Thursday, March 31, 2011

3-D Groundwater Model of Columbia Plateau


While this model's purpose is to show likely water sources, I found the layering of geologic formations in the Columbia Basin useful. I have resorted to getting out the colored pencils to visualize the Columbia River Basalt layers and interlayers as well as the overlying younger formations. An approach that works well for learning the units but not so great for a presentation on water resources. Irrigation has transformed large parts of the Columbia Basin. While dams and canals were the initial source of irrigation, groundwater has become a big source as well. The model developed helps visualize why some areas will likely never have irrigation and some areas currently using groundwater are on borrowed time. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tsunami Policy Whatcom County and Bellingham

Tsunami Hazard Map for Bellingham Area (Walsh and others, 2004) tsunami_hazard_bellingham.pdf.

I posted previously about tsunami policy in Washington State in general HERE and in Grays Harbor County HERE. My own County of Whatcom includes tsunamis as geologic hazard areas and treats the hazard in a similar manner to volcanic hazards by limiting the types of development and scale of development. Whatcom County has a few susceptible areas that unfortunately from a risk perspective were allowed to develop in a fairly dense manner near the shore. Those locations are sand and gravel spits on the shores of Point Roberts and Sandy Point, some low bank shoreline along the shore of Birch Bay and low areas along the Nooksack River delta and Lummi Peninsula. However, the large tsunami hazard in Whatcom County is nowhere as severe as Grays Harbor and the outer Washington Coast. Residents at the above locations will have a couple hours post Cascadia quake to get to higher ground versus the 20 minutes or so residents at Ocean Park or Long Beach will have. And the depth of waves is not expected to be more than a few feet based on models by Walsh and others tsunami_hazard_bellingham.pdf. Emergency planning has placed signs and sirens particularly at Sandy Point, which has areas that go under water even without a tsunami. Whatcom County also bought a low sand spit area on Point Roberts to preclude development, not so much due to the hazard, but because of the natural setting. The worst area is is in the river delta and the County has been actively buying homes and properties in this area as part of a flood hazard reduction program and development is otherwise fairly sparse in thus flood prone area. Other areas on the map in the delta area are under the control of the Lummi Nation.

Bellingham development code makes no mention of tsunamis in its geologic hazard section of the critical areas regulations. However, with a fair bit of low waterfront property slated for redevelopment, Bellingham and Port officials have developed an environmental impact statement that discusses tsunamis and presumably the issue will be considered as long term redevelopment plans are crafted. The tsunami waves projected for the Bellingham waterfront are modeled to be on the order of a foot or two, so the risk will be fairly minimal and will not require much to mitigate. The seismic response of the hydraulic fill may be another matter of greater concern. And the projected sea-level rise the Port and City are considering may be higher than the moderate number they selected in the environmental impact statement.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Valued Farmland in Washington State

Sprawl by Arcade Fire

Wednesday was a gloriously sunny day spent in part mapping a channel migration zone on a stream northwest of Lynden, Washington. The farm land around Lynden is the best and largest farm land in western Washington. It makes Whatcom County the number one agriculture county in western Washington. And on a per acre basis some of the highest yielding land in the state. I'm not sure words are needed when considering how we value the best farmland in Washington State. Pictures say it best.

Green field development

Looking at the back of the city limit sign at the land's potential for raspberries

Ready to build for economic development - just what industry is in that big building?

Job creation? And how many jobs were lost in the ag sector

Friday, March 25, 2011

Dinosaurs, I mean Swans in Skagit County

Driving over the Skagit and Samish Flats one is likely to see bald eagles, but fields covered with white birds have become a common winter time scene. The birds are either snow geese or in this case trumpeter swans. The gray birds are young swans. They are alert to stopped cars as they began walking away in dinosaur fashion as soon as I stopped.

Short posts for a bit while I do massive work writing and other hobbies.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sun, clear views and no bugs.

I had a bit of field work yesterday. Being outside yesterday is about as good as it gets. Glorious views of the North Cascades and BC Coast Range, the temperature in the 60s, warm sun, the vegetation has not leafed out so visibility in the under brush is maximum, and because it was the first warm day all year there are no bugs yet. Other than minor encounters with blackberry canes, the field work was enjoyable and interesting. No details on this project as discretion applies even more than normal - the down side of working in the private sector, or maybe that is the up side.
Mount Baker on the left, Twin Sisters on the right, dark ridge in foreground is Suumas Mountain and foreground is farmland north of Lynden on Sumas stade glacial outwash.

