Hugh Shipman has been putting up posts on various shoreline locations around Puget Sound and elsewhere for several years. He has worked on shorelines in Washington State for a long time and his blog is a great resource. He generally sticks with shorelines versus the unfocused wide range stuff I put up.

He recently put up a great photo of some old shorelines in Montana gravelbeach.blogspot that played a huge role in shaping the Washington landscape as well as fair bit of Oregon. Past posts I did on these subjects:  HERE, palouse-falls, wallula-gap-and-prime-farmland, missoula-flood-routes-in-snow, and devils-canyon-south-of-kahlotus.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Kelli Linville for Mayor Comes to York

Nelson's Market in Bellingham's York Neighborhood

This is very local and certainly is political. But for my local readers a great chance to meet Kelli Linville. Kelli is running for mayor of Bellingham, and a few Yorkers are hosting an event at Nelson's Market to meet Kelli.

Please bring your friends and join
Kelli Linville for a lively conversation
about Bellingham’s future.

Monday, September 26, 2011
5:00 – 6:30 p.m.
Nelson’s Market - 514 Potter Street
Hosted by: Anne Mackie and Jon Ostby
John and Emily Diaz Flynn 
Lisa and Dan McShane

There is a funny twist to this event. Her opponent, the current mayor, showed up at Nelson's Market in July to film a TV add. The city administration had opposed neighborhood plan changes in the York neighborhood. This issue was dear to the owners of Nelson's as well as a number of community members that worked hard to craft a sound neighborhood plan without city support. Hence, the Nelson's folks were not pleased that the mayor wanted to use their store and cafe in an advertisement without asking.

Nelson's Market is a symbol of what is great about urban living, but its success and the way the neighborhood has evolved into a very livable urban community has nothing to do with current or recent city leaders. The very things that make the York Neighborhood such a great urban community were threatened with very poorly thought through zoning developed in the 1970s that would have allowed multi-story apartment buildings and commercial businesses throughout much of the neighborhood. The current city administration opposed changes to zoning rules that posed that threat. Hence, the opposition to the mayor using the York Neighborhood as a symbol of success.  

There are other reasons for my support for Kelli. I have had many positive interactions with her when she was in the state legislature. But come if you can to find out for yourself.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Chuckanut Ridge LIDAR

Chuckanut Ridge - much of the tree covered area in the central portion of picture

Chuckanut Ridge is the name of a chunk of land in the south part of Bellingham that has generated a fair bit of local interest on and off over the last 20 years. The property has at various times been proposed as an area for development by the property owners. The property is a block of second growth forest within the south part of Bellingham. The fact that it is essentially surrounded by development and abuts neighborhoods and has a public trail and other parks along portions of its margins has endeared this piece of land to local Bellingham south side residences. It has also made the property appealing for development. Development of the site had some significant challenges, most notable being the lack of access for the traffic the site would generate.

The value of the land plummeted when the national real estate market collapsed and the site no longer was a short term project. This property along with numerous other residential development loans in western Washington played a role in the failure of a local community bank. Washington Federal Bank acquired the property and very recently agreed to sell the property to the City of Bellingham for $8.2 million. The purchase price requires the City to to loan the required money from one fund to another, but the exact manner in which this loan will be paid off has not yet been determined - it is being worked on. For Bellingham, this is no small loan between funds and will likely generate a fair bit of discussion and disagreement. The loan itself may cause a delay in other park improvement projects as the money would be tied up in the purchase. There is an idea that has been floated of selling a portion of the Chuckanut Ridge property to pay off the loan.

All that aside, the LIDAR image of the area shows that the name given the site is fitting as a ridge of resistant Chuckanut Formation sandstone forms a ridge across the northern portion of the site.

LIDAR of Chuckanut Ridge

The ridges are located on the northeast side of a northwest plunging anticline. The other limb of the anticline can be seen in the lower left of the image.     

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Roza Canal and Deficit Spending

Roza Canal at Terrace Heights, Washington
View downstream with Union Gap in the distance

The Roza Canal is the main canal on the east side of Yakima and continues south and eastward providing water to farmers on the east side of Yakima and on the north side of the Yakima Valley between Union Gap and Benton City. It is big canal. The canal starts at Roza Dam just upstream of Selah on the Yakima River. A short distance upstream of this picture the canal passes via tunnel through Yakima Ridge. Downstream the canal passes through Ahtanum Ridge via another tunnel. 

