Farmers Fish Screens

The idea of fish screens seemed simple enough. Fish and debris get into man-made diversions on waterways (like canals and irrigation ditches), ruining the water for hydroelectric generators, drinking water, irrigation, and any number of different dedications. Why not, people thought, put a vertically metal screen at the intake to protect fish and provide water clean of debris?

Photo: Blayne Eineichner, CTWS

Photo: Blayne Eineichner, CTWS

The reality of fish screens proved less than perfect. Although in fewer numbers, fish were still being killed or seriously injured by those screens. Screens also needed cleaning often as water trapped debris against them. For the people who had to clear the debris that meant going out–at two in the morning, sometimes to remote locations or during winter snows or a combination of the three.

And occasionally floods washed away fish screens.

That’s exactly what happened to Hood River’s Farmers Irrigation District in February 1996. Flooding washing away all but one of the 34 fish screens installed only the year before. Without money to replace screens—that hadn’t worked all that well in the first place—the District reached out to potential allies in local fish agencies, who were unhappy with the damage fish screens did to fish.

Craig DeHart, General Manager, Middle Fork Irrigation District, at their Farmers Screen on Coe Creek (Mt. Hood).

Craig DeHart, General Manager, Middle Fork Irrigation District, at their Farmers Screen on Coe Creek (Mt. Hood).

That’s when cool things started happening. Engineers, farmers, district staff, agency personnel, and tribal leaders pitched in to help create a better design. They hit on a new idea: What if the fish screen was horizontal instead of vertical? Water would drop through the screens into the diversion while fish and leaves, twigs would travel in water over the top. The non-profit FCA now markets the screens.

This meant no more cleaning off debris in the middle of the night, no more shutting down hydro plants, more water for farmers, and hundreds of thousands of dollars saved per year (currently $479,200 saved per year, according to the FCA website). It also meant protecting endangered fish.

Not enough for you? Okay, there’s more.

In 2005 the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife was trying to put fish screens in at Badger Creek, two and a half miles into the wilderness. The plan called for 75 yards of cement in a location unreachable by heavy equipment.

For seven years the project remained in limbo – until ODF&W contacted the FCA, who told them about a modular Farmer Screens made of pre-fabricated steel sections and components that bolt together onsite. Modular Farmer Screens are made of pre-fabricated steel sections and components that bolt together onsite.Using a bed of compacted gravel and a back-fill of native materials, the project that was considered impossible was completed quickly, safely, and relatively inexpensively.

The Farmer Screens allow for installation of a hydro system by removing debris and fish from the system and meeting state and federal requirements. While the screens themselves don’t actually generate energy, there are incentives and programs to help develop in-conduit hydro-power (using water already diverted for another purpose). An example of this would be putting a turbine in water used for irrigation before it reaches crops, using the energy of the current to generate power. The FCA currently has nine screens that feed hydro-power systems.

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Nature Space Award: Oak Street Apartments

Photo by Jerry Giarraputo.

Photo by Jerry Giarraputo.

The vegetable and flower garden at the corner of Oak and 6th Streets is a big part of what makes downtown Hood River so appealing to visitors and residents.

C. J. Wertgen owns Oak Street Apartments at that corner. Around the perimeter of the building she created a garden filled with roses and peppers, lilies and artichokes, nasturtiums and carrots, squash and mums, sage and lemon mint and more. Steve Frazier, who has one of the apartments, helps garden and is part of the reason the roses are so successful.

C. J. Wertgen

C. J. Wertgen

C. J.’s daughter Lori Martinez nominated her garden for our Nature Space award.  We liked the garden and the fact that unlike other businesses C. J. even planted the area under the grating beside the street. It’s those extra things that make a place stand out. She wins one of Envirogorge’s $25 awards for places where people are creating places for nature.

This urban garden is open to all who drive or walk along the town’s main street. “I like the green,” C. J. says. “I like to see things grow. It’s my pleasure to share it.”

