Friday, December 28, 2007

Creeks are Still Foul

Fixed city creeks are still foul

Salmon are back, but the water is far from pristine, report says


Millions of dollars have been spent restoring Seattle's streams since the 1990s. So what do we get for that investment?

Seattle Public Utilities on Thursday released the most detailed study ever done on the creeks and small lakes in this city -- and possibly any other urban area. The story it tells is murky.

Judy Pickens and Katherine Lynch

ZoomPaul Joseph Brown / P-I

Judy Pickens, left, a Fauntleroy neighborhood environmental activist, and Katherine Lynch, an environmental analyst and watershed ecologist with Seattle Public Utilities, inspect Fauntleroy Creek, which a new report shows often exceeds state standards for fecal coliform bacteria. The creek flows by Pickens' house, at right, and empties into Puget Sound south of the Vashon ferry dock.

Where restoration work was done, salmon splash their way up neighborhood creeks in the fall to spawn. In some cases, residential flooding during heavy storms is reduced as creeks are widened and allowed to flow more naturally. Other stream-related projects help rainwater soak into the landscape instead of pooling on roads and in basements.

But the creeks and lakes would never be mistaken for pristine, no matter how much time and money are invested.

The State of the Waters 2007 report found that the city's waterways are still polluted with bacteria and toxic chemicals. When heavy rains fall, the torrents of water blast baby fish and eggs out of creeks. Fish are blocked from reaching two-thirds of the stream habitat available.

That doesn't mean the efforts to make the streams and lakes healthier are wasted, many say. In addition to benefits to fish and other animals, the wedges of nature tucked into the city provide an outdoor classroom for students and spiritual retreat for residents.

"When you're surrounded by concrete all the time, you can forget how (natural) things work," said Julie Hall, one of the report's authors and strategic adviser for SPU. "There is the quality of life of people who find solace and comfort and a minigetaway in the city ... it's really getting a chance to get out and commune with nature.

"We're really trying to push the envelope with urban ecology, what can we return to the stream," she said. "It's that living-laboratory type feeling and motivating people to get out and appreciate what the planet has to offer."

The city is required by law to clean up the stormwater running off impervious streets, yards, parking lots and rooftops, which carries pollution to the streams. A state study released last month concluded that stormwater was the largest source of many of the contaminants fouling Puget Sound.

The new Seattle study includes data collected beginning in 2001. The 310-page, multivolume report took two years to write. It covers Fauntleroy, Longfellow, Piper's, Taylor and Thornton creeks and Green, Bitter and Haller lakes. A report to be released next year will investigate larger lakes and rivers.

Challenges on all sides

In 2004, Mayor Greg Nickels launched the Restore Our Waters strategy, and the next year the city began the Aquatic Habitat Matching Grant program, giving out close to $750,000 since then to community groups that raised matching funds for doing stream restoration.

Stream habitat has benefited from plantings to shade the water and stabilize banks, and the installation of logs and boulders to slow the flow.

But the hardest work remains.

Urban creeks are plagued with flash floods when water pours off the streets during rainstorms -- more than 60 percent of the city is covered in impervious surfaces. Four of the five streams were rated "poor" for their stream-flow conditions.

Pollutants carried in the stormwater are suspected of killing coho returning to the urban streams to spawn. On average, between 39 and 79 percent of the fish die before laying eggs, according to research led by the Northwest Fisheries Science Center. And this year many of the redds, or egg nests, were lost in the December storms, hosed out to sea with a flush of water.

Fecal coliform -- the bacteria that come from poop, in this case from pets, rodents and waterfowl -- have landed Seattle's creeks on the state's list of damaged and threatened waterways.

Lakes were fouled with fecal coliform, too. Their muddy lake bottoms were contaminated with metals, pesticides, plasticizing chemicals, PCBs and chemicals formed by burning oil and gas, the study found.

The sources of the problems are widespread and costly to fix.

"Wherever you live in Seattle, you're affecting a creek and the Sound," said Miles Mayhew of the Restore Our Waters program. "It's not just the folks living right by a creek."

The city, residents and students have taken some steps to help.

The city gradually has altered streets in different neighbors to soak up the runoff so it's cleaner and flows more slowly to the creeks. Residents are encouraged to install rain barrels and rain gardens with depressions that hold heavy rains. Students in West Seattle mapped the dog poop left by pets and their careless owners along Fauntleroy Creek, providing information on where plastic bag dispensers should be installed to encourage people to pick up the waste.

Community outreach is planned to set long-term goals for urban waters, Mayhew said. The State of the Waters report will help shape that restoration work and provides a baseline for measuring progress.

"The city has a very high investment (in waterway health) relative to other communities that I've seen on the West Coast," said Derek Booth, a geologist with the consulting company Stillwater Sciences and affiliate professor at the University of Washington. Booth was interviewed for a segment of the city's study.

"It's not the end," he said, "it's just the beginning."

Fauntleroy's restoration

For decades, West Seattle's Judy Pickens has championed the restoration of Fauntleroy Creek. She helped coordinate work done this past summer that turned a section of creek that was straightjacketed by concrete into a wider, meandering rocky stream lined with ferns and salal. It cost close to $100,000 to restore the 200 feet of stream in a section that ends at the West Seattle ferry dock. Money came from state, county and city grants.

"For that amount of money out in the woods, we could have gotten a lot more footage" of restoration, Pickens acknowledged. The costs are higher because homes, roads and landscaping must be protected while the work is done.

"If we want salmon in the city," she said, "this is the kind of price we're looking at these days."

The restoration also reduced the amount of flooding on the lower stretch of the creek. During the deluge in early December, "we had no flooding of property," Pickens said. "We just had a tremendous volume of water."

Repairs on Fauntleroy Creek have been ongoing. Almost a decade ago, the city installed a $1.3 million fish ladder on the creek, opening up hundreds of feet of habitat.

The creek and its tributaries stretch about 1.6 miles, though most of the waterway remains inaccessible to returning fish. They run smack into a 7-foot drop-off at 45th Avenue Southwest, preventing them from reaching more natural stretches of the stream in Fauntleroy Park.

This fall, 89 coho swam into Fauntleroy Creek to spawn.

Each spring hundreds of children raise thousands of salmon to release into the creek. They name some of the fish and send them off with drum and violin serenades.

"I know some people think they're throwaway fish," Pickens said. "They're not for us."
Water quality graphic

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Green Safeway?

'Green' Safeway wins over Pinehurst

Change of heart by district that fought grocery


Ten years after the Pinehurst neighborhood fought plans for a new grocery store, residents are pushing for the first "green" Safeway in the state.

For years, Safeway has wanted to build an expanded store at its current site on 15th Avenue Northeast, between Northeast 125th and 123rd streets -- considered the center of the neighborhood.

But the proposed development, which included Safeway-owned property zoned single-family, required a change to commercial zoning. Lacking local support and hopes for a building permit, the supermarket chain put the project on hold.

Residents now say the old rancor and controversy are past.

At Pinehurst's urging, the City Council recently passed an ordinance that allows Safeway to apply for a rezoning, paving the way for a larger and more attractive local grocery store as well as Pinehurst's first community gathering space.

Being designed with neighborhood feedback, the store may feature such "green" elements as an eco-friendly parking lot containing less concrete, and energy-saving refrigeration. Other neighborhood priorities are an indoor-outdoor coffee shop with a fireplace, landscaping, bike racks and pedestrian, lighting and safety improvements.

"It's a rare thing for a neighborhood development, but we all came together, put our heads together, and Safeway listened to us," said Renee Staton, a member of the Pinehurst Community Council who spearheaded the effort. "People in Pinehurst are overjoyed."

Adjacent community councils, however, are concerned.

While council representatives call the Safeway project a model for collaboration between businesses and neighborhoods, many take issue with "rezoning by ordinance."

Residents say they fear that the ordinance could set a precedent for the entire Northgate district, potentially leading to single-family zoning changes in the five "overlay" neighborhoods -- Pinehurst, Maple Leaf, Haller Lake, Licton Springs and Victory Heights.

The Seattle Community Council Federation wrote Nov. 30 to Councilman Peter Steinbrueck, chairman of the Urban Development and Planning Committee, urging the committee to reject legislation (such as the ordinance) with proposed land-use code amendments, including the definition of a "block," that related to single-family rezone criteria in the Northgate district.

Calling it a "dangerous precedent," Jeannie Hale, the federation president, wrote that the proposed changes are "contrary to the city's comprehensive plan, the Northgate Plan and most other neighborhood plan policies pertaining to single-family rezones."

The council passed the ordinance Dec. 3, convinced that a staff analysis of legal language was specific to the Safeway project, and unlikely to be replicated elsewhere.

Steinbrueck, who lives in Pinehurst, says there is a great deal of "loyalty" to neighborhood grocery stores because they represent not only food sources but community connections.

In Pinehurst's case, he said, "people also want their neighborhood store -- but no one really likes it the way it is."

Steinbrueck, who believes there was adequate public notification to other neighborhoods, said he and other city officials wish Pinehurst would have supported multifamily or other housing on top of the Safeway, which has been done elsewhere. The new, 50,000-square-foot store will be one story high.

"It's really an ironic situation; our issue is not with Safeway, which is planning to develop a fabulous store based on what people in Pinehurst said they wanted," said David Miller, president of the Maple Leaf Community Council.

The neighborhood groups are considering whether to appeal to the state Growth Management Board.

"We are concerned with the process, the lack of adequate notice to the other neighborhoods about the ordinance -- and the unintended consequences it could have," Miller said. "It's a bad precedent to make a zoning change inside an ordinance."

Even so, Pinehurst is celebrating what it hopes will be an eco-friendly development that will improve livability by giving people a popular place to walk to, gather and "hang out." Residents hope that a new development will spur a few more restaurants and other walkable amenities.

"I'm into single-family residential, but I support the Safeway project," said Brad Green, a 25-year Pinehurst resident. "We want to have a place to meet, and to encourage people to get out of their cars."

P-I reporter Debera Carlton Harrell can be reached at 206-448-8326 or
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Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Big Picture

Land Use Backgrounder

Development and construction projects are often destructive to local ecology. For example, stormwater runoff from developed areas can impact water quality in receiving waters, hinder navigation and recreation, and disrupt aquatic life. Site clearing and earth moving during construction often results in significant erosion problems because adequate environmental protection strategies are not employed. In addition, development activities may encroach on productive agricultural land areas and open space. Fortunately, steps can be taken to reduce impacts on previously undeveloped lands and to improve previously contaminated sites.

Brownfields -- abandoned, idled, or underutilized industrial and commercial sites where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived toxic contamination -- are increasingly attractive as potential development sites. For companies whose portfolio contains one or more of these apparent white elephants -- many located in urban cores, near rivers, rail hubs, and interstate highways -- there is new hope for turning them into productive assets. Though they present several challenges, these environmental millstones may offer competitive advantages and benefits for firms seeking to acquire or relocate sites.

continue reading

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Builders Account for Global Warming ? Is it Time?

City Council wants builders to account for global warming

Seattle is poised to become one of the first cities to require large construction projects -- whether condos or freeways -- to account for their greenhouse gas emissions.
But legislation passed Monday doesn't resolve a thornier question: how local governments want builders to curb gases that contribute to global warming.

Those choices could include requiring buildings to be more energy-efficient, charging fees for projects with large carbon footprints or possibly even rejecting permits.

The City Council, in a unanimous vote Monday, took a first step toward regulation. In March, city departments will start evaluating greenhouse gas emissions -- from the energy used to make concrete to pollution from cars that a building's residents drive -- when reviewing proposed projects.

"It's useful because departments aren't currently doing this," environmental attorney David Bricklin told the council last week. "But you're only scratching the surface with this, and you can't go home and think 'We've dealt with the issue now.' "

Seattle's vote follows a string of court rulings -- including one by the U.S. Supreme Court -- that classify greenhouse gases as pollutants that can be regulated.

King County, the first county to pick up on that idea, started a greenhouse-gas monitoring program in October. In both cases, the requirements apply to public and private projects large enough to undergo state environmental review.

"It is perhaps a small step, but an important one," said outgoing City Councilman Peter Steinbrueck, who sponsored the legislation. "We need to start down this path."

It's unclear what, if any, impact the legislation would have on public transportation projects, such as the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement. But decision makers ought to have better information about how different options would contribute to global warming, said Dennis McLarren, executive director of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.

He also urged the council to quickly identify how they'd like private developers to respond to climate change, and add those steps to city codes dealing with energy efficiency, transportation or land use. "Unless the city gets pretty specific about what it wants ... there will be a tremendous amount of uncertainty," McLarren said.

In Portland, for instance, the city is considering levying a fee on developers who only do the bare minimum to meet energy efficiency codes, Bricklin said.

Garrett Huffman, a lobbyist for the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish County, said that organization already has green building checklists that the city could borrow from. Those specify how everything from insulation to window glazing to the choice of thermostat can reduce a building's energy consumption.

"There's no need to reinvent the wheel -- put those things in an incentive basis where they make it worth our effort to do it," he said.

The Seattle Department of Planning and Development is working with King County, which has developed a simple spreadsheet to calculate emissions, and the state to develop a consistent approach.

Just trying to measure emissions from a new condo building raises complicated questions, such as whether developers in downtown Seattle should get credit for taking cars off the road that might have otherwise been commuting from Issaquah.

Trying to account for every last molecule of carbon dioxide associated with a building isn't necessarily the point. The main benefit, some argue, may be in showing builders how their choices -- where material comes from, architectural designs -- can affect global warming.
"We do know the first step is gathering the information," Department of Planning and Development spokesman Alan Justad said.

"I think everyone feels like it's time to start, and we'll learn as we go."

P-I reporter Jennifer Langston can be reached at 206-448-8130 or

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Upper Ridge Cottages

The Public Hearing last Thursday Dec 6 went extremely well according to people knowledgeable in these matters. We will have the official decision on Dec 28th from the hearing examiner and we are confident that all of the conditions that were documented by the City of Everett will be mitigated to our satisfaction with the exception of one condition which is still open.

Our plans call for a permeable surface material for the curvy sidewalk in the city right of way and the city wants to use regular non-porous cement. It seems to be a maintenance issue as the city doesn't really have procedures in place for maintaining the porosity. We feel that our condo CC&R's

We are happy to announce that the road out front will remain narrow and landscaping will replace the existing asphalt walkway. We are exceeding the city standard call outs with our Low Impact Development plan and keeping the wetlands intact without disturbing habitat or hydrology is unprecedented, which is how the hearing examiner stated it. One example, 8,000 sq ft of open space is the minimum and we are providing 40,000 sq ft.

There were several speakers in our behalf, notably Craig Young whose passion for the environment came through quite eloquently. Thanks so much Craig. Craig hand delivered a letter from Carolyn Mayer, President of the Sustainable Development Task Force of Snohomish County to Allan Giffen, Director of Planning and Community Development which I introduced into the hearing record. The letter supported our desire to have Upper Ridge Cottages be used by the city as a model for LID (Low Impact Development).

Copies were mailed to Mayor Stephanson as well as all of the Everett City Council. Follow up letters or calls to Allan Giffen, the mayor and city council would be appreciated.

Valarie Steel from Greening Properties Inc was very supportive and welcomed our green community which will feed a demand for the type of homes we are building.

The next step will be submitting our plans for building permits, hopefully in mid-Jan 2008 which is just around the corner.Thanks again for you continuing support. Chuck & Judy Upper Ridge Cottages 425-353-8150

Certification for Green Products

There has been significant work on certifying products for inclusion in LEED buildings and other green projects. The SMART system was just adopted by the USGBC - see above link.

Pervious Parking Lot Stands Up to Torrential Rains

By Christopher Dunagan (Contact)Originally published 12:25 p.m., December 5, 2007Updated 12:25 p.m., December 5, 2007

During the peak of Monday's storm, with water pouring from the sky, no water could be seen running off one parking lot on Auto Center Way.

The parking lot, made of various types of pervious pavement, was installed last summer at the office of the Home Builders Association of Kitsap County.

Rainwater rapidly penetrated through the pavement and into an underlying bed of gravel, said Art Castle, executive director of the Home Builders Association. When the gravel bed nears capacity, an "underdrain" directs the water into the city's storm sewers.

A bioretention cell, or "rain garden," captures all the runoff from the roof of the office. While the rain garden did fill up with water during the storm, it did not overflow, Castle said. Rain gardens are generally designed to contain typical rainfall over a two-day period. "This was a worst-case scenario," he added.

These kinds of projects are called low-impact development, or LID. They're not designed to prevent flooding, Castle said, but they can slow down runoff by storing the water for a period of time.

"Flow is delayed, and that takes off the peaks," Castle said. "Even if there is outfall, the water has been delayed and it gets water-quality treatment along the way."

The same techniques can be used for private homes, where local rules provide major allowances in stormwater design when using pervious paving. Essentially, the first 5,000 square feet of pervious pavement placed over native soil are exempt from stormwater calculations. That can save months of delay and extensive engineering costs, Castle said.

For a series of video clips shot by Castle during the storm, go to

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Runoff Called Top Pollutant in the Sound

Findings prove what many suspected, and may change priorities in cleanup


Runoff from streets, roofs and even forests is the largest source of most of the worst pollutants plaguing Puget Sound, according to a study released Friday. Air pollution is the prime culprit for a few of the toxic chemicals. Oil spills and sewage treatment plants contribute smaller fractions of the waste.

Some of the findings were surprising -- and highlight the need to complete a more thorough analysis, possibly resulting in a refocusing of cleanup priorities.

"We're trying to sort of move away from random acts of kindness to prioritize actions based on the analysis and substance of what we find to be out there," said David Dicks, director of the Puget Sound Partnership, the government agency responsible for the health of the Sound.