The Roza Dam and Canal are big federal government projects. The construction of these projects were funded by tax dollars and deficit spending. Something to consider when we think of the wealth and jobs these projects have created as well as great food, wine and hops for beer.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Landscape Checkers in Washington State

Doing some map exercises toady I came across some checkerboard landscapes. I have seen checkerboard forestry before, but this great example which showed up on my screen after punching in coordinates that had me a bit east of where I was actually wanting to look. 

Checkerboard Forestry

Earlier in the day I was looking at a 1918 topographic map of the Connell area in eastern Washington and noted numerous schools denoted on the map (you will likely need to click the map and expand to see the school denotations). This is an area I am familiar with and it seemed impossible that there could ever been that many schools even if more workers were once required to plant and harvest wheat. This is fairly empty country and at the time Connell had only 400 people. The school denotations are school trust lands granted to Washington State by the federal government at the time of statehood to support schools. Most of these parcels are still owned by Washington State and are managed by the Department of Natural Resources under the Public Lands Commissioner. The lands are generally leased as farm land as wheat or on rockier areas grazing.

School checkerboard, Connell Topographic Map, 1918

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Flattery Rocks, Berthold Seemann, Before GPS

I have been looking into the history of national wildlife refuges in Washington State. One refuge, Flattery Rocks is located along the far northwest coast of the Olympic Peninsula. This refuge was created by Executive Order of President Roosevelt in 1907.

Flattery Rocks as well as nearby Tatoosh Island were described in Narrative of the Voyage of H.M.S. Herald by Berthold Seemann in 1853. Seemann wrote a very compelling narrative that is very hard to leave off once started. And he provides a wonderful set of descriptions of the people and places along the Strait of Juan de Fuca in the late 1840s.

I very much enjoyed his initial descriptions of Flattery Rocks that included an astute recognition of a significant technical advance of the era in which he lived. "At daylight on the 24th (June) we found ourselves off Cape Flattery rocks; and thus, after seventy days passage without seeing land, was our voyage concluded; yet, thanks to our admirable chronometers, we made the land within a mile, - a nicety of calculation which in these days is not much to boast of, being performed by three-fourths of the vessels of England and America, as well as France and Holland; but looking back thirty or forty years, the change is immense."

Something to think about with our admirable GPS units and Google Earth maps. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

An Old Habit Kicks In: Looking for Pressure-Temperature Indicators

Granitic intrusions into schist/gneiss

Granite and schist/gneiss cliffs

Typical granite on our traverse

I was recently traversing across an area with intruded sheets of granite into schist and gneiss. Looking at these rocks was not my intended purpose, but I found myself looking for aluminum silicates Al2SiO5 in the schist - andalusite, kyanite or sillimanite. I kept bending down and peering at the schists intently for the the classic cross patern of andalusite. Or better yet, small andalusites psuedomorphed into kyanite and/or sillimanite. These three minerals form under different pressure and temperature regimes with anadlusite being the lower temperature and pressure member, kyanite the high pressure member and sillimanite the high temperature member.

Identifying any of the three can give one a rough idea as to the pressure and temperature of the metamorphosed rock. And if you can identify the shape of one mineral such as the small crosses andalusite forms being replaced by say kyanite you can get an idea of the pressure/temperature path of metamorphism.

I spent two field seasons looking at schists adjacent to plutons and batholiths in the North Cascades and British Columbia Coast Range with the goal of figuring out the depth of the pluton emplacement and the subsequent metamorphic events after emplacement of the plutons. I was struck by how my old metamorphic habits so automatically took over without even thinking about what I was doing.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Oil Boom in Western North Dakota

Besides coal mining in the Williston Basin powder-river-basin-and-williston-basin-coal there has been a significant oil and gas boom in the basin. The oil and gas boom is exceeding the capacity of the transportation system with some proven oil fields sitting idle due to lack of pipe line and rail capacity to ship the oil. The small towns of western North Dakota are being over run with truckers, drillers and geologists.

