The American dipper, a chunky songbird able to walk on the
bottom of swift-moving streams, is one of the many species
benefitting from removal of the Elwha dams, according to a new
You might see this bird bobbing up and down at the edge of a
stream or pecking away at bugs in shallow water. They are memorable
for repetitive diving or simply walking along as water rushes over
and around them. Their transparent second eyelid allows them to
search for tiny invertebrates and small fish, including juvenile
salmon. They can close their nostrils under water, and their
feathers produce extra oil to protect them from the cold water.
(The video from YouTube does not say where it was filmed.)
As for dippers in the Olympic Mountains, the arrival of salmon
far upstream from the Elwha dams could boost the population of
these marvelous birds, said to be America’s only true aquatic
Since salmon put on most of their body mass in the ocean, the
nutrients they bring back to their natal streams help feed an
entire upstream ecosystem. Two new studies led by Christopher Tonra
of Ohio State University demonstrate the rapid recovery of the
American dipper in the Elwha — a faster recovery than anyone
expected. It also offers hope for a quick turnaround from dam
removal in other areas.
“It’s exciting to be able to show a real positive outcome in
conservation,” Tonra said in a story by Misti
Crane of OSU. “That these rivers can come back within our own
generation is a really exciting thing.”
The studies by Tonra and his colleagues showed that American
dippers with access to salmon contained more marine-derived
nutrients. They were 20 times more likely to attempt multiple
broods and were 13 times more likely to stay in one area
year-round. Their adult survival rate was 11 percent higher than in
areas without salmon.
Females with access to salmon had larger body mass, suggesting a
healthier condition, and their female offspring also were
The biggest surprise to the researchers was how quickly the
salmon returned, providing a growth opportunity for many wildlife
“It was pretty much as soon as the first dam came out and fish
were beating up against the second, wanting to go,” Tonra said.
Tonra was previously associated with the Smithsonian Migratory
Bird Center. Others involved in the project were Kimberly
Sager-Fradkin of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, Peter Marra of the
Smithsonian, Sara Morley of Northwest Fisheries Science Center and
Jeffrey Duda of the Western Fisheries Research Center.
I found the following video on YouTube and had to share it. The
video, taken at Vancouver Aquarium, shows an unusual interaction
between a dipper and a baby beluga whale.
It’s turning out to be a good Christmas for the Skokomish
watershed in southern Hood Canal, where numerous restoration
projects recently received a green light.
Restoring the Skokomish River ecosystem is often regarded as
essential to restoring Hood Canal to a healthy condition. Work over
the past 10 years has reduced sediment coming from the Olympic
Mountains, improved flow conditions in the river and restored tidal
mixing and native vegetation in the vast Skokomish estuary.
Continuing efforts — including a new
fish-passage facility in the North Fork of the Skokomish — are
contributing to an increase in species diversity and improved
The latest news involves future restoration efforts, including
an award of five grants totaling $1.4 million from the state’s
Recovery Funding Board. In addition, top officials in the Army
Corps of Engineers have endorsed the long-awaited Skokomish River
Basin Ecosystem Restoration Plan, expected to cost about $20
“We are making solid progress on all fronts,” said Mike Anderson
of The Wilderness Society who serves as coordinator of the
Skokomish Watershed Action Team. The action team, which celebrated
its 10th anniversary this year, includes representatives of
federal, state and local agencies, the Skokomish Tribe,
environmental groups, business interests and area residents.
It has been rewarding for me to watch the coordinated efforts —
from the U.S. Forest Service working high up in the Olympic
Mountains to the Skokomish Tribe and Mason Conservation District
working on the tidelands of Hood Canal. For a history of the
struggle, please read my 2009 series “Taming the Skokomish.”
Part 1, the people;
Part 2, farming;
Part 3, logging;
Part 4, the restoration.
On a related note, the Forest Service recently announced that it
has completed its effort to remove unneeded logging roads and make
sure they no longer contribute sediment to nearby streams and the
Skokomish River. In all, more than 200 miles of roads have been
decommissioned over the past 20 years.
The Forest Service is now moving ahead with “vegetation
management” on some 4,500 acres of timberland in the Lower North
Fork and Lower South Fork of the Skokomish River. The project
involves commercial timber harvest and restoration treatments in an
effort to accelerate the return to old-growth conditions. See
Vegetation Management Project.