Mount Baker is a volcano. The Twins Sisters is a block of dunite (mantle). Sumas Mountain is a melange of all sorts of rocks with the added delight of massive deep-seated landslides including the asbestos containing Swift Creek slide. Great geology and great views.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

LiDAR of Mount Saint Helens

It is not candle wax - LiDAR of southeast flank of Mount Saint Helens

The UGS has a large pdf file available on line of Mount Saint Helens HERE. The south flank of the mountain appears so constructive compared to the destructive north half of the mountain. I enjoyed a virtual tour zipping around the mountain. Lava flows on top of lava flows.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Snow Fences in Whatcom County

Snow fences northwest of Lynden, Washington

I had a field trip northwest of Lynden, Washington yesterday and spotted these snow fences in a pasture and on a field of corn stubble. It is the only snow fence I have ever seen in western Washington. Washington State weather geeks are well aware that when cold Arctic air enters western Washington there are very strong northeast winds that blow across Whatcom County. A weather joke is that Seattle TV stations always send their reporters north of Bellingham when an Arctic front is blowing across Whatcom County so they can stand in a the freezing wind and pronounce cold temperatures are on the way to Seattle. 

Snow covered pasture, corn stubble or hay fields do little to stop blowing snow. The farmland around Lynden gets huge drifts with miles of treeless fields. A few homes are located across the road from this particular field and hence the snow fences to stop drifts of snow piling up around the houses. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Few Notes on Bellingham's Former Coal Mines

Walsh and Logan (1989) showing two of the mines underlying
Bellingham with the downtown area on the lower right. 
A much bigger mine underlies the northwest portion of the city. 

I previously did a write up on investigating the Sehome mine beneath downtown Bellingham  patch-over-bellinghams-void. Every now and again the coal mine issues in Bellingham come up. Last week I was asked three time what I might know. The last question was regarding a property that the City of Bellingham owns along Cornwall Avenue that they may be selling. I am fairly sure that the site was investigated for the potential that a mine was under the site using a drill rig several years ago. I have heard second hand that the mine did not extend under the site, but I have never seen the drilling records. The Sehome mine has had subsidence problems in the past and reports of new subsidence would not be a huge surprise.

A property developer asked me last week about potential problems from the Bellingham Mine underlying northwest Bellingham. This mine was evaluated by Tetra Tech in the 1984. The mine had fairly good records as to shafts and drifts. No retreat mining took place. That is they left coal pillars to support the mined areas.

Collapses can and will take place as the voids left by the mine eventually collapse. The question is how will that impact the surface and structures on the surface. Knowing that areas of coal were left (pillars) and the width and height of voids, rock type, depth to voids, angle of the void, thickness of overlying bedrock, thickness properties of unconsolidated materials over the bedrock, a mathematical model can be used to calculate how the surface may be impacted. Various models have been developed based on areas where mine collapse have taken place. I used a model developed from collapses in Poland for a mine subsidence project several years ago.

Tetra Tech (1984) evaluated the Bellingham Mine and did produce a map of areas where there was a low risk of subsidence - mostly along limited areas near Northwest Drive not far from the former mine entrance where the mine is shallower.

For the Bellingham Mine the biggest risk areas are associated with ventilation shafts and locations where the coal "daylighted" into unconsolidated (non rock) sediments. In these locations the settlement models do not work so well because the loose over burden sediments can pipe (flow) into the mine voids. The Bellingham Mine records were good enough that the potential daylight areas can be identified and I would say in those areas there is a very modest risk to higher risk dependent on the depth to the mine. As for vents, they were not well mapped. I have heard second hand as did Tetra Tech of vent collapses associated with the mine. These could have been vents or piping of sediment into daylighted areas. I did see a bit of a low spot on a property that I speculated may have been a settlement feature associated with a ventalation shaft.

My company does environmental due diligence investigations, and while mine subsidence is outside the scope of that work we will say something if we think there could be an issue. There are other areas around Washington State where mining has taken place and subsidence from old mines has taken place particularly in the eastern King County area east of Seattle such as near the aptly named Black Diamond.

One final note, there is a national insurance program for damages caused by coal mine subsidence. The program is funded by a tax on coal. But a subsidence must take place first. It is generally a reactive versus proactive program.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Tsunami Policy in Washington State: Grays Harbor County, One Example

As a follow up on my long post regarding policy for tsunamis in Washington State yesterday I have a couple of quick adds. As I have noted many times on this blog, I try to be neutral. This blog ends on a decidedly non neutral note.

First:  Lyle alerted me to Callan's post on the AGU page regarding coastal subsidence along the west coast of Japan from the earthquake mountainbeltway/new-gps-vectors/. The critical part is that the Japan quake matches reasonably well with the evidence Brian Atwater has found on Washington State's outer coast.

