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.
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
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
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.
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,
King Tides will continue through this week, declining slightly
each day, then will return on Jan. 14.
The Southern Resident killer whales have begun their annual
travels into Central and South Puget Sound in search of chum
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
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.” (more…)
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
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
“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
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
“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
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
The Union River near Belfair — the last estuary you come to when
venturing into Hood Canal — slaps us in the face with an
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?
Point No Point Lighthouse — the centerpiece of a county park
near the tip of the Kitsap Peninsula — has undergone $100,000 worth
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
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
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
The Poulsbo City Council approved the document Wednesday, as
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
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
staff report (PDF 224 kb) submitted to the City Council. The
full SMP (PDF 552 kb) is more revealing and not difficult to
The document lists five “shoreline environments,” defined by
ecological characteristics and current uses, each with its own
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
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
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
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
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. (more…)
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
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
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
Kitsap Sun, Dec. 2.) Unfortunately, the story is far from
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
“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
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
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
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
Needless to say, we’ll be keeping an eye on this process for
years to come.
As one case involving Kitsap County’s shorelines waits on appeal
to the U.S. Supreme Court, a whole new issue has sprung out of a
state law written to resolve confusion created during the earlier
Until Kitsap County adopts a new shorelines plan next year,
conflicts between the Shorelines Management Act and the Growth
Management Act could go on. After that, expect a new round of
The latest issue arises out of a little-known provision of a
state law passed in 2010. The overall intent of the law was to
allow a local Critical Areas Ordinance to provide shoreline
protections until a new shorelines plan is drafted. For background,
Water Ways from Jan. 6 of this year.
There is an exception in the law, however, listed in Subsection
3(c) of RCW
36.70A.480, which allows for “redevelopment or modification” of
a structure as long as it is consistent with the local shoreline
master program and it is shown that “no net loss of ecological
function” would result.
Sure enough, a Kitsap County property owner who wants to tear
down a house and build a new one closer to the shore was able to
make use of that special provision.
Kitsap County Hearing Examiner Kimberly Allen, who approved the
redevelopment, said her ruling “rests on a complex and very
fact-specific set of interactions” between three different laws.
For details, check out my story published in
today’s Kitsap Sun or read the
hearing examiner’s decision (PDF 1.3 mb) for yourself.
The case on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Kitsap Alliance of
Property Owners v. Central Puget Sound Growth Management Hearings
Board, raises questions about whether large, uniform buffers
violate the “takings clause” of the Fifth Amendment. KAPO contends
that Kitsap County requires property owners to dedicate “large
tracts of private land to public use as environmental conservation
buffers” without a clear showing that such buffers protect the
The case has yet to be accepted by the Supreme Court, but one
can get a good understanding of the arguments by reading the
for writ of certiorari (PDF 152 kb), posted on the website of
the Pacific Legal Foundation, which is representing KAPO.
Meanwhile, the task force working to update Kitsap’s shorelines
plan has reconvened, taking up buffers and other controversial
issues, after a hiatus through most of the summer and fall. For the
latest on those deliberations, see stories I wrote for the Kitsap
Sun Nov. 7 and 13: