One of the goals established by the Puget Sound Partnership is
to improve freshwater quality in 30 streams throughout the region,
as measured by the Benthic Index of Biotic Integrity, or B-IBI.
Simply described, B-IBI is a numerical measure of stream health
as determined by the number and type of bottom-dwelling creatures
that live in a stream. My latest article published in the Encyclopedia
of Puget Sound describes in some detail how this index works.
Here’s the basic idea:
“High-scoring streams tend to have a large variety of ‘bugs,’ as
researchers often call them, lumping together the benthic species.
Extra points are given for species that cannot survive without
clean, cool water. On the other hand, low-scoring streams are
generally dominated by a few species able to survive under the
Because benthic invertebrates have evolved over time with salmon
and other fish, many of these important “bugs” are primary prey for
the fish that we value highly. Said another way, “healthy” streams
— as measured by B-IBI — tend to be those that are not only cool
and clean but also very good habitats for salmon.
The goal, or “target,” for freshwater quality was approved by
the Puget Sound Partnership in 2011, after consultation with many
experts. Many stormwater projects have been undertaken throughout
Puget Sound with the goal of cleaning up the runoff going into
streams. Those efforts are expected to result in improved water
quality. Still, not much attention has been given to zeroing in on
the B-IBI target itself or even finding 30 streams with a B-IBI
rating of “fair” that could converted to “good” with some extra
Experts are beginning to develop an Implementation Strategy for
B-IBI, which is expected to prioritize funding to improve water
quality in measurable ways. Details are still to come, but studies
by King County have begun to pave the way by identifying ideas for
restoring candidate streams. Check out
“Strategies for Protecting and Restoring Puget Sound B-IBI
It will be interesting to see what techniques rise to the top
for improving 30 streams throughout the region and how future
funding will be redirected to this new effort.
Restoring Puget Sound to a healthy condition by the year 2020 is
an unrealistic goal that needs to be addressed by the Puget Sound
Partnership, according to the latest performance audit by the Joint
Legislative Audit and Review Committee.
It’s a issue I’ve often asked about when talking to people both
inside and outside the Puget Sound Partnership. What’s the plan?
Are we just going to wait until the year 2020 and say, “Ah shucks;
I guess we couldn’t reach the goal.”?
Puget Sound Partnership, the organization created by the
Legislature to coordinate the restoration of Puget Sound, is on the
right track in many ways, according to the
preliminary audit report. But the Partnership needs to address
several “structural issues” — including coming up with realistic
goals for restoration.
Progress in restoring Puget Sound is measured by 37 different
indicators of ecological health. These are measures of water
quality, fish and wildlife populations, human health and so on. For
many of the indicators, an ambitious target was set — specific
numbers to be reached by 2020. That’s just 13 years after the
Partnership was created.
“Puget Sound recovery will not be complete by 2020,” states the
preliminary report. “Compared to other large recovery efforts, the
13-year recovery timeframe and related planning cycles are short…
The Partnership should submit a plan to the Legislature that
identifies and addresses needed revisions to the planning and
The report points out that other major ecosystem recovery
efforts have longer timeframes, if they have any at all. San
Francisco Bay has set goals for 35 years; Chesapeake Bay is listed
at 42 years and beyond; and the Great Lakes and Florida Everglades
have “ongoing” timeframes.
The problem is the timing, not the targets themselves, according
to the report, which notes, “The Partnership’s Science Panel has
stated that recovery goals may be achieved in a longer
Out of 37 indicators, four are likely to be reached by 2020,
according to the 2015 State
of the Sound report. Six others are at least moving in the
right direction. But four indicators show mixed results, six are
not changing, and five reveal that conditions are getting worse.
For the remaining 12 indicators, not enough data is available to
draw any conclusions.
While these trends don’t instill much confidence, some
indicators have turned around since the Partnership began to lead
the restoration effort. It’s interesting that habitat conditions
are improving in many places, yet indicators for fish and wildlife
populations are not doing so well.
Bill Ruckelshaus, the first chairman of the Partnership’s
Leadership Council, said he always had misgivings about setting a
firm date for the indicators.
“We knew almost from the beginning that those deadlines are not
achievable,” Bill told me seven years into the program. “It is a
problem I’ve been dealing with ever since environmental laws began
flowing out of the federal government.”
