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.
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.
Big Beef Creek, which flows into Hood Canal near Seabeck, will
soon undergo a major wetland renovation that should improve the
survival of coho salmon and steelhead trout.
Other work, which started last year, involves placing large
woody debris in the stream to create deep pools for salmon to cool
off and rest before continuing their migration. The wood also will
help to form new spawning areas for coho, fall chum and the
threatened summer chum of Hood Canal.
Big Beef Creek is an unusual stream, one with a personal
connection for me. In the late 1970s, I lived at Lake Symington, a
man-made lake built years before by impounding Big Beef Creek. A
few years ago, my wife and I bought a home with a tiny tributary of
Big Beef Creek running through the property.
To get a lay of the land, I ventured along the stream and
through the watershed in 1999, meeting many people along the way
and gaining a new respect for Big Beef Creek — known as the longest
stream contained entirely within Kitsap County. Check out my story
for the Kitsap Sun called
“The Watershed.” Much later, I wrote a
Water Ways blog post about the creek beginning with, “It is the
best of streams; it is the worst of streams,” with apologies to
Today, the $1.2 million habitat transformation is taking place
in the lower portion of the stream, just upstream from the estuary
where people go to watch bald eagles soar. (Check out this week’s
“Amusing Monday.”) The project is on property owned by the
University of Washington’s Big Beef Creek Research Station. Work is
under the direction of Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group, a
division of Pacific Northwest Salmon Center.
Site work will expand an 11-acre wetlands by five acres and
reconnect the wetland complex to the stream channel. Coho, which
remain in freshwater for the first year of life, will find a safe
place to stay during the low flows of summer and the fierce floods
“Coho rely on streams with complex habitat, including pools and
shade with good water quality,” said Mendy Harlow, executive
director of the salmon center. “In this project, we are focusing on
the lower one mile of stream.”
Removing an access road along with 1,600 cubic yards of fill
will restore two of the five acres of wetlands and open up the
floodplain. The other two acres come from excavating some 4,500
cubic yards of fill from an elevated area where old storage
buildings were removed last year.
In last year’s work, 10 man-made logjams were created where
excavators could reach the creek. At the end of this month,
helicopters will be used to place another 13 logjams in sections of
the stream that could not be reached by land.
In a coordinated fashion, the helicopters also will be used to
place logjams in Little Anderson Creek, which drains into Hood
Canal just north of Big Beef. Little Anderson Creek, which
Newberry Hill Heritage Park, previously received several loads
of wood in 2006 and again in 2009.
Both Big Beef and Little Anderson are part of an
“intensively monitored watershed” program, in which experts are
attempting to measure the extent to which habitat improvements
increase salmon populations. It is not an easy thing to figure out,
since salmon runs vary naturally from year to year. Still, over
time, the improved spawning and rearing conditions should be
Other restoration work is planned on Seabeck Creek, while Stavis
Creek will remain unchanged as the “control stream” for the Hood
Canal complex of intensively monitored streams.
Fish traps placed in the streams monitor the out-migration of
young salmon smolts, while a permanent fish trap at Big Beef Creek
is used to count both smolts and returning adults. For each stream,
biologists also count the number of redds — mounds of gravel where
salmon have laid their eggs — to determine if conditions are
The improved wetlands and floodplain on Big Beef Creek will
allow the stream to move among several historical stream channels
as sediment loads build and decline over time. Strategically placed
wood will provide complexity wherever the stream chooses to go,
according to Mendy, who has been working toward this project since
“I’m really excited about it and look forward to the changes,”
she said. “The phase of work going forward this summer is the
Sarah Heerhartz, habitat program manager for Hood Canal Salmon
Enhancement Group, said improving the wetlands will not only help
fish but also birds that favor wetlands. The stream will have room
to move and spread out, she said, and some of the sediment from
upstream sources will drop out before reaching the estuary.