Posted in News, Wildlife Habitat | 4 Comments

Fire at Indian Creek site burns an acre

Aug. 22, 2014. Hood River. Saturday a fire burned about an acre on the east side of Tucker Road just north of Pacific Avenue. The blaze burned within 50 feet of Indian 3

The fire was quickly put out by Hood River and Westside firefighters.  A police spokesman said that at this time it is thought the fire was started when a kite hit nearby power lines causing them to arc and shower sparks down into vegetation. ODOT owns the land. This site is of special significance to Envirogorge as it our “Adopt a Landscape” site, a program of ODOT where businesses or citizens take care of section of ODOT’s land.  Envirogorge publishers Susan and Jurgen Hess began work on this site in 2000, planting the site with native plants for wildlife habitat and shading Indian Creek, which crosses the site midway. Indian Creek Trail, popular with walkers and runners traverses the site’s lower edge.
Fire remediation planning will start immediately–focusing on erosion control and re-vegetation. Photo Jodi Ashley.

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Rosauers’ solar power 3 years in

Owning a business is expensive and energy is often a big part of the cost of doing business.

Hood River Rosauers solar panels. Mt. Adams in background.

Hood River Rosauers solar panels. Mt. Adams in background. Photo: courtesy of Rosauers Supermarkets.

Three years after installing solar panels on the roof of their Hood River, Oregon store, Rosauers Supermarket is on its way to saving money, providing sustainable energy, and maintaining customer approval.

In 2011, Rosauers installed a 15,000-square-foot solar panel system—enough to cover three small city lots. The panels cover about 60 percent of the store’s roof. The Hood River store was first of Rosauers 22 stores to install solar panels and first in the Oregon to use Oregon’s Solar Incentive Program.

“The local reaction has been incredible!” said Rosauers Supermarkets Director and Facilities Manager, Ken Groh. “Positive comments about the solar panels during our re-grand opening have continued to the present time.”

Positive feedback may be attributed to how Rosauers keeps customers informed about the system’s performance.

The dashboard. They installed a large in-store solar dashboard on a flat screen monitor near the checkout area. A dashboard, like a car dashboard, gives performance information. Rosauers solar dashboard gives updated information on how much energy the solar panels produce hourly, weekly and monthly – and with historical comparisons. “Our customers enjoy looking at the dashboard,” said Groh. Customer satisfaction is just one of the benefits.

How much energy. On average, U.S. grocery stores use 52.5 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity per square foot annually and pay upwards of $200,000 in energy costs, Energy Star reports. The Rosauers Hood River store is just over 50,000 square feet. Groh says the solar panels currently produce about 98,000 kWh per/year.

We can guess that the panels generate around 4 percent of supplemented energy, which amount to around $80,000 per year savings.

Solar power is one of the fastest growing alternate energy sources available. After all, sunlight is free and will continue to be so until the sun burns itself out.

The payback. Groh declined to say how much the initial investment was, but he says the panels will pay for themselves in 10 years. To some, that may seem like a long time to wait for return on investment, but as electricity prices increase, solar electric systems will save the store more money over time.

Federal tax incentives in tax credits help pay for commercial systems. Solar panels are likely to maintain their value. Once they purchased, the operation and maintenance costs are low.

Solar Nation installed Rosauers system. Solar Nation is no longer in business. Hire Electric in The Dalles now does any maintenance on the solar panels.

More energy saving. Besides solar panels, Rosauers recycles paper and plastics, has energy management systems in their stores, and recycles their deli and produce waste. The store buys energy efficient lamps and LED lights.

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Rowena Fire

untitled-8450Photos by Jurgen Hess.
Aug. 8. At 9:30 a.m.  Gov. John Kitzhaber flew in and was briefed by Rowena Fire incident commanders.  The fire started Tuesday night and has grown to 3,372 acres. Gov. Kitzhaber said he was impressed with speed the fire moved. John Buckman, Incident Commander, said the fire moved 3 miles in 3 hours. It is currently 35 percent contained. 659 firefighting personnel are at the fire.

untitled-7919 The fire is the number one priority fire in the nation, Mitch Taylor spokesperson for Oregon Dept. of Forestry, told media representatives because it is threatening The Dalles.One ranch outbuilding was burned and a single-wide mobile home was damaged by the fire. 740 residences are threatened at this time.

Today to help control the fire, a  helicopter crew dropped fuel ‘pingpong balls’ to move the fire down a slope toward Hwy. 30. “We are fighting fire with fire,” Taylor said.