The report is the first attempt to chase down and quantify all the sources of pollution that sicken orcas and make fish and shellfish unsafe for human consumption. It cost $135,000, paid for by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Millions of dollars have been spent trying to clean up historical contamination in Puget Sound and to stem ongoing sources. Many hope the investments will increase as the state and Gov. Chris Gregoire try to restore the Sound by 2020.

The report is the first part of a three-phase effort to tally the flow of toxics to the Sound. It comes with the warning that the numbers are preliminary and incomplete.

Findings include:

  • Pollutants including arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, zinc, mercury, the banned pesticide DDT and phthalates -- a chemical used in plastics -- came mostly from runoff from urban and non-urban areas. The greatest concentrations came from developed areas.
  • Air pollution is a leading source for toxic flame retardants and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, created when fuel is burned.
  • Combined sewage overflows that dump untreated or partially treated sewage into the Sound during heavy rainstorms contribute little to the overall pollution, though they cause local toxic hotspots.

    The report was vindicating for Rich Berkowitz, director of Pacific Coast Operations Transportation Institute, a non-profit representing the maritime shipping industry.

    It found that oil spills accounted for only 4 percent of the petroleum pollution in the Sound; runoff from land accounted for nearly all the rest. The runoff -- according to back-of-the-envelope calculations by federal scientists -- could carry the equivalent of about half an Exxon Valdez spill a year in oil and grease.

    "We are winning the battle on preventing oil spills from commercial vessels," Berkowitz said. "We've been losing the battle for far too long on runoff."

    The study carried a different message for Josh Baldi, the Department of Ecology's special assistant for Puget Sound.

    "What that shows is we're being diligent in terms of prevention," Baldi said. "That means we should not rest on that. We need to be as diligent about other types of pollution."

    In recent years, the state's oil spill prevention program has been strengthened. Beginning this fall, vessels transferring oil to large oil facilities must be ringed with floating booms to contain spilled fuel should an accident occur. A 2003 spill during a fuel transfer near Edmonds dumped about 4,800 gallons into the Sound. A catastrophic spill could wipe out the local orca population.

    While runoff has been singled out for years as a serious and growing pollution threat, the study made clear it's the front-runner.

    Runoff picks up pollutants from across the landscape -- oil and grease from vehicles, pesticides applied to landscaping and roofs, pet waste and even naturally occurring -- but toxic -- elements.

    The state has issued stormwater permits requiring city and county governments to reduce the torrent of water that flows untreated into streams and the Sound. Strategies include building ponds to hold the water so it can sink slowly into the ground. Environmentalists prefer "low-impact development" using rain barrels, porous cement and water-absorbing landscaping to absorb the rain where it falls.

    Governments and developers often criticize the permits as too costly to comply with; environmentalists and scientists say they don't do enough -- and Baldi agreed.

    The current permits "are going to be insufficient to tackle this problem," he said, and the study affirms the need to do more.

    The study was a great first step, said Heather Trim of the non-profit People for Puget Sound. But it greatly underestimated the amount of pollution coming from sewage plants, industrial polluters and small, unreported oil spills.

    The analysis also didn't include pollution from ocean water mixing with the Sound and contaminants in marine life and mud.

    The phase two analysis, which will address many of these omissions, will cost $600,000 and is due next summer.

    The Puget Sound Partnership is supposed to complete an action plan for saving the Sound by September.


    Read the report "Control of Toxic Chemicals in Puget Sound" at:

    Read "The Sound of Broken Promises," a six-part Seattle P-I special report that chronicles the long life of Granny, the respected elder in her Northwest orca pod, and examines the weak regulations, spotty enforcement and political foot-dragging that have plagued efforts to clean the Sound:

  • P-I reporter Lisa Stiffler can be reached at 206-448-8042 or Read her blog on the environment at

    Monday, November 26, 2007

    Going Green

    Going Green – Understanding the Complexities

    Wednesday, December 12, 2007
    4:45 p.m. to 7:45 p.m.
    Rock Salt on Latitude 47
    1232 Westlake Avenue North, Seattle

    Please join us at 4:00 p.m. before the session for the MPAC Meeting to plan future programs.

    Program Description

    As the Muppets’ Kermit the Frog soulfully sang: “It’s not easy being green.”

    Join us for a presentation on how Sustainable Design is actually being implemented in the Northwest and the complexities of going green. Our discussion will explore questions such as:

    How can agencies respond to the market while protecting Public safety and the environment?
    What of leadership strategies are needed to assist smaller groups managing volunteer projects?
    How to effectively review green projects and why it’s not business-as-usual.
    How do we consider life-cycle costs vs. capital costs on sustainable projects?
    Can we use multiple scenarios during project selection to identify potential weaknesses in plans?

    Our speakers will draw from project and professional experience to discuss these topics, with an emphasis on storm water management and lessons learned. They will discuss present and future green drainage design guidance, associated regulatory framework, relationships between agencies and private partners, retrofitting of existing facilities with green features, and components for successfully completing a Low Impact Development (LID) project from planning through the operations and maintenance phases.

    Peg Staeheli, ASLA, LEED® AP, is president of SvR Design Company, a Seattle-based landscape architecture and civil engineering firm specializing in integrated and environmentally responsible design. SvR recently won the ASCE Region 8 Outstanding Project Award their work on the High Point Redevelopment and Storm Drainage Project. SvR’s practice includes green infrastructure, complete streets, facilities, civic and community centers, mixed-use development, housing, parks, and restoration. Peg works with public agencies and private clients on planning, selecting, and funding capital improvement projects. Peg has presented on sustainable and low impact development approaches encouraging a shift in our industry at venues including APWA, Stormcon, the National Low Impact Development Conferences, Seattle Great Cities and the Society for Ecological Restoration.

    Christopher W. May, Ph.D., is a member of the urban watersheds group at Seattle Public Utilities (SPU). Chris is a freshwater ecologist with an environmental engineering background and expertise in urban watershed assessment and management. Chris specializes in stormwater management, low impact development (LID), watershed analysis using geographic information systems (GIS), salmonid habitat assessment, urban stream rehabilitation, water quality monitoring, stream biological assessment, and watershed restoration. Chris is an adjunct faculty member of Western Washington University, Huxley School of Environmental Studies, University of Washington, Tacoma Environmental Science Program, and the University of Washington, Professional Engineering Program.


    4:45 - 5:30 pm Registration, Appetizers and No Host Social
    5:30 - 6:50 pm Presentation and Q&A
    7:00 - 7:45 pm Dinner and Discussion

    Registration Fee (includes dinner): $37.00
    Please register by Wednesday, December 5, 2007.
    Refunds: No refunds for cancellations after noon on Monday, December 10, 2007. “No shows” that have not pre-paid will be billed.

    Prepayment is encouraged and greatly appreciated by our volunteer registration staff at the meeting.

    Register and pay by mail at or online at and follow the direction for registration and prepayment. Print the registration confirmation/invoice form and bring a copy with you to the meeting. Registrations may be paid through PayPal or you may mail a copy of the invoice with your check (payable to APWA) to:

    APWA/MPAC December Meeting
    c/o Municipal Research and Services Center
    2601 Fourth Avenue, Suite 800
    Seattle, WA 98121-1280

    Confirm your reservation at, click Online Registration for the current meeting, and at the bottom of the page click on Attendee List. Contact Holly Stewart at MRSC at (206) 625-1300 for questions about registration.

    This training session may qualify for 1 Professional Development Hour (PDH). Participants are responsible for tracking their own PDH.

    Please call Sheila Harrison, PE, at (206) 441-9385 or Mo Kashani, PE at (425) 388-6493 for more information about the program.

    Wednesday, November 14, 2007

    Solar Decathlon: A Heated Competition

    Twenty teams, two years, ten contests and one big old sun--the essential ingredients of the Department of Energy's solar contest on the Mall

    Penny Bonda

    Interior Design · October 29, 2007

    This time the sun cooperated. Unlike the cloud-covered 2005 Solar Decathlon, the twenty teams representing colleges and universities from around the world had plenty of natural power to fuel the solar homes they built on the National Mall this October in Washington, DC. Good thing, because the homes were, for the most part, spectacular.

    Here's the challenge: submit an application and win a coveted spot in the competition; spend two years fundraising and securing sponsors; design an 800 square foot house that will run solely on solar power according to very specific criteria; build it so that it can be deconstructed and transported across the country or an ocean; cross your fingers and hope that everything arrives intact; reconstruct and keep it operating for ten days while judges (hopefully) award points and hundreds of thousands spectators wander through. At the end you hope to place in the top three.

    The 2007 Solar Decathlon's top honor went to the entry from Germany's Technische Universitat Darmstadt. The house is most notable for the photovoltaics integrated into the oak louvers of the full height doors running the length of the east, south and west elevations. A tracking system automatically tilts the louvers to follow the sun and to provide shading and privacy. PVs are rarely thought of as beautiful but the German team's design of the louvers and the translucent and patterned panels installed on the roof of the south porch is more than just functional. The combination provides dramatic plays of shadow and light and adds a wonderful aesthetic to the home.