Ruckelshaus was the first administrator of the Environment
Protection Agency in 1970. Deadlines set by Congress required that
air pollution be largely cleaned up by 1975 and that water
pollution be stopped by 1983, he said.
“I remember testifying that if we dropped everything we were
doing in the federal government, including defense, that we still
couldn’t get it done. It was dooming us to failure.”
Ruckelshaus said he feels the same way about the 2020
“It will cause people living in Puget Sound to get discouraged,”
he told me two years ago. “And I think that is a huge problem in
this country, the lack of trust. We are on a path toward
improvement, and we will see results over time.”
Phil Rockefeller of Bainbridge Island was a state senator when
he helped craft the legislation creating the Partnership. He said
the governor at the time, Chris Gregoire, insisted on the 2020 date
— “to impart a sense of urgency.” Everybody knew that the work of
protection and restoration can never stop, even if the 2020 targets
could be met, he told me.
Sheida Sahandy, executive director of the Partnership, inherited
the 2020 deadline when she took the job in 2014. Her definition of
success was to get the indicators to show improvement by 2020, and
she made a point that cannot be overstated:
“Just the fact that things haven’t gotten worse is the result of
a lot of work,” she said. “You’re not seeing what would have
happened if we had not undertaken this effort.”
Sheida appeared before the JLARC on Jan. 4, when the preliminary
findings were discussed with the committee made up of both state
senators and representatives. Sheida said she agreed with nearly
everything presented by the JLARC staff. The Partnership’s formal
response to the audit is still to come, and the report won’t be
final until approved by the committee in September.
Also in terms of timing, the preliminary audit recommends less
frequent updates of two important reports from the Partnership. One
is the Action Agenda, which spells out actions for recovery. The
other is the Science Work Plan, which describes research needs to
be undertaken. Both plans are now scheduled every two years,
although most major ecosystem programs nationwide operate under
Changing the Partnership’s two-year planning cycles to four
years will allow the staff to focus on specific needs and projects
rather than continually planning for the next report, according to
the audit report. Legislation to accomplish that has been proposed
Bill 1121, which will be reviewed tomorrow (Thursday) by the
House Environment Committee.
Other recommendations listed in the audit:
Redefine the targets: In place of a final 2020
target with interim targets along the way, the Partnership should
update targets with both short-term and long-term goals. JLARC
staffers recommend that a plan with proposed changes be submitted
to the Legislature by December, which would allow the 2020 deadline
to be changed next year.
Expand the list of actions: The Action Agenda
focuses on so-called near-term actions, which last two to four
years. It does not describe how ongoing activities by state
agencies contribute to recovery, nor does it describe long-term
actions by federal agencies, tribes, local government or other
parties. “As a result, the full scope of actions and costs is
unknown,” the report says. The Office of Financial Management
should work with the Partnership to develop a plan to create an
inventory of all recovery actions, according to the audit report,
which recommends submitting the plan to the Legislature by
Improve ecosystem monitoring: Without adequate
monitoring, it is not possible to know whether actions had their
intended effects or if progress is being made toward recovery. The
Partnership’s current monitoring plan does not fully report on all
actions, nor is there a link between actions and recovery goals —
although this is beginning to change with Implementation
Strategies. (Check out the description of Implementation Strategies
in a story I wrote for the
Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.) The audit recommends that a new
monitoring plan be submitted to the Legislature by December.
One other area of concern is the carrot-and-stick approach,
which remains part of the state law under which the Partnership
operates — even though this provision is essentially ignored. To
comply with the law, the report says the Partnership should
evaluate the actions of partner organizations — which could include
agencies, local governments and private organizations. Partners
that make outstanding progress should be rewarded with preferential
funding. Partners that fail to comply with their responsibilities
should be identified and brought into compliance or else face the
loss of state funding.