Dec. 14 letter (PDF 818 kb) from the Army’s chief of engineers
moves the Skokomish restoration project one step closer to
“The recommended plan provides restoration on a total of 277
acres in the study area and provides substantial benefits to
nationally significant resources,” states the letter from Lt. Gen.
Thomas Bostick. “In addition, the removal of the levee at the
confluence of the North and South Forks of the Skokomish River
provides significant benefits for upstream fish passage to an
approximate additional 40 miles of habitat in the South Fork
Skokomish River that is periodically inaccessible due to the lack
of water in the river channel adjacent to the confluence.”
Although the project names have been modified to stress
ecosystem functions, I reported on all five in
Water Ways a year ago:
Car body levee removal: This levee was built
with old cars at the confluence where the North Fork flows into the
mainstem of the Skokomish. Some 5,000 feet of the levee would be
removed. A small channel would be created to allow water from the
mainstem to flow into the North Fork and return at the existing
confluence. Large woody debris would help direct water into the
channel. Estimated cost: $7.5 million.
Large woody debris: Upstream of the confluence
with the North Fork, large woody debris would be installed. Large
clusters of trees with root wads, as well as some single trees,
would be placed between river mile 9 and 11, as measured from the
estuary in Hood Canal. Estimated cost: $3.2 million.
Setback levee at river mile 9: The existing
levee would be breached in four locations, and a new levee would be
built some 200 to 300 feet farther away. The levee would allow for
minor over-topping but would not increase the flood risk. Estimated
cost: $2.4 million.
Grange levee: Larger breeches are planned for
the levee near the Grange hall at river mile 7.5 to 8, compared to
the levee at river mile 9. A new levee, up to 10 feet tall and
2,900 feet long, would be constructed 1,200 feet farther back with
no increase in flood risk. Locations are still under discussion.
Estimate cost $3.3 million.
Side channel connection near Highway 101: An
old remnant channel between river mile 4 and 5.6 would be restored
to take water from the mainstem at high flows. Woody debris would
help define the inlet and outlet to the channel, which would become
a ponded wetland at low flows. Estimated cost: $3.1 million.
If approved by Congress, the federal government would pay 65
percent of the cost, with 35 percent coming from state and local
The ecosystem investigation by the Army Corps of Engineers also
identified other worthy projects that did not qualify for funding
through the Corps. Some of those projects are being funneled
through other state and federal programs. Projects recently
approved by the Salmon Recovery Funding Board:
Reconnecting Weaver Creek, $200,000: A new
750-foot channel will connect a stagnant portion of Weaver Creek to
the free-flowing Purdy Creek, and about 25 logs will be installed.
In addition to improved flows, the project will boost oxygen levels
in the stream. The sponsor, Mason Conservation District, will
contribute $153,000 from a separate federal grant.
South Fork Logjams, $225,000: Twenty-two
man-made logjams will be added to the Holman Flats area in the
South Fork of the Skokomish River to create salmon habitat, reduce
sediment flows and stabilize the stream channel. This area was once
cleared for a reservoir that was never built, resulting in excess
sediment that destroys salmon spawning beds. The sponsor, Mason
Conservation District, will contribute $469,000 from a separate
Logjam priorities in Upper South Fork,
$305,000: Mason Conservation District will study a 12-mile stretch
of the Upper South Fork of the Skokomish to develop a prioritized
list of the best places to install future logjams. Logjams are
designed to improve fish habitat, reduce sediment movement and
stabilize stream banks. The conservation district will contribute
$54,000 and labor.
Logjam designs for Skokomish, $265,000: Mason
Conservation District will work with landowners to select a design
for logjams on a 1.6-mile stretch of the Skokomish River that lacks
shoreline structure. The conservation district will contribute
$47,000 in donations of equipment.
Concepts for moving Skokomish Valley Road,
$363,000: Moving the road away from the South Fork of the Skokomish
River would allow for the removal of levees, restoration of the
river banks and reconnection of the river to about 60 acres of
floodplain. This project would investigate possible locations for a
new road as well as the possible addition of a meander to the river
channel and the removal or relocation of a bridge over Vance Creek.
