One of the goals established by the Puget Sound Partnership is
to improve freshwater quality in 30 streams throughout the region,
as measured by the Benthic Index of Biotic Integrity, or B-IBI.
Simply described, B-IBI is a numerical measure of stream health
as determined by the number and type of bottom-dwelling creatures
that live in a stream. My latest article published in the Encyclopedia
of Puget Sound describes in some detail how this index works.
Here’s the basic idea:
“High-scoring streams tend to have a large variety of ‘bugs,’ as
researchers often call them, lumping together the benthic species.
Extra points are given for species that cannot survive without
clean, cool water. On the other hand, low-scoring streams are
generally dominated by a few species able to survive under the
Because benthic invertebrates have evolved over time with salmon
and other fish, many of these important “bugs” are primary prey for
the fish that we value highly. Said another way, “healthy” streams
— as measured by B-IBI — tend to be those that are not only cool
and clean but also very good habitats for salmon.
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.
Washington Department of Licensing has embraced a stylistic work
of art in its new steelhead license plate, which became available
for purchase last week.
The new license plate, which focuses on the eye and head of a
steelhead trout, is an obvious departure from previous wildlife
license plates that feature realistic images of animals. Derek
DeYoung, the artist who created the new plate, specializes in what
he calls abstract paintings of fish faces and flanks, as well as
whole fish. The original steelhead painting is called “Abstract
Steelhead — Horizon Eye.”
Derek, based in Livingston, Mont., is a rare combination of
expressive artist and skilled angler.
When I first started covering the environment for the Kitsap Sun
in the early 1980s, I convinced a state fish biologist to make me a
copy of a notebook containing information about salmon streams on
the Kitsap Peninsula.
Hand-drawn maps of streams, both big and small, along with field
notes about the migration of salmon, stream blockages and other
information were listed in that notebook. Through the years, the
information was updated, combined with other data and eventually
transferred to electronic databases for wider access.
A few years ago, much of this little-known information was
digitized into a map that could be accessed by anyone from a web
browser. The map, using a geographic information system, is such a
valuable tool that I wanted to make sure that readers of this blog
are aware of it.
It was given the name SalmonScape, and the map
shows salmon streams across the state (click “hydrography”); salmon
migration by species (“fish distribution”); stream blockages (“fish
passage”); and hatcheries, fish traps and major dams
Early and continuing rains in October have increased streamflows
and brought coho and chum salmon into their spawning territories
ahead of schedule this year.
I was out and about today, taking a look at some of the streams
in Central Kitsap. I couldn’t pass up the chance to enjoy the sunny
and warm weather, and I was pleased to encounter a lot of other
folks doing the same thing. Adults of all ages, some with children,
were out looking for the elusive salmon. That’s not something I
ever saw 10 years ago while making my rounds to public
I believe the growing interest in salmon may result from ongoing
promotions of salmon watching by governmental and volunteer
organizations, as well as the news media. Why shouldn’t we go out
to watch salmon swimming upstream and possibly, if one is lucky,
catch a glimpse of spawning behaviors? After all, we live in one of
the best areas for this enjoyable pastime.
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.
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
Big Beef Creek, which flows into Hood Canal near Seabeck, will
soon undergo a major wetland renovation that should improve the
survival of coho salmon and steelhead trout.
Other work, which started last year, involves placing large
woody debris in the stream to create deep pools for salmon to cool
off and rest before continuing their migration. The wood also will
help to form new spawning areas for coho, fall chum and the
threatened summer chum of Hood Canal.
Big Beef Creek is an unusual stream, one with a personal
connection for me. In the late 1970s, I lived at Lake Symington, a
man-made lake built years before by impounding Big Beef Creek. A
few years ago, my wife and I bought a home with a tiny tributary of
Big Beef Creek running through the property.
To get a lay of the land, I ventured along the stream and
through the watershed in 1999, meeting many people along the way
and gaining a new respect for Big Beef Creek — known as the longest
stream contained entirely within Kitsap County. Check out my story
for the Kitsap Sun called
“The Watershed.” Much later, I wrote a
Water Ways blog post about the creek beginning with, “It is the
best of streams; it is the worst of streams,” with apologies to
Today, the $1.2 million habitat transformation is taking place
in the lower portion of the stream, just upstream from the estuary
where people go to watch bald eagles soar. (Check out this week’s
“Amusing Monday.”) The project is on property owned by the
University of Washington’s Big Beef Creek Research Station. Work is
under the direction of Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group, a
division of Pacific Northwest Salmon Center.
Site work will expand an 11-acre wetlands by five acres and
reconnect the wetland complex to the stream channel. Coho, which
remain in freshwater for the first year of life, will find a safe
place to stay during the low flows of summer and the fierce floods
“Coho rely on streams with complex habitat, including pools and
shade with good water quality,” said Mendy Harlow, executive
director of the salmon center. “In this project, we are focusing on
the lower one mile of stream.”
