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.
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
The video was released under the commission’s new communications
banner, “Northwest Treaty Tribes: Protecting Natural Resources for
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
May 4 and
“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.
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.
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
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
“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
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.
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
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.