The sponsor, Mason Conservation District, will contribute $64,000
from a separate federal grant.
Killer whales were back in Puget Sound today, spotted early this
morning near Vashon Island, in the afternoon near Seattle and after
dark near Point No Point in North Kitsap. Reports can be seen on
Network’s Facebook page.
It’s a reminder that chum salmon are now running in Puget Sound,
and the whales are close behind. The chum also are entering our
local streams. So this is the time to visit your nearest salmon
stream to see if the fish have arrived. Tristan Baurick wrote about
recent conditions for the
As always, if you wish to see chum swimming upstream and
possibly spawning, one of the best places to go is Chico Salmon
Park next to Kitsap Golf and Country Club. For the latest
information about the park, read the story in the
Kitsap Sun by Terri Gleich.
With a couple of updates, my Salmon Viewing
Map and videos still offer a guide to the best public spots to
watch salmon on the Kitsap Peninsula. Click on the map at right to
access the videos and other information, including viewing
If you would like to learn about salmon from the experts, make a
note of these events:
Saturday, Nov. 7, Poulsbo Fish Park, 288
Lindvig Way. Children’s activities included, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. No
Salmon Viewing Saturday
Saturday, Nov. 14, Chico Salmon Park, Chico
Way at Golf Club Road, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. No charge. Kitsap
Saturday, Nov. 14, Mountaineers Rhododendron
Preserve, 3153 Seabeck Highway. Tours, involving a hike of about
1.5 miles, begin at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. Nov. 14.
Kitsap Salmon Tours.
I’ve always enjoyed listening to sounds, whether it be easily
identified natural sounds or mysterious sounds that are hard to
When I was kid, I was given a tape recorder, which I used to
collect all sorts of natural and unnatural sounds. I would play
back the sounds and ask people if they could identify the source.
Even as an aging adult, I enjoy listening to the sound of a flowing
stream, breaking waves or falling rain. I also like to listen to
bird calls, and I keep telling myself that I need to learn how to
identify more of them — but that’s another story.
For this blog, I would like to return again to this idea of
natural sound and share some websites where you can listen to your
heart’s content and sometimes shape the sound itself. Since this is
a blog about water, I’ve tended to focus on rain, streams, oceans
and such things, but these links can be just a starting point.
Soundsnap is a website
that boasts of having 200,000 sounds in its catalog, including
6,000 sounds of
nature. Included are 249 sounds of rain, 117 sounds of the
sea, 1,065 sounds
of water and
298 sounds of ice. These sounds can be
downloaded for a fee, but it costs nothing to explore Sound Snap’s
At the other end of the spectrum is a single 11-hour YouTube
video featuring the sound and images of ocean waves. I have not
listened to more than a few minutes of this video at a time, so I
don’t know what happens if you turn on this video to go to sleep
and then leave it on all night. But the sound coming from the video
is certainly more pleasant than the nightly sounds that some people
learn to tolerate. The video, embedded on this page, was posted by
which has several videos of a similar vein.
If you would like to download a sound to save it or use it in a
video project, Sound Bible is a
royalty-free site with a large collection of sounds. I downloaded
the files below from collections called “Sea Sounds” and “Water
Mark Powell made it, completing his swim today of the entire
Duwamish River, with the exception of some whitewater rapids
upstream and a stretch of the river through Tacoma’s protected
watershed. For background, see
Water Ways, Aug. 22.
During his remarks after
climbing out of the water in Elliott Bay, Mark said he had
concluded along the way that “the heart of the Duwamish River … is
“I started out with the idea that I would hope to find the heart
of the Duwamish River, and I think I succeeded. One thing I saw
stands out above all else, and to me it is the heart of the
Duwamish River. I saw thousands of wild pink salmon swimming up the
Duwamish and the Green River.
“There’s a huge run of pink salmon this year. I don’t know how
many people in Seattle know about it. Schools of salmon so thick
and so close that I reached out and touched the salmon with my
hand. I have never seen so many salmon except in videos taken in
“That’s not to say everything is fine on the Duwamish River.
There are some other species of salmon not doing so well. There are
some very well known pollution problems. But the thriving, healthy
wild pink salmon run to me is the heart of the Duwamish River. The
heart is still beating.”
