It’s time to fix Hood Canal’s low-oxygen problemSeptember 2nd, 2009 by cdunagan
Hood Canal’s low-oxygen problems are greatest in Lower Hood Canal between Belfair and Hoodsport — and that’s where experts will focus their primary attention as they consider potential solutions.
As I describe in a story in today’s Kitsap Sun, computer models suggest that removing three-quarters of the human-introduced nitrogen may be required to remove Hood Canal from the state’s list of impaired water bodies.
How to remove that much nitrogen remains one of the toughest problems to answer. The model’s predictive abilities contains a degree of uncertainty even at a large scale. It cannot tell us how much nitrogen is being released from a specific home or group of homes.
It’s safe to say that different houses release different amounts of nitrogen, depending on the occupants and the setup of the septic system. For some waterfront homes, the drainfield is located behind a bulkhead, and a pulse of nitrogen-laden sewage goes out with every high tide. Other homes have drainfields in upland areas away from Hood Canal, where vegetation may take up a portion of the nitrogen.
Will fixing waterfront homes be enough? What about septic systems farther from the water? Does anybody still believe that every new home in the Hood Canal region — from Hansville south — should be equipped with a nitrogen-removing system?
What about other sources of nitrogen? Will some or all residents be asked to quit using lawn fertilizers? Can we do something about people who refuse to clean up their pet waste? Are there innovative ways to get nitrogen or plankton out of the water before problems erupt?
A wide-ranging group of scientists and other experts yesterday just touched the surface of the possibilities, and my story only touched on their discussions. The next step will be a presentation before the Hood Canal Coordinating Council, followed by more detailed considerations among subcommittees of the technical review group.
Three years of studies have answered a lot of questions about Hood Canal’s dissolved oxygen levels, but there remains a great deal of uncertainty about which steps will yield the best results.
I’m anticipating debates about whether we have enough information to act. But people need to realize that getting precise answers about an idea may take more time and cost more money than just doing it.