Second: I looked up one local critical areas code for our outer coast, Grays Harbor County. Tsunami is not in the definitions section and there is no mention of tsunamis in the geologic hazard section. There also is no mention of alluvial fan hazards. Nor is there mention of coastal subsidence or any other seismic hazard beyond reference to the designing building to meet the uniform building code. Grays Harbor does have flood regulations that take into account high water from the ocean utilizing FEMA flood maps, but the tsunami hazard dwarfs the 500 year flood levels and the FEMA flood maps make no mention of tsunamis.
Google Earth view of Grays Harbor County on Washington State's outer coast
Grays Harbor County is predominantly heavily forested low mountains and hills. Most of the populations lives on the coast, along the shores of Grays Harbor, the drowned lower valley of the Chehalis River, and along the Chehalis River valley. Evidence of past tsunamis can be observed at many coastal estuaries along the shoreline including the spectacular ghost forest along the Copalis River in the northern part of the county SEE HERE

Most of the developed areas in Grays Harbor County developed well before there was any understanding of the seismic risk on the Washington State coast. Settlement by Europeans and Americans began in the early 1800s with settlement taking place along the inner shorelines of the bays. If local First Nations peoples said anything about giant waves, the stories may have been difficult to believe. As geologists began to understand plate tectonics and seismic events along convergent plate boundaries, the lack of earthquakes on the Washington coast became an interesting riddle. Brian Atwater postulated that there should be evidence of past quakes along the Washington coast and went to Grays Harbor County and found the evidence in the 1980s. Subsequent studies along the coasts of British Columbia and Oregon have built on our understanding of the seismic risk.

While Grays Harbor has yet to recognize tsunamis in the development regulations, the county emergency planners have been working hard to plan for the coming earthquake and tsunami event. The communities in Grays Harbor are well signed with tsunami evacuation route signs, tsunami warning sirens are more prominent than cell phone towers and there are routine community events. People in Grays Harbor are well aware of the risk.  

In addition to evacuation routes, Grays Harbor County as well as areas to the south in Pacific County have begun thinking about tsunami platforms as some areas will be difficult to evacuate within the short time between the big quake and the tsunami arrival. Elevated areas within the dunes on the sand spits may provide enough height along with a deeply bedded platform to protect people. And the platforms may provide great views for birders and other tourists. 
Elevated platform used for tsunami evacuation in Okushiri Island, Japan.
Tsnuami Platform. Photo courtesy ITC

Grays Harbor County has made great progress in emergency planning. People living there know what to expect and are as well prepared as anyone. But in terms of land-use planning within the county codes, tsunami hazards are note yet recognized. The Tsunami Hazard Map of the Southern Washington Coast (Walsh and others, 2000) closes with the following "This means that, while modeling can be a useful tool to guide evacuation planning, it is not sufficient resolution to be useful for land-use planning." Walsh and others note that horizontal errors of up to 165 feet and vertical areas on the order of 7 to 20 feet may be present in the model.

This problem with dead on accurate maps for planning purposes ought not to prevent some level of development planning. Look at the evacuation maps carefully and it should be noted that fire stations and police stations are located with the tsunami hazard area. Our federal, state and local governments invest large sums of money in public buildings. Land-use planning should at a minimum include the tsunami hazard risk for locating key government facilities as well as hospitals. And there is no reason not consider other types of development as well. Should nursing homes or child care facilities be developed with tsunami hazard zones? Circumstances will vary from community to community in how these difficult decisions should be made and how the risks posed will be dealt with. There is much to be learned from the Sendai, Japan earthquake and not only emergency planners but land-use planners should be looking closely at what worked and did not work in Japan. And we will never have dead on accurate maps of tsunamis, but we should have a pretty reasonable idea where the tsunami danger zones are based on the maps we have so far.  

Great Britain Prime Minister David Cameron said of the quake in Japan "a terrible reminder of the the power of nature”.  Too frequently events like this are viewed in that manner. From the perspective of living on the Cascadia subduction zone western Washington residents should be thinking this about the Japan quake “a terrible reminder of the cost of not planning well for an obvious risk.” From the dragging out the replacement of the Seattle viaduct to huge government subsidized development projects proposed within known tsunami hazard zones, Washington State and communities within Washington State are ignoring an obvious hazard at potential great cost in property, investment and lives.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Policy Considerations for Washington State Post Japan Quake and Tsunami

A year ago last January I did some exploring of the estuaries along the southwest Washington coast. At one point I stopped paddling of my boat and contemplated a pile of exposed rounded rocks exposed in the bank of the estuary. I was trying to figure out how the currents must have flowed to deposit a small area of grapefruit sized rocks in an otherwise muddy area. A sand layer from the tsunami deposit that I was tracing covered the rocks. I continued my paddle perplexed. Then I remembered we are living in the Anthropocene. The rocks were a fire pit buried by the great wave that swept inland over southwest Washington late one cold January night night in 1700. We need to get ready. 
Tsunami deposit exposed in estuary bank

Dead tree from subsidence cause by the great 1700 quake.

