The Chronicle - Centralia

Study to investigate impact of wildfire on drinking water quality in the Pacific Northwest

Amid increasing wildfires, Gonzaga University will study  the impact these environmental disasters have on drinking water quality in the Pacific Northwest.

Conducted in partnership with Montana State University, the study is funded through an $850,000 U.S. Forest Service grant.

The project examining how public water systems can better prepare for wildfires is part of a larger partnership between Montana State and the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station, led by Montana State faculty. The Gonzaga portion of the research will be led by civil engineering Professor Kyle Shimbuku.

Water is contaminated from wildfires primarily when fire leaves behind charred material that is later washed into a river or lake following a storm. This contaminated river water can move far away from where the original contamination occurred.

"Wildfire could still impact water systems that don't seem close by the fire and might not expect to be impacted," Shimbuku said.

The ash and sediment can can have a large impact on aquatic ecosystems, as well as accumulate in drinking water . The sludge and potential carcinogens created through this process require greater resources to treat before drinking.

With the study's results, Shimbuku hopes water treatment in the Pacific Northwest can more easily adapt to increasing wildfire. One treatment method they plan to study is the use of activated carbon, which is used in Brita filters to remove contaminates.

"We are investigating how technology like that could really improve the resilience of a water system to a potential wildfire and provide  more flexibility in the event of a wildfire," he said.

The study also will look at how much these wildfires  cost water utilities and how government can prepare for impacts in the future.

Taking place over the next four years, researchers likely will begin studying the Cedar Creek watershed in Oregon and the Mackenzie River watershed in Washington. Later, researchers may return to study groundwater systems in Spokane and Eastern Washington, according to Shimbuku.

The long-term impact of wildfire on waterways is an immediate concern in Spokane County following last year's Oregon Road and Gray fires. It is unclear what impact the fires have had on local water quality, though debris has appeared to have contaminated several lakes.

Medical Lake Mayor Terri Cooper, who chairs the Spokane Region Long Term Recovery Group, said it's unclear exactly what will need to be done after debris entered both Medical Lake's namesake body of water and nearby Silver and Clear Lakes. The City of Medical Lake is seeking a $29 million water and sewer project to get homes on the west shore of Silver Lake off of private wells, septic systems and drain fields.

"My efforts at the state and federal level is for immediate debris removal at government expense," Cooper said.

Federal budget could cut Washington state's tsunami research funding

As coastal towns work to build evacuation towers — or ponder over them — and relocate schools and buildings with hopes of surviving a tsunami, the only escape for some communities, as it stands today, is to move to elevated slopes or hills before the water arrives.

In the last few years, scientists with the Washington Geological Survey have equipped people on the front lines of a tidal wave with knowledge about getting to high ground in the form of maps showing how long an evacuation would take depending on location.

The scientists coupled the maps with projections of wave arrival time following a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake, which could reach 9.0 in magnitude, based on different geographic locations.

Although most places in Grays Harbor and Pacific counties are now more tsunami ready than just a few years ago, officials say the research needs to continue despite potential funding cutbacks.

In a Jan. 31 letter, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz called on Richard Spinrad, the top official at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to maintain federal funding for the program that allowed her agency, the Washington Department of Natural Resources, to produce the tsunami resources.

"We're going to see tsunami waves within 30 minutes, right here," Franz said Feb. 23, standing on the beach approach at the north end of Ocean Shores. While time varies depending on where the subduction zone ruptures, waves could arrive in Ocean Shores as quickly as 15 to 20 minutes. "That means we need people to be aware of where to go, how fast to run, where can they get to safe ground."

NOAA's 2024 budget request of $6.8 billion omits appropriations to the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program, which helps states research topics related to tsunami preparedness.

The program was created in 2007 through Congress' Tsunami Warning, Education and Research Act, and receives about $6 million annually. That includes a little more than $700,000 for Washington state, according to Franz.

Franz wrote that the program is "critical to support our coastal communities to stay prepared for tsunami threats and minimize potential catastrophic loss of life and property in the future."

"We're asking for the appropriation we've been getting every single biennium to continue so that we can map the entire coastline, so every community up and down the coast is aware of the risk," Franz said in an interview.

