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State unveils ideas on tackling ocean acidification

Gov. Gregoire wants to move forward with a first-in-the-nation effort. But the incoming governor and the next Legislature will have a lot to say on how to tackle the problem.

A large oyster at Dabob Bay.

A large oyster at Dabob Bay. Hstender/Flickr

You can probably expect Washington to increase efforts to stop acidic nutrients from flowing into Puget Sound. Ditto with carbon emissions escaping into the state's air.

At the same time, Gov. Chris Gregoire wants to set up a University of Washington center to coordinate scientific efforts to combat the increasing acidity of Washington's salt waters. And she wants some money to immediately help forecast Puget Sound's acidity to forecast that best shellfish harvesting times.

Gregorire has signed an order directing state officials to work on addressing ocean acidification. Governor-elect Jay inslee, who assumes office in January,  appears receptive to to these proposals, which were unveiled Tuesday in Seattle by a Gregoire-appointed panel of scientists, policy makers and business interests.

The question is whether most of the immediate and long-range proposals to deal with ocean acidification will make it through the state Legislature and Congress. 

"Some people (in Congress) are in denial, saying that none of this is going on. ... That is one of our problems in moving this thing forward," said panelist and retiring U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash.

Panel co-chairman William Ruckelshaus said: "Ocean acidification affects our economy, our environment and possible every living thing we share space with. ... We cannot sit idly by while this happens." (Disclosure: Ruckelshaus is on Crosscut's board of directors.)

The other co-chairman, Jay Manning, said: "It is a global problem. It is not a problem that Washington can solve by itself.".

Washington is the first state to tackle ocean acidification. 

Thanks to rising acidity levels in Northwest waters, tiny oyster shells in Washington's Dabob and Willipa bays and in Oregon's Netarts Bay are crumbling faster than they can grow back; theproblem has cut sharply into this year's oyster harvests. Billions of oyster larvae have died. Scientists have pinpointed a drop in the water's pH as the cause. The trend has two primary contributing factors: additional carbon dioxide in the air and nitrogen-laden nutrients that seep from cities, septic tanks and agriculture into the ocean.

PH measures the acidity or alkalinity of a fluid on a 14-point scale — the lower the number, the more acidic the liquid. Orange juice's pH is 3. Distilled water is considered "neutral" at 7 and sea water normally has a pH of 8.1 to 8.2, well within the narrow pH spectrum that allows shellfish to survive. At 100 feet deep, Dabob Bay water has sometimes been measured at a pH of 7.5.  Puget Sound water is often more acidic than the Pacific's waters, said Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who was also at Tuesday's unveiling.

Recent studies have shown scientists that not only is the acidification of ocean water increasing, but that that increase is accelerating as global warming gases build up in the atmosphere. Near the beginning of the Industrial Revolution — 250 years ago — the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide content has been calculated to have been roughly 280 parts per million. Today, the density of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is at about 390 ppm. The increase in carbon dioxide density in the air — and in the sea — is expected to significantly accelerate this century.

The problem has an economic component in that the state's shellfish industry is one of the biggest in the world, bringing in about $270 million annually and employing roughly 3,200 people.

"It is a wake-up call, not just to Washingtonians, but a wake-up call to Americans. ... It's clear we need additional targeted science," Gregoire said. 

When Gregoire unveils her proposed 2013-2015 budget in December, it will include a $3.3 million appropriation to deacidification efforts from existing taxes on hazardous substance and leases on state-owned aquatic areas, including existing fees on the sale of geoducks. The money is supposed to go the proposed University of Washington Center — to be set up by July 2013 — to coordinate scientific research in ocean acidification. The money is also to help shellfish hatcheries make short-term forecasts and to adapt to the fluctuating acidity of the water.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Nov 27, 7:08 p.m. Inappropriate

We should restore Puget Sound first before moving on to the big water. If we're successful on the inland waters takes the lessons and methods that proved effective and move down the coast and take on Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay, clean them up and then move our efforts offshore.

Djinn

Posted Wed, Nov 28, 4:51 a.m. Inappropriate

yeah, we need more science and studies to know the exact time when its too late to do anything to protect Puget Sound.

salmonjim

Posted Wed, Nov 28, 6:33 a.m. Inappropriate

Always amuses me the way Ruckelshaus skips from effort to effort without finishing any - and they all need new funding. This is NOT rocket science. Keep dumping stuff into the water, the chemistry changes. Duh. Stop dumping.

Rather than putting new sewage treatment facilities in rural areas (and undermining the GMA), technology should be developed to stop dirty discharges in urban areas and to treat the remainder and turn it into a beneficial product. Solve two problems at once. We must move to reuse so that all waste becomes raw materials for another process/product.

