The water understands Civilization well; It wets my foot, but prettily, It chills my life, but wittily, It is not disconcerted, It is not broken-hearted: Well used, it decketh joy, Adorneth, doubleth joy: Ill used, it will destroy, In perfect time and measure With a face of golden pleasure Elegantly destroy.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
Floodplains by Design, a new program that combines salmon
restoration with flood control, is a grand compromise between
humans and nature.
Design is an idea born from the realization that building
levees to reduce flooding generally causes rivers to rush faster
and flow higher. Under these conditions, the rushing waters often
break through or overtop the levees, forcing people to rebuild the
structures taller and stronger than before.
Salmon, which have evolved through untold numbers of prehistoric
floods, were somehow forgotten in the effort to protect homes and
farmland built close to a river. Absent the levees, floodwaters
would naturally spread out across the floodplain in a more relaxed
flow that salmon can tolerate. High flows, on the other hand, can
scour salmon eggs out of the gravel and flush young fish into
Geology experts in Washington and Oregon have produced an
easy-to-read brochure that can help people understand landslide
risks, the underlying geology of slides and precautions that could
avoid a disaster.
I have written a lot of words about landslides through the
years, often relating stories of people involved in a catastrophic
slope failures. But this new publication excels as a concise
discussion of what people need to know if they live on or near a
After the Oso landslide in the Stillaguamish Valley three years
ago, I wrote a piece in the
Kitsap Sun to help residents of the Kitsap Peninsula understand
the risks they could be facing. Now I can point people to this
graphically rich pamphlet, called
“A Homeowners Guide to Landslides for Washington and Oregon” (PDF,
3.8 mb). It was produced by the Washington Department of
Natural Resources and the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral
“Our job is to understand Washington’s complex geology and how
it impacts the people who live here,” Washington State Geologist
Dave Norman said in a
news release. “We want to make sure we put that information
into their hands.”
Marianne Jackson, a personal trainer and yoga teacher, lives in
a fairly typical residential neighborhood in Des Moines, about
halfway between Seattle and Tacoma. Marianne has been interested in
gardening for years. Recently, however, she decided to up her game
by creating a backyard wildlife habitat.
That’s when Sarah Bruemmer, a habitat steward coordinator for
the National Wildlife Federation, entered Marianne’s life. Sarah
knows how to turn small outdoor spaces — or large ones, if
available — into functioning habitats. She coordinates a training
program that addresses issues from soils, gardening and invasive
plants to birds, butterflies and water quality.
Sarah’s month-long program, which includes weekly classes with
two Saturday field trips, is scheduled for April in Kitsap and
Thurston counties and May in Pierce County. Only a few seats remain
for the Kitsap training to be held in Silverdale.
Marianne, 56, took the course last year and came away with a
much deeper knowledge of the ecosystem. She had already ripped out
her grassy lawn years ago to create what became a series of
connected gardens, but the classes taught her how native plant
species and water features can help native birds and
“I already had the interest,” she said. “Now I have a lot more
knowledge that I can put to use. I’m planning to get my yard
Officials in Washington state’s Shellfish Program have
identified a clear pathway to meet a state goal of restoring 10,800
net acres of shellfish beds to a harvestable condition by 2020.
The 10,800-acre target, established by the Puget Sound
Partnership, was considered overly ambitious by many people when
the goal was approved in 2011. Many still believe that the
shellfish restoration effort will go down in flames, along with
other goals, such as increasing chinook salmon and killer whale
populations by 2020.
In reporting on the Shellfish Implementation Strategy, a
document still under development, I’ve learned that the goal is
within reach if enough of the ongoing recovery efforts around Puget
Sound continue to make progress. Please check out my latest stories
the shellfish back” and “Closing
in on the magic number in Samish Bay,” both published in the
Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.
Citing pollution problems in Puget Sound, an environmental group
is asking the Environmental Protection Agency to revoke Washington
state’s authority to enforce the federal Clean Water Act.
Environmental Advocates, based in Portland, says a review of
103 discharge permits issued by the Washington Department of
Ecology shows a failure to control nitrogen pollution. Excess
nitrogen reduces oxygen levels in the water and triggers algae
blooms, resulting in serious problems in Puget Sound, according to
petition submitted to the EPA.
“Ecology determined that over 80 percent of the human sources of
nitrogen in Puget Sound comes from cities and towns, but it
continues to issue discharge permits as if it were completely
ignorant of these facts,” Nina Bell, the group’s executive
director, said in a
“It’s just flat out illegal to issue permits that contribute to
harmful pollution levels,” she added. “These permits are the
walking dead, existing merely to create the impression that the
state is doing its job to control water pollution when it is
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.
Detailed planning and design, followed by thoughtful
construction projects, have begun to tame the stormwater menace in
Clear Creek, an important salmon stream that runs through
Silverdale in Central Kitsap.
Stormwater has been identified as the greatest pollution threat
to Puget Sound. In Kitsap County, many folks believed that the
dense development pattern in and around Silverdale has doomed Clear
Creek to functioning as a large drainage ditch for runoff into Dyes
But reducing stormwater pollution is not beyond the reach of
human innovation, as I learned this week on a tour of new and
planned stormwater facilities in the Clear Creek drainage area. The
trick is to filter the stormwater by any means practical, according
to Chris May, director of Kitsap County’s Stormwater Division and a
key player in the multi-agency Clean Water Kitsap program.
Projects in and around Silverdale range from large regional
ponds of several acres to small filtration devices fitted into
confined spaces around homes and along roadways.
The Environmental Protection Agency approved new water-quality
standards for Washington state this week, overriding a plan
approved by Gov. Jay Inslee and the state Department of
It was a rare posture for the EPA. Now the state will be
pressured to appeal the EPA standards to federal court. Cities and
counties as well as some industrial organizations are clearly
unhappy with the EPA’s action, while environmental and tribal
representatives got most of what they wanted.
The EPA action is especially unusual, given that this state is
known for some of the strongest environmental regulations in the
country. After much dispute, Ecology finally agreed to much higher
fish-consumption rates without increasing the cancer-risk rate,
leading to more stringent standards for many of the chemicals. But
Ecology had its own ideas for the most troublesome compounds with
implications for human health. They include polychlorinated
biphenyls (PCBs), arsenic and mercury. For background, see
Water Ways, Oct. 18, 2015.
Some news reports I saw this week said EPA’s action will lead to
salmon that are safer to eat. But that’s not at all certain, and
opponents say it is unlikely that the revised limits on chemical
pollution will have any practical effect on compounds that affect
While talking to researchers and investigating a variety of
biologically active compounds, I began to realize the complexity of
the body’s internal chemistry. I thought I knew something about the
endocrine system, but I never fully considered how one hormone can
trigger responses in multiple organs, including the release of
additional hormones, even creating feedback loops.
Early and continuing rains in October have increased streamflows
and brought coho and chum salmon into their spawning territories
ahead of schedule this year.
I was out and about today, taking a look at some of the streams
in Central Kitsap. I couldn’t pass up the chance to enjoy the sunny
and warm weather, and I was pleased to encounter a lot of other
folks doing the same thing. Adults of all ages, some with children,
were out looking for the elusive salmon. That’s not something I
ever saw 10 years ago while making my rounds to public
I believe the growing interest in salmon may result from ongoing
promotions of salmon watching by governmental and volunteer
organizations, as well as the news media. Why shouldn’t we go out
to watch salmon swimming upstream and possibly, if one is lucky,
catch a glimpse of spawning behaviors? After all, we live in one of
the best areas for this enjoyable pastime.