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
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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 (