Category Archives: Waterfront residents

Bulkhead removal called ‘a story of bravery’

“I think it’s a story of bravery and a story of love for this place,” says Martha Kongsgaard at the beginning of the video on this page.

Kongsgaard, chairwoman of the Leadership Council of the Puget Sound Partnership, is celebrating the removal of a massive bulkhead on Bainbridge Island. The removal, known as the Powel Shoreline Restoration Project, occurred in the fall of 2012. The outcome was to reconnect a saltwater marsh with the lower shoreline by removing 1,500 feet of man-made bulkhead from property owned by the Powel family.

In the midst of the excavation — which removed rocks, logs and huge chunks of concrete — Babe Kehres, a family member whose house overlooks the site commented, “I think it’s going to be beautiful when it’s done. For me, it’s about taking things back to the way nature wanted them to be.”

Reporter Tad Sooter covered the story for the Kitsap Sun (Aug. 30, 2012). It turned out that removing the bulkhead was less costly than repair — but not by a whole lot. Still, restoring the natural conditions provided tremendous ecological benefits without creating undue shoreline erosion.

The video, by Quest Northwest reporter Sarah Sanborn, shows the excavation in progress and explains why we should celebrate the project and the Powel family. But my favorite part is a slideshow on Sarah’s blog, which shows before and after photos of the shoreline. It is easy to imagine why fish, wildlife and other creatures would prefer the more natural condition.

Yesterday’s ‘King Tide’ nearly broke all-time record

Bolstered by a low-pressure weather system, yesterday’s “King Tide” was felt throughout Puget Sound. At its extreme, the high tide came within 0.01 feet of breaking the all-time tidal record set for Seattle on Jan. 27, 1983.

Reporter Chris Henry wrote about some of the local problems in a story published in today’s Kitsap Sun. And the Sun’s editors put together a “photo gallery” of pictures taken by area residents. Pictures from other areas were posted on the Flickr website, where the Department of Ecology manages the “Washington King Tide Photo Initiative.”

I especially liked Jim Groh’s photos of the Poulsbo waterfront. Take a close look at the picture taken yesterday (below) and compare it to the one in Sunday’s Water Ways entry, which shows last year’s King Tide. If the word “Poulsbo” doesn’t look right in the picture below, it’s because the bottom half of the letters are under water.

This week’s King Tides are declining, but they are expected to be high again starting Jan. 14.

Poulsbo’s waterfront on Liberty Bay. / Photo by Jim Groh
Silverdale Waterfront Park on Dyes Inlet. / Photo by John Yates
The boat ramp at Fort Ward on Bainbridge Island was nearly covered by water. / Photo by Julie Leung

Be alert for tidal flooding and King Tide photos

Some of the highest tides of the year, combined with a strong low-pressure system, could provide “King Tide” observers with ideal conditions tomorrow (Monday) for taking pictures of near-flood conditions or even flooding in some places.

This is the third year the Washington Department of Ecology has put out a call for photos of high-tide conditions.

Photo of Poulsbo waterfront taken during “King Tides” Dec. 28, 2011.
Photo by James Groh, Poulsbo

“Documenting how very high tides affect the natural environment and our coastal infrastructure will help us visualize what sea level rise might look like in the future,” states Ecology’s “Climate Change” blog.

The King Tide photo initiative began in Australia in January 2009. Washington and British Columbia joined in 2010, followed by Oregon and California in 2011.

Tide tables predict that tides in Bremerton and Port Orchard will reach 13.4 feet at 8:28 a.m. tomorrow. Check on other locations and other days in Washington state at Saltwater Tides.

The National Weather Service has issued a coastal flood advisory for Western Washington because of low-pressure conditions, which could add 1.5 feet to the tide table prediction. That would put the Bremerton area at 14.9 feet. Check out the Weather Service advisory and the Kitsap Sun story.

While it looks like we’ll have a very high tide, it probably won’t be a record. I was unable to find historical data for Bremerton, but the record high tide for Seattle is 22.4 feet on Jan. 27, 1983. The tide tables predict that Seattle will reach 12.5 feet tomorrow, or 14 feet with the added 1.5 feet because of the low pressure.