    Second place: University of Maryland's indoor water wall (photo credit: Amy Gardner)The University of Maryland won second place for its LEAFHouse, inspired by the simple, yet vastly complex leaf. "Just as the leaf changes throughout the year, so can this house, given the mood of the owner," says Jake Zager, student and co-manager of construction. Inside the design does, in fact, mimic a leaf at the ridge of the ceiling where exposed steel supports "branch out" from a wooden spine. The most innovative feature, however, is the indoor water fall designed into the living room's media wall. A liquid desiccant system that's used to control humidity and reduce the load on the air-conditioner works by mixing calcium chloride, a type of salt and a highly absorptive material, into the sculptural design of the water wall where it captures moisture out of the air. As far as the team knows, such a system has never been used for a home.

    Third place went to Santa Clara University, located in Silicon Valley, for the design of a house that, not surprisingly given its roots, relies on dynamically smart computer technology to run its systems. The electrochromic windows, for example, darken or lighten with a flip of a switch to help control thermal comfort. There is also a prototype solar thermal unit with absorption chillers used for space conditioning and water heating—a technology more common in large buildings but successfully used here in a small (727 square foot) space.

    Third Place: Santa Clara University (photo credit: Kaye Evans-Lutterodt/Solar Decathlon)
    About the contests: to compete, the teams must design and build energy-efficient homes that are powered exclusively by the sun. The houses must be attractive with seamlessly integrated energy efficient technologies, and be easy to live in by all including the disabled. They must maintain a comfortable temperature, provide attractive and adequate lighting, power household appliances for cooking and cleaning, power home electronics including televisions and computers, and provide hot water. These houses must also power an electric vehicle to meet household transportation needs.

    Whew! This tall order yields plenty of lessons for home designers and builders. Primary among them—household energy efficiency is so much more than the commonly used strategies of changing out light bulbs and turning down the heat. As Amy Gardner, a faculty advisor to the Maryland team states, "LEAFHouse demonstrates that the way forward to a more responsible built environment is through multidisciplinary, integrated, holistic design." That's the message designed into the criteria by DOE and delivered by all twenty houses. The greenest homes use a system of strategies dependant on and reinforcing the others.

    There were some very unique features in the houses, such as a sunlight diffusing milk bottle wall in the Penn State house, or the translucent walls made from of polycarbonate sheeting and an aerogel filler used by the Georgia Tech students. At the University of Illinois/Urbana-Champaign house, the heating and cooling is all radiant via ceiling panels that resemble refrigerator coils yet are oddly attractive. By necessity, all the houses are pre-fabricated modular buildings. The University of Colorado/Boulder house, however, used its shipping container decoratively to form the walls and mechanical spines of the central core.

    The houses also had many features in common. Because universal design is a requirement, the bathrooms are larger than expected for such small homes and many of the multi-use spaces are defined by sliding walls. In fact, panels on rollers were so ubiquitous it was unusual to see a house without them. Many panels were made of lightweight decorative materials such as 3form. Furniture, often custom designed by the students, served many purposes, such as in the German Darmstadt house where the "lounging pit" and the "sleeping pit" cleverly concealed ample storage.

    Lighting strategies almost universally included an LED / fluorescent mixture. However, the MIT team used some incandescent lighting explaining that its house produced more than enough energy to do so. Hmmm? Many of the houses used lighting as a decorative element as well as a functional one. The students from the New York Institute of Technology concealed energy efficient lighting sources behind large stretched fabric frames to good effect.

    Kitchens, typically a household energy hog, featured very efficient appliances with almost all teams opting for induction cooktops. Materials selected for their green attributes—recycled content countertops, responsibly forested woods, and locally sourced goods—were common.
    But the Solar Decathlon is all about energy—renewable energy. "The earth receives more energy from the sun than the world uses in a whole year. The tools for harnessing that energy are available now," Maryland's Amy Gardner states. "The work of these students has advanced the breadth and depth of all team members' knowledge and abilities, preparing them to bring about a brighter future for all."

    Go solar!

    article credit go to

    Thursday, November 08, 2007

    Greener Buildings website

    The resource center for environmentally responsible building development.

    Click here to learn more

    Monday, November 05, 2007

    Starbucks Center Earns National Green Certification

    Seattle's Starbucks Center is the largest and oldest building in the country to earn a national green certification for existing buildings, its owner announced Thursday.

    The U.S. Green Building Council certified the building through its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, giving it a gold rating -- the step below the top rating of platinum, Seattle developer Nitze-Stagen & Co. announced.

    The Union Pacific Railroad built the original center in 1912 to lure Sears, Roebuck & Co. to Seattle. Owners added to the structure in subsequent decades, and it now totals 1.5 million square feet.

    Green measures in the center include installation of energy-efficient lighting and waterless urinals; use of recycled office materials and green cleaning products; purchases of renewable energy for nearly 31 percent of the center's electricity; encouragement of alternative transportation with steps like providing storage and changing rooms for bicyclists, Flexcars for employee use and preferred parking for alternative-energy vehicles; and diversion of 48 percent of the center's waste from landfills.

    Jim Hanna, environmental affairs manager for Starbucks, said the company worked with the U.S. Green Building Council since 2001 on a LEED standard that could certify a series of prototype Starbucks stores.

    Thursday, November 01, 2007

    US Mayors Meet in Seattle

    U.S. mayors meet in Seattle to push for a green revolution

    City has met a big goal, but more action is needed


    Fluorescent bulbs were climate change activism on training wheels. For the next generation, it's time for a green revolution, for overthrowing the old order and ushering in the new, environmental and local elected leaders say.

    They talk about a campaign as passionate as the civil rights movement, as nationally unifying as World War II patriotism. They're talking put-a-man-on-the-moon-sized investments in the development of clean energy. They want strict standards for vehicle greenhouse-gas emissions. They're begging the public to pressure national politicians to champion ambitious efforts to curb global warming.

    Click here to read the article in the PI

    Wednesday, October 31, 2007

    Monroe Prison Gets Green Certification

    Expansion for 200 men cost $39.5 million


    MONROE -- The state's largest prison, which houses 2,500 men, is about to expand still further, adding hundreds of beds for its worst-behaved inmates. Yet as they lie in their 12-by-8-foot cells, gazing up through narrow windows at a tiny slice of sky, the criminals in solitary confinement at Monroe Correctional Complex will be using low-energy lights to read by and collected rainwater to flush their toilets.

    Theirs is the first prison unit in the state to be certified as "green" by the U.S. Green Building Council, and officials at the Department of Corrections believe it may be the first such cellblock in the nation. It cost $39.5 million to build and will hold 200 men.

    The new, energy-efficient cellblock for the worst-behaved inmates at Monroe Correctional Complex will open in January.

    The effort to build more environmentally friendly prisons dovetails with an ambitious, $500 million campaign to expand inmate space around the state.

    New units are in the works at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Franklin County; the state penitentiary in Walla Walla; Larch Corrections Center in Clark County; Cedar Creek Corrections Center in Thurston County; Airway Heights Corrections Center near Spokane; and Mission Creek, the women's prison near Belfair.

    By 2009, when the construction is scheduled for completion, Washington will be able to house 3,500 more offenders. Even so, Corrections officials predict a 4,000-bed shortfall within 10 years.

    "We don't think you can outbuild the inmate population," said Mike Kenney, assistant deputy of prison departments. "It's kind of a 'Field of Dreams' syndrome."

    The real solution, he said, is a comparatively inexpensive $25 million re-entry program, aimed at curtailing recidivism so released inmates do not return.

    "The whole purpose of re-entry is to turn back the tide so we don't keep building new prisons," Kenney said. "We don't believe that building is a long-term solution."

    To advocates of reform, however, the skewed numbers -- $25 million for re-entry programs, versus $500 million for new bed space -- make plain the official priorities at Corrections.

    "They do these little piecemeal things," said Ari Kohn, who speaks frequently with legislators about the need for improved education and transitional housing programs. "It's ridiculous, and it comes out of cowardice. All of these legislators are just scared to death at being labeled soft on crime."

    Ken Quinn, superintendent at Monroe and a longtime associate of Corrections Secretary Harold Clarke, acknowledged that violent crime rates have been leveling off. But when offenders arrive at prison, they come with ever-longer sentences.

    "They're younger, more violent and doing more time," Quinn said. "So we've had this need for more space."

    Relatives of inmates at Monroe insist that overcrowding at the complex 45 minutes from Seattle has led to fights and several inmate deaths.

    A new cellblock at Monroe Correctional Complex may be the first to be certified "green" by the U.S. Green Building Council.

    But energy-efficient prisons, mandated by the Legislature, are more costly to build. The overhaul at Coyote Ridge, in which every component has been designed for a "green" rating, will add 2,048 beds and carries a $254 million price tag.

    "It costs a little bit more to build," said David Jansen, who oversees capital programs at Corrections. "But over the life of the building it ends up costing less" to heat and maintain.
    Paddy Hescock, facilities manager at Monroe, is a believer.

