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
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
Water Year 2017, which began on Oct. 1, got off to a rip-roaring
start this month in terms of rainfall, and now records are falling
for October rainfall totals across the Kitsap Peninsula.
As shown in the three charts on this page, the graph started
climbing steeply above the lines shown — including the green lines,
which denote the highest annual precipitation recorded for the past
25 to 33 years.
So far this month, 19.5 inches of rain have fallen at Holly,
which has averaged about 7 inches in October for the past 24 years.
As you can see in the annual rainfall map at the bottom of this
page, Holly lies in the rain zone on the Kitsap Peninsula — the
area with the greatest amount of rainfall in most years. With four
days left in the month, Holly has about an inch to go to break the
record of 20.5 inches going back to 1991.
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.
In 1991, accompanied by botanist Jerry Gorsline, I visited
Devils Lake for the first time. I remember being awestruck — in
part by the beauty of the place but also because of the many
unusual native plants that Jerry raved about. Not one invasive
species had reached this place.
“Visiting Devils Lake,” I wrote, “is like stepping back in time,
perhaps 200-300 years, to a period when civilization had not yet
carried the seeds of foreign plants to the Pacific Northwest. At
one end of the lake lies an enchanted world — a rare bog, where the
sound of distant bubbles accompanies each footstep in the spongy
Jerry worried that telling the story of Devils Lake would bring
irresponsible people to the lake, people who could destroy the
fragile ecosystem. But he also worried that not telling the story
would lead to a massive clearcut on this state-owned land and that
this wonderland would slip away. You can read this story online in
Chapter 10 of the book “Hood Canal: Splendor at Risk” (PDF 5.2
Jerry and others were successful in limiting the logging, in
part because of increasing environmental awareness and a new
program called the Timber, Fish and Wildlife Agreement. In 2002, 80
acres containing the lake were permanently set aside as a natural
resource conservation area.
Now Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark wants to add
another 415 acres to the NRCA before he leaves office. The added
property, now held in trust for state school construction, would
extend the protected habitat to the western shore of Quilcene Bay.
To gain special protections, the land would need to go through a
process to compensate the trust for the loss of land and timber
Nearby, the 2,771-acre Dabob Bay natural area — which includes
the highly valued natural area preserve and the surrounding NRCA —
would increase by 3,640 acres under the expansion plan. About 940
acres is held by the state in trust status. Private lands, totaling
2,700 acres, could be purchased by the state but only from willing
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
I’m certainly no highway engineer, but I’ve been thinking about
the difference between building roads in Kansas, where I was born,
and building roads in the Puget Sound region.
Kansas has its streams and wetlands to be sure, but nothing like
the density of natural features that we find in the Puget Sound
watershed, where land elevations change constantly and roadways
must cross streams and wetlands at every turn.
For many years, road construction in the Puget Sound region
involved filling wetlands and burying pipes just big enough to pass
the water. It was assumed that salmon would make it through. But
based on our current knowledge of salmon migration, we realize that
these shortcuts took a major toll on the populations of salmon and
This week, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a
lower court ruling requiring state agencies to correct decades of
road-building mistakes that impaired salmon passage on state
highways and on state forest roads. Check out
Monday’s story in the Kitsap Sun.
The lawsuit, filed by 21 Indian tribes, was based on the idea
that undersized and poorly functioning culverts severely affected
the total salmon runs in violation of treaties signed in the 1850s,
which promised Native Americans the right to fish forever in
The lawsuit did not address culverts owned by the federal
government, local governments or private property owners, but the
same principles apply. Steps are now being taken to improve salmon
passage based on standards developed by the Washington Department
of Fish and Wildlife.
Meanwhile, a state advisory committee, known as the Fish Barrier Removal
Board, has been working to establish priorities with top-ranked
projects providing the greatest improvement in salmon habitat.
Kitsap County Engineer Jon Brand, who serves on the board,
described a two-pronged approach to set the priorities. One is to
focus on priority watersheds, with the idea of making major
improvements in a variety of streams in a given area. (See map
above and board
materials (PDF 50.4 mb), Oct. 20, 2015.) The second approach is
to coordinate planning for top-priority streams, with the idea of
working on entire stream systems at once. Obviously, it does not
make sense to replace a culvert upstream if a downstream culvert
continues to block salmon passage. Check out the list of
top-30 ranked projects (PDF 57 kb).
The Fish Barrier Removal Board is putting together a funding
package to be submitted to the Legislature. As Jon pointed out,
some of the most effective projects for salmon passage are not in
the Puget Sound region nor subject to the federal court ruling. The
list also goes beyond state roadways and includes a mix of
ownerships based on the watershed and stream priorities mentioned
State lawmakers face some difficult funding decisions. With the
court order hanging over their heads, along with a 2030 deadline,
they may choose to do only culvert-removal projects in the Puget
Sound region, even though projects in other areas could get a
greater bang for the buck. And will there be money left over to
support local governments trying to improve salmon passage in their
I asked Jon about the expediency of early road-builders who must
have given little consideration to salmon when they filled
wetlands, carved out drainage ditches and installed pipes to carry
the flow of water. It was not always that way, Jon told me.
That method of road-building arrived with the invention of large
earth-moving equipment, he said. In the 1800s and early 1900s,
filling a stream and inserting a culvert was more difficult than
building a bridge of logs, given the vast quantities of timber on
the Kitsap Peninsula.
Those early log bridges no doubt caused fewer problems for
salmon, but they did not last. Eventually, nearly every bridge was
replaced, often by dumping fill across the stream and allowing a
small culvert to carry the water.
As for my misguided notion that Kansas can ignore stream
crossings because the state has no serious environmental problems,
I found this language in “Kansas
Fish Passage Guide” (PDF 2.3 mb), a document written for
“In Kansas, fish passage issues caused by culverts were not
recognized by road officials until about 2010, when … research
indicated that culverts and low-water crossings were a significant
cause of habitat fragmentation in the Kansas Flint Hills.
“Many of the threatened and endangered fish in Kansas are a type
of minnow or minnow-size fish. Small fish typically are not strong
swimmers, so waterfalls, water velocity and turbulence can be a
barrier to passage upstream. Culverts are dark and have an atypical
channel bottom that may also discourage fish passage. Lack of water
depth through the culvert can restrict passage during low-flow
“Stream barriers reduce habitat range and can adversely affect
fish populations upstream and downstream of the stream crossing. A
severe event like a drought or oil spill in a stream segment can
wipe out a species, and the species cannot repopulate the stream
because of the barrier.”
Kansas has begun to prohibit blocking culverts and to address
existing fish-passage issues. As the above-referenced publication
states, “On the Great Plains, it’s usually easy to design and
construct a stream crossing for a two-lane road to provide fish
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.