Attempts by The Daily World to contact NOAA's office of oceanic and atmospheric research were unsuccessful.

In 2018, scientists with the Washington Geological Survey modeled potential tsunami inundation in Southwest Washington, showing how much water would fill coastal towns during a tsunami. Later they did the same for saltwater-adjacent areas from Bellingham to the mouth of the Columbia, in the event of both a Cascadia quake and a rupture of the Seattle fault.

They also released video animations showing the modeled behavior of tsunami wave energy on the coast and in Puget Sound.

Most recently, in October 2023, the Washington Geological Survey released new evacuation walk times for seven areas on the state's north coast from La Push to Copalis Beach, including several tribal communities. Similar maps were produced for Aberdeen, Hoquiam, Cosmopolis and Westport in 2019, as well as Ocean Shores in 2022.

To make the maps, geologists use tools developed by the U.S. Geological survey that calculates walking speeds based on different types of terrain.

For some areas of Grays Harbor, Willapa Bay and the northern Olympic Peninsula, a 2014 tsunami brochure, which does not model walk times, is the most recent location-specific evacuation information.

"We have a long way to go," said Maximilian Dixon, an outreach supervisor with the Washington State Emergency Management Division. "We still have a number of areas along our 3,000 miles of coastline that need pedestrian evacuation walk maps."

Dixon said the state emergency management division applies for federal grant funds each year through the program and administers a portion to the Washington Geological survey. The funding is "absolutely essential" and provides "basically all of the tsunami work and all of the projects for tsunami risk reductions in Washington state," he said.

It took about a decade, Dixon said, to produce generic models for Cascadia. But the 700-mile-long fault, which last ruptured more than 300 years ago, has the potential to slip in more ways than one, producing different levels and types of threats. And Cascadia is not the only potential source for a tsunami on the Washington coast.

With future research, Washington geologists could examine which tsunami threats are most likely to occur and at what intervals, Dixon said, which will help emergency managers make better decisions to keep people safe.

"That's going to be a great product," he said. "It's an update. The science, and our ability and technology, are changing, and we're going to be able to do that now. But that's going to take a whole number of years to do."

At the same time, the location of high ground on the coast is constantly changing as communities build vertical evacuation towers. When the Shoalwater Bay Tribe completed a tsunami structure in Tokeland in 2022, the state updated evacuation routes to reflect the new safe haven, which cut walk times by one-third in some areas. The city of Westport recently received federal funding for a tower in its marina district and wants to dot the South Beach peninsula with several more.

Although the national tsunami program has maintained support for close to 20 years, this isn't the first time funding has been uncertain.

Dixon recognized the challenge for NOAA to maintain funding for its many research projects and programs.

"Tsunamis are not at the top of the list, in a lot of ways, because they don't happen very often, unlike hurricanes and floods and other weather-related hazards," he said, adding, "They're catastrophic when they do happen, but they don't happen very often."

Washington residents haven't paid income tax in years, but a new initiative hopes to keep it that way for good

OLYMPIA — Washington residents packed into a government hearing room Tuesday afternoon, asking lawmakers  again to officially outlaw income taxes in the state.

Washingtonians have not been required to pay income tax in almost a century, thanks to a 1933 decision by the state Supreme Court that ruled an income tax to be unconstitutional unless it's applied uniformly.

The public hearing was called over a new citizen-led initiative to ban any income tax. Thousands of people signed in either for or against the initiative. Of them, about 90% reportedly support it.

The hearing was the first of three scheduled this week for three initiatives backed by Let's Go Washington, a political action committee dedicated to repealing laws passed by the Democrat-led state Legislature. Brian Heywood, a business owner from Redmond, Washington, has bankrolled the initiatives, spending more than $5 million to get them on the November ballot.

If passed, Initiative 2111 would put a new law on the books that would ban the state along with cities, counties and other local jurisdictions from taxing any form of a resident's personal income.

Supporters are pushing lawmakers to adopt the initiative, arguing it will help protect state residents from any income tax in the future. Those opposed argue the initiative is a waste of time since it won't make any actual changes.

Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, sponsored Initiative 2111. At Tuesday's hearing, he testified before the committee, saying the initiative's sole purpose is to "codify in law the state's longstanding tradition of not having an income tax."

"We have a system, a three-legged stool of property tax, sales tax and a business and occupation tax," Walsh said. "The spirit of this legislation is to focus on that good system and to not cloud our fiscal policy with other sorts of proposals."

Voters in the state have vetoed income tax proposals several times since 1933, according to the Washington Secretary of State. Most recently, it happened in 2010 when voters rejected an initiative that would establish a state income tax for residents with annual incomes greater than $200,000. The 2010 initiative picked up support from 36% of voters, while 64% voted "no."

For years, Washington had the most upside-down, regressive tax code in the country, testified Dylan Grundman O'Neill, a senior analyst with the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. But progress has been made recently to make things more equitable, he said. Grundman argued Initiative 2111 is unnecessary and could "hamstring" future efforts to continue to repair the state's tax code.

Two more Let's Go Washington-backed citizen initiatives are on the docket for public hearings Wednesday. Initiative 2113 concerns the potential overturn of a law limiting when police can chase suspects in their cars. The other, Initiative 2081, would create a "bill of rights" to make parents the primary stakeholders in public education.

A legislative committee is scheduled to vote on all three initiatives Friday. Washington's 2024 legislative session is set to adjourn March 7.

Man in custody after committing three robberies in three days in Western Washington, police say

A man accused of committing three robberies in three days in Bellingham — stealing from the same store on two separate occasions — is now in custody.

Corin Tristan Beauvais, 29, first stole from a marijuana shop in the 100 block of East Maple Street on Feb. 22, according to Bellingham Police Lt. Claudia Murphy. He allegedly reached past the counter while at the store and took a bag of marijuana valued at $100.

When employees attempted to stop him, they said he threatened to stab them in the face, Murphy told The Bellingham Herald.

The second robbery occurred at the same store two days later. Murphy said Beauvais stole two bags of marijuana valued at $40 each and fought his way past an employee and another customer.

The third robbery took place one day later on Feb. 25 just after 7 a.m. Beauvais allegedly went into a store in the 1200 block of North Forest Street and stole a handbasket full of merchandise valued at $482.23. Beauvais punched a store employee in the face who tried to stop him, Murphy told The Herald.

Police later found Beauvais in the 1200 block of North State Street and identified him as the robber, according to Murphy. Officers said Beauvais matched the description of the man who robbed the marijuana store on Maple Street and appeared to be wearing the same clothes, Murphy said.

Beauvais was arrested on suspicion of two counts of second-degree robbery and one count of first-degree robbery. He remained in custody at Whatcom County Jail as of Tuesday, February 27, according to jail records.

Florida couple drove to Washington state to kidnap baby, prosecutors say

A Florida man posed as an Amazon delivery driver as part of an elaborate plan made with his female accomplice to kidnap a baby girl from her family's Federal Way apartment last week, according to King County prosecutors.

Marryl Ardila-Urrego, 33, and Chun Ho Vincent Lai, 42, were pulled over Feb. 20 on eastbound Interstate 90 just west of Moses Lake, Grant County, about 3 1/2 hours after snatching the 7-month-old girl and assaulting her mother, prosecutors say. The baby was unharmed and returned to her parents.

"This case is extraordinarily unusual," Senior Deputy Prosecutor Jennifer Phillips wrote in charges filed Thursday against the couple, who share a residence in Lake Worth Beach, Fla., about 60 miles north of Miami.

The baby's mother is Ardila-Urrego's cousin, and she and Lai "came to Washington for the explicit reason of taking this baby, by force," Phillips wrote.

No clear motive is referenced in charging papers, which say it appears Ardila-Urrego and Lai targeted the family "because they were known to the defendants and known to have children." The charges note there's "no evidence that mental illness or substance abuse contributed to this crime."

The Florida residents have each been charged with first-degree kidnapping, robbery and burglary and accused of forcing their way into the family's apartment and taking the infant, two cellphones and a tablet. They have also been charged with second-degree assault, accused of attacking the baby's mother, and second-degree assault of a child for allegedly harming the baby's 2-year-old sibling.