There is so much to learn from the most recent earthquake in Japan. Certainly nuclear fission reactor design and operators are having a learning experience. Not one that could be called remotely pleasant and alas for some very dangerous with signs that the reactor containment may be partially compromised at last update. The policy implications for this will be interesting to follow and global.  

In my own mind I have been developing comparisons between Washington State and northern Japan in terms of how does this seismic event relates to western Washington's tectonic situation. It is worth making some comparisons regarding the event in Japan and what could happen in Western Washington.

Tectonically western Washington and Japan are fairly similar. Both Japan and Washington are located on a convergent plate boundary with ocean floor plate subducting under Japan and the same in Washington. The major tectonic structure is essentially a major thrust fault with the ocean floor sliding under Japan and Washington. These types of plate boundaries produce the biggest earthquakes. How are they different? The ocean plate subducting under Washington is much younger than the ocean plate subducting under Japan. This might make a bit of difference as to where earthquakes take place and how deep earthquakes will be but only in a general way. There are likely some secondary effects and seismic events within the subducting ocean plate and overriding continental plate due to this age of crust difference, but again those are details for seismic geologists and the story of a big subduction quake is the same.

Perhaps the biggest question for Washington State is the possibility of a major subduction quake located off shore or the possibility that the quake might take place beneath the land area along the coast. Distance to epicenters matter greatly. This last event in Japan was 80 kilometers off shore. It was a huge quake but at least some distance separated the quake from cities and homes. I have not read of any coastal subsidence or uplift along the coast of Japan from this event and am very interested if that took place. On Washington State's outer coast large quakes causing substantial coastal subsidence is evident all along the coast. Location and depth of quake epicenters matters greatly and this question is one of great interest for seismic folks.

The ocean plate subducting under Washington State is subducting at an angle such that lateral forces on the upper crust come into play. This is the case in parts of Japan as well, but in other areas the collision is more direct. In areas where the collision is at an angle there are strike slip faults, normal faults and blind thrust faults inland from the subduction fault and that is the case in Washington and in certain areas of Japan. At a localized level these faults are just as dangerous or depending on proximity substantially more dangerous. A major off set along the faults cutting across Bainbrige Island will give nearby land a jolt much greater than the subduction zone quake. 

The bottom line is that there is plenty of evidence that Washington State will have similar types of large earthquakes that have impacted Japan and in fact these types of quakes should be expected and planned for in Washington State. 

The tsunami impact in Japan is simply shocking. We know that tsunamis associated with great quakes have impacted the Washington coast. It is abundantly clear that large swaths of coastal lowland areas particularly on the outer coast are very vulnerable. This information is not new. First Nations peoples on the outer coast had many stories of a great wave. The last large quake in Washington State took place in 1700.  Furthermore the images from Indonesia and Chile have previously reinforced the understanding of the risk facing Washington State as well as Oregon and British Columbia. But with the images from Japan, a country that has known tsunamis for centuries and even measured and recorded and planned for tsunamis, Washington State should learn some lessons. 

Some steps for tsunami planning have begun. For example some state money was set aside for construction of tsunami shelters on the Long Beach Peninsula due to lack of natural safe locations being near by. Maps showing potential tsunami inundation have been developed based modeling the big quake. A careful look at what happened in Japan suggests that for areas without nearby safe high ground much more should be done. Warning systems have been built and signs pointing the way for escape have been installed. I am not sure of the status of the shelters on Long Beach, but it is abundantly clear that they are needed and there are likely other locations where these facilities will be needed as well.  

In one very important regard, Washington State has a distinct advantage over Japan. At this point in time a lot less people live in potential tsunami hazard areas in Washington State than in Japan. Substantial changes will be required in land use planning and infrastructure investment to prevent substantial increases in population within tsunami areas. 

From a land use planning perspective, all coastal counties and counties within the inland water areas should recognize tsunami areas as geologic hazard areas within existing critical areas ordinances that are required under the Washington State Growth Management Act. Clear guidance for recognizing this hazard and requirements for areas within this hazard should be developed by the State and the State needs to require that regulations for these areas are adopted and enforced at the local city and county level. Recognition of various circumstances will need to be considered. For example, towns have developed within the hazard area already. Oysterville and other small communities on the far outer coast will do very poorly when the tsunami arrives shortly after the great quake. Even small cities such as Aberdeen and Hoquium should have carefully thought through regulations and plans that require recognition and planning for a very destructive tsunami event that will happen.

A somewhat similar approach has been followed by counties in Washington State regarding volcanic hazards. However, because of a lack of specific state requirements some communities have developed geologic hazard regulations that are silent on the volcanic risk or have code language that will allow far too much development to extend into locations that will be destroyed. I an not advocating banning all development, but consideration of development scale and types should be considered and a rationale should be developed as to what will be allowed and what won't be allowed. I will give one example. Whatcom County has a volcanic hazard area and certain types of development are banned within those areas and policies for planning have been developed that recognize that these areas are at risk and development in these areas should be limited.