Continue to tackle nonpoint runoff, it's a significant contributor to the changing chemistry of surface waters. Take toxics out of use and they won't run off into the waterways.

This is what the Puget Sound effort is supposed to be doing...hey, isn't that where Ruckelshaus was before?

Farrago

Posted Wed, Nov 28, 12:19 p.m. Inappropriate

Let me summarize your solutions to acidification of Puget Sound as follows:

- Tackle nonpoint runnoff.

- Develop technology to stop dirty dischages in urban areas, treat the remainder, turn it into a beneficial product.

Those things would potentially cost tens or hundreds of millions of dollars (or billions), which would get passed to us in higher taxes to pay for the facilities necessary to accomplish those things (or in higher product prices if the tax is imposed at the product production level). I don't have a problem with that.

The problem I MIGHT have with that is that Washington State could impose that on its citizens and not make a difference. There is a fair bit of evidence that Puget Sound, despite being connected to the Pacific, does not mix with it. (I.e. What goes into Puget Sound, stays in Puget Sound, creating chemically different components in the water column than that of the Pacific). If that is the case, then a Washington State Tax or regulations, can make an impact on acidity within Puget Sound. But what if that isn't true? What if what is happening globally, impacts acidity in Puget Sound more than local factors? Then we have put ourselves at a competive disadvantage economically for no benefit. We have diverted finite tax money from other purposes that could actually do some good.

More importantly, we also need to calculate the cost of farming shellfish in tanks with the appropriate chemical composition in the water column of the tanks (salinity, acidity, etc.). What if instead of costing, for the sake of example, only $100 million, (for the tanks and the water to put in them) instead of $900 million (to tackle non-source point polution, etc.)? Should we not choose the cheaper option that we know will get a result?

I would extend the same argument to climate change. To stop the growing concentration of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, is technologically daunting and hugely expensive. If you reduce CO2 emissions by 3% per person, per year, (an economically daunting and costly proposition - read global recession) but the population grows at 6% per year, you are always behind the eight- ball.

So far no national electorate on the planet has been willing to impose those costs on themselves, even the ones that signed Kyoto. Carbon Taxes have been rejected by electorates everywhere. Cap and Trade has not been effective in curbing per capita CO2 emissions. To the extent countries have reduced the growth of CO2 emissions per person, they have done so by exporting the manufacture of the goods they consume to China, India, etc. I.e. Keep consuming the goods that cause CO2 to be produced, but move the production to another country so the CO2 emission occur in China, not Denmark, for example.

Would it not be better to spend money diking Bangladesh like Holland to protect its population from sea level rise? Evacuating low-lying, low-population Pacific Islands? We are currently spending a lot more to try and curb CO2 emissions to a level that will stop Sea Level rise and simultaneously NOT protecting those places. And current levels of spending or curbs on economic growth (e.g. China must grow GDP at 10% per year just to maintain current standards of living, wages, and employment levels for its growing population) aren't anywhere close to what is required to stop CO2 levels from driving up sea-level rise. So far, no electorate on the planet has been willing to accept the taxes or limit on economic growth that would be required to accomplish that. They want to stop global warning but are unwilling to pay the taxes required, accept the economic contraction, higher unemployment,, and/or social unrest, that required curbs on CO2 emissions would impose. They like the idea of stopping global warming provided the cost don't impact their lifestyle.

At least if we dike off places like Bangladesh, we can quanity what it would cost and the likely benefit. We can actually protect people from climate change's consequences, rather than spendig hundreds of billions or trillions while they drown in Bangledesh or starve in a forced migration and the resulting social unrest.

Posted Wed, Nov 28, 3:03 p.m. Inappropriate

Using today's economic "measures" to determine the effectiveness of environmental approaches is just a way to justify doing nothing. Those economic assumptions gave us the mess we have today - over-consumption and waste of natural resources and the pollution that is killing ecosystems and creatures.

A dollar (or Euro or cedi) is merely a piece of paper with pictures on it tied to other pieces of paper for its momentary value.

Clean air, water and soil, on the other hand, are what we need as a species and planet to survive.

Farrago

Posted Thu, Nov 29, 9:49 a.m. Inappropriate

Then why are electorates opposed to imposing the costs on themselves to do what you suggest? How do you overcome the classic Kelly quote, "We have met the enemy and he is us"?

Posted Wed, Nov 28, 10:31 a.m. Inappropriate

"It is a wake-up call, not just to Washingtonians, but a wake-up call to Americans. ... It's clear we need additional targeted science."

Two comments. First, as a society we've been missing these wake-up calls on a daily basis for the last 40 years. It's hard to see why this one should be any different. The reality is: WE DON'T WANT TO WAKE UP. Every now and then a major disaster temporarily jolts us out of our slumber. Then after the alarm subsides, we hit the snooze button, roll over and go back to dream land. And when the problem presents itself as slow death from a thousand cuts instead of some dramatic cataclysm, our capacity for sustained response has been especially poor.