    "There's a payback," he said. "It might be 50 or 60 years down the road, but with non-sustainable buildings, you have no payback at all."

    Hescock gets his guidelines from the Green Building Council.

    But inmates at Monroe have not been shy about offering their own ideas for saving water and electricity, some of them quite ingenious, he said.

    Energy efficiency is particularly urgent at Corrections, which must keep lights on 24 hours a day in many prisons. To keep costs down, the department has taken an unusually proactive approach.

    "The Department of Corrections," spokesman Chad Lewis said, "is now probably one of the greenest agencies in the state."

    P-I reporter Claudia Rowe can be reached at 206-448-8320 or
    Soundoff (1 comment)What do you think?

    Tuesday, October 30, 2007

    New Web Tool Makes Carbon Neutral Building Easier


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    SANTA ROSA, Calif., Oct. 12, 2007 -- Green Building Studio Inc. recently launched a beta program to help architects virtually assess a building's carbon neutrality.

    Green Building Studio V3.0 is an updated web service that is geared toward the designers of carbon neutral buildings. Its carbon neutral building check can predict the feasibility of a building reaching carbon neutral status using local grid emission data.

    The service can compute a building's U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ENERGY STAR score or Architecture 2030 targets. The potential for use of a photovoltaic and wind energy generation at a given building can be analyzed, as well as PV potential for every building surface.

    Architects, building owners and designers can perform a water use analysis to estimate water needs, efficiency savings, potential for rain capture and LEED credits.

    The service also can peg the LEED Glaze factor for any room with lighting control energy savings. It's also possible to gauge whether a building is a good candidate for a natural ventilation strategy.

    The web service was developed to create a whole building energy analysis linked to the design team’s CAD systems, cutting out the cost and time needed to perform energy modeling.

    5th Snohomish County Conservation Awards Breakfast

    5th Snohomish County Conservation Awards Breakfast
    You are invited to attend the 5th Snohomish County Conservation Awards Breakfast November 15, 2007, 7:30-9:00 am at the Everett Events Center.

    This year we are excited to honor Cliff Bailey and Duane Weston with the Phil and Laura Zalesky Lifetime Achievement Award and Rep. Rick Larsen with the Cascade Agenda Leadership Award. We are also honored to have Deborah Knutson, President and CEO of Snohomish County Economic Development Council as our Keynote speaker.

    Special thanks to our PRINCIPAL SPONSOR

    Davis, Wright, Tremaine

    5th Snohomish County Conservation Awards Breakfast
    Thursday, November 15th, 2007
    Check in begins at 7:00 am

    Everett Events Center

    click here to register

    Solar Decathlon

    About Solar Decathlon

    The Solar Decathlon is a competition in which 20 teams of college and university students compete to design, build, and operate the most attractive, effective, and energy-efficient solar-powered house. The Solar Decathlon is also an event to which the public is invited to observe the powerful combination of solar energy, energy efficiency, and the best in home design.

    The event takes place on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., October 12 - 20. The team houses are open for touring everyday, except Wednesday, October 17, when they will close for competition purposes. An overall winner is announced on Friday, October 19 at 2 p.m. See the schedule for more information.

    Teams of college students design a solar house, knowing from the outset that it must be powered entirely by the sun. In a quest to stretch every last watt of electricity that's generated by the solar panels on their roofs, the students absorb the lesson that energy is a precious commodity. They strive to innovate, using high-tech materials and design elements in ingenious ways. Along the way, the students learn how to raise funds and communicate about team activities. They collect supplies and talk to contractors. They build their solar houses, learning as they go.

    Read more abou this go to

    Carbon Tax Goes After Mortgage Deduction

    By Kenneth R. Harney

    Syndicated Columnist

    WASHINGTON — Though the housing and real-estate industries oppose the plan, a key House committee leader's proposed "carbon tax" cutbacks on mortgage-interest deductions are attracting strong support from environmental and scientific groups.

    Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, wants to phase out mortgage interest write-offs for houses larger than 3,000 square feet, using a graduated scale that ends at zero deductions for properties with 4,200 square feet or more.

    Though Dingell says he recognizes newly constructed houses may be "more energy efficient" than older ones, their "sheer size, sprawl and commutes lead to dramatically more energy use — or to put it more simply, a larger carbon footprint."

    In his latest draft, Dingell provides more detail about the housing-related tax elements than he did in earlier versions.

    The new draft also offers some limited exemptions from the phaseout, including for "historical homes" built before 1900, farmhouses, certified energy-efficient homes and houses whose owners "purchase carbon offsets to make the [property] carbon-neutral."

    Under the plan, owners of homes containing 3,000 to 3,199 square feet would be eligible for only 85 percent of the mortgage-interest deductions they currently receive.

    Homes of 3,600 to 3,799 square feet would lose 60 percent, those of 4,000 to 4,199 square feet would lose 90 percent and ones over 4,200 square feet would get none.

    Mortgage-interest write-offs are among the largest benefits in the federal tax code. The congressional Joint Committee on Taxation estimates homeowners will take $402.7 billion in deductions between fiscal 2006 and 2010.

    Some environmental advocates initially questioned Dingell's purposes in advancing an ambitious program to limit greenhouse-gas emissions because the Michigan lawmaker has been a staunch defender of the auto industry.

    But Dingell's plan would impose stiff new taxes on gasoline (50 cents per gallon to start); a $50-per-ton tax on coal, petroleum and natural gas; plus the mortgage-interest deduction clampdown.

    Now a number of scientific and environmental organizations think Dingell's proposals represent a gutsy first step not only to cut consumption of carbon-based energy products, but to focus on energy use and efficiency in the residential arena.

    Lexi Shultz, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, says, "The residential part of the [climate change] problem is very significant," ranging from excessive carbon-based energy consumption in homes to exurban sprawl requiring long commutes and more highways.

    Shultz's group favors taxes on energy consumption as a way to change behavior but also supports a companion "cap and trade" plan that sets specific carbon-reduction goals and auctions of "offsets" for industries and other high consumers of energy.

    Revenues from the auctions could be used to assist low-income and other consumers who would be hurt by higher prices associated with carbon taxes.

    Dingell's stated goal is to reduce carbon emissions in the United States by 60 percent by the year 2050.

    Erich Pica, director of economic policy for Friends of the Earth, says Dingell's plan "overall is good," and applauds its focus on residential real estate.

    "The mortgage-interest deduction was meant to be an incentive for people to buy and afford a home, but now we see it has significant energy impacts" — subsidizing development of ever-larger first and second homes in subdivisions far from the urban core, Pica says.

    Though he says the choice of 3,000 square feet as a cutoff point "may be a little arbitrary, the intent is right."

    Dingell has not yet introduced his legislation.

    The National Association of Home Builders and the National Association of Realtors have criticized it as impractical and mistargeted at the square footage of homes rather than their measurable energy efficiency.

    Environmental advocates say Dingell's plans will be highly controversial with some of the biggest, best-funded lobbies on Capitol Hill.

    But they believe even if some portions fail in this Congress, growing public awareness of global warming — and the key role played by housing and real estate — will eventually help produce needed reforms.

    Rory Cameron
    Project Engineer
    Perteet Inc.
    206.436.0515 | 800.615.9900
    fax: 206.436.0516 |
    505 5th Ave S, Suite 210 | Seattle, Washington 98104

    Wednesday, October 24, 2007

    Kirkland Want to be Guinea Pig for Green

    October 24, 2007
    Kirkland wants to be 'guinea pig' for green

    By SHAWNA GAMACHEJournal Staff Reporter

    Several local government officials told members of the design and building community Tuesday that their current regulations should not be a barrier to green building innovation.
    Officials from King and Snohomish counties and the city of Kirkland said they realize local codes don't always keep pace and can even conflict with green design, but they are willing to be flexible in order to encourage sustainable building.

    “Don't let a code be a barrier to what you want to design that's going to encourage sustainable building practices,” said Patricia Southard, manager of the GreenTools building program for King County. “Call early and call often. We're ready to make variances for all of you.”
    Southard was one of four sustainability experts in a panel discussion Tuesday on “mainstreaming the green” at the Washington Athletic Club. The event was sponsored by the Seattle chapter of the Society for Marketing Professional Services. The Daily Journal of Commerce was one of many co-sponsors of the event.

    Southard said her office already makes green projects a higher priority, moving them in front of others in the permitting process. She said King County completed permits in 30 days for a home that is targeting a five-star Built Green rating.

    Ellen Miller-Wolfe, economic development manager for the city of Kirkland, said local governments should be spending less time on regulation and more on supporting projects that are pioneering sustainability.

    Miller-Wolfe said she hopes Kirkland can become a place where designers and builders can “beta-test” innovative green buildings.

    “Please come to us if there are things you want to try out,” Miller-Wolfe said. “Use us as your guinea pig.”

    Miller-Wolfe encouraged all Kirkland companies and organizations to participate in the city's Green Business Program, which provides certified area businesses with window decals to demonstrate their green commitments.