While arguments can be made about recurrence intervals of large scale volcanic or tsunami events not warranting any additional precautions or regulations, those arguments should be made only after watching a few videos of the tsunamis that swept inland along the Japanese coast last week.

A final policy issue is where infrastructure investment takes place. Clear state policies as well as local and federal policies should discourage investments that encourage development in dangerous tsunami hazard areas unless there are specific compelling reasons for the development with few alternatives such as shipping facilities.

People get ready. We do not want to leave people bewildered and confused on a dark winter night like the First Nations coastal communities in 1700. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Liquefaction Clip from Chia City, Japan

Kat via a comment provided a great link by Brent Kooi, CNN reporter (thanks Kat). The tsunami clips have dominated the news but there is some other amazing footage. Kat asked if this sort of liquefaction could take place in reclaimed areas of Seattle. There are lots of liquefaction areas in Seattle reclaimed (fill on tide lands) areas as well as many other northwest cities. One of the reasons the Seattle viaduct needs to be replaced HERE. So watch this video and picture the viaduct supported by the soils seen in the video. Also note that at about 30 seconds into the video there is a view of a grass covered area and then a few seconds later another view. In the first view there is no water; in the second view there are puddles of water.

Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan - Early Thoughts

The Japan earthquake and tsunami is hard to take in. As a geologist who works on geologic hazards I want to learn what I can, but the issues raised by this quake extend well beyond a simple understanding of geology.  Large earthquakes are terrible events, but there is a lot to be learned. Geologists, geotechnical engineers, civil engineers, structural engineers and emergency responders all will study these events to try to learn lessons. I hope planners and those that make infrastructure funding decisions will learn as some lessons as well. Lots of lessons for Washington State as we live in a similar geologic setting.

As I digest things, I will write more later. This is an event that overwhelms a geo blogger. I noted a tremendous number of page views from last Friday's post indicating people want to know more, but I do have to work! Silver Fox provides a long list of sites to check HERE. Reuters, BBC, CNN and NY Times have done a commendable job.

A few early thoughts:

1) The areal footage of the tsunami waves was unprecedented as well as some on the ground footage. The images present a hard lesson but one that will be hard to ignore.

2) Large areas that were hit by the tsunami were far from high ground, required reaching high ground via driving and road routes to high ground were not direct. With less than half and hour to reach safety there was little time to escape and for some an impossible task. This takes us back to thought number 1 above. There is a lesson here that very much needs to be considered in Washington State in regards to planning.

3) The tsunami damage combined with the nuclear plant issues dwarf the more typical issues regarding earthquakes as far as building and infrastructure holding up to shaking. In looking at the tsunami wave footage, it appeared buildings were in good condition in general and bridges with wide spans built on alluvial material had withstood the shaking. I am sure there were failures, and where those failures took place and why will add to our ability to properly construct buildings and infrastructure to minimize death and injury.

4) The nuclear power plant issue is stunning. georneys.blogspot has an interview with her father, a nuclear engineer, that is nice cool headed alternative to the news and I must say very well done. But I suspect that this issue will have broad global impacts and have significant imapcts here in Washington State.

So a few early thoughts that I will write about at some future date - likely months from now!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Tsunami in Japan- Lots to Ponder for Washington State

On the east of of Japan the Anthropocene met a very non anthropogenic force. The deposits left behind by the tsunami will be markedly different than those in the past. Between the earth quake in Christchurch New Zealand and this most recent event in Japan there is much to be learned for residences of Washington State.

Location where most of the videos I have seen of the tsunami are centered near Sendai, Japan

Warnings have been issued for the Washington coast and other west coast areas of North America. The tsunami will have spread out and will be significantly weaker when it reaches the coast. I am particularly interested in how the wave will behave when it arrives at Discovery Bay. The shape of this bay makes it a bit more vulnerable. I have noted large wood on the shores at locations well above even the highest winter waves/high tides that I have speculated are tsunami related.

Entrance to Discovery Bay with Protection Island on the right and the low point is Diamond Point

Beckett Point, near the entrance to Discovery Bay 

Very old logs on the back beach at Beckett Point.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Evidence of the Anthropocene in Washington

The term Anthropocene was first suggested by Paul Crutzen, a Nobel prize winning atmospheric chemist. The term has not yet officially been adopted by the International Geologic Congress, but the term is being used more and more frequently and is becoming generally accepted. One question that will need to be resolved is when the Anthropocene epoch began. That is at what point did humans start to impact the planet so much that it warrants the delineation of a new epoch. And depending on the date determined, what will become of the current official epoch, the Holocene. Tricky stuff and likely great fun to argue about. Zalasiewicz and lots of others (2008) lay out many of the issues in a fun paper that also is a bit disturbing when you consider the impacts humans are having on the planet relative to geologic and atmospheric processes.

