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
Floodplains by Design offers a compromise, recognizing that it
is often not practical to restore the landscape to its original
condition. But loosening some of the man-made controls on a river
can lead to multiple benefits. Providing a river with room to roam
not only improves habitat but also reduces the need to continually
rebuild the eroding levee system. Improved habitat can increase
fish and wildlife populations and enhance recreational
opportunities for people.
Floodplains by Design is the right name for the program, because
it brings members of a community together to work out a specific
design for their reach of the river. Compromises must be made with
folks upstream and downstream and with nature itself. Should houses
and roads be protected or relocated? Can farms accommodate
occasional flooding? Will fish and wildlife flourish within a
restored floodplain where new levees are set farther back from the
I’m not sure if we need to entirely abandon our human impulse to
“fight the floodwaters,” but I like the idea that we should
understand water’s natural tendencies and try to work out a fair
Hood Canal and its surrounding watershed have been nominated as
a Sentinel Landscape, an exclusive designation that recognizes both
the natural resource values and the national defense mission of
special areas across the country.
If the designation is approved, it will bolster applications for
federal funding to protect and restore important habitats and to
maintain working forests in and around Hood Canal. Given the
uncertain budget for environmental programs under the Trump
administration, it wouldn’t hurt to have the Department of Defense
supporting the protection of Hood Canal.
The Sentinel Landscapes Partnership involves the U.S.
departments of Agriculture, Defense and Interior. The idea is to
coordinate the efforts of all three agencies in locations where
their priorities overlap, according to the
2016 Report on Sentinel Landscapes (PDF 5.6 mb).
Priorities for the Department of Agriculture include protecting
working farms and forests by providing technical and financial
assistance. The Department of Interior is mostly interested in
protecting natural resources and in restoring important habitats
for fish and wildlife. The Department of Defense would like to
reduce land-use conflicts with surrounding communities while
maintaining maximum flexibility for testing, training and
“This is really an exciting thing,” said Richard Corff of The
Trust for Public Land, who put together the application proposing
Hood Canal as a Sentinel Landscape. “The Pacific Northwest is an
incredible area, and within that incredible area, Hood Canal is
really, really special.”
Hood Canal is one of the few places in the country with intact
forests from the marine waters to the high mountains, he said, and
few places in the Northwest have healthy salmon habitat stretching
up from saltwater into the higher reaches of the streams.
“It’s pretty magical in a lot of ways,” Corff said.
The Sentinel Landscape Partnership was launched as a pilot
program in 2013, when Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma became
the first area in the nation to be so designated.
The JBLM Sentinel Landscape encompasses the base’s 63,000-acre
training area, which contains 90 percent of the remaining native
prairie habitat in South Puget Sound. Protecting that habitat while
maintaining military objectives is the highest priority. Other
goals include working with landowners to implement pastureland
conservation plans and protecting natural habitats that are home to
several threatened and endangered species.
In 2015, two more Sentinel Landscapes were approved, Fort
Huachuca in Arizona and Middle Chesapeake, associated with Naval
Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland. In 2016, three more
landscapes were designated: Avon Park Air Force Range in Florida,
Camp Riley in Minnesota, and Eastern North Carolina, which includes
Fort Bragg, Camp Lejeune, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point and
other military facilities.
Designation as a Sentinel Landscape requires that an area
contain a military installation with surrounding lands suitable for
conservation and/or working lands, such as farms and forests. These
priorities must be recognized by government agencies, nongovernment
organizations and other partners in the community.
Designated areas are required to develop a coordinated
implementation strategy or plan designed to provide incentives to
landowners who adopt or sustain land uses compatible the Sentinel
Corff stressed that designating Hood Canal as a Sentinel
Landscape would not bring any new regulations or automatic land-use
changes. In fact, any private lands involved in the program would
require the consent of willing sellers, he said.
In a special meeting last week, the Hood Canal Coordinating
Council agreed to coordinate interested parties within a Hood Canal
Sentinel Landscape, provided funding is available. The designation
is supported by state agencies as well as Kitsap, Mason and
Jefferson counties and the Skokomish and Port Gamble S’Klallam
With local approvals in hand, Corff submitted the
application yesterday to the Federal Coordinating Committee
overseeing the Sentinel Landscape program. New additions to the
program are expected to be announced this summer.
Lands proposed for inclusion in the Hood Canal region include
Naval Base Kitsap with facilities at Bangor, Keyport, Bremerton,
Indian Island and Dabob Bay, as well as surrounding federal, state
and private properties.
Scott Brewer, executive director of the Hood Canal Coordinating
Council, said he believes the Sentinel Landscape Partnership is
consistent with the council’s mission of coordinating efforts to
protect and restore the Hood Canal watershed. In 2014, the council
adopted a Hood Canal Integrated Watershed Plan — a shared vision
that suggests how humans can live and work sustainably within a
healthy Hood Canal ecosystem.
Partners in that program include the Navy, Washington Department
of Natural Resources, Washington State Parks, The Nature
Conservancy and The Trust for Public Land. Lands and conservation
easements have been purchased with more than $13 million under that
program, although I’m told that funding may be shifting toward the
newer Sentinel Landscape program.
In the first three years of the newer program, more than $85
million has been invested in the first three Sentinel Landscapes,
including about $18 million from state and local governments. More
money has been proposed for the newly designated areas.
In addition to the REPI program, funds can be provided to
Sentinel Landscapes through these programs of the USDA Natural
Resources Conservation Service:
Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which offers
technical assistance to producers and landowners,
Conservation Stewardship Program, which provides technical and
financial assistance to farmers for management practices that
promote soil and water quality along with wildlife habitat.
Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which provides
funding to farmers through 10-year contracts for protecting natural
Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, which provides
financial and technical assistance to conserve cropland, rangeland,
grassland, pastureland, wetlands and nonindustrial private forest
Other successful grant programs include:
The U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program, which protects
ecologically and economically important forest lands by purchasing
development rights and other methods.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s North American Wetlands
Conservation Act grants, which go for increasing wetland habitat
and bird populations while supporting hunting, fishing, family
farming, cattle ranching and bird watching.
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
Entries in this year’s Eco-Comedy Video Competition seem to
reflect an anxiety over what will happen to the environment under
President Trump’s administration — although the winning video was
among a few finalists that stayed clear of an overt political
This is the eighth annual competition sponsored by the Center
for Environmental Filmmaking and The Nature Conservancy. A total of
48 videos were submitted with this year’s theme: “Conservation and
To qualify, the original videos, three minutes or less, must be
humorous, communicate a clear message and appeal to a broad
audience. A panel of five judges chose the finalists and grand
prize winner, who will be honored in a ceremony next week at
American University in Washington, D.C.
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