    Craig Young, watershed steward and a surface water manager with Snohomish County, said many government officials recognize new regulations are needed to encourage green building.
    He asked builders to seek out economic justifications for building green and said it is an urban myth that green building always costs more up front. He emphasized the desire of local governments to help builders with sustainability and encouraged them to seek government help if it seems like green building won't be possible on a certain site.

    “There are solutions we can use,” Young said. “Site wise and permit wise, we can overcome the barriers.”

    Stuart Simpson, green building advisor with Washington's Department of General Administration, said builders can help the process along by staying current with modeling tools and developing specifications for green projects.

    Shawna Gamache can be reached by email or by phone at (206) 622-8272.

    Thursday, August 30, 2007

    Shohomis Conservation District
    528 91st Ave NE, Ste A,
    Lake Stevens, WA 98258-2538
    Phone 425-335-5634, ext 4 FAX 425-335-5024

    July 31, 2007

    Submitted by
    Lois Ruskell, Information & Education Coordinator
    425-335-5634. Ext. 108,

    For Immediate Release
    Of Special Interest to Cities of Brier, Lynnwood, Snohomish

    Grant to Fund Healthy Backyard Streams

    Snohomish Conservation District was recently awarded a grant by the Washington State Department of Ecology to work on water quality in urban streams. The grant is tied to two areas of Snohomish County, the City of Snohomish and the Swamp/Scriber Creek watershed in Lynnwood and Brier. The grant is for four years and is geared to reach out to urban landowners with property near or on streams.

    The grant’s focus will be to increase public awareness on what is a healthy stream and what citizens can do to keep their streams healthy. District staff will work with residents on issues involving eroded stream banks, sustainable yard and garden practices, pet waste, naturescaping, and septic system awareness.

    In addition, the District will be publishing a streamside landowner’s booklet next year that covers many sustainable living and water quality issues. Innovative ideas like rain gardens, compost fences, naturescaping and more will be covered. The District is also updating their website so that residents have access to up-to-date information and resources.

    Conservation District staff will be available for presentations to groups on many of these issues, and will have a restoration technician available for free, on-site recommendations. Any citizen or group wishing more information can contact Lois Ruskell at 425-335-5634, extension 108 or Victor Insera at extension 106

    Sunday, August 26, 2007

    House of Tomorrow Still Ahead of Its Time

    Built in 1996, the house of tomorrow is still ahead of its time

    A major Midwest newspaper recently offered its readers "Home Sweet Home 2037," an illustrated story about a house of the future, as imagined by the paper's staff and a panel of experts

    Faced with the threat of global warming, the home would reduce its draw on city water by collecting rainwater in a cistern to use for flushing, bathing and irrigation, and then reclaim that water by treating its own sewage and recycling it for flushing, bathing and irrigation.

    Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.
    An architect's sketch of the pair of environmental-minded houses built side by side in a Toronto in 1996.
    Other systems would infuse interior spaces with fresh air filtered from outside, use the power of wind and sun to generate electricity and keep the family in healthy touch with itself, its home and its neighbors through the magic of computer electronics.

    But a funny thing happened on the way to that future.

    It began happening in Toronto -- 10 years ago.

    Challenging Canada's building community to design a "healthy house," a government panel picked two designs, one from Vancouver, the other from Toronto. But only the Toronto design, by architect Martin Liefhebber, eventually found traction -- thanks mostly to builder Rolf Paloheimo.

    The way the deal was structured originally, Paloheimo said in a recent telephone interview, "no builder in his right mind wanted to get involved, and they were about ready to cancel, when I suggested that if they'd do some things slightly differently, that I'd do it.

    "So we changed the concept from a one-bedroom into a three-bedroom, went up a story, and acquired a piece of land where we could build two houses at the same time, and that's what we wound up doing."

    The project took shape as a pair of houses built side by side in a choice Toronto neighborhood. The site, he said, was perfect -- a back-alley lot without the possibility of any utility service.

    The two houses were completed in November 1996, amid great media attention, and 12 days later -- to more public scrutiny and coverage -- Paloheimo moved into one of the houses with his wife and their year-old daughter.

    In the series of open houses to follow, 17,000 people showed enough interest to walk through the project.

    It was a hit, Paloheimo said.

    Paloheimo's second house initially was rented to the government, but in 2001 it was sold by Paloheimo to a family that still lives there.

    The Paloheimos, too, have stayed put, a typical Canadian family grown from three to four with a second daughter.

    Unlike that Midwest home of the future, Paloheimo's do not use city water but rely wholly on rainwater from cisterns under the house.

    That filtered water appears first at kitchen and bathroom taps for drinking, then is reclaimed in a wastewater-treatment system. What has been flushed, bathed in or used for laundry, is then recycled for future flushing, bathing and laundry, and for use in the garden.

    The solids are composted by the same system, also for use in the garden.

    And they still use the sun for heat and electric power, Paloheimo said.

    There has been some tinkering.

    For example, he said, the ultraviolet light originally used to sanitize water was chucked in favor of an ozone-based system.

    "We found that the UV system would slime up," Paloheimo said. "But the ozone breaks down all those (slime) molecules in addition to the lignins and tannins that gave it a brownish color, so now what we have is water that is clear and sparkling."

    The financial bottom line?

    In mid-1990 Canadian dollars, the two projects, including land acquisition costs, totaled about $500,000, an amount he figures was about $60,000 to $70,000 less than what the homes would have fetched on the market had they been sold at the time.

    That slim profit margin may not encourage the average developer, Paloheimo said, "but what we were doing was groundbreaking, so I wasn't unhappy with that."

    Home Sweet Home 2037 --

    Toronto's Healthy House:

    Heat --

    Water --

    P-I reporter Gordy Holt can be reached at 206-448-8356 or

    Monday, August 20, 2007

    Wetlands and the Mayor of Seattle

    Wetlands work widens rift between mayor, environmentalists
    Nickels' decision to move forward at odds with their vision


    Environmentalists and a city councilman's aide are expressing outrage that Mayor Greg Nickels went ahead this week with a controversial eco-repair project at a construction site where the city was caught illegally paving wetlands.

    Residents first noticed an earthmover and other signs of imminent work at the site near White Center on Tuesday -- as City Councilman Richard Conlin, who had interceded on behalf of environmentalists, was jetting to Peru on vacation.

    Environmentalists and Conlin's aide said the mayor had promised not to move forward until their differences were resolved. The aide questioned whether Nickels' actions were "honorable."

    "This is really stinky, man," said James Rasmussen, a member of the Duwamish tribal council and president of the Green-Duwamish Watershed Alliance. "I don't even know if the mayor's listening or not."

    Nickels' spokeswoman, Marianne Bichsel, said he did not feel compelled to notify Conlin or environmentalists because he declared in a July 13 letter that construction would proceed.

    "It's not that all of a sudden, work started happening," Bichsel said. "The mayor has been very clear about this. We are moving forward."

    The disagreement -- centering on whether to route spring water or parking lot runoff into Hamm Creek -- has opened an increasingly bitter rift between Nickels and environmentalists, despite Seattle's green image and plaudits for the mayor's work to slow global warming.

    In the crossfire is the Seattle Fire Department. The paving was done for a new firefighter training facility. But because the wetlands were illegally destroyed, the city got in trouble with federal regulators. Until the damage is repaired or made up for, the city isn't allowed to let firefighters spray water during training exercises.

    Conlin was unavailable for comment Friday in earthquake-wracked Peru. But Conlin aide Sara Nelson said: "Our office believes that at the minimum, the Mayor's Office owed us the courtesy of a response to our latest letter. And the honorable thing would have been to inform us that construction was beginning."

    Conlin followed up on Nickels' July 13 letter by meeting with the mayor. Eleven days later, the councilman sent the mayor a letter, anticipating additional talks.

    By then, the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition -- the environmental group spearheading the fight, with Conlin's aid -- had dropped three of the most complicated and expensive parts of its five-part proposal for a fix.

    The wetlands in question, at an old gravel-mining site, formed a big section of the headwaters of Hamm Creek, which was lovingly restored by Vietnam veteran John Beal and scores of volunteers.

    After construction started on the training facility in 2004 and Beal spotted the illegal wetlands paving, it took him months to get the attention of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

    The Corps and the city worked out a plan to restore some wetlands on the site, high on the east bank of West Seattle, as well as wetlands far below on the Duwamish River. That was approved unanimously by the City Council and then the Corps.

    But there was a problem. No one asked Beal and his allies what they thought -- even though Conlin thought he had secured such a promise from Brenda Bauer, a Nickels appointee in charge of the Fleets and Facilities Department.

    Beal died last year.

    At this point, the environmentalists are asking for:

    # Enhancement of a wetland just outside the training facility.

    # Redesigning of a drainage feature so that water seeping out of a nearby hillside is routed to feed a fork of Hamm Creek instead of being fed into a pipe.

    "What we came up with is really creative, really easy, really cheap," said BJ Cummings, coordinator of the cleanup coalition.

    The city already has budgeted $4 million to repair or make up for the wetlands damage. The whole project cost is $33.6 million, according to a city Web site. Bauer pointed to estimates by city consultants pegging costs for the items the environmentalists want at $600,000 to $1.1 million.