From talking to folks within the Partnership, I believe there is
a reluctance to use either the carrot or the stick. Preferential
funding could be seen as favoritism. Calling out entities that fail
to do their jobs could alienate those most needed in the recovery
I’m not sure how much discussion has gone into this issue. But
if the Partnership is convinced that the carrot-and-stick approach
would be ineffective, it seems like this provision should be
removed from the law, allowing the Partnership to be in
A draft of a Federal Action Plan to protect and restore Puget
Sound is scheduled for completion before Donald Trump takes office
on Jan. 20, according to officials involved in developing the
The plan will help demonstrate that Washington state and nine
federal agencies are aligned in their efforts to recover one of the
most important waterways in the nation, according to leaders
involved in a new Federal Puget Sound Task Force.
The task force was created in October by President Obama, who
essentially elevated Puget Sound to a high-priority ecosystem, on
par with Chesapeake Bay, the Florida Everglades and the Great
Lakes, according to a
news release from the White House.
memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed among federal agencies
replaces a less structured MOU that was scheduled to expire next
year. The new agreement calls for a five-year action plan to be
completed by June 1, but a draft should be ready by Jan. 18,
according to Peter Murchie, who manages Puget Sound issues for the
Environmental Protection Agency and chairs the task force.
“Part of the goal is to have something in front of the
transition folks … that they can then shepherd through individual
budget and prioritization processes that they’ll be doing with new
leadership,” Murchie told the Puget Sound Partnership’s Leadership
Council two weeks ago.
Five major Puget Sound projects have been given the provisional
go-ahead by Congress in a massive public works bill signed
yesterday by President Obama.
It seems like the needed federal authorization for a $20-million
restoration effort in the Skokomish River watershed has been a long
time coming. This project follows an extensive, many-years study of
the watershed by the Army Corps of Engineers, which winnowed down a
long list of possible projects to five. See
Water Ways, April 28, 2016, for details.
In contrast, while the Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem
Restoration Project (PSNRP) also involved an extensive and lengthy
study, the final selection and submission to Congress of three
nearshore projects came rather quickly. In fact, the Puget Sound
package was a last-minute addition to the Water Resources
Development Act, thanks to the efforts of U.S. Reps. Rick Larson,
D-Lake Stevens, and Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, along with Sens.
Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.
Martha Kongsgaard, chairwoman of the Puget Sound Leadership
Council, has always spoken with a voice of both reason and passion
while guiding the Puget Sound Partnership in its efforts to restore
Puget Sound to health.
Yesterday and today, Martha attended her final meeting as a
member of the Leadership Council, the governing body of the
Partnership charged with coordinating Puget Sound ecosystem
While listening to presentations on technical and financial
issues, Martha always seems to quickly focus discussions on the key
issues of recovery while asking how to help average people
understand the complex problems.
As a reporter, I’ve enjoyed speaking with Martha, who not only
answers my questions in a direct and revealing way but also
indulges my curiosity. Our discussions often take tangents onto
other interesting subjects, sometimes leading to new stories or old
stories told in a new way.
Nobody doubts Martha’s love of Puget Sound, expressed by her
willingness to spend countless unpaid hours working for a better
It’s always nice when I can report a little good news for Puget
Sound recovery. For the second year in row, we’ve seen more
shoreline bulkheads ripped out than new ones put in.
After officials with the Washington Department of Fish and
Wildlife completed their compilation of permit data for 2015, I can
say that 3,097 feet of old armoring were removed, while 2,231 feet
Scientific evidence is mounting that bulkheads cause
considerable harm to the shoreline environment, affecting salmon
and many other species integral to the Puget Sound food web.
As I pointed out in a story published this week in the Encyclopedia of
Puget Sound, we cannot say whether the armoring removed has
restored more valuable habitat than what was destroyed by new
structures. But we can hope that’s the case, since state and
federal governments have targeted restoration funding toward high
priority habitats. They include shorelines used by forage fish,
such as surf smelt and sand lance, as well as feeder bluffs, which
deliver sands and gravels needed for healthy beaches.
One problem with the data, which officials hope to improve in
the future, is that we don’t know whether the new bulkheads being
built are the standard concrete or rock bulkheads or the
less-damaging “soft-shore” projects. Unlike hard armor, soft-shore
projects are designed to absorb wave energy by sloping the beach
and placing large rocks and logs in strategic locations. It’s not a
perfect solution, but it is a reasonable compromise where armoring
is truly needed.
A giant piece of a cedar log stands erect in a barren landscape
north of Silverdale, where a new channel for Clear Creek stands
ready to receive water.