“The floodplain is going to be a big boost for coho fry to smolt
survival, because that will open up a lot of rearing habitat for
juvenile coho,” Sarah told reporter Ed Friedrich in a story written
The stream restoration is not expected to affect work at the UW
research station, which continues to play a role in salmon studies,
including efforts to improve hatchery conditions. In 1999, I wrote
about the efforts to restore a run of summer chum on Big Beef
Creek. Take a look at
“Reviving a salmon run.” Unfortunately, the resuscitation
effort has not been entirely successful, but there are new hopes
that this summer’s stream repairs will give a boost to the summer
chum as well as the coho.
The long-running controversy over Washington state’s water
quality standards for toxic chemicals is nearly over. We will soon
know just how pure the water must be to get a clean bill of
We still don’t know whether the Environmental Protection Agency
will approve the new state standards adopted this week or impose
more stringent standards that EPA developed for several key
pollutants. The EPA has already taken public comments on its
“We believe our new rule is strong, yet reasonable,” said Maia
Bellon, director of the Washington Department of Ecology, in a
release. “It sets standards that are protective and achievable.
With this rule now complete, we will continue to press forward to
reduce and eliminate toxics from every-day sources.”
For more than two years, much of the controversy focused on the
fish-consumption rate — an assumption about how much fish that
people eat. The FCR is a major factor in the equation used to set
the concentration of chemicals allowed in water before the waterway
is declared impaired. (See early discussions in
Water Ways, Nov. 11, 2010.)
Initially, after plenty of debate, the state proposed increasing
the FCR from 6.5 grams per day to 175 grams per day — a 27-fold
increase. The initial proposal counter-balanced the effect somewhat
by increasing the cancer-risk rate from one in a million to one in
100,000 — a 10-fold shift. Eventually, the state agreed to retain
the one-in-a-million rate.
As I described in
Water Ways last October, some key differences remain between
the state and EPA proposals. Factors used by the EPA result in more
stringent standards. The state also proposes a different approach
for PCBs, mercury and arsenic, which are not easily controlled by
regulating industrial facilities and sewage-treatment plants — the
primary point sources of pollution.
PCB standards proposed by the EPA make representatives of
industry and sewage-treatment systems very nervous. Water-quality
standards are the starting points for placing legal limits on
discharges, and EPA’s standard of 7.6 picograms per liter cannot be
attained in many cases without much higher levels of treatment,
Entities in Eastern Washington are in the midst of planning
efforts to control pollution in the Spokane River, and major sewer
upgrades are under consideration, the letter says.
“If Ecology were to follow the same approach on Puget Sound that
it has on the Spokane River, this would amount to a range of
compliance costs from nearly $6 billion to over $11 billion for
just the major permits identified by EPA,” the letter continues. “A
more stringent PCB criterion is also likely to impact how
stormwater is managed, as PCB concentrations have been detected in
stormwater throughout the state.”
For pulp and paper mills using recycled paper, the primary
source of PCBs is the ink containing the toxic compounds at
EPA-allowed concentrations, the letter says. Other major sources
are neighborhoods, where PCBs are used in construction materials,
and fish hatcheries, where PCBs come from fishmeal.
The letter points out similar problems for EPA’s proposed
mercury standard, calling the level “overly conservative and
unattainable in Washington (and the rest of the United States), as
the levels of mercury in fish are consistently higher than the
When water-quality criteria cannot be attained for certain
chemicals using existing water-treatment technology, facilities may
be granted a variance or placed under a compliance schedule. Both
environmentalists and facility owners have expressed concern over
uncertainties about how the agencies might use these
Despite the uncertainties, environmentalists and Indian tribes
in Washington state generally support the more stringent standards
proposed by the EPA.
“Tribes concur that water quality discharge standards are only a
part of the toxic chemical problem in the state of Washington and
that more efforts toward source control and toxic cleanup are
needed,” writes Lorraine Loomis of the
Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. “However, the standards
are an essential anchor for determining where and how to deploy
toxic reduction efforts and monitor enforcement.”
When I said this controversy is nearly over, I was referring to
a time schedule imposed this week by U.S. District Judge Barbara
Rothstein, who ruled that the EPA missed its own deadlines for
updating water quality criteria.
Rothstein, responding to claims from five environmental groups,
imposed a new deadline based on EPA’s own suggested dates. Because
the state has finalized its rule, the EPA now has until Nov. 15 to
either approve the state’s criteria or sign a notice imposing its
own standards. Checkout the
judge’s ruling (PDF 494 kb).
The new criteria won’t have any practical effect until applied
to federal discharge permits for specific facilities or in
developing cleanup plans for specific bodies of water — although
state inspectors could use the new state criteria for enforcing
state laws if they discover illegal discharges.
Tidal waters in Silverdale flow smoothly in and out of Clear
Creek estuary, passing under a new 240-foot-long bridge — a massive
structure that has replaced a pair of six-foot culverts.
I visited the site this afternoon, walking over to the bridge
from Old Mill Park, and I found the changes startling. Flows of
freshwater from Clear Creek joins saltwater that trickles through
tidal channels from Dyes Inlet. Tidal shifts are reshaping the
estuary, flushing out trapped sediment and leaving deposits of
gravel of varying size. When the fall rains come, salmon will be
able to linger in the estuary upstream or downstream of the bridge
before moving up into the watershed.
Traffic across the estuary was shut off for construction a
little more than a year ago. Now county officials are planning to
celebrate the opening of the new bridge on Friday of next week
(July 22). The ceremony, led by Kitsap County Commissioner Ed
Wolfe, will begin at 10 a.m. on the east end of the bridge. A
Marine Corps honor guard will present the colors, and the Central
Kitsap High School marching band will perform.
“We encourage the community to join us in celebrating this
special occasion,” Ed stated in a news release.
“The new bridge not only addresses traffic needs, but provides
additional non-motorized enhancements as well as restoring Clear
Creek estuary with the removal of culverts.”
Parking will be available at the former Albertson’s/Haggen
grocery store parking lot near the intersection of Bucklin Hill and
The $19.4 million construction project is said to be the largest
project of its kind ever undertaken by the county. The bridge
allows the roadway to be widened from two to four lanes with a new
left-turn lane at Levin Road and a center two-way turn lane
elsewhere in the area. The project adds new bike lanes, sidewalks
and pedestrian overlooks.
After the bridge opens, the contractor, Granite Construction,
will continue to finish various aspects of the project. Occasional
traffic delays can be expected, according to county officials.
Chris Butler-Minor, a master’s degree candidate at Portland
State University, is studying the ecological changes resulting from
the project with the help of volunteers. They are collecting water
samples and monitoring sediments, vegetation and invertebrates.
“It’s a yearlong inconvenience but the outcome will be improved
transportation, improved bike and pedestrian access, and the salmon
are going to love it,” Chris was quoted as saying in a
story by Kitsap Sun reporter Ed Friedrich.
At a community meeting in March, many residents of Harper in
South Kitsap expressed profound disappointment that the latest plan
to restore Harper Estuary would remove a low-key boat launch used
by many people in the area. See
Kitsap Sun story, March 31.
The makeshift boat launch, built on fill, provides the only
access to the beach in that area, community members noted. Many
expressed their belief that county and state officials had failed
in their commitment to maintain beach access.
After the meeting, five representatives of the community met
onsite with officials involved in the project. Several ideas were
discussed, and it appears that a new access to the estuary is
gaining approval, though it won’t allow vehicles with trailers to
reach the water. The new access would be an earthen ramp on the
opposite side of Olympiad Drive.