Helicopter crew drop pingpong balls with chemical fuel

Helicopter crew drop pingpong balls with chemical fuel

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Nature Space Award: White Salmon Community Partners

Jewett Street plantingsA narrow garden extends several blocks along Jewett Street separating the shops, restaurants and offices from the street. Julia DeArmond nominated downtown White Salmon, Washington urban street garden.

“I enjoy the planting strips for the feeling of vitality it brings to the main streets of town,” Julia says. “I appreciate my city prioritizing beauty in this way.”

We at Envirogorge agree with Julia. The plantings create a colorful and welcoming atmosphere to the downtown. This street garden also stands out because of the partnership between community volunteers, businesses and the City of White Salmon. We’re awarding White Salmon Community Partners our second Nature Space Award.

The City originally planted the strip and even had a gardener who maintained it. Then  around 2009 the city hit a water shortage and discontinued caring for it.

“The plants went to pot,” says Lloyd DeKay. The trees survived but the flowers and shrubs were in sad shape.

When the city resolved the water crisis, he and Celynn VanDeventer stepped up to take over. “We wanted it to look beautiful,” he says, “so we decided we could do this.”

The volunteers and businesses that joined them formed into a group called Community Partners and went to work restoring the blocks-long five foot wide the planting strip.

Celynn VanDeventer and Lloyd Dekay tending Jewett Street plantings

Celynn VanDeventer and Lloyd Dekay tending Jewett Street plantings

The partners put in a drip irrigation system that the city provided. Downtown businesses and citizens donated money to buy new plants. Today, five years later, the plants are thriving. Bees, spiders, and birds use it—demonstrating the health of the narrow ecosystem.

Several times a year Lloyd and Celynn put out a call for a work day.

“The community takes care of it,” Celynn says, “even people 10 miles up Snowden help. We did this because we wanted people to see that White Salmon is a beautiful place to visit. We want it to be inviting.”

Community Partners added more projects: painted salmon in downtown crosswalks, hired an artist to paint murals on fencing that blocks a couple of empty lots, and bought colorful banners for the light poles.

“Over the past five years there’s been a massive increase in community pride,” Lloyd says. “The whole community has gotten much more excited about downtown White Salmon. The town is beginning to stand out as a little gem.”


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Recycling batteries

If you’ve ever tried to include dead alkaline (or other) batteries in your curbside recycling bin, and had them left behind by the collection crew, you probably share a common frustration.

You think: These things include chemicals, and metals, and they can’t be good for the environment. What can I do with them?

Dave Henne displays some of the batteries that people have dropped off over the last 5 months at Radio Shack on the Heights in Hood River.

Dave Henne displays some of the batteries that people have dropped off over the last 5 months at Radio Shack on the Heights in Hood River.

Options have grown. Several businesses in the Gorge are running their own battery recycling efforts. One – Radio Shack on Hood River’s Heights – is helping provide drop-off options for residents.

About a year ago, store owner Dave Henne started accepting drop-offs from customers. He’s got about five months worth of batteries awaiting transfer to the next hazardous waste collection date.

You and I could collect and deliver our own waste batteries, if we chose to (or could remember). But because there are only four hazardous waste collection dates per year, the year-round drop-off option at a place such as Radio Shack provides a lot of convenience for people with small volumes of batteries, according to David Skakel, program coordinator for the Tri-County Hazardous Waste & Recycling Program.

Next collection time. He says either he or Susan Hess ( editor) will pick up the batteries from Radio Shack and drop them off at the transfer station on hazardous waste days. The next collection date is from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 15 in Hood River, and the same hours Aug. 16 in The Dalles.

What goes where. Skakel says lead-acid batteries (the type typically found in cars, or uninterruptible power sources for computers) can be taken to the transfer station any day of the week.

“Anything that says PB on it stands for lead-acid,” he says.

Other rechargeable batteries such as nickel cadmium and lithium need to go through the hazardous waste collection.

Why the change in battery recycling. Skakel says manufacturing changes have reduced concerns about toxicity.

“The key issue now is with resource shortages,” he says. “Global companies are starting to sober up to this from a profitability motive. They’re running out of feedstock and materials for manufacturing.”