Well, maybe this channel won’t be entirely new. Designers
working to restore this portion of Clear Creek studied old maps.
They tried to align the new man-made channel to the meandering
stream that existed 150 years ago, before farmers diverted the
creek around their fields.
During excavation, workers uncovered buried gravel — remnants of
the old streambed — along with chunks of cedar that had lain along
the edge of the stream. Buried and cut off from oxygen, these
pieces of wood survived for decades underground, while cattle
grazed in the fields above.
Workers excavating for the new channel used their heavy
equipment to pull out what remained of a great cedar log. They
stood the log vertical and buried one end in the ground — a
monument to the past and future of Clear Creek.
Chris May, manager of Kitsap County’s stormwater program, showed
me the new channel this week. He said it was rewarding to uncover
some buried history and realize that the stream would be restored
in roughly the same place.
“We found the old channel,” Chris told me, pointing to a deposit
of gravel. “We are pretty confident that we got it right.”
This $3-million project has been conceived and designed as much
more than a stream-restoration project. The elevations of the land
around the stream have been carefully planned so that high flows
will spill into side channels and backwater pools. That should
reduce flooding in Silverdale and help stabilize the high and low
flows seen in Clear Creek.
The engineers did not calculate the reduced frequency of
flooding, but floodwater storage is calculated to be 18.4
acre-feet, the equivalent of a foot of water spread over 18.4 acres
or 29,700 cubic yards or 6 million gallons.
In all, about 30,000 cubic yards of material have been removed
across 21 acres, including the former Schold Farm on the west side
of Silverdale Way and the Markwick property on the east side.
Native wetland vegetation will be planted along the stream and in
low areas throughout the property. Upland areas will be planted
with natural forest vegetation.
The topsoil, which contained invasive plants such as reed
canarygrass, was hauled away and buried beneath other excavated
soils to form a big mound between the new floodplain and Highway 3.
That area will be planted with a mixture of native trees.
Plans call for removal of 1,500 feet of an existing road with
upgrades to two aging culverts. Adding meanders to the straightened
channel will create 500 feet of new streambed that should be
suitable for salmon spawning.
Plans call for adding 334 pieces large woody debris, such as
logs and root wads to the stream. Some of that wood will be formed
into structures and engineered logjams to help form pools and
“This will be one of the first streams to meet the Fox and
Bolton numbers,” Chris told me, referring to studies by Martin Fox
and Susan Bolton of the University of Washington. The two
researchers studied natural streams and calculated the amount of
woody debris of various kinds needed to simulate natural
conditions, all based on the size of a stream. (Review
North American Journal of Fisheries Management.)
The elevations on the property were also designed so that high
areas on opposite sides of the stream would be in close proximity
in several locations.
“Beaver will pick that spot,” Chris said, pointing to one
location where the stream channel was squeezed by elevated banks on
each side. “We want to encourage beaver to come in here.”
Beaver ponds will increase the floodwater storage capacity of
the new floodplain and provide important habitat for coho salmon,
which spend a year in freshwater and need places to withstand both
high and low flows. Because the county owns the flooded property,
there won’t be any complaints about damage from beavers, Chris
Clear Creek Trail (PDF 390 kb), which begins on the shore of
Dyes Inlet, will be routed along the higher elevations as the trail
winds through the property. Three new bridges will provide vantage
points to watch salmon after vegetation obscures other viewing
areas from the trail. Viewing platforms, as seen along other parts
of Clear Creek Trail, were not included in this project but could
be subject to further discussions.
Count me among the many people — experts, volunteers and users
of Clear Creek Trail — who are eager to see how nature responds
when water (now diverted) returns to the new stream channel. For
decades, the lack of good habitat has constrained the salmon
population in Clear Creek. The stream still has problems related to
its highly developed watershed. But now a series of restoration
projects is providing hope for increased coho and chum salmon and
possibly steelhead trout as well as numerous other aquatic
In a story in the
Kitsap Sun, Reporter Tristan Baurick described work this week
on the Markwick property, where fish were removed in preparation
for final channel excavation.