I will say that in my work as an engineering geologist trying to read the landscapes I see and figure out why the ground looks the way it does, I routinely distinguish between pre Anthropocene and Anthropocene events. Of course there are many natural processes that dwarf anything humans do, but the idea that humans are having more and more of an impact on the landscape is abundantly evident.

Water ski lake southeast of Blaine, Washington

The above lake caught my eye today while looking at another site in part because not only can the boat be seen in the lake but the water skier behind the boat can be seen as well. This lake is an Anthropocene lake. It is erosional feature. The eroded material was then deposited in linear parallel lines that can be seen on the lower left of the image. Or put in another way: gravel was mined down to below the water table to provide aggregate for the construction of Interstate-5 in the early 1960s. By that time the Anthropocene was well underway in Whatcom County and Washington State. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Almota, Washington and the US Supreme Court

Almota, Washington and the Snake River

I stumbled across this little legal tidbit regarding the little community of Almota, Washington and the US Supreme Court. Up front I am not an attorney, so my understanding of the importance of this case is limited. But the small, off the beaten path, location on the lower Snake River apparently became an important eminent domain case.

In the 1960s the US government was proceeding with building dams on the lower Snake River in Washington State. The building of the dams would lead to flooding of the railroad along the river. Hence, the government had to purchase the land. If a property owner does not want to sell, the government can take the land through eminent domain, but the government still must compensate the property owner. Fairly straight forward and one of the fundamental rights spelled out in the United States Constitution.

At Almota the railroad had leased a chunk of land to Almota Farmers Elevator. The elevator company had built grain storage and loading facilities on the leased land next to the rail. There was a bit over seven years left on the lease with the railroad. The government contended that just compensation for the property should be the fair market value of the legal rights possessed as of the date of the taking, and no consideration should be given to any additional value based on the expectation that the lease might be renewed. Almota argued that just compensation should be measured by what a willing buyer would pay in an open market for the leasehold. Almota further argued that it was more than reasonable to expect that lease would be renewed and all the improvements would remain past the time of the current lease on the site and hence the value of the improvements over a longer time period than that remaining on the lease should be considered in compensation. It would be hard to expect any other shipper wanting to use the lease. And it stood to reason that the railroad would want to continue to lease the land as the railroad profited by hauling wheat. The railroad and grain elevator company had been working mutually together for many years.

The question before the court was not if Almota was to be compensated, but what should be considered in determining the compensation. Almota's argument prevailed at the US Supreme court by a 5-4 decision. This case is one of several cases that have over the years refined how just compensation is determined. Essentially the value of the land subject to eminent domain must be considered as though a purchaser was buying the land with no thought toward eminent domain.

The grain shipping port at Almota set a precedent that is referenced in discussions and court cases associated with three party eminent domain cases. The three parties being the government, the property owner and the lessee. It is a narrow ruling and was a close ruling that the judges attempted to layout in a manner that would not be interpreted too broadly. Indeed on the very same day the court ruled compensation was owed only on condemned land and did not have to account for the extra value associated with holding grazing rights on adjacent land would have had on the condemned land.

So tiny Almota has its place in eminent domain jurisprudence. And it is still a place that is one stop in getting Washington wheat to world markets. New grain elevators were built and currently most of the grain is shipped by barge down the slack water pools of the lower Snake River. The railroad line has been replaced with a new line that follows the shore line.

Previous posts on Almota and wheat shipping getting-wheat-to-river and almota-washington-1882-and-2010.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Moses, an Epic Figure of 19th Century Washington

Sulk-tash-kosha (Moses), bronze medallion by Olin Warner, 1891

A few years ago I came across a set of bronze medallions at the New York Metropolitan Art Museum. The medallions were of famous northwest First Nations peoples. It was a rare glimpse at art of the late 19th Century era depicting images associated with what is now Washington State. I came across the same set of medallions at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art in December. Some of the individuals portrayed in the medallions were not only famous, but played a significant role in shaping what is now the landscape of Washington State. One medallion is of Chief Moses.

Moses Lake, both the City and the Lake are named after Moses as is Moses Coulee. Both interesting geologic features. The lake occupies a former Missoula flood channel downstream of the famous Dry Falls and other Missoula Flood channels. Moses Coulee is carved into the southern part of the Waterville Plateau as a result of the continental ice sheet diverting the Columbia River during the last glacial period approximately 18,000 years ago. Both of these features are located in central Washington in the area that had been Moses' homeland.

Moses' life spanned the American settlement of the far west of America and he lived through and played a significant role in nearly all aspects of the wrenching changes that swept his homeland and what is now eastern Washington. His general reputation is that he was peaceable, but that really is the result of a couple of key moments when he decided not to go to war. Moses was perfectly willing to fight and indeed at times he did.

