Ashley Ahearn

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Skagit River Water Dispute
6:55 pm
Mon December 15, 2014

Court Case Is The Latest Battle In Water Wars Of The Skagit River

It might be wet this time of year in the Northwest, but that hasn’t stopped an ongoing battle over water in Washington’s Skagit river valley.
Credit pfly / Flickr

Richard and Marnie Fox wanted to build a new house on their land but they couldn't get a building permit. The Foxes took legal action and their case will go before a judge on Tuesday.

The state said there was not enough water in the area to support anymore new residences without endangering salmon, especially during the drier parts of the year.

Richard Fox walked out to his back field with his leather hat and raincoat on. A bunch of sopping wet cows looked at him, vaguely curious. His backyard was flooded. 

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Orca Calf Missing
7:43 am
Wed October 22, 2014

Newest Endangered Orca Calf Missing, Presumed Dead

A calf born this year to a resident Puget Sound orca has not been seen recently and scientists think it may have died.
Credit EarthFix

Orca enthusiasts rejoiced when a newborn calf was spotted seven weeks ago. But as of this morning the endangered killer whale calf has not been seen.

L120 was the first calf born in the past two years. Over the weekend, the calf’s mother was spotted three times, without her baby. Orca experts believe the calf is dead, though no carcass has been found and it's unclear how it died.

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Seattle Train Tunnel
6:46 am
Thu October 9, 2014

Seattle's Great Northern Tunnel Turns 110 Years Old

Great Northern Tunnel South Portal
Credit Joe Mabel / Wikimedia Commons

If you've ridden a train to or from Seattle you have probably passed through the heart of the city via the Great Northern Tunnel.

This month, the tunnel turns 110 years old.

Back in the fall of 1904, when it was finished, the mile-long tunnel was the tallest and widest in the United States.

Local historian Michael Sullivan tells the story:

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Climate Change
5:27 pm
Tue September 23, 2014

CO2 Not To Blame For Climate Change In The Northwest?

The Oregon Coast in Woods, Oregon. A new study says that the change in wind patterns are causing warming temperatures.
Credit Patrick M / flickr

Changing wind patterns are to blame for warming temperatures in the Northwest, according to the study. Climatologist James Johnstone was the lead author, and he says, "Basically all of the warming in the Northeast Pacific ocean has been wind driven."

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Puget Sound
8:02 am
Fri September 19, 2014

Shellfish Tell Puget Sound's Polluted Tale

Credit Ingrid Taylar / Flickr

Scientists are using shellfish to conduct the broadest study of pollution levels in Puget Sound. Filter-feeders, like mussels, provide a snapshot of the contaminants along the shores of the Sound. And … in some areas, they’re pretty contaminated.

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Coal Risks
5:47 pm
Wed September 17, 2014

Is Coal Dust Risky? Scientists Are Looking Into It

Scientists are studying the effects of coal on the surrounding environment after it leaves the train.
Credit Mark Herren / Flickr

Coal has been transported around the country by rail for decades. But very little research has been done on what coal does to the environment when it escapes from trains.With two large coal export terminals proposed for Washington state, one federal agency is hoping to add good science to the debate over coal in the Northwest.


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Wildfires
6:37 pm
Thu September 11, 2014

Models Project 3X Increase In Probability Of Large Fires In The Northwest

Credit National Interagency Fire Center

Fire season in the Northwest is winding down for this year.

But scientific models suggest that with climate change, the region can expect more large wildfires in the future.

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Elwha Dam Removal
8:06 am
Tue August 26, 2014

A Trip Down The Un-Dammed Elwha River

Now that the dams are gone, rafters are enjoying the changing Elwha River.
Credit Ashley Ahearn / EarthFix

This week the Elwha River – on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula – will flow freely once again. Two dams blocked the river for more than 100 years.

But thanks to the largest dam removal project in U.S. history, the lower dam is completely gone and the last 30 feet of the upper dam should be blown up Tuesday.

Our EarthFix reporter, Ashley Ahearn, headed out to the Elwha and reports that the river is returning to life.

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Water Quality & Fish
5:26 pm
Wed July 9, 2014

Governor Inslee Announces New Water Quality Plan

The federal government says people eat fish about once a month, rainbow trout is a common catch for fisherman and is found throughout the northwest.
Credit Roger Tabor (USFWS) / Flickr

Washington Governor Jay Inslee has just released a new plan to improve water quality in the state. One measure of how clean your water is, is how much of its fish you can safely eat.

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Railway Whistleblowers
7:43 am
Wed July 2, 2014

Workers Question Safety Culture Of Railroad Hauling Volatile Crude Oil

BNSF Railway, the second-largest freight network in the U.S., is at the center of the boom in crude by rail. The railroad touts its commitment to safety. Current and former workers question the safety culture on the ground.
Credit Michael Werner / EarthFix

Crude oil shipments by rail increased by more than 80 percent, nationally, last year.

Most of it is coming from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota. That crude is more flammable than other types of oil, and has been shown to catch fire and explode when trains derail.

More than 15 trains of Bakken oil move through some parts of the Northwest each week, en route to refineries and terminals in Washington and Oregon.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway transports the majority of that oil.

The company regularly touts its commitment to safety.

But an EarthFix investigation reveals some troubling patterns in the way BNSF Railway deals with whistleblowers – particularly those who voice concerns about safety.

Ashley Ahearn reports for EarthFix. EarthFix’s Tony Schick contributed to the reporting for this story.

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