Historical data can be found on NOAA’s “Tides and Currents” webpage after selecting a station.

Shortly after I posted this, Jeff Adams of Washington Sea Grant sent me an email to point out that NOAA’s numbers need to be corrected by subtracting 7.94, because NOAA uses a different baseline than we commonly use in this area. That would place the record in Seattle at 14.5 feet, much closer to what we may see tomorrow. I should have known that something was amiss with that data. For more on this point, check out Jeff’s blog, Sea Life. 

King Tides will continue through this week, declining slightly each day, then will return on Jan. 14.

I’m certainly not hoping for high water levels, but where they occur it would be great to have some photos. Feel free to send them to me at cdunagan, as well as uploading to the Flickr page called “Washington King Tide Photo Initiative.”

Orcas hunt for chum salmon in Central Puget Sound

The Southern Resident killer whales have begun their annual travels into Central and South Puget Sound in search of chum salmon.

Southern Resident killer whales passed by Bainbridge Island on Monday.
Photo by Tad Sooter

The shift occurs when chinook salmon have completed their migration and chum are just beginning to come home to their natal streams, as I describe in a story in yesterday’s Kitsap Sun. It is widely assumed that the length of their stay depends on their success in finding the later salmon.

This year was predicted to be a low year for fall chum. But Jay Zischke, marine fisheries manager for the Suquamish Tribe, told me that early commercial and test fisheries suggest that the run is either earlier than usual or larger than the preseason forecast. Even so, it may still be a relatively low year for fall chum.

This is the 15th anniversary of another low chum year, 1997, when 19 members of L pod came all the way into Dyes Inlet to find adequate numbers of chum schooled up in front of Chico and Barker creeks. The whales stayed in the inlet for a month and left just before Thanksgiving. There is still debate about whether they wanted to stay that long.

On the 10th anniversary of the event, I wrote about the story of two young researchers, Kelley Balcomb-Bartok and Jodi Smith, who spent most of that month studying the whales and trying to protect them from a massive number of boaters who wanted a front-boat view of the action. Stories, maps and other information about that event can be found on a website called “The Dyes Inlet Whales — Ten Years Later.”
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Shoreline projects gradually restore Puget Sound

We’ve been writing a lot lately about shoreline restoration projects. As with road construction, it seems that the heaviest lifting on restoration projects gets going as summer draws to a close.

About 1,500 feet of bulkhead on Port Madison is being removed by the Powel family with help from Puget Sound Partnership and Bainbridge Island Land Trust. / Photo by Tad Sooter

Notable projects on the Kitsap Peninsula:

Judging from the comments on the stories, some people don’t believe the government should be spending money on environmental restoration when the state and nation are in an economic slump.

Two years ago, Gov. Chris Gregoire made it clear that she believed that the economic troubles did not outweigh the ongoing risks to Puget Sound. I quoted her in the Kitsap Sun Oct. 15, 2010:

Removing an aging bulkhead on Dyes Inlet is expected to improve nearshore habitat at Anna Smith Children’s Park.
Photo by Christina Kereki, Kitsap County

“We are in the hardest economic problem since the deep depression, but we cannot take a recess; we cannot take time out (from the Puget Sound cleanup).”

Investing in cleanup efforts to repair past problems is one thing, the governor said, but the solution is not just costly restoration projects:

“It comes down to individuals like us. We are all part of the problem and we can all be part of the solution.”

She was talking about reducing stormwater pollution by being careful with household and lawn chemicals, car washing, oil and oil leaks, pet waste and other things.

When it comes to restoration projects, it turns out that the recession was actually a good time to begin many of these costly projects. As I reported in “Water Ways” on Oct. 21, 2010, the economic stimulus package approved by Congress helped pay for more than 600 projects directed to Puget Sound problems. The projects carried a price tag of about $460 million and created nearly 16,000 jobs.