In 1855 Washington's first territorial governor Stevens brought together Indians in western Washington for a treaty and then traveled to eastern Washington near Walla Walla for a treaty negotiation with eastern Washington tribes. Many tribal leaders participated and signed the treaty, but certainly not all and matters were far from settled when Stevens left the future state.

Moses was not happy with the treaty. And for good reason. The treaty would have extinguished his peoples claims to land they were living on. Post 1855 treaty, Moses is reported to have participated in battles near Toppenish fighting off soldiers attempting to quell the dissatisfied Indians. He along with several other Indians headed towards the Palouse to join the Spokanes and other non treaty tribes to fight off Colonel Wright's counter attack avenging the defeat of Colonel Steptoe in May 1858. But Moses arrived after the Spokanes and their allies were defeated. Wright definitely wanted Moses for Moses' actions against settlers and miners in eastern Washington, but Moses slipped away. It is very likely Moses would have been hung by Wright as one of his associates was hung.

After the Spokane War, Moses as well as most First Nations peoples kept a low profile and he kept his people in check allowing the passage of cattle drives from Oregon to the Caribou mining district in Canada through his land. The Civil War also allowed time to pass before a more active effort at resolving the issue of numerous non treaty Indian groups. Another factor may have been diseases including small pox that swept through First Nations peoples of the area in the 1860s greatly reducing the population and severely disrupting the cultures of the people.  By 1872 a new reservation was established in northern central Washington, the Colville Reservation. But Moses refused to agree to go to the reservation and remained part of the non treaty Indians attempting to hang on to their land.

Peace held even during the Nez Perce War as Moses declined to join Joseph's Nez Perce band's battles with the army and did not take advantage of the the otherwise preoccupied army. After Joseph was captured, Moses went to council with General Howard in 1878. Moses requested that the Columbia Basin northwest of a line running from Spokane to Yakima be set aside as a reservation for the Columbia Indians. Howard ordered no further white settlement and the request was forwarded to President Hayes. In 1879 Hayes turned down the request.

However, Hayes asked that Moses come to Washington DC. After Moses' trip to DC, Hayes ordered a new reservation to be created west of the Colville Reservation covering the west slope of the North Cascades. Hayes shortly afterwards extended the reserve to the south to the south shore of Lake Chelan.

This Indian Reservation was called the Columbia Reservation.  Look at a map today and there is no Columbia Reservation. It did not take long for objections to be raised. Initially geology came into play. The northern portion of the reservation was an identified mining district that had been overlooked. The northern 15 miles was subsequently removed by Hayes. Problems and objections to the Columbia Reservation continued including the fact that Moses was now living, not on the Columbia Reservation, but on the Colville Reservation. Hayes asked Moses to come to Washington DC again.

A couple noteworthy things can be said about Moses' trips to DC. One was on the first trip he had a pending murder charge against him that he was acquitted from after his return. Another was that his first trip required a steamer boat trip to San Francisco to catch the train to the east. On his second trip Moses was able to take a train from Spokane. While in DC Moses was asked if he and the other Indians he was traveling with would accept payment to be viewed on stage. Moses said of the event "We went and all we had to do was sit on stage, look wild, smoke a pipe of peace and give an occasional yell."

During the second trip Moses agreed to cede the Columbia Reservation in exchange for a sawmill, grist mill, cows, wagons, plows and a payment of $1,000 per year. The treaty was ratified in 1884. This agreement received a mix response by Columbia Basin and Cascade slope Indians. In fact there are bands of Columbia Basin Indians that never agreed to a treaty and remained off of reservations continuing to claim their land.

Moses lived on the Colville Reservation the rest of his life. He invited Chief Joseph and part of Joseph's band of Nez Perce to live near Nespelum with him. Perhaps he saw opportunity to gain more services and supplies for his people and Joseph's. Moses may have taken advantage of his leadership position, but he certainly never got a very good deal from the US Government. One last betrayal took place in 1891. Again geology played a key role. Gold and other minerals were discovered on the northern portion of the Colville Reservation. The government offered to buy the land from the tribes on the Colville Reservation for $1.5 million. Moses counseled "Yes, take the money because the whites would take the land anyway." He had seen the pattern before. The tribes of the Colville agreed to the deal. The money never came; Congress removed the funding from the budget.

The Colville Reservation is an interesting place and governing must be interesting with multiple tribes making decisions as a confederated group. Moses lived out his days on the southwest part of the reservation. Chief Joseph lived there as well and the two very different famous personalities made an intriguing pair that historians of that period frequently comment on. I am not sure I fully can ever understand the remarkable changes that took place during Moses' life or how he had to deal with those changes.