In short, it’s cheaper and easier to tap a recycled resource for rare earth metals than to seek and extract them from natural sources.

Because those metals are critical to defense and electronics applications, they also become a matter of national security. Recycled sources minimize pressures to militarily pursue natural resources.

Skakel applauds domestic battery manufacturers for taking the lead on recycling for the last 20 years. They even sought legislation in Oregon that would have mandated recycling – an effort to bring off-shore battery makers into the recycling fold — but push-back from the computer industry squashed that initiative.

Small batteries are worth money.

Small batteries are worth money.

Henne says Radio Shack used to have a national program of recycling batteries, but the requirements for packaging and shipping made it onerous on retailers, so he stopped taking part. The local program has been a nice alternative.

Skakel says alkaline batteries – the type we install in flashlights, smoke detectors and portable radios – don’t have much resource for recycling. He says Tri-County now collects them and sends them off for use as fuel in steel smelting.

Small battery market. Chris Strader and his wife, Julie, owners of Hood River Jewelers, have collected watch batteries for years. When he has four or five pounds, he ships them off to a refinery in Georgia, and they send him a check for the value of the reclaimed metals.

“The money is in the silver,” he says. “There’s a small amount of silver in the batteries. But it’s mostly stainless steel.”

Still, little bits add up. And, after all, it’s the thought that counts.

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Nature Spaces awards: 2014

Manja Warner's garden.

Manja Warner’s garden.

Every year in the house’s tiny front yard  a profusion of plants and flowers grow. It’s an old-fashion garden. It would be lovely anywhere, but it stands out here because it sits in the middle of a commercial strip on Hood River’s 12th Street.

This spot inspired me to start an award program for similar places: yards or gardens or farms where people are making an effort to create places for nature. Twice a month July through October I’ll be giving out a $25 cash or gift certificate.
The first award goes Manja Warner who creates the 12th Street garden. She receives a $25 gift certificate to Farm Stand grocery.

Manja says people often come up to her and say how much they like the garden. “The most frequent comment,” she says, “is that they love to watch the garden change from one season to the next and from one year to the next.” Some people ask for starts or give her a start from their own gardens.

Two bees in California poppy

Two bees in California poppy

In the back yard Manja developed a square foot garden. You step through a side gate and the busy street disappears into a lush landscape. Her gardens are popular with bees, butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds.

This is the second award she’s won for her garden. In 2000 her garden won $2000 from the National Garden Association’s school garden program. At that time she had a preschool and the children developed a garden for the senses: taste, scent, texture.

If you’d like to nominate someone, email I’ll be looking for places with no or minimal lawn and giving preference for those using native plants.

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The Gorge Wilderness Areas: The Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness

Eagle Creek Trail heading into Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness. Photo: Jurgen Hess

Eagle Creek Trail heading into Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness. Photo: Jurgen Hess

The Columbia River Gorge is home to some of the most diverse and dynamic natural landscapes in the nation.

In it are  basalt cliffs,  grasslands at its east end,  temperate rain forests west,and holds a host of rare plants and animals.

Fortunately, its wilderness areas are just as distinct.

Gorge residents are spoiled with quantity – access to seven wilderness areas within close driving distance dappled throughout Washington and Oregon, mainly lining the Cascades. Washington’s gorge area wildernesses include: Trapper Creek, Indian Heaven, and Mount Adams. Oregon’s are: Mount Hood, Badger Creek, and Lower White River and Mark O. Hatfield.

Both states make the top 10 list of states with the most wilderness acreage. Washington beats out Oregon with 10% of protected land (4,463,093 acres) while Oregon contains 4% of its land in wilderness (2,476,115 acres).

Wilderness trail. Photo: Jurgen Hess

Wilderness trail. Photo: Jurgen Hess

Although acreage means more protected spaces of wilderness, it also means more places in which to feel truly detached from the industrialized world; helping to nurture an adventuresome spirit and provide true freedom and solitude in nature.

Mark Hatfield understood this better than some. He was instrumental in the preservation and expansion of one of Oregon’s most beautiful wilderness areas.

As an Oregon senator, he championed the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act through Congress in the 1980’s. The Scenic Area is recognized as a national resource and protects rare plants, forests, wildlife, farmland, ancient Indian rock art, as well as cultural and historic sites.