“Retaining the boat landing in its current location will:
“Block the ability to replace the undersized culvert with a
large bridge in order to restore estuary function and tidal
“Reduce sediment contaminant removal associated with the
“Retain compacted gravel substrate that does not support
aquatic plants or benthic organisms at the existing boat launch,
“Impede restoration of filled estuarine habitat and functional
The proposal now under consideration is to grade the slope
alongside Olympiad Drive at a gentle 5:1 angle. Cars and trucks
could pull off the side of the road long enough to unload their
boats, which would be carried down the slope. For people who just
want to walk down to the water, the ramp would provide the needed
access and perhaps the beginning of a proposed trail system around
A plan to build stairs down to the water from Southworth Drive
raised objections during the March meeting, because it would be
difficult and unsafe to carry boats across the busy roadway and
down concrete steps, which could become slippery. If the stairs are
built, which remains undecided, they could be designed to contain
gravel, making them less slippery.
Jim Heytvelt, a community leader in Harper, said the new access
to the beach would meet the needs of most, but not all, people in
the community. Most people in support of the restoration never
wanted a major boat launch like the one at Manchester, he said.
People are beginning to come around to the reality of the
situation, given conditions needed to restore the estuary, he
During surveys of the property, officials discovered another
problem that could have thrown a monkey wrench into the boat launch
at its current location. The county learned that it does not own
the property where the boat launch was built, as had been widely
assumed. The property is owned by the state Department of Natural
Resources — and nobody has ever been given approval to use the
Even if the restoration could be done without removing the
launch site, nobody knows if the DNR would grant a lease for the
use to continue. Someone might need to assume liability at the
site. The proposed ramp to the estuary seems to eliminate that
problem, as the property is almost entirely owned by the
Delays in preparing the plans, getting permits and putting the
project out to bid has caused the schedule to slip from early
summer into late summer and fall, said Doris Small of the
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. That assumes the
project can be advertised for bids by the end of this month —
something that is still not certain.
Any further delays could put the funding in jeopardy and might
require new approvals from the Washington Department of Ecology and
possibly the Legislature. The restoration money comes from a fund
set up to mitigate for damages from the ASARCO smelter in Tacoma,
which emitted toxic pollution for decades, some of which reached
The first phase of the project involves excavation to remove
most of the fill dumped into the estuary, allowing the shorelines
to return to a natural condition. To complete the restoration,
additional funding is being sought to build a bridge, which will
replace the culvert under Olympiad Drive. If funding is approved,
the bridge could be built as early as next summer.
Another community meeting is scheduled for Wednesday at 6:30
p.m. at Colby United Methodist Church, 2881 Harvey St. SE.
Officials will provide an update on the restoration efforts. County
Commission Charlotte Garrido said she would like to continue
discussions about what the community would like to see in the
future, hoping to build a stronger relationship between the county
and the community.
More than 20 years of removing and reconstructing old logging
roads in the Skokomish River watershed has finally paid off with
measurable improvement to water quality and habitat, according to
experts with Olympic National Forest where millions of dollars have
been spent on restoration.
The U.S. Forest Service this week declared that the upper South
Fork of the Skokomish is now a “properly functioning” watershed,
and the major road-restoration projects are complete.
After writing for years about horrendous problems with sediment
washing out of the upper watershed, this news comes as a nice
surprise. I’ve been hearing experts talk about water-quality
improvements, but this new declaration is a major milestone in the
restoration of the entire Skokomish River ecosystem.
“This is a proud and historic occasion for the Forest Service
and our many partners who have worked very hard for over two
decades to restore this once badly degraded watershed,” Reta
Laford, supervisor for Olympic National Forest, said in a
In 2012, Olympic National Forest designated the upper and middle
South Fork Skokomish sub-watersheds as “priority watersheds.“
Forest Service officials pushed forward with action plans
containing a list of restoration projects designed to put the
watersheds on a path to ecological health.
Completion of the key restoration projects in the upper South
Fork allowed for the new designation as a “properly functioning”
watershed. This marks the first time that any watershed in Olympic
National Forest has been upgraded due to completion of all
essential restoration projects. Watershed conditions and aquatic
habitat will continue to improve as natural processes roll on.
