Category Archives: Seattle

Don’t panic!

We were up on Mount Rainier last weekend, doing some snowshoeing up at Paradise and hiking a bit lower down. There is a lot less snow than usual, both a thinner snowpack and a higher snowline. And around here, snow = drinking water…. So back home today I took a look into the SNOTEL data and it’s pretty bleak:

SNOTEL snowpack mapWow, the central Cascades have only nine percent as much snow as “normal” for this time of year. Last winter, when drought seemed to be on everyone’s radar, a wet February brought conditions back up to normal. But we’ve had a warmer winter, and that hasn’t happened this year. So why is nobody panicking?

The WA Department of Ecology’s current drought watch is a bit confusing. They’ve requested drought-emergency funds be set aside, the forecasts predict a warm and dry spring that will exacerbate the problem, and yet they say “Ecology and [the Water Supply Availability Committee] at this time are not anticipating widespread water shortages in Washington in 2015.”

Farmers will know more in the next couple of weeks as determinations are made regarding irrigation uses. Here in the city, though, we’re actually in really good shape. There’s been a decent amount of precipitation this winter — just mostly as rain, not snow — and Seattle’s main municipal reservoirs are filling nicely (I haven’t found quantitative data yet). Unlike some parts of the West where the snowpack itself is the primary reservoir storing water, Seattle has dam-and-lake reservoirs so we’re not directly dependent on snowpack.

So the bottom line is: Don’t panic! Yes, we have very little snow — but plenty of drinking water.


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Filed under Seattle, water

The costs of being green

It’s not easy being green — and it turns out it’s not cheap, either. This certainly isn’t what I expected to find when I started looking into the costs of waste disposal in Seattle.

Trash and organics picked up throughout the city are first taken to one of two transfer stations, North (in the Fremont neighborhood) or South (in the South Park neighborhood). The North Station is temporarily closed and being reconstructed, so as of this writing everything is going via the South Transfer Station. From there, Seattle’s trash travels over 300 miles, by train, to the Columbia Ridge Landfill in Eastern Oregon (view map). Organics are split between two composting companies, Lenz in Stanwood, WA (60mi from the South Transfer Station, or 50mi from the North Transfer Station; view map), and PacifiClean outside Cle Elum (98mi from either transfer station; view map). Recycling is taken directly to Rabanco, in SODO (the neighborhood SOuth of DOwntown), which for much of the city is a shorter haul than the South Transfer Station. Continue reading

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Filed under biosolids, compost, garbage, recycling, Seattle

Heating with electricity vs. gas?

Here in Seattle, we have some of the cheapest and cleanest electricity in the country (hydroelectric dams cause their share of environmental problems, but don’t produce greenhouse gases). This got us thinking about the common wisdom, which says that it’s more efficient to heat your home with natural gas than electricity. But does that still hold for the Pacific Northwest?

I started digging around for data (no surprise to anyone who knows me…) and was able to calculate the cost and greenhouse-gas emissions of these two heat sources. Continue reading

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Filed under energy, Seattle