    Environmentalists hotly dispute those estimates, citing national wetlands-restoration costs and experts' opinions. They were researching costs further when they found out that the work was under way. . They portray Bauer as unyielding. Bauer said she is merely using common sense.

    "This is a settlement agreement with the federal government, and it's fairly onerous to amend it," Bauer said. "Why would we revisit this when we've gone through extensive negotiations, and we're putting several million dollars on the table to do environmental enhancements?"

    The city wants to stick with its design, which uses water collected from the pavement at the training center to feed the creek. It is a waterway that passes through Marra Farm, a site where a taxpayer-funded agency called the King Conservation District brought Hamm Creek to the surface to improve its ecological value.

    The district has tried to help persuade the Nickels administration to listen to the environmentalists.

    "We're not an advocate for either side," said Pete Landry, an engineer and geologist on the conservation district staff.

    "We're just trying to look at what makes sense, and what's not extraordinarily expensive."

    His assessment of the work requested by environmentalists: "It's not that difficult."

    Under the current plan, conservation district officials fear that a steady, cool, clean source of water flowing off the nearby hill will be wasted when it could feed Hamm Creek

    "There's a lot of water that is not flowing to the lynchpin of the watershed," Landry said. "Rather than routing water away from it, we should be routing water to it."

    The city plans to use water collected from the training facility's parking lots to feed the creek, after cleansing it.

    But the conservation district fears that that water would run short, particularly in the late summer.

    "I'm worried that ... they're going to dry up that creek," said Geoff Reed, district director.

    Technically, though, the city is under no legal obligation to do anything more than what was required by the Corps.

    Going ahead with the environmentalists' plan would mean another year's delay in getting water to the firefighting facility, Bauer said, in part because of the need to obtain new state and local permits that would expire in the meantime.

    Work likely would begin next summer at the earliest, she said.
    P-I Researcher Marsha Milroy contributed to this report. P-I reporter Robert McClure can be reached at 206-448-8092 or Read his blog on the environment at

    Environmentally Friendly Homes

    Getting 'green' getting easier

    New local firms help consumers find environmentally friendly homes

    By Debra Smith
    Herald Writer

    EVERETT Kathryn Crawford's concern for the environment influenced where she decided to work and what she does for a living.

    It's not surprising, then, that when Crawford decided to buy a home in Everett, she wanted a real estate agent who understood a "green" home means more than energy-efficient appliances and solar panels.

    "I didn't think a traditional agent would understand what I was looking for," said Crawford, a community planner with a strong environmental ethos.

    She became one of the first clients of a new Everett-based real estate brokerage focused on helping clients buy and sell properties built with green practices and products.

    The business, Greening Properties, is the first of its kind in Everett. A handful of area agents at traditional brokerages specialize in green properties, and a company with similar aims, GreenWorks Realty, operates in Seattle.

    Green agents aren't the only sign the Northwest real estate industry is getting greener. The Northwest Multiple Listing Service recently added environmental check boxes to its listing forms, so homebuyers and agents can identify homes with certain features or third-party certifications. A homeowner can now tell, for instance, if a home offers Energy Star appliances, renewable bamboo floors or a drought-tolerant landscape.

    Greening Properties operates like a regular brokerage, representing both buyers and sellers and providing standard services such as market analysis for sellers and presenting offers and negotiating on behalf of buyers.

    What differs is knowledge of green practices and products, say owners Valerie Steel and Mary Ehrlich. Both have a history of community involvement, particularly on local environmental issues. Both were founding members of the Everett Shorelines Coalition, formed to protect shorelines, and Historic Everett, focused on preserving buildings with historic significance.

    The term "green building" covers a lot of ground, including design, materials and building practices. One client may be interested in energy efficiency while another may be concerned about building materials that could exacerbate a child's asthma.

    Green encompasses a home that's smaller and more energy-efficient, and it also can apply to older homes, since buying one doesn't require the use of new resources. Sustainable homes also include touches a homeowner may never see, such as recycled materials, and paints and finishes that emit fewer toxic fumes. It may also mean the land was developed in a way that minimizes erosion, or workers recycled materials at the job site.

    The specialty knowledge includes the ability to cut through what's green and what's marketing, Ehrlich said. The pair saw a recent listing where an agent misrepresented the greenness of a property, describing a home as green because it had a brick facade.

    The company also differs from a traditional brokerage by providing clients with a livability checklist based on criteria by various green certification agencies such as Built Green and the American Green Building Council. For buyers, that checklist compares the features of properties they might wish to buy.

    For sellers, the company rates sustainability of property and recommends how to make it more sustainable before it's listed. For instance, if a client planned to spruce up his home with new paint and carpet before listing it, the agent might recommend using low-fume paint and a renewable flooring such as bamboo instead of carpet, Ehrlich said.

    Demand for homes with green features is growing, and it can be difficult to find homes with certain green features, Steel said. Finding a home with Energy Star appliances is easier, while finding a home on land that hasn't been "slashed and scraped" by developers is more difficult, she said.

    Crawford, one of the company's first clients, didn't expect to find a green home ready for her to move in. Instead, she asked Steel to find an older home with "good bones" that she could remodel. She settled on a solid 2,220-square-foot home in the Port Gardner neighborhood, and she is already making plans to add solar roof tiles, replace windows and add bamboo floors.

    Reporter Debra Smith: 425-339-3197 or

    Wednesday, August 15, 2007

    Wanted More Gree Power

    In the name of fighting climate change, solar, geothermal, wave and tidal energy are getting a new look


    The Northwest is spoiled.

    Since the first hydroelectric dam was completed on the Spokane River in 1885, a steady flow of water has provided cheap, clean power to the state. This resource doesn't produce planet-warming pollution and renews itself each winter with snow and rain.

    Related content

    · Renewable energy faces a big obstacle: the power grid

    · Green power options

    But the region can't rest on its hydroelectric laurels alone. There are too many people, too many businesses, too much demand for new juice.

    Over the next two decades, energy demand could surge by 13 percent.

    Where will the supply come from?

    The best stretches of the region's rivers have been dammed. Turning to fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas is increasingly unpopular. Leaders and residents are calling for reductions -- not increases -- in greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to avert a climate crisis.

    Initiative 937, narrowly passed by voters last fall, is the road map for Washington's energy future.

    It provides the destination -- the state's 17 largest utilities must set aggressive goals for conserving power, and must, in phases, generate 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. The initiative hints at how to get there, by specifically naming the types of renewable energy that are acceptable, and those that don't count.

    "This is the fork in the road on climate," said K.C. Golden, policy director for the non-profit Climate Solutions. "Public awareness is there, business and utilities awareness is there that we need to turn from the high emissions path to the low emissions path."

    How do we do that?

    The specific course to clean energy remains unclear, despite I-937's guidelines. Wind has taken off as the front-runner in our state's renewable resources, but solar, geothermal, wave and tidal, and even poop power from manure -- all of which were championed mostly by hobbyists and inventors up to now -- are getting a serious new look. They all have tremendous potential, but there are drawbacks to each.

    In fact, I-937 itself has problems.

    Critics worry about the cost of implementing the initiative while others complain that its goals are too timid, weaker than measures adopted in other states.

    The new national eco-energy mantra is "25 by 25," meaning 25 percent of power from renewable sources by 2025. Oregon recently adopted those goals. In fact, more than half of the 23 states with renewable requirements reach higher than Washington's 15 percent.

    Overarching goals -- such as Gov. Chris Gregoire's aim of reducing carbon dioxide releases statewide by 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, or Al Gore's even bolder national target of 90 percent reductions -- trump the cuts required in the initiative.

    Weaning consumers off fossil fuels is going to be tough. A recent study by the Electric Power Research Institute said reducing the power industry's greenhouse gas production to 1990 levels will take until at least 2025 -- even if nuclear power production were increased fivefold and wind and solar power were doubled.

    The research group, funded in part by electric utilities, warned in a recent presentation: "The challenges to actually achieving these reductions are daunting in their scope and complexity."

    Washington faces unique challenges. The state gets more than two-thirds of its power from hydroelectric dams -- a source that's not included in the acceptable renewables list in I-937. Initiative supporters said that's because they're targeting new energy development and the best dam sites are gone. The measure also excludes nuclear power as well as coal plants that promise to one day catch and dispose of carbon dioxide pollution.

    Environmentalists are undeterred by the difficulties.

    "We have to severely slash our emissions," said Marc Krasnowsky, spokesman for the Seattle-based Northwest Energy Coalition. "That means we're really going to have to switch to efficiency and clean renewables, far beyond what 937 requires, or the 25 by 25.

    "Are we doing enough? We've only begun."

    Difficult to add up the costs

    Embracing green power will either break the bank or save money and the environment. It depends on who you ask.

    I-937 supporters see an Earth-friendly future free of oil and coal pollution.

    I-937 detractors see an energy debt that could dull the state's economic competitive edge.