The first video on this page shows the final leg of Mark’s
journey through the industrial Duwamish Waterway, a journey that
began where the Green River begins as a trickle south of Snoqualmie
Pass high in the Cascade Mountains.
By swimming the entire Green/Duwamish River in King County, Mark
Powell hopes to show that the river’s full length — roughly 85
miles from the mountains to Puget Sound — is a single system worthy
of protection and restoration.
I believe that most people have heard about the Duwamish
Waterway in Seattle, a channelized, industrialized section of the
lower Duwamish River where decades of pollution are being cleaned
up, one step at a time. But how much does anyone know about the
upper end of the river, which begins as a trickle of crystal clear
water in the Cascade Mountains south of Snoqualmie Pass?
“Almost nobody knows the river well, not even the people who
live along the river,” Mark told me.
Mark, the Puget Sound Program director for Washington
Environmental Council. said the idea of swimming the entire river
came to him during the kickoff of a new
Green/Duwamish Watershed Strategy by King County and Seattle.
The plan is to identify all the significant problems in the
PDF 1.1 mb) and to increase restoration efforts where
“I thought this would be an interesting way to connect with
people,” Mark said. “I’m a guy who likes to get outdoors, so this
is a personal commitment I could make.”
Mark swam around Bainbridge Island in the winter of 2008-09.
““By swimming the whole coastline, I’m not just diving to the
pretty spots. I’m forced to look at the gross parts,” he told
reporter Michelle Ma in a story for the
So far, Mark has been swimming the upper and middle portions of
the Green/Duwamish River. He said his biggest surprise is finding
pockets of good habitat everywhere he goes.
Earlier this month, he was accompanied on the river by Sheida
Sahandy, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership, and
Martha Kongsgaard, chairwoman of the partnership’s Leadership
Council. A few days before they swam the river near Auburn, the
Leadership Council approved new “vitals signs” indicators for
“human health” and “human well-being” to emphasize the human
connection to the Puget Sound ecosystem. See
“Water Ways” July 30.
The human connection was still on Sheida’s mind when I talked to
her about a week after her trip to the Green River. The most
“eye-opening” part of the swim for her was the condition of “this
incredibly beautiful natural element coursing through a very urban
She saw evidence of people living along the river in
less-than-desirable conditions, she said. There were barbecues and
trailer houses but no suggestion that people had any connection to
the river — except that some individuals apparently were using it
as a toilet, she said.
“I haven’t quite wrapped my head around that, but it feels very
right that we are considering human well-being,” she explained. “On
the one hand is what we have done to the river. On the other hand
is what we have done to ourselves. We need to figure out how it all
Mark’s adventures on the river are chronicled in a blog called
Duwamish.” He hopes to swim every section of the river where he
is allowed to go and be safe. A portion of the Green River
controlled by the city of Tacoma has no public access, because it
is a source of the city’s water supply. Rapids in the Green River
Gorge are said to be dangerous, so Mark will look for a guide to
help him. And because of heavy marine traffic in the Duwamish
Waterway, he may use a boat to escort him on his approach to
Seattle’s Elliott Bay.
The Green/Duwamish River may be the most disjointed river in
Puget Sound, both physically and psychologically. People who have
seen the industrialized lower river find it hard to visualize the
near-pristine salmon stream spilling clean water down from the
mountains. It is the upper part that provides the inspiration to
clean up the lower part, Mark told me.
“If there was a reason for sacrificing a river, you could find
it in the Duwamish,” he said. “But we can’t afford to sacrifice
even one river. To me, this is what protecting Puget Sound is all
about. By the time the pollution gets to Puget Sound it is too
If salmon can make it through the gauntlet in the lower river,
they may have a fighting chance to spawn and produce a new
generation of Green River fish. Improving their migration corridor
is not an impossible dream.
I suggested to Mark that the name of the river be officially
changed to “Green/Duwamish” or “Green-Duwamish” to help people
recognize that this is a single river from the mountains to Puget
Sound. After all, the name “Salish Sea” has helped some people
realize that we share an inland waterway with Canadians. The other
name-change option would be to call it Duwamish all the way.
Until I started reading about the Duwamish, I didn’t realize how
this river once captured water from the Black River and the White
River as well as the Green River and the Cedar River. But the
system has changed drastically over the past century or so.