He also pushed for the expansion of the Columbia Wilderness from 1978-1984 which since has been one of the largest wilderness expansions. In 1996, Congress renamed the it the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness in tribute to him.

Tripple Falls In the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness. Photo: Susan Saul.

Tripple Falls In the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness. Photo: Susan Saul.

President Obama further expanded the wilderness in 2009, by signing a new wilderness bill into law creating new boundaries–stretching from Larch Mountain and Multnomah Creek on the west to Mount Defiance on the east.

The Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness is located east of Portland, Oregon and parallels the Columbia River. It features over 65, 822 acres of wilderness and some 200 miles of trails–including 14 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail.

The trail system can be accessed from the south at the Wahtum Lake trail head, Rainy Lake Campground, or Indian Springs in the Mt. Hood National Forest; or from I-84 in the Columbia Gorge via the Eagle Creek Trail, Tanner Butte, Herman Creek and Nick Eaton Ridge trails.

Because of its proximity to Portland and stunning location, this wilderness is a favorite of Portlanders, gorge residents and visitors. It’s popular for hiking, camping, horseback riding, and fishing. A true legacy of Mark O. Hatfield, this wilderness is cherished by all and a gift to future generations.

At the top of Chinidere in the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness. Photo: Susan Saul

At the top of Chinidere in the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness. Photo: Susan Saul

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Get your float on with earth friendly gear

When it comes to the environmental impacts – and benefits – of paddle sports products, John Hart has jumped into the river and bobbed downstream with some of the most innovative manufacturers in the industry.

Owner since 2000 of the Kayak Shed in Hood River, Hart once worked in product design and development with Patagonia. That brand earned early props for its work sourcing organic cotton, reducing waste and avoiding harmful chemicals.

Shortly after Patagonia bought Lotus Designs, a maker of paddle sports life jackets, Hart headed north, while the former Lotus owners three years later started Astral Buoyancy in North Carolina. They wanted to make water-play products with low environmental footprint.

John Hart shows off some recent shoe designs from Astral Buoyancy. Photo: Stu Watson

John Hart shows off some recent shoe designs from Astral Buoyancy. Photo: Stu Watson

These days, Hart is happy and proud to stock Astral life vests and shoes. He has watched as the company aggressively worked to move its vests away from polyvinyl chloride foams, which kick out toxic chemicals during production, and as they degrade.

Cheap, flexible, functional, PVC products often incorporate phthalates to impart flexibility. But pthalates have been implicated in a variety of health problems. The Centers for Disease Control, for instance, notes that phthalates can affect human reproductive activity, and developmenet of reproductive systems in children.

If you want the micro-detail, check out this summary from the Environmental Protection Agency about the different types of phthalates . Tests continue to assess possible carcinogenic properties.

Hart notes that Astral loops backward and forward in its design efforts. For instance, it moved from PVC to the natural fiber, kapok, in its vests. Kapok was the standard for shipboard life vests for most of the 20th century.

Although it molds well to the body, the supplies of kapok proved of inconsistent quality, so Astral moved on. Research led Astral founder Philip Curry to a Taiwanese company, Winboss , which makes Gaia NBR (nitrile butadiene rubber) foam.

Old-school foam vest (left) and the latest (right) from Astral Buoyancy. Photo: Stu Watson

Old-school foam vest (left) and the latest (right) from Astral Buoyancy. Photo: Stu Watson

Gaia contributes far fewer volatile organic compounds to the atmosphere, and doesn’t involve the chlorine and phthalates associated with other foams.

“We are constantly working to find new methods and materials to make outdoor products more sustainable, so we can enjoy the outdoors for generations to come,” said Yonton Mehler, general manager at Astral Buoyancy.

We wouldn’t want to leave the impression that Patagonia and Astral are the only innovators and that the Kayak Shed is the only retailer celebrating earth-friendly design REI educates its consumers about flotation options), as does Mountain Equipment Cooperative.

Hart says the Astral folks are also evolving the materials used in their footwear. Next up? Use of recycled tire treads. Huaraches, anyone?

Stu Watson worked for more than 20 years for several Northwest newspapers and magazines, before starting freelance work in 1997.

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