    In truth, the exact costs of the measure are far from known -- its first goal for renewables is more than four years away.

    Some folks already are anxious.

    "We are convinced that we're going to see higher power bills," said Chris McCabe, a governmental affairs director for the Association of Washington Business, a non-profit group that lobbies for business interests.

    Renewables "are going to cost more and they're going to raise rates," McCabe said.

    It's true that renewable energy costs can be many times higher than power from traditional sources. For solar, utilities might have to shell out 10 to 20 times more money per kilowatt-hour compared with the cost of power from existing dams. The price of building wind turbines and coal plants is roughly comparable, though some estimates put wind higher.

    But if you wait five minutes those costs could change.

    Supporters of green energy expect prices to improve with the adoption of state and national renewable energy requirements, creating a more predictable marketplace for investors and new companies -- though they admit the increased demand also could bump prices up, at least initially.

    Federal tax credits defray the costs of wind and solar power, keeping those resources ahead of the pack. Rep. Jay Inslee, a Washington Democrat and a prime backer of I-937, is pushing for improved tax breaks on other technologies, such as wave, tidal and geothermal power.

    Eleven years ago, lawmakers here approved sales tax exemptions for the purchase and installation of equipment that makes power from the wind and sun. There are additional programs to support investment in renewable energy at the local level.

    The greatest windfall for renewable power could be the creation of a fee that penalizes the production of greenhouse gases. Congress is considering a carbon tax, which would put a premium on the generation of polluting power from fossil fuels.

    And if all else fails, I-937 has an escape clause. A utility is in compliance with the initiative once it spends 4 percent of its annual revenue on renewables -- even if it doesn't reach the percentage goals. There are financial penalties for utilities that miss the mark.

    Green-energy innovators

    The quest for new power sources inspires grand comparisons with some of the nation's most historic technological achievements -- the Wright brothers' first flight, putting a man on the moon, the Internet.

    "Within the lifetime of this initiative, things are going to become possible that we don't foresee right now," said Golden, from Climate Solutions. "When you put in place a very strong policy commitment ... you unleash a lot of investment and innovation."

    Inslee envisions the Northwest leading the green energy innovations. At a recent news conference, he predicted the region will become the Boeing of wave and tidal power, and said that 20 percent of total U.S. energy needs could be satisfied from this approach.

    Puget Sound area utilities already are exploring a range of options. Snohomish County Public Utility District is studying the potential for tidal energy. Seattle City Light has geothermal energy and power from the gas released by decaying landfills at the top of its to-do list. Puget Sound Energy is looking to increase its already sizeable number of wind turbines and is considering biomass projects that turn waste into watts.

    It appears that micro ventures will have a role to play, too, including wind and solar installations at homes and businesses that feed energy back into the grid. Dairies and regional sewage treatment plants are getting into the game with small-scale operations that trap methane for electricity production.

    Important changes are afoot. It will require experimentation and risk-taking to fuel the revolution demanded by I-937. But in a Northwest outgrowing its supply of electrical juice, on a planet where fossil fuels are wreaking environmental havoc, clean and green is no longer an impossible dream.

    "We need to get beyond our comfort zones," Inslee said.



    Wind is the region's preferred renewable power source.

    Solar power may soar like mercury in an August thermometer -- eventually.

    There's been a sea change of interest in getting energy from waves or tides.

    The Northwest is an obvious spot to pursue geothermal power -- so why haven't we?

    Biodiesel, hailed as a green savior for transportation, is just a drop in the electricity bucket.

    Biomass projects, such as turning cow manure into kilowatts, are firing up.


    Energy-smart upgrades by businesses and residents are key to saving power.

    P-I reporters Tom Paulson and Robert McClure contributed to this report. P-I reporter Lisa Stiffler can be reached at 206-448-8042 or Read her blog on the environment at
    Soundoff (39 comments)
    What do you think?

    Wednesday, August 01, 2007

    Protect Your Efforts

    Just when we thought we were making a difference…
    Home Depot has funded the planting of 300,000 trees in cities across the US. Each tree will absorb and store about one-third of a ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) over its lifetime. In addition to the coal plants that already exist, there are now 151 new conventional coal-fired power plants in various stages of development in the US today. The CO2 emissions from only one medium-sized (500 MW) coal-fired power plant, in just 10 days of operation, would negate the Home Depot’s entire effort.

    Wal-Mart, the largest “private” purchaser of electricity in the world is investing a half billion dollars to reduce the energy consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of their existing buildings by 20% over the next 7 years. "As one of the largest companies in the world, with an expanding global presence, environmental problems are our problems," said CEO Lee Scott. The CO2 emissions from only one medium-sized coal-fired power plant, in just one month of operation each year, would negate Wal-Mart’s entire effort.

    California, which makes up over 10% of the country’s new vehicle market, passed legislation to cut GHG emissions in new cars by 25% and in SUVs by 18%, starting in 2009. If every car and SUV sold in California in 2009 met this standard, the CO2 emissions from only one medium-sized coal-fired power plant, in just eight months of operation each year, would negate California’s 2009 effort.

    In the US, approximately 5 billion square feet of residential, commercial and government buildings are renovated in a year. The US Conference of Mayors, American Institute of Architects, US Green Building Council and numerous states, counties and cities have adopted The 2030 Challenge to reduce the energy consumption of all renovated buildings by 50% (see The CO2 emissions from just one 750 MW coal-fired power plant each year would negate this entire 2030 Challenge effort.

    If every household in the U.S. changed a 60-watt incandescent light bulb to a compact fluorescent, the CO2 emissions from just two medium-sized coal-fired power plants each year would negate this entire effort.

    The Campus Climate Challenge (CCC), a growing student movement in the US, states that global warming “is our problem, and it’s up to us to solve it, starting right here on campus, right now.” The challenge calls for all high school and college campuses in the US to go carbon neutral (reduce global warming pollution to zero). If the challenge were met, the CO2 emissions from just four medium-sized coal-fired power plants each year would negate the CCC’s entire effort.

    The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is a ‘cap and trade’ cooperative effort by eleven Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states (ME, VT, NH, MA, CT, RI, NY, PA, NJ, DL, MD) to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels by 2014. The CO2 emissions from just 13 medium-sized coal-fired power plants each year would negate the entire RGGI effort.

    Many climate change bills have been introduced in Congress this year to cap and begin reducing US greenhouse gas emissions, so any new coal-fired power plants work to negate these efforts.

    Make a difference: Protect your efforts. Start by getting this message out...

    Emissions Source – EIA 2005
    A medium-sized (500 MW) conventional coal-fired plant emits approx. 3.5 million metric tons (MMT) of CO2 a year.

    Issued by:
    The 2030 Research Center (

    Wednesday, July 18, 2007

    Scrap House.... You should take a LOOK

    Description: ScrapHouse-is an awesome reality of reuse methods. Built entirely of recycled materials, the ScrapHouse was designed and built as the centerpiece of World Environment Day 2005. Visit

    Monday, July 16, 2007

    Less Water..Less Energy Sidwell School

    Sidwell School: 70% Less Water, 60% Less Energy
    by Justin Thomas, Virginia on 07. 9.07
    Design & Architecture

    I braved the midday heat of Washington DC yesterday, to circumnavigate and photograph the Sidwell Friends School, a private middle school. This building was awarded the coveted Platinum LEED by the Green Building Council, and it was one of the American Institute of Architect's Top Ten Green Project for 2007. Impressively, this school uses 70% less water and 60% less energy that a comparable building. I noted the use of many green roof elements, and many greywater recycling ponds. Inside, daylight use is extensive. Photosensors automatically dim or shut off the electric lights when daylight is sufficient, and occupancy sensors ensure that lights are shut off when rooms are unoccupied. More details and photos over the fold...

    The design optimizes daylight and minimizes solar glare on each building exposure. On the south façade, horizontal solar light shelves both screen out the sun and welcome daylight. On the east and west façades, vertical solar shading screens are angled appropriately against the east and west glare.

    A courtyard wetland with a closed-loop cycle allows for water reuse. The wetland takes the form of terraced rice paddies along the site’s natural topography. Rainwater is held and filtered through a vegetated roof on the new wing and channeled down the courtyard side into a collection stream that runs under the building’s entry bridge and drains into a biology pond. The pond supports native habitat and micro-organisms that will decompose wastewater as it moves through the functional wetland.

    Virtually every material in the building is either reclaimed or recycled. The cladding of the building is 100-year-old western red cedar reclaimed from wine barrels. Material for the walkways, inside lobby, and decks is green lumber pilings reclaimed from the Baltimore Harbor. There is extensive use of linoleum, cork, and reclaimed stone.

    Actively, photovoltaic roof panels provide much of the building’s electricity. Passively, two solar chimneys on the new wing offer natural ventilation. “The solar chimneys and the shafts interconnect to the lower levels, which is made apparent by little port holes in the shafts.

    A vegetable-garden rooftop on the new wing serves as an insulator and is part of the water recycling system. The green roof is also a food garden, managed by the students and teachers.

    see the article at TreeHugger