Here are some details (including photos) of various Clear Creek
projects, as described in the state’s Habitat Work Schedule for
The Harper Estuary restoration project is finally coming
together, with one contractor being hired for culvert removal,
others bidding for the excavation work and engineers completing the
designs for a new bridge.
Since June, the first phase of the project has been divided into
two parts. The first actual construction will involve the
replacement of a 24-inch culvert that carries Harper Creek under
Southworth Drive. The new structure will be a three-sided,
open-bottom culvert that spans 16 feet across the stream.
Bids were opened, and a contractor has been preliminarily
selected, said Doris Small, project coordinator for the Washington
Department of Fish and Wildlife. A meeting has been scheduled for
Tuesday to iron out the final details and award the contract, she
The work must be completed by Oct. 15, so things will progress
rapidly, she said. An announcement will be made soon regarding a
temporary detour on Southworth Drive.
The remainder of the first phase involves the excavation of dirt
and other debris used to fill in the estuary years ago. The project
has been reduced slightly in size from the original design,
reducing water contact in certain spots, Doris told me. Also, an
analysis of the soils to be removed concluded that some of the fill
material is contaminated at such a low level that it can be used as
fill elsewhere or sent to a composting facility.
Bids will be taken on the excavation project until Sept. 13, and
the work must be done before the middle of February.
The design of a new 120-foot-long bridge on Olympiad Drive is
between 60 and 90 percent complete. Applications have been
submitted for several grants to complete the project, primarily
construction of the new bridge. The bridge will replace a 36-inch
culvert where the road crosses the estuary. The design includes
access for people to walk down to the water, and it can be used to
launch small hand-carried boats.
As I described in
Water Ways in June, the existing makeshift boat launch must be
removed to allow the restored estuary to function properly. I am
told, however, that county officials are still looking for a nearby
site to build a new boat launch with access for trailered
If grants are approved to cover the cost, the bridge could be
under construction next summer, Doris said. The total estimated
cost of the entire restoration is now $7 million, with $4.1 million
approved from a mitigation fund related to contamination from the
Asarco smelter in Tacoma.
It is fairly well known that the three pods of killer whales
that frequent Puget Sound are listed as endangered under the
Endangered Species Act. It is also well known that their primary
prey — chinook salmon — are listed as threatened.
It can’t be good that the whales are struggling to find enough
to eat, but we are just beginning to learn that the situation could
be dire for orca females who become pregnant and need to support a
growing fetus during times of a food shortage.
Sam Wasser, a researcher known for figuring out an animal’s
condition from fecal samples, recently reported that about
two-thirds of all orca pregnancies end in miscarriage. And of those
miscarriages, nearly one-third take place during the last stage of
pregnancy — a dangerous situation for the pregnant female.
In a story published today in the Encyclopedia
of Puget Sound, I report on Sam’s latest studies, along with
other work by a team of biologists who are using unmanned aircraft
(drones) to keep track of the physical condition of the Southern
Resident orcas, including pregnant moms.
Sam’s latest study involves measuring hormones in killer whales,
which can tell us a lot about a whale’s condition. The story of how
hormones change under varying conditions is a little complicated,
but I hope I was able to explain in my article how this works. When
adding the effects of toxic chemicals that mimic hormones, we begin
to understand the conditions that may be critical to the whales’
long-term survival or their ultimate extinction.
One longtime assumption, which may be shot down by the hormone
studies, is that the whales’ most difficult time for food comes in
winter, when salmon are generally scarce. These new studies by Sam
and his colleagues suggest that the greatest problem comes in the
spring, when the whales return to Puget Sound to discover that
spring runs of chinook salmon can no longer be found — at least not
in significant numbers.
The work with a drone carrying a high-resolution camera is
providing precise measurements about the length and width of each
killer whale. Pregnant females are especially interesting, and it
will be important to document whether physical changes observed in
the drone study can be correlated with hormonal changes seen in the
“We’ve moved toward some great sophisticated technology,” Lynne
Barre told me. “These great technologies combined can tell us more
than any one method can … such as when and where food limitations
might be affecting their health and reproduction.”
Lynne heads NOAA’s Protected Resources Division in Seattle and
oversees recovery efforts for the endangered Southern
By the end of this year, NOAA is expected to release its
five-year status report on the Southern Resident orcas. In addition
to reporting on many new findings, the document will re-examine the
risk of extinction for these killer whales and consider whether
actions proposed to help them have been carried out.