Further, prosecutors allege several aggravating factors: the child victims were particularly vulnerable and incapable of resistance, the crimes had a destructive and foreseeable impact on people other than the victim and the offenses involved a high degree of sophistication or planning. If proven to a jury, those factors could provide a basis for an exceptional sentence above the standard range.

The baby's mother told police Ardila-Urrego said she had purchased a bed frame for the 2-year-old and notified the mother that it would be delivered Feb. 20 to the new residence the family had moved into just over a week earlier, the charges say.

The woman said she heard a knock on her door after her husband had left for work that morning, looked through the peephole and saw a man, later identified as Lai, holding an Amazon box and clipboard, according to the charges. When she opened the door, Lai repeatedly punched her in the face, knocked her to the ground and bound her wrists and ankles with zip ties as a woman, later identified as Ardila-Urrego, came inside the apartment, say the charges. Ardila-Urrego held the mother down as Lai retrieved the baby, the charges state.

Lai put the baby in the Amazon box, then pushed the child's mother into a bedroom with the 2-year-old, where he used baby clothes and tape to gag the woman, the charges say. He's alleged to have closed the bedroom door and left.

After the mother managed to free her ankles, she discovered her baby was gone and ran outside with her toddler, where maintenance workers cut the zip ties from her wrists and a neighbor called 911, according to the charges.

The baby's grandfather told police and FBI agents that he suspected Ardila-Urrego was involved in the baby's abduction because she had been persistent in asking for his daughter's address, which was unusual because Ardila-Urrego isn't often in contact with the family, the charges say.

Neighbors' security cameras captured footage of a man and woman arriving at the apartment complex in a white sedan and getting out with an Amazon box, then returning to the car with a red bag, the charges say. The car did not have a front license plate.

FBI agents tracked Ardila-Urrego's cellphone and learned Lai owned a Honda Insight. Records from an automated license-plate reader showed Lai's Honda had been in Tukwila the day before, in the same location as Ardila-Urrego's cellphone, the charges say.

The cellphone information was relayed to the State Patrol, and a trooper conducted a traffic stop on the Honda just after 1 p.m., arresting Lai and Ardila-Urrego and rescuing the baby, according to the charges. The trooper sent a photo of the child to police, and her parents confirmed her identity.

The location where Lai and Ardila-Urrego were arrested is roughly 180 miles east of Federal Way.

Ardila-Urrego and Lai each remain jailed in lieu of $750,000 bail. They are scheduled to be arraigned March 7 at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent.

Puget Sound Energy proposes hefty rate hikes to pay for hydro and wind power

Puget Sound Energy, the state's largest provider of electricity and natural gas, proposed its two-year rate hike to the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission this month.

Under the proposal, the typical residential electricity customer would see a monthly bill increase of $7.84 starting in 2025 and an additional $11.20 in 2026. The typical natural gas customer would see a $13.96 increase in 2025 and $1.51 in 2026, according to the utility.

The increases would amount to increases of about 17% and 20% over two years for residential electric and gas customers, respectively, according to PSE.

PSE must have any rate increases approved by the utilities commission, which reviews them in rate case proceedings that can take up to 11 months. The commission may choose to set and structure the rates differently.

The utility is arguing that the plan is necessary to provide safe and reliable energy to its 1.5 million customers, and the rates are intended to pay for a variety of investments, including around $430 million in upgrades to its hydroelectricity dams on the Baker River and a $530 million wind farm in Montana that will power 83,000 homes in 2025.

The utility's last rate case in 2022 was contentious as the utility, environmental groups and the utilities commission discussed how to cut emissions equitably. PSE has said that it will have a steep path to climb to comply with the state's two landmark laws intended to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change: the 2019 Clean Energy Transformation Act and the 2021 Climate Commitment Act.

The laws require utilities to transition toward carbon-free or non-emitting sources of electricity and meet emissions targets, among other requirements. To comply, PSE will need to shift away from natural gas and coal, which made up nearly half of its electricity generation in 2022.

To meet that goal, PSE has said it will need to acquire 6,700 megawatts of renewable or non-emitting generating power by 2030, which is more than what the utility has acquired in its 150-year history. The utility is now advocating for a bill in the Legislature that would allow it to possibly combine its gas and electric ratepayers, among other changes the utility argues are necessary for its clean energy transition.