Restoration in the South Fork actually began in the early 1990s,
when the Forest Service acknowledged that the region was
criss-crossed by a damaging network of logging roads. At nearly
four miles of road for every fourone square mile of forest, it
was one of the densest tangles of roads in any national forest.
In 1994, the Forest Service designated the South Fork Skokomish
as a “key watershed” in the Northwest Forest Plan, which called for
major cutbacks in logging and received support from President Bill
Clinton. Between the early 1990s and 2005, Olympic National Forest
completed $10.6 million in restoration work, including $7.9 million
for road decommissioning, road stabilization and drainage
In 2005, the Skokomish Watershed Action Team (SWAT) was formed
among a coalition of more than 20 government agencies,
environmental organizations and business groups with diverse
interests. The SWAT developed a unified front for promoting
restoration projects and seeking funds. Members agreed that the
focus on roads should begin with the upstream segments, later
moving downstream, while other work was coordinated on the estuary
near Hood Canal. Much of the lower area was owned or acquired by
the Skokomish Tribe, a critical partner in the SWAT.
Between 2006 and 2015, the Forest Service continued with $13.2
million in restoration projects in the South Fork, including $10.9
million on road problems. In all, 91 miles of roads were
decommissioned, closed or converted to trails, and 85 miles of
roads were stabilized or improved with new culverts and drainage
Much of the road restoration work was funded by Congress through
the Forest Service’s Legacy Roads and Trails Program. Former U.S.
Rep. Norm Dicks was instrumental in creating that program, and
congressional support has continued under the leadership of Norm’s
successor, U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, and U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and
Key funding for restoration also has come from the Forest
Stewardship program, which uses receipts from commercial timber
thinning on forest lands. Other financial support — especially in
the lower watershed — has come from the state’s Salmon Recovery
Funding Board and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
In 2009, I wrote a story for “Wilderness” magazine
about how these programs were bringing “green jobs” to the
Meanwhile, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed an
in-depth study of the river’s ecosystem last year and is now
seeking funding from Congress for a series of projects in the
watershed. Check out
Water Ways, April 28, 2016.
To celebrate this milestone for Olympic National Forest, the
SWAT will recognize the work at its general meeting Friday at the
Skokomish Grange Hall, 2202 W. Skokomish Valley Road. The meeting
begins at 9 a.m., and the public is invited.
For years, I have been told the story of how PCBs and other
toxic chemicals cling to soil particles and tiny organic debris as
polluted water washes off the land.
Eventually, the PCB-laden particles are carried into Puget
Sound, where they settle to the bottom. From there, they begin
working their way into marine animals, disrupting their normal
functions — such as growth, immune response and reproduction.
The idea that contaminants settle to the bottom is the story
I’ve been told for as long as I can remember, a story long accepted
among the scientific community in Puget Sound and across the U.S.
So I was surprised when I heard that leading scientists who study
toxic chemicals in Puget Sound were questioning this long-held idea
about how dangerous chemicals get into the food web.
Puget Sound may be different from other waterways, they
“When you look at the concentrations in herring and the
concentrations in the sediments, something does not line up,” Jim
West told me. “The predictions are way off. We think there is a
Jim is a longtime researcher for the Washington Department of
Fish and Wildlife. I have worked with him through the years on
various stories about the effects of contaminants on marine
organisms. But now he was talking about changing the basic thinking
about how chemicals are transferred through the food web.
Jim postulates that many of these PCB-laden particles that wash
down with stormwater never sink to the bottom of Puget Sound.
Instead, they are taken up by tiny organisms floating in the water.
The organisms, including bacteria and phytoplankton, are eaten by
larger plankton and become incorporated into fish and other
free-swimming creatures — the pelagic food web.
Jim presented his findings at the Salish Sea Ecosystem
Conference last month in Vancouver, B.C. Sandie O’Neill, another
WDFW researcher, presented other new information about the transfer
of contaminants through the food web — from plankton to herring to
salmon to killer whales.