The economic downturn also turned out to be good timing in another way. Construction companies hungry for work offered much lower bids than they would have during economic boom times. In many cases, including the Union River estuary project, bids are still coming in at the low end of cost projections.

Property owners who wish to restore their streams and shorelines are getting help from the government and nonprofit groups. In most cases, these projects would not get done by the property owners alone.

The $460,000 Powel bulkhead removal, for example, became a partnership between the Powel family, the Bainbridge Island Land Trust and the Puget Sound Partnership. The partnership’s new executive director, Anthony Wright, stated in a news release:

“It’s exciting to see everyone coming together to do some good for Puget Sound. Puget Sound is going to be healthy again because of people like the Powel family, the land trust and regulatory entities all working together.”

Some people doubt that the restoration projects are doing much good. Some say they simply are not worth the cost. But experts who have studied nearshore ecosystems argue that the ecological connections along the shoreline have been so severely disrupted that restoration is the best hope of saving the Puget Sound ecosystem.

I’ve heard people say that science does not support these kinds of restoration efforts. That’s an opinion not held by most experts, but if you are willing to do some reading, you can come to your own conclusions.

Some of the leading experts in our region have been taking part in the Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Project, which includes a website of technical reports and plans. If you’re a fan of science, like me, you may feel like a kid in a candy shop as you peruse the many reports.

I would recommend the following as a beginning:

The pair of explanatory drawings below is taken from a chapter of the “State of the Science” report mentioned above. See Fish and Invertebrate Response to Shoreline Armoring and Restoration in Puget Sound (PDF 440 KB) by Jason D. Toft, Jeffery R. Cordell, Sarah M. Heerhartz, Elizabeth A. Armbrust, and Charles A. Simenstad.

Summer chum pose enigma for the Union River

The Union River near Belfair — the last estuary you come to when venturing into Hood Canal — slaps us in the face with an enigma.

The Union River flows into the very end of Hood Canal near Belfair. The red outline is part of the Pacific Northwest Salmon Center.

For the moment, I can’t do much more than pose some perplexing questions. But I get the feeling that if we could get the answers, we would understand more about salmon recovery in Lower Hood Canal and possibly other places as well.

The Union River also highlights the customary finger-pointing as to why certain stocks of salmon declined in the first place and what it will take to bring them back. Of the four H’s — harvest, habitat, hatcheries and hydro — the greatest finger-pointing goes on between harvest and habitat.

Let’s take Hood Canal summer chum and focus on the Union River, which was the subject of a story I wrote for Monday’s Kitsap Sun.

First, why did summer chum go extinct in the Dewatto and Tahuya rivers — the closest rivers to the Union — while maintaining a viable population in the Union?

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Point No Point Lighthouse gets a bit of a makeover

Point No Point Lighthouse — the centerpiece of a county park near the tip of the Kitsap Peninsula — has undergone $100,000 worth of improvements.

Jeff Gales of U.S. Lighthouse Society can be seen in the fresnel lens at Point No Point Lighthouse near Hansville.
Kitsap Sun photo by Meegan Reid

The $100,000 came from a grant program called Partners in Preservation. Under the program, millions of dollars have been handed out in recent years for historical restoration work by American Express in coordination with the National Trust for Historical Preservation.

The Point No Point Lighthouse received the cash in 2010, when numerous other projects in the Puget Sound region also received money. See Partners in Preservation – Puget Sound for a description of all the projects.

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Poulsbo leads Kitsap with new shorelines plan

Poulsbo is the first local jurisdiction in Kitsap County to update its Shoreline Master Program, as required by state law, and send it on to the Washington Department of Ecology for ratification.

The Poulsbo City Council approved the document Wednesday, as reported by Kitsap Sun reporter Amy Phan.

As required by formal state policies, the shorelines plan adopts numerous new regulations to accomplish these basic goals:

  • Protect the quality of water and the natural environment to achieve “no net loss” of ecological function as time goes on,
  • Encourage water-dependent uses along the shoreline while discouraging uses that are not connected to the water,
  • Preserve and enhance public access and recreational uses along the shoreline.
Poulsbo shoreline designations (Click to download full size (PDF 976 kb).)