In its last rate proceeding, the commission and the utility ultimately agreed to an increase of $4.88 and $1.33 per month for the typical residential natural gas customer in 2023 and 2024, respectively, and $8.73 and $1.43 for the typical residential customer.

Also included in that settlement was a pilot program that would offer financial incentives for around 10,000 PSE customers to switch from gas to electric heat.

According to PSE, natural gas energy use declined 7% for residential customers and 3% for commercial users between 2022 and 2023 because of a combination of factors including improved energy efficiency, building code changes and warmer winters.

Washington state announce new investments to help asylum-seekers

SEATTLE — King County and the city of Tukwila announced two new separate investments Tuesday to assist asylum-seekers living in the region in need of shelter and support.

King County announced a one-time $1 million grant to South King County nonprofits that provide temporary housing, food, support, and legal services to families and individuals. Tukwila will pay for and stand up a large, heated tent on the Riverton Park United Methodist Church property that will be able to hold up to 100 people to provide better shelter to asylum-seekers who are currently living outside there.

The Tukwila church has found itself in the center of this crisis after immigrants first started showing up to its doors back in December 2022. Since that time, the church has sheltered more than 800 people, according to church leader Pastor Jan Bolerjack, with people sleeping in almost every corner of the church as well as camping in tents outside.

"While this additional $1 million in funding will help in the near term, the full-scale response and infrastructure needed for this ongoing situation requires additional federal leadership and partnership with the state," said King County Executive Dow Constantine.

To qualify for the county's new $1 million grant, nonprofits have to be able to provide "new or expanded housing and related services that will lessen the negative impact on asylum-seekers living unsheltered, such as day centers, hygiene services and emergency shelters," according to the release.

The county will host an information session on March 4. It's currently accepting applications until March 12.

The current Washington legislative session could provide some additional relief.

Gov. Jay Inslee has asked for more than $8 million in his supplemental budget to support this population. The Senate and House of Representatives introduced their separate budgets last week that include more.

The Senate is asking for $5 million for the state Office of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance and an additional $5 million to go toward helping to house people living in Tukwila.  Meanwhile, the House included more than $25 million for the Office of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance and included an additional $5 million to King County and $2.5 million to Tukwila.

The House proposal is most similar to what advocates have asked for.

The Legislature is anticipated to pass a final budget by the end of next week. Funding would become available in July.

Living conditions at the church are deteriorating as more people arrive every week and there's little available help while asylum-seekers await a slow legal process until they can receive their permits to work and start earning money to afford housing.

The new tent is starting to go up in the church's paved parking lot Tuesday, said Pastor Jan Bolerjack, leader of the Riverton Park church.

"It should keep the vermin out and the warmth in," Bolerjack said.

The city of Tukwila is hoping to have the tent ready for people to move in by Friday, said Brad Harwood, spokesperson for the city of Tukwila. He said it is estimated to cost the city around $215,000 and is permitted to be up for six months.

Tukwila Mayor Tom McLeod echoed Constantine that more aid is needed "to be done at the state and federal levels because this ongoing humanitarian crisis isn't going away."

King County offered up $3 million in December to move some of the most vulnerable people, including women and children, living on the Riverton Park church property into 100 hotel rooms in nearby SeaTac.

It took until Feb. 1, according to King County spokesperson Chase Gallagher, to fill every room.

About 350 people are there now and their stays are currently guaranteed through June, according to the county's news release Tuesday.

Seattle also recently agreed to pay for more than 100 asylum-seekers to stay in two hotels for about a month who were previously living on the Riverton Park Church property. The city confirmed Tuesday that its money ran out as scheduled.

Karissa Braxton, spokesperson for the city of Seattle, said that hasn't necessarily led to immediate homelessness for the guests.

"It is our understanding that Riverton Tukwila Church and philanthropic donors have generously agreed to provide additional funding for several extra days at a hotel to support the group's preparation for relocation, as requested," Braxton said via email.

Bolerjack confirmed Tuesday afternoon that her church has offered $25,000 to help people stay in hotels as long as possible.

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