My stories about the studies conducted by Jim and Sandie (with
help from a team of skilled scientists) were published today in the
Puget Sound, where you can read them. These are the first of at
least 10 story packages to be to written by a team of reporters
working for the Puget Sound Institute.
The Salish Sea conference was attended by more than 1,100
people, including 450 researchers and policymakers who talked about
new information related to the Salish Sea — which includes Puget
Sound in Washington, the Strait of Georgia in British Columbia and
the Strait of Juan de Fuca on the U.S./Canada border.
When I first heard about Jim West’s idea regarding the fate of
toxic chemicals circulating in Puget Sound, I thought one result
might be to shift restoration dollars away from cleaning up
sediments to cleaning up stormwater. After all, if the majority of
PCBs aren’t getting into the sediments, why spend millions of
dollars cleaning up the stuff on the bottom? Why not devote that
money to cleaning up stormwater?
In fact, the worst of the contaminated sediments in Puget Sound
have been cleaned up, with some cleanups now under way. That helps
to ensure that toxic chemicals won’t get re-suspended in the water
and taken up into the pelagic food web all over again. A few
hotspots of contaminated sediments may still need some
As far as putting the focus on stormwater, that’s exactly what
the Puget Sound Partnership has done with support from the
Department of Ecology and other clean-water agencies. It is now
well established that the key to reducing pollution in Puget Sound
is to keep toxic chemicals out of stormwater or else create
settling ponds, rain gardens, pervious pavement and other methods
to capture the PCB-laden particles before they reach Puget
I noticed that Ecology just today
announced a new round of regulations to control stormwater in
King, Pierce, Snohomish and Clark counties. Proposed changes
include updating stormwater programs for new construction projects
and for redevelopment. An appendix will describe Seattle’s plan to
reduce stormwater pollution in the Lower Duwamish River, where PCBs
are a major problem. For more on stormwater regulations, go to
As Sandie told me during our discussions, all the work on fixing
habitat in Puget Sound streams is not enough if we can’t control
the discharge of PCB’s — which were banned in the 1970s — along
with newer contaminants still working their way into our beloved
waterway. Any measure of healthy habitat must include an
understanding of the local chemistry.
It has always been a question to ponder: Will the most
significant changes to the Elwha River ecosystem occur upstream of
where two dams have been removed or downstream where the river
enters the Strait of Juan de Fuca?
Soon after each dam was torn down in succession — the lower one
first — salmon began migrating upstream, while more than 30 million
cubic yards of sediment began moving downstream.
It could take a number of years to rebuild the extensive runs of
salmon, including the prized chinook for which the Elwha was famous
among salmon fishermen across the country. Will we ever see the
legendary 100-pound chinook return to the Elwha, assuming they ever
existed? That was a question I explored in a story for the
Kitsap Sun in September 2010.
On the other hand, massive amounts of sediment have already
spilled out of the Elwha River, building an extensive delta of sand
and gravel, including about 80 acres of new habitat and two miles
of sandy beach.
Reporter Tristan Baurick focused on the dramatic shoreline
changes already taking place at the mouth of the Elwha in a
well-written story published in
Sunday’s Kitsap Sun.
The Coastal Watershed Institute, which is monitoring the
shoreline near the mouth of the Elwha has documented increases in
critical forage fish populations, including surf smelt, sand lance,
eulachon (candlefish) and longfin smelt. See CWI
Blog. These fish feed a host of larger fish, birds and marine
Tristan describes the changes offshore, where an area starved of
sediment is turning into prime habitat for starry flounder,
Dungeness crab and many other animals. Rocky outcroppings that once
provided attachment for bull kelp is giving way to fine sand, which
allows for colonization by eelgrass and a host of connected
species. I described some of the early changes in the flora in a
Kitsap Sun story in March of 2013.