Oil well and gas field, western North Dakota

Drill rig in western North Dakota

The exploration and drilling programs are tapping into the Bakken Formation at the base of the Mississippian within a much deeper and older part of the Williston Basin than the Fort Union Formation coal seams. In western North Dakota and eastern Montana as well as to the north in Saskatchewan the formation is deep enough to have been cooked just right to produce oil. Oil has been known to be present in the Bakken since the 1950s but drilling technical advances as well as fracturing advances have turned this patch of North America into an oil boom that keeps getting bigger with pronounced oil and gas reserves growing every few months.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Powder River Basin and Williston Basin Coal

Powder River coal has been very much in the news in Washington State with proposed coal shipping terminals at Cherry Point in northwest Washington and at Longview, Washington on the Columbia River in southwest Washington. Another site has been floated for shipping out of Grays Harbor. The Powder River Basin is an active coal mining area on the high plains of Montana and Wyoming. Development of rail spurs in the basin to main transcontinental rail lines to the north and south now allow transport of the coal to markets to the south and east and more recently to the Pacific coast for overseas shipping to China. Currently Powder River Basin coal is being shipped to a coal terminal on the southwest coast of British Columbia just north of the U.S.-Canada border. Coal from the Powder River Basin also supplies electric power plants in Texas and Colorado..

The Powder River Basin is one of several northern plains geologic basins that preserve coal beds from a time when what is now the high plains was covered by shallow seas and broad warm coastal plains. The initial basin formation formed significant oil and gas deposits and later basin development in the same basins by down warping roughly 50 million years ago formed extensive coal deposits. The broad geologic basins that formed these deposits do not necessarily correlate with existing drainage basins. For example, when a geologist says the Powder River Basin, the geologist is referring to the geologic basin that allowed the formation of the extensive coal beds. The geologic Powder River Basin is much larger than the current Powder River watershed basin.

The formation that contains the coal beds in the Powder River Basin, the Fort Union Formation, extends into other geologic basins including the Williston Basin in the Dakotas, Montana and Saskatchewan. When the Lewis and Clark Expedition made their way up the Missouri River and into what is now termed the Williston Basin (geologic basin) they noted coal was present on the bluffs of the Missouri River in present day western North Dakota. Early settlers utilized the deposit as a fuel for heating and mined the deposit along the bluffs at near present day Pick City located along the Missouri River.
Coal seam along bluff above the Missouri River Sakawea Reservoir above Garrison Dam

I recently visited the Williston Basin. To the east and west of the coal seam pictured above there are a number of thicker coal seams and these seams are mined on both sides of the river using strip mining techniques. Overburden of rock and soil is removed and the coal is then mined using huge drag lines. The over burden of non coal rocks and soil is not very thick in this area. The shallow coal in the Williston Basin is lignite. It is within the same formation, the Fort Union Formation, as the coal in the Powder River Basin, but is higher in the formation than the units mined in the Powder River Basin. The coal seams in the upper Fort Union Formation are lignite and contain about 25% less energy than the Powder River Basin coals. Lignite has low energy content and is typically used very near the mine as it is not efficient to transport low energy fuel. In the case of the western North Dakota coal mines, the coal is utilized in electric power plants very near the mines.

Basic large equipment at the Falkirk Mining Company Mine east of Underwood, North Dakota

Coal on the way to power plant

Coal fired power plant near lignite mines

Coal fired power plant on the lower Yellowstone River

Falkirk Mines and power plant east of the Missouri River, North Dakota

Coteau Mines and power plant west and south of Missouri River, North Dakota

The Fort Union Formation in the Powder River Basin is subbituminous coal. Still not particularly high energy content, but high enough that at least at present the energy costs of transport are low enough that Fort Union Formation coal from the Powder River will make money for mining companies, railroads and electric generators. Some of the coal seams in the Powder River Basin are greater than 100 feet thick. Hence, for seams relatively near the surface, mining can be be a very efficient operation.