Keri Weaver, Poulsbo’s associate planner, does a good job outlining the content of the Poulsbo Shoreline Master Program in her staff report (PDF 224 kb) submitted to the City Council. The full SMP (PDF 552 kb) is more revealing and not difficult to read.

The document lists five “shoreline environments,” defined by ecological characteristics and current uses, each with its own development rules:

  • Shoreline residential
  • High intensity
  • Urban conservancy
  • Natural
  • Aquatic

Check out the shoreline maps to locate each of the environments.

The always-controversial issue of buffers was settled during the previous update of Poulsbo’s Critical Areas Ordinance. The City Council saw no reason to revisit its justification for 100-foot buffers along the city’s saltwater shoreline on Liberty Bay and 150-foot buffers along Dogfish Creek, the largest stream draining into bay. In addition, 25-foot setbacks expand the no-building zone, but water-dependent uses and public access may be exempt from those setbacks.

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Eagle-vs-otter game starts with spring training

Kim Merriman, who lives on Eld Inlet near Olympia, knows spring is on its way when otters and eagles renew their ongoing game, which I call “Who Gets to Eat the Fish This Time?”

It’s a simple game, but it determines who gets to eat and who must keep looking for food. The otter begins by catching a flounder so big he must drag it up onto a float to eat it. An eagle watches from within the branches of a nearby tree, then swoops down on the otter. If the otter is quick, he can hold onto his fish while diving into the water. If he loses the fish, the eagle may grab it.

Kim tells me that the otters don’t show up much in winter, but over the past few weeks she has seen one or more nearly every day on the float that she put out for wildlife. They generally return twice each day about the same time, first in the morning then in the afternoon.

From her e-mail: “The eagles are clearly aware of this potential food source and stake out the area accordingly. They are also in the midst of nest building … so are a little more distracted during the day right now. Once that’s done, and they’re incubating an egg or eggs, they’ll be on the hunt for nearby food. I suspect I’ll see the eagle/otter exchange many more times. And, I can’t wait.”

In the photos on this page, the eagle did not get the fish. The otter held onto it, but apparently lost it while diving into the water to get away. Kim said she saw the otter frantically swimming away.

One of Kim’s best photo series was taken last spring, when the eagle won the match, and I featured it in Water Ways April 5, 2011.

But the story surrounding the photos on this page is not over, because Kim watched as the eagle flew south toward another float, about 300 feet away.
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Let’s keep an eye on the shellfish initiative

It is interesting to contemplate how the new National Shellfish Initiative, announced in June, and the Washington Shellfish Initiative, announced last week, could change things in Puget Sound.

Newton Morgan of the Kitsap County Health District collects a dye packet from Lofall Creek in December of 2010. This kind of legwork may be the key to tracking down pollution in Puget Sound.
Kitsap Sun photo by Meegan Reid

As I described in a story I wrote for last Saturday’s Kitsap Sun, the principal goals are these:

  • Rebuild native Olympia oyster and pinto abalone populations.
  • Increase access to public tidelands for recreational shellfish harvesting.
  • Research ways to increase commercial shellfish production without harming the environment.
  • Improve permitting at county, state and federal levels.
  • Evaluate how well filter-feeding clams and oysters can reduce nitrogen pollution, with possible incentives for private shellfish cultivation.

To read more about the initiatives, check out:

One of the most encouraging things is an attempt to expand Kitsap County’s Pollution Identification and Correction (PIC) Program to other counties, with increased funding for cleaning up the waters. Check out the story I wrote for last Friday’s Kitsap Sun, in which I describe the search-and-destroy mission against bacterial pollution.

As most Water Ways readers know, I’ve been following the ongoing monitoring and cleanup effort by the Kitsap County Health District for years with the help of Keith Grellner, Stuart Whitford, Shawn Ultican and many others in the district’s water quality program. In fact, just two weeks ago, I discussed what could be a turnaround for a chronic pollution problem in Lofall Creek, a problem that has taken much perseverance to resolve. (See Kitsap Sun, Dec. 2.) Unfortunately, the story is far from over.