For people to view the restoration first-hand, I described a day
trip to the Elwha in a
Kitsap Sun story in April of 2013. Along the way, you can check
out the history, enjoy the vantage points and learn about the
changes taking place. Tristan offers a suggestion worth heeding to
ensure ongoing beach access.
“Access to the beach is granted by the dike’s owners. They could
take that away if the area’s overwhelmed with trash, noise and
other nuisances, so keep that in mind when you visit.”
If you’d like to see a video record of dam removal and ecosystem
recovery, you may wish to view the film “Return of the River” to be
shown at Bremerton’s Admiral Theatre on Friday, March 13. The film
will be followed by a panel discussion involving the film’s
producers, John Gussman and Jessica Plumb. For details, check the
It goes without saying that wood, rock or concrete bulkheads
built along the shoreline are not natural. They certainly don’t
look like any structure formed by nature. And when the water is
pushing up against them, waves bounce around and splash back
instead of rolling up on shore.
I have never had any trouble understanding some of the problems
caused by bulkheads. I imagine little juvenile salmon swimming
along the shoreline, working their way toward the ocean. In shallow
water, these little fish can stay away from the bigger fish that
want to eat them. But bulkheads create a stretch of deeper water,
where predatory fish can swim in close and devour the little
I’ve been told that bulkheads cause other problems as well, such
as blocking shoreline erosion. But isn’t that what they are
designed to do? What’s the problem? As I’ve learned — especially
over the past few months — natural erosion provides the sands and
gravels needed for healthy beaches. Natural beaches also collect
driftwood, which provides additional habitat for a variety of
As many readers know, I now work half-time for the Puget Sound
Institute, a University of Washington affiliate that publishes the
Encyclopedia of Puget Sound. We’ve been working on a series of
articles about bulkheads — formally known as shoreline armoring —
and I’m more convinced than ever that bulkheads really do cause
The first story in the series, released this week, describes the
effects of bulkheads on spawning habitat for surf smelt and sand
lance, two kinds of small fish that are an important food source
for salmon, birds and marine mammals. Check out my story, “Spawning
habitat for forage fish being lost to rising tides.”
As sea levels continue to rise, the high-tide and low-tide lines
move to higher elevations on the beach — until the high-tide line
reaches the bulkhead. For many bulkheads, the high-tide line is
already there. At that point, the rising sea level continues to
push the low-tide line to higher and higher elevations, reducing
the spawning habitat for fish that lay their eggs in the intertidal
This shrinking habitat is known as “coastal squeeze” or “beach
squeeze.” Recent studies suggest that where bulkheads are located,
Puget Sound could lose 80 percent of this spawning habitat by the
turn of the century, based on average predictions of sea-level
On beaches without bulkheads, the high-tide line would move
steadily inland, helping to maintain the critical habitat for
forage fish, according to Timothy Quinn, chief scientist for the
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“Everywhere in Puget Sound, there will be beach squeeze when you
don’t allow things to equilibrate on the land side,” he told me.
“What used to be exposed beach (during the tidal cycle) will no
longer be exposed.”
It turns out that many bulkheads constructed through the years
were never needed to prevent erosion, because they were built to
protect homes in areas where erosion is minimal. Future stories in
our series will cover this issue, including the prospect of
removing existing bulkheads to improve shoreline habitats.
Unfortunately, sea level rise adds a new twist to the discussion.
Still, the best advice when building a new house is to keep the
structure back from the water’s edge.
Meanwhile, this initial installment of the Shoreline Armoring
Series includes a nice piece by science writer Eric Scigliano
armoring’s effect on the food web.” In this story, Eric looks
at a broad spectrum of effects caused by bulkheads. He reports on
an involved study that focused on a series of paired beaches — one
with a bulkhead and one without — located in various parts of Puget
Most of the studies that we will report on during this series
were funded by the Environmental Protection Agency through grants
coordinated by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The
plan is to release about two additional stories each week over the
next two weeks.