Although the Fort Union Formation in both the Powder River and Williston Basins has relatively low energy content, the sulphur content is low compared to many other coal formations. The low sulphur content makes up for the low energy content as energy loss for sulphur scrubbing and power plant costs are reduced. The Powder River Basin coal has just enough energy content combined with the low sulphur content to make it worth mining, transporting long distance and burning for power at least at current energy prices. Such is not the case with the even lower energy content coal in the Williston Basin. Shipping the Williston Coal is very unlikely, but then the same once was true of Powder River low energy coal. The coals of the Powder River and Williston basin are considered clean coal, but still emit just as much carbon dioxide when burned as higher sulphur coals.  

The combination of low sulphur, thick coal seams, and new rail spurs in part aided by government funding and allowance for railroads to easily condemn private land in Montana has led to recent rail impacts in Washington State and the potential for a new large export facility on the Washington coast. Coal politics has arrived in Washington State. coal-terminals-in-washington-state, coal-terminal-preemptive-strike, cherry-point-coal-terminal-updatel, coal-politics-comes-to-washington

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Notes on the Northern Plains - High Waters

Not exactly a Washington State landscape, but after lots of time on the northern plains I do have a few observations to note.  

Substantial flooding has impacted North Dakota this year as well as over the past few years. The Missouri River, Red River and Souris River have all flooded this year. Floods last a long time on these slow moving rivers. At Sioux City, Iowa on the Missouri River flooding was still taking place a month after the area initially flooded. At Garrison Dam in North Dakota, the Army Corp of Engineers opened the spill way gates for the first time since the dam was completed in the 1950s. 


By the time I arrived at the Garrison Dan the spillway had been closed but the flow of water through the hydroelectric power plant at the dam was still very high.

Spillway at garrison Dam on the Missouri River
The spillway was opened for the first time ever in 2011 after nearly 60 years since the dam was completed

Outfall at the hydroelectric power plant on Garrison Dam on the Missouri River, North Dakota

More than rivers are flooding in North Dakota. Many areas of North Dakota have closed basin lakes formed during the last glacial period. Devil's Lake has been rising for several years slowly flooding homes and farm land and has only been checked with the construction of a very costly drainage project. Of note is that Devil's Lake was previously higher and appears to be returning to previous levels after several years of wetter weather.   

Numerous smaller lakes have been expanding as well causing flooding of roads and highways that traverse across these shallow lakes. The road grades across several lakes has required fill to elevate the road way.

Approach to lake crossing on Highway 200

Lake waters lapping up to edge of road. The road level was raised above the water level with gravel fill.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Tomato Tips for September in Western Washington

Growing tomatoes in western Washington is a vegetable garden challenge that many give up on or simply try repeatedly and fail. In Bellingham, my town, it is perhaps a bit harder than most but not all western Washington sites. 80 degree weather is uncommon and 90 degree weather is flirting with records.

This year has been a particularly challenging year because it was so cold deep into Spring and stayed cool well into July. But the second half of August brought steady sun. I missed a large part of August, but upon returning I have been harvesting a bowl full of tomatoes every day. And it appears we will be getting some exceptional September warm weather this next week so lots of ripening days and lots of tasty fresh tomatoes ahead. The delayed corn should ripen as well during this stretch. My tomato patch  is planted in a hot spot in our small yard at the top of a rock retaining wall above the alley. It is a spot that is sunny almost all day, residual heat from the rock wall and cement alley maintains the warmer temperatures well into the night, cool air can not pool around the plants, and the soil is well drained and does not get heavy and wet. Hence, I get tomatoes every year.

However, even with some tomatoes they tend to come pretty late and it is frustrating when September arrives with much shorter days and rapidly cooling day time and night time temperatures and the tomatoes never ripen. With the long cooler nights, dew becomes an enemy and fungus begins to attack the plants.

I do two things in September to maximize my cherished tomatoes. Once the night temperatures start dipping below 50 I put a tarp over the plants in the evening to prevent dew from forming. I watch the weather carefully and when the first significant rain is predicted I pull all of the plants out and hang them upside down under the eaves and out of the rain. The tomatoes will continue to ripen well into October as long as they are kept dry to prevent fungus. Of course bring the plants inside to a sunny room will work to but it is a bit messy. My best tomato fall was the year Lisa was working out of town and I hung the lines in her studio. We picked tomatoes all the way till thanksgiving that year.