Last year, the Southern Residents were listed among eight
endangered species across the country that are headed for
extinction unless recovery actions can be successful. The eight,
selected in part because of their high profiles, are known as
“Species in the Spotlight.” In February, five-year action plans
were released for all eight species.
The plan called
“Priority Actions for Southern Resident Killer Whales” (PDF 2
mb) focuses on three primary factors affecting the whales’
survival: a shortage of food, high levels of toxic chemicals and
effects of vessels and noise. The concise 15-page document
describes some of the work being carried out on behalf of the
whales, although new ideas are coming forth all the time.
Puget Sound Partnership continues to struggle in its efforts to
pull everyone together in a unified cause of protecting and
restoring Puget Sound.
This week, the Puget Sound Leadership Council, which oversees
the partnership, adopted the latest Puget Sound Action
Agenda, which spells out the overall strategies as well as the
specific research, education and restoration projects to save Puget
The goal of restoring Puget Sound to health by 2020 — a date
established by former Gov. Chris Gregoire — was never actually
realistic, but nobody has ever wanted to change the date. The
result has been an acknowledgement that restoration work will go on
long after 2020, even though restoration targets remain in place
for that date just four years away.
A letter to be signed by all members of the Leadership Council
begins to acknowledge the need for a new date.
“As the scope and depth of our undertaking expands along with
our understanding, federal and state funding is on the decline,”
the letter states. “We’re increasingly forced into a position where
we’re not only competing amongst ourselves for a pool of funding
wholly insufficient to accomplish what needs doing, but we are also
feeling the impacts of cuts to programs supporting other societal
priorities as well. If we continue at our historic pace of
recovery, which is significantly underfunded, we cannot expect to
achieve our 2020 recovery targets.”
This is not necessarily an appeal for money to support the Puget
Sound Partnership, although funds for the program have been
slipping. But the partnership has always been a coordinator of
projects by local, state and federal agencies, nonprofit groups and
research institutions — where the on-the-ground work is done. That
much larger pot of money for Puget Sound efforts also is
“These are threats that compel us to action, fueled by our
devotion to place,” the letter continues. “We at the Puget Sound
Partnership, along with our local, tribal and regional partners,
have a vision of a resilient estuary that can help moderate the
increasing pressures of a changing world.
“How we aim to accomplish our vision is found in this updated
Action Agenda. For the next two years, this is the focused,
measurable and scientifically grounded roadmap forming the core of
the region’s work between now and 2020 and beyond.”
The newly approved Action Agenda is the outcome of a greater
effort to reach out to local governments and organizations involved
in the restoration of Puget Sound. Priorities for restoration
projects were developed at the local level with an emphasis on
meeting the priorities and strategies developed in previous Action
The latest document is divided into two sections to separate
overall planning from the work involved parties would like to
accomplish over the next two years. The two parts are called the
“Comprehensive Plan” and the “Implementation Plan.”
As determined several years ago, upcoming efforts known as
“near-term actions” are focused on three strategic initiatives:
Stormwater: Prevent pollution from urban
stormwater runoff, which causes serious problems for marine life
Habitat: Protect and restore habitat needed
for species to survive and thrive.
Shellfish: Protect and recover shellfish beds,
including areas harvested by commercial growers and recreational
Actions are focused on 29 specific strategies and 109
substrategies that support these ideas. Projects, which may be
viewed in a list at the front of the “Implementation Plan,” are
aligned with the substrategies.
“This leaner, scientifically grounded strategic recovery plan is
a call to action,” the letter from the Leadership Council states.
“We know that our restoration efforts are failing to compensate for
the thousands of cuts we continue to inflict on the landscape as
our population grows and habitat gives way to more humans.
“We know that salmon, steelhead and orcas — the magnificent
beings that in many ways define this corner of the world — are
struggling to persist as we alter the land and waters to which
they’re adapted,” the letter concludes. “And we know that warming
temperatures and acidifying seawater are moving us toward a future
that we don’t fully understand and are not entirely prepared for.
Hard decisions are ahead, and we’re past the point where additional
delay is acceptable.”