Besides the medallion depicting Moses, a bronze medallion of Joseph and other northwest Indians are hanging in the Smithsonian and the New York Metropolitan Museum. The story of the how the medallions came to be is for another post.

Sin-kah-you Chief Moses (seated on the left), Umatilla Chief Pee-peo-mox-mox (seated on the right) and two other delegates sent to Washington, D.C. to petition President Hayes in 1879

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Puget Ice Lobe Turns West

Blue arrows indicate glacial ice movement, red line marks approximate ice margin (click image to enlarge)

As glacial ice retreated from the Puget Sound the retreat stopped for a period when the ice had retreated back to approximately Coupeville on Whidbey Island. The direction of ice flow changed at that point from a north to south flow to a northeast to southwest flow towards the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The last ice flow direction can be seen in LiDAR image. South of the ice margin near Coupeville the land is streaked by the ice in a series of gentle north-south ridges. North of the ice margin near Coupeville the ridges are oriented toward the southwest marking the last glacial movement direction prior to the ice melting even further back.

The glacial lobe likely hung up at this location for a time after the ice spanning the entrance of Puget Sound collapsed when the lake that had formed south of the ice lobe in what is now Puget Sound drained out to the west. A lumpy area of kettles and moraine material can be seen in the LiDAR image immediately north of the text block indicating the glacial margin.  

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Windy Day and an Alternate Ferry Route to Orcas

Saratoga Passgae between Whidbey Island and Camano Island

Had to do some field work yesterday despite the wind. My first job was on a shoreline bluff on the east side of Whidbey Island and then I headed up to Anacortes to catch the ferry to Orcas Island. Due to the wind the ferry took an alternate route as shown on the map to avoid the southern end of Rosario Strait and the exposure to ocean swells rolling into the strait via the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Alternate ferry route to Orcas in red (Google Maps)

I enjoyed the alternate route as it gave me some views of islands and passages I had not seen before.

Cliffs on the east side of Cypress Island (named for junipers that are cypress like (juniperus maritima))

Tombolo connecting small island to Cypress

Cone Islands with Cypress in the background. Note balds on Cypress

Approaching passage between Cypress on the left and small Towhead Island on the right

Towhead Island with Lummi Island across north Rosario Strait in the distance

Eagle Cliff at the north end of Cypress during brief hail storm.
While named eagle the cliff has been a nesting site for falcons

Approaching Peavine Passage with Blakely Island on the left and Obstruction on the right.

Airport on Blakely. Numerous San Juan Islands are primarily accessed via plane

Rainbow near the end of the journey looking up East Sound with snowy Mount Constitution on Orcas Island

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Belated One Year Synopsis of Reading the Washington Landscape

I started this blog about one year ago with the idea of writing up thoughts on the Washington Landscape from observations I make while working and traveling about the state combined with some research I am doing on various aspects of Washington State landscape as well as ideas that just bang out of my head.  A few months ago I added tags to the posts to break the posts into general categories. In some cases posts receive multiple tags such as a recent post on Crescent Beach on Orcas Island.

One area that I have not posted much on explicitly is policy. Every now and then a post will have policy as a secondary issue and it is tagged as such. Often the policy issues are simply a way of understanding how policies influence the way certain areas have developed or not developed and those policies are from many years ago.

More recently I have delved into an ongoing policy issue regarding coal terminals. I hope I can bring a different angle on the issue based on my research or experience with public policy. I try as much as practical to be neutral on policy matters. In the case of coal terminals I have not expressed my own views on coal terminals and large scale shipping of coal overseas on this blog. I simply think fleshing out some of the issues are well worthwhile both for the proposed Longview facility and the potentially proposed Cherry Point facility. Understanding landscapes means sometimes you have to delve into how policies develop. Hence, I thought a perspective on PR campaigns was warranted for the Cherry Point coal terminal because it is actually taking place currently and may influence policy. I hope to bring more of that sort of policy posting in the future. For those that know my past political ventures, it is not as though I have fear of offending anyone on policy matters, but I do not want that to be part of this blog.

However, I may at times take noxious newspaper editors to task. Editorials that can not get their point across without disparaging community members or getting the facts right deserve opinions aimed at them - They should know better.

The other aspect of this blog I have enjoyed immensely is "meeting up with" the geology blog world. Very good for my professional development and learning and I hope that a few of my geology posts do the same. I do enjoy that the most read post I have done was on eskers. I post I wrote on Sumas Mountain and landslides over a year ago was viewed 60 times yesterday - Is someone doing a class project somewhere? Another post I wrote on pronghorns started getting lots of reads a few months after I wrote it. That caused me to get curious as to why and I found that Yakima Nation had released pronghorns on the Yakima Reservation.

Anyway I hope regular readers continue to get something out of this, and for geologists I hope to have some contributions in the near future.