Category Archives: Planning

Floodplains by Design solves problems through careful compromise

Water

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.

I got to thinking about this notion while writing a story for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound regarding the need to protect and restore floodplains in order to improve habitat for salmon and other species. The story is part of a series on Implementation Strategies to recover Puget Sound. Check out “Floodplain projects open doors to fewer floods and more salmon.”

Floodplains by 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.

Flooding along the Snoqualmie River
Photo: King County

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 treacherous places.

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 main channel?

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 compromise.

Hood Canal nominated as Sentinel Landscape with ties to military

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.

USS Henry M. Jackson, a Trident submarine, moves through Hood Canal in February on a return trip to Naval Base Kitsap – Bangor.
U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Cmdr. Michael Smith

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 operational activities.

“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.

Source: Sentinal Landscapes 2016

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.

Funding includes REPI money before Sentinel designation
Source: Sentinel Landscapes 2016

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 Landscape program.

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 tribes.

Boundary of proposed Hood Canal Sentinel Landscape (click to enlarge)
Graphic: Trust for Public Land, Naval Base Kitsap

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.

Another existing program is the Navy’s voluntary Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) Program (PDF 876 kb), which has preserved about 5,200 acres surrounding the Navy’s Dabob Bay Range Complex on the west side of Hood Canal in Jefferson County.

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 resources.
  • Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, which provides financial and technical assistance to conserve cropland, rangeland, grassland, pastureland, wetlands and nonindustrial private forest land.

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.

New videos talk about protecting the ecosystem with tribal treaty rights

Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission this week released two new videos, including one that shows how tribes are using their treaty rights to protect the environment on behalf of all Northwest residents.

The video was released under the commission’s new communications banner, “Northwest Treaty Tribes: Protecting Natural Resources for Everyone.”

The video describes the Lummi Nation’s success in getting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reject the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point near Bellingham. If approved, the shipping terminal could have been the transfer point for up to 59 million tons of Montana coal each year. The coal would be transported by train to Cherry Point and onto ships bound for China and other Pacific Rim countries.

The Corps of Engineers halted the permitting process last May, saying the project was too big to be considered de minimis, and it would violate the tribe’s treaty rights to take fish in the usual and accustomed area. See news release.

The video does a nice job of explaining the tribe’s position and the ecological value of fish, including a Cherry Point herring population that has declined so severely that it can no longer support the food web as it once did. Also described well are the cultural values of the Cherry Point site and longtime fishing practices.

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Puget Sound and other estuaries are facing the federal chopping block

Federal funding to restore Puget Sound and other large U.S. estuaries would be slashed by more than 90 percent under a preliminary budget proposal coming from President Trump’s administration.

Funding for Puget Sound restoration would be cut by 93 percent, from the current budget of $28 million to just $2 million, according to figures cited by the Portland Oregonian and apparently circulated by the National Association of Clean Air Agencies. Here’s the list.

The Great Lakes, which received a big boost in spending to $300 million in the current biennium, would be hammered down to $10 million. Chesapeake Bay, currently at $73 million, would be reduced to $5 million.

Much of this money goes for habitat protection and restoration, the kind of effort that seems to be kicked to the bottom of the priority list, at least in these early budget figures. The new EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, appears to be focusing on upgrading water infrastructure, cleaning up toxic sites and reducing air and water pollution, although everything is cut deeply and details remain murky.

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More coho salmon are expected, but fishing will remain limited this year

Total returns of coho salmon to Puget Sound this year are expected to be significantly higher than last year, and that should help smooth negotiations between state and tribal salmon managers working to establish this year’s fishing seasons.

But critically low runs of coho to the Skagit and Stillaguamish rivers in Northern Puget Sound could limit fishing opportunities in other areas, as managers try to reduce fishing pressure on coho making their way back to those rivers.

In any case, both state and tribal managers say they are confident that they can avoid the kind of deadlock over coho they found themselves in last year, when a failure to reach agreement delayed sport fishing seasons and threatened to cancel them altogether. See reporter Tristan Baurick’s stories in the Kitsap Sun, May 4 and May 28.

“We’re in a much better situation than we were last year,” Ryan Lothrop, a salmon manager with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, told a large gathering of sport and commercial fishermen yesterday in Olympia.

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Petition seeks to revoke Department of Ecology’s clean-water authority

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.

Northwest 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 a 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 news release.

“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 not.”

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Federal Action Plan for Puget Sound released as Trump enters office

Two days before Donald Trump became president, the Puget Sound Federal Task Force released a draft of the federal action plan for the recovery of Puget Sound.

Puget Sound from space // Image: NASA

The Trump transition raises uncertainty about the future of this plan, but at least the incoming administration has a document to work with, as described by Steve Kopecky of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. (See Water Ways, Dec. 22.)

Speaking last month before the Puget Sound Partnership’s Leadership Council, Kopecky acknowledged that the plan would go through many changes over time, with or without a new president.

“That being said, the first one is probably the most powerful,” he said. “It is the model that new folks are going to use, so we’re trying to make sure that we have a good solid foundation model before we all collectively go out the door.”

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Report: It’s time to shift the deadlines for Puget Sound restoration

Restoring Puget Sound to a healthy condition by the year 2020 is an unrealistic goal that needs to be addressed by the Puget Sound Partnership, according to the latest performance audit by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee.

Structure

It’s a issue I’ve often asked about when talking to people both inside and outside the Puget Sound Partnership. What’s the plan? Are we just going to wait until the year 2020 and say, “Ah shucks; I guess we couldn’t reach the goal.”?

Puget Sound Partnership, the organization created by the Legislature to coordinate the restoration of Puget Sound, is on the right track in many ways, according to the preliminary audit report. But the Partnership needs to address several “structural issues” — including coming up with realistic goals for restoration.

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Stormwater projects in Silverdale offer hope for a degraded Clear Creek

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.

A renovated stormwater pond at Quail Hollow near Silverdale includes a walking trail and enhanced wildlife habitat. Photo: C. Dunagan
A renovated stormwater pond at Quail Hollow near Silverdale includes a walking trail and enhanced wildlife habitat. // Photo: C. Dunagan

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 Inlet.

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.

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Federal Action Plan coming together
for Puget Sound

A draft of a Federal Action Plan to protect and restore Puget Sound is scheduled for completion before Donald Trump takes office on Jan. 20, according to officials involved in developing the plan.

Colvos Passage from Anderson Point on the Kitsap Peninsula Photo: Lumpytrout, Wikimedia Commons
Colvos Passage from Anderson Point on the Kitsap Peninsula // Photo: Lumpytrout, Wikimedia Commons

The plan will help demonstrate that Washington state and nine federal agencies are aligned in their efforts to recover one of the most important waterways in the nation, according to leaders involved in a new Federal Puget Sound Task Force.

The task force was created in October by President Obama, who essentially elevated Puget Sound to a high-priority ecosystem, on par with Chesapeake Bay, the Florida Everglades and the Great Lakes, according to a news release from the White House.

A memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed among federal agencies replaces a less structured MOU that was scheduled to expire next year. The new agreement calls for a five-year action plan to be completed by June 1, but a draft should be ready by Jan. 18, according to Peter Murchie, who manages Puget Sound issues for the Environmental Protection Agency and chairs the task force.

“Part of the goal is to have something in front of the transition folks … that they can then shepherd through individual budget and prioritization processes that they’ll be doing with new leadership,” Murchie told the Puget Sound Partnership’s Leadership Council two weeks ago.

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