I’ve talked about the importance of old-fashioned legwork in tracking down pollution, and I’ve suggested that other local governments use some of their stormwater fees or implement such fees for monitoring of their local waters. See Water Ways, June 30, for example.

Water free of fecal pollution has benefits for humans and other aquatic creatures. Thankfully, Washington State Department of Health’s shellfish program is careful about checking areas for signs of sewage before certifying them as safe for shellfish harvesting. Maybe the new shellfish initiative will allow the state to open beds that have been closed for years. That’s what happened in Yukon Harbor, where more than 900 acres of shellfish beds were reopened in 2008. (See Kitsap Sun, Sept. 25, 2008).

Certifying areas as safe for shellfish harvesting means that waterfront property owners are safe to enjoy the bounty of their own beaches. It also offers an opportunity for commercial growers to make money and contribute to the state’s economy.

Of course, this does not mean that intensive shellfish-growing operations ought to be expanded to every clean corner of Puget Sound, any more than large-scale crop farming or timber harvesting should be allowed to take over the entire landscape.

Some environmentalists have expressed concern that the Washington Shellfish Initiative could become a boondoggle for commercial shellfish growers. Laura Hendricks of the Sierra Club’s Marine Ecosystem Campaign sent me an e-mail noting these concerns about the expansion of aquaculture:

“Washington State has more native species listed as endangered than any other state in the USA. We see no mention of the adverse impacts in this initiative on nearshore habitat, birds and juvenile salmon.

“Governor Gregoire and the various speakers failed to mention that ALL of the pending shoreline aquaculture applications they want to ‘streamline’ are for industrial geoduck aquaculture, not oysters. Red tape is not what is delaying these applications…

“Shellfish industry lobbyists who pushed for this expansion are silent on the following three serious threats to our fisheries resources, forage fish, birds and salmon:

“1. Shellfish consume fisheries resources (zooplankton — fish/crab eggs and larvae) according to peer reviewed studies. A DNR study documented that forage fish eggs did not just stay buried high on the beach, but were found in the nearshore water column. Continuing to allow expansion of unnatural high densities of filtering shellfish in the intertidal “nursery,” puts our fisheries resources at risk.

“2. The shellfish growers place tons of plastics into Puget Sound in order to expand aquaculture where it does not naturally grow…

3. Mussel rafts are documented to reduce dissolved oxygen essential for fish and are known in Totten Inlet to be covered in invasive tunicates with beggiatoa bacteria found underneath…”

Ashley Ahearn of KUOW interviewed Laura Hendricks, and you can hear her report on EarthFix.

In her e-mail, Laura recommended the video at right. She also pointed to a blog entry by Alf Hanna of Olympic Peninsula Environmental News. Hanna suggests that environmental advocates who go along with commercial aquaculture may become the oysters that get eaten in Lewis Carroll’s poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter.”

Have intensive shellfish farms in Puget Sound gone too far in their efforts to exploit the natural resources of our beaches? Can shellfish farmers make money without undue damage to the environment? Which practices are acceptable, which ones should be banned, and which areas are appropriate for different types of aquaculture?

It would have been nice if these answers were known long ago, and in some cases they are. But at least this new shellfish initiative recognizes that more research is needed to answer many remaining questions. Research is under way in Washington state on geoduck farming, which involves planting oyster seed in plastic tubes embedded into the beach. Review “Effects of Geoduck Aquaculture on the Environment: A Synthesis of Current Knowledge” (PDF 712 kb) or visit Washington Sea Grant.

Other research in our region is needed as well, although it is clear that environmental trade-offs will be part of the deal whenever commercial interests cross paths with natural systems. For a discussion about this issue, check out the executive summary of the NOAA-funded publication Shellfish Aquaculture and the Environment (PDF 4.2 mb), edited by Sandra E. Shumway.

Needless to say, we’ll be keeping an eye on this process for years to come.