Removing an access road along with 1,600 cubic yards of fill
will restore two of the five acres of wetlands and open up the
floodplain. The other two acres come from excavating some 4,500
cubic yards of fill from an elevated area where old storage
buildings were removed last year.
In last year’s work, 10 man-made logjams were created where
excavators could reach the creek. At the end of this month,
helicopters will be used to place another 13 logjams in sections of
the stream that could not be reached by land.
In a coordinated fashion, the helicopters also will be used to
place logjams in Little Anderson Creek, which drains into Hood
Canal just north of Big Beef. Little Anderson Creek, which
Newberry Hill Heritage Park, previously received several loads
of wood in 2006 and again in 2009.
Both Big Beef and Little Anderson are part of an
“intensively monitored watershed” program, in which experts are
attempting to measure the extent to which habitat improvements
increase salmon populations. It is not an easy thing to figure out,
since salmon runs vary naturally from year to year. Still, over
time, the improved spawning and rearing conditions should be
Other restoration work is planned on Seabeck Creek, while Stavis
Creek will remain unchanged as the “control stream” for the Hood
Canal complex of intensively monitored streams.
Fish traps placed in the streams monitor the out-migration of
young salmon smolts, while a permanent fish trap at Big Beef Creek
is used to count both smolts and returning adults. For each stream,
biologists also count the number of redds — mounds of gravel where
salmon have laid their eggs — to determine if conditions are
The improved wetlands and floodplain on Big Beef Creek will
allow the stream to move among several historical stream channels
as sediment loads build and decline over time. Strategically placed
wood will provide complexity wherever the stream chooses to go,
according to Mendy, who has been working toward this project since
“I’m really excited about it and look forward to the changes,”
she said. “The phase of work going forward this summer is the
Sarah Heerhartz, habitat program manager for Hood Canal Salmon
Enhancement Group, said improving the wetlands will not only help
fish but also birds that favor wetlands. The stream will have room
to move and spread out, she said, and some of the sediment from
upstream sources will drop out before reaching the estuary.
“The floodplain is going to be a big boost for coho fry to smolt
survival, because that will open up a lot of rearing habitat for
juvenile coho,” Sarah told reporter Ed Friedrich in a story written
The stream restoration is not expected to affect work at the UW
research station, which continues to play a role in salmon studies,
including efforts to improve hatchery conditions. In 1999, I wrote
about the efforts to restore a run of summer chum on Big Beef
Creek. Take a look at
“Reviving a salmon run.” Unfortunately, the resuscitation
effort has not been entirely successful, but there are new hopes
that this summer’s stream repairs will give a boost to the summer
chum as well as the coho.
Tidal waters in Silverdale flow smoothly in and out of Clear
Creek estuary, passing under a new 240-foot-long bridge — a massive
structure that has replaced a pair of six-foot culverts.
I visited the site this afternoon, walking over to the bridge
from Old Mill Park, and I found the changes startling. Flows of
freshwater from Clear Creek joins saltwater that trickles through
tidal channels from Dyes Inlet. Tidal shifts are reshaping the
estuary, flushing out trapped sediment and leaving deposits of
gravel of varying size. When the fall rains come, salmon will be
able to linger in the estuary upstream or downstream of the bridge
before moving up into the watershed.
Traffic across the estuary was shut off for construction a
little more than a year ago. Now county officials are planning to
celebrate the opening of the new bridge on Friday of next week
(July 22). The ceremony, led by Kitsap County Commissioner Ed
Wolfe, will begin at 10 a.m. on the east end of the bridge. A
Marine Corps honor guard will present the colors, and the Central
Kitsap High School marching band will perform.
“We encourage the community to join us in celebrating this
special occasion,” Ed stated in a news release.
“The new bridge not only addresses traffic needs, but provides
additional non-motorized enhancements as well as restoring Clear
Creek estuary with the removal of culverts.”
Parking will be available at the former Albertson’s/Haggen
grocery store parking lot near the intersection of Bucklin Hill and
The $19.4 million construction project is said to be the largest
project of its kind ever undertaken by the county. The bridge
allows the roadway to be widened from two to four lanes with a new
left-turn lane at Levin Road and a center two-way turn lane
elsewhere in the area. The project adds new bike lanes, sidewalks
and pedestrian overlooks.
After the bridge opens, the contractor, Granite Construction,
will continue to finish various aspects of the project. Occasional
traffic delays can be expected, according to county officials.
Chris Butler-Minor, a master’s degree candidate at Portland
State University, is studying the ecological changes resulting from
the project with the help of volunteers. They are collecting water
samples and monitoring sediments, vegetation and invertebrates.
“It’s a yearlong inconvenience but the outcome will be improved
transportation, improved bike and pedestrian access, and the salmon
are going to love it,” Chris was quoted as saying in a
story by Kitsap Sun reporter Ed Friedrich.
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