Second, the solutions being offered are woefully inadequate to address the challenge. More studies. Appoint a committee. Sign a petition. Write a letter to your Congressman. Well-intentioned gestures all -- surely better than doing nothing. But it ain't gonna be enough. Hold on to your seats.

woofer

Posted Wed, Nov 28, 10:44 a.m. Inappropriate

Reducing acid levels in Puget Sound will certainly be a much simpler task than reducing acid levels in the Pacific Ocean, especially in the South Sound where there is less scouring from the tides. But I'm concerned that the steps taken be appropriate to the task, and not simply the kind of "Do something! Do anything!" type of approach that lawmakers typically take toward problem-solving. I would certainly like to know what "Expanding shellfish production, with the state expecting to soon announce the opening of new harvest areas" actually means. Does it mean that the State will allow commercial shellfish cultivators to purchase more tidelands, or does it mean that the State intends to, in effect, confiscate homeowners' tidelands and turn them over to commercial producers, as it did with geoduck cultivation.


And another concern: You don't need to put sewage treatment plants in rural areas. Septic systems are the most environmentally friendly way to treat sewage, providing that the homeowner has enough land to support the drainfield, and that the gray water from the drainfield isn't leeching into the Sound. Of course, requiring rural homeowners to connect to sewer systems will, certainly, advance another of Olympia's goals: more control over the populace.

dbreneman

Posted Wed, Nov 28, 11:59 a.m. Inappropriate

Pteropods, a small snail that is critical in the food web, are now showing effects of acidification in in the seas around Antarctica. Current CO2 levels are now over 390 ppm, over 40% higher than they were at the start of the industrial revolution. They're on track to be double that level in about 30 years and triple by the end of this century. In the meantime, the national government is paralyzed, held hostage by the fossil fuel industry, and our region is under assault by the coal barons who have to find export markets because natural gas is considerably cheaper (and cleaner in some ways).

May I suggest that a significant measure to fight increasing acidification in Puget Sound is to not allow export of coal through the PNW?

Steve E.

Posted Wed, Nov 28, 2:12 p.m. Inappropriate

When the oceans catch on fire,,, problem solved

salmonjim

Posted Wed, Nov 28, 3:41 p.m. Inappropriate

We'll know they are serious when they stop junketing and start teleconferencing.

BlueLight

Posted Wed, Nov 28, 5:47 p.m. Inappropriate

whats that saying? when you do the samething over and over and expect different results?

salmonjim

Posted Thu, Nov 29, 7:42 a.m. Inappropriate

Farrago,
Mr. Ruckelshaus does not skip - he works very hard for our state and our country. He is dedicated and focused - helping to solve and fight for a better environment - all pro bono! He is an incredible man and to criticize him is wrong. di

Posted Fri, Nov 30, 2:37 p.m. Inappropriate

LOL @ solve

salmonjim

Posted Sun, Dec 2, 11:02 p.m. Inappropriate

I applaud the effort but is it possible that reducing our carbon emissions in WA will have a direct impact on Puget sound? doesn't the atmosphere here in general move from west to east and isn't atmospheric CO2 more or less even around the world? It seems to me that we have to do our part, but our most critical role it seems to me is that we on the west coast are much closer to having the political will to block the effort to export coal and tar sands fossil fuels from the interior. It seems absurd to me that we would make policy to reduce local emissions and still allow this massive transport of coal across our home land.
beyond that, lets
keep increasing our renewable electricity
convert our vehicles to electricity as fast as possible. Our electricity is cheaper and greener than most and i think it's likely that ending the use of gasoline does not cost more but less. I know this is true in spades for heating oil.
Start looking at ways to label products made with dirty energy. Consumers have enormous power to change things and countries that wish to power manufacturing with coal and oil should feel the pinch.

Anyone who says clean energy is more expensive needs to be questioned as they tend to re read the same conventional wisdom - the details are not all in but in many many areas it simply isn't true.

ecodestom

Posted Mon, Dec 3, 6:47 p.m. Inappropriate

Why can't we agree to start by cleaning Puget Sound of fishing nets, crab pots and other debris on the floor of the Sound? I'm tired of reading about a whale washed up on shore, with a belly full of sweatpants, fishing line etc, or reading about the Cecelia fishing boat that flipped over just off Ledbetter Point on the coast because it likely became entangled with a flower pot of crab pots.

Perhaps a 2-year stint for anyone who can pass a physical, and learn to scuba dive, could be a better use of our State investment dollars. They'd need some deep diver robots and a few barges too.

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