As you can see in the map on this page, the Green River once
joined the White River and flowed north, picking up waters from the
Black River. The Black River, which took drainage from Lake
Washington, picked up water from the Cedar River.
Where the Black River merged with the White River, it became the
Duwamish all the way to Puget Sound.
Two major events changed the rivers’ flow and subsequently the
nomenclature. In 1906, a flood diverted the White River to the
south into the channel of the Stuck River, which flowed into the
Puyallup River. Shortly after that, the White River was
artificially confined to keep it flowing south. Because the river
flowing north contained water only from the Green River, the name
“White” was changed to “Green” downstream to where the Duwamish
The other big event was the construction of the Lake Washington
Ship Canal in 1917 to connect the lake with Puget Sound. The
construction lowered the lake by more than 8 feet, with the lake
level controlled by the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks. The Black River,
which had taken the discharge flow from Lake Washington before
construction, then dried up. The Cedar River, which had flowed into
the Black River, was diverted into the lake.
Following those changes, the Green River and the Duwamish became
essentially the same river, with the total flow perhaps one-third
as much as it had been before the changes. If you are interested in
this history and other geological forces at work in the area, check
out the 1970 report by the U.S. Geological Survey
(PDF 53.1 mb).
Time-lapse photography can add a new dimension to the way we see
things. When done well, these speeded-up videos not only help us
see things in a new way but also call us to remember feelings about
special places and natural wonders.
On their first visit to Olympic National Park, brothers Will and
Jim Pattiz captured images from various park locations for what
would become a captivating video for the series “More Than Just Parks.”
They traveled to some prime locations that many of us have visited,
but their careful use of time-lapse equipment create a new sense of
inspiration for familiar places.
So find a quiet moment, sit back and enjoy their video
full-screen on your computer if not your TV.
If you’d like to learn more about the video project and what the
brothers learned about Olympic National Park, read the interview on
Exotic Hikes website, or check out the background on “More Than Just
One of my all-time favorite time-lapse videos was shot in
Yellowstone National Park, where photographer Christopher Cauble
captured the rhythms of nature in a place where geysers, streams,
clouds and even the animals move with a natural fluidity. I
especially like the sections where the video slows down to remind
us about the normal pace of events — something not seen in most
The last video on this page shows Mount Rainier in a time-lapse
video by West Coast
Time Lapse, a company of Nate Wetterauer and Chase Jensen. Like
the Olympic National Park video, this one about Mount Rainier was
posted within the past year.
Rainfall in most of Kitsap County was fairly normal or slightly
above average until April, when the spring rains basically stopped.
The lack of rain has led to extreme conditions, as anyone can see
by looking at the dry vegetation across Western Washington.
The total rainfall has now fallen below normal in most areas of
Kitsap County, as shown by the maps on this page. That
below-average condition is unlikely to change without some
uncharacteristic rainstorms between now and the end of the “water
year” on Oct. 1.
The Kitsap Peninsula, like islands throughout Puget Sound, does
not rely on snowpack for its water supplies, so a shortage of
drinking water is unlikely. The one exception might be residents
who rely on private shallow wells, some of which could start to dry
up by the end of summer, according to Bob Hunter, manager of Kitsap
Public Utility District.
Deeper aquifers used by most major water systems on the
peninsula are not affected by a single year’s weather. It takes
time for the water to trickle down to the deeper layers, where
groundwater levels reflect the pattern of rainfall occurring over
The soils and topography vary so greatly from one place to
another that nobody can say how soon shallow wells will be
affected. Some wells depend on springs or surface infiltration,
while others tap into aquifers with adequate supply. The rate of
withdrawal, including the number of homes in a given area, can have
an effect on water supply.
Although the deeper aquifers are not likely to be affected this
year, what if we are at the beginning of a dry period that lasts
three years or more? I would hate to look back on my current water
usage and regret not saving water when I had the chance. To a
varying extent, conserving water can protect our water supplies and
help the overall ecosystem.
In addition to affecting aquifers, the lack of rain has reduced
streamflows in creeks and rivers to below-normal rates throughout
the county. The resulting low flows could affect coho salmon, which
spend a year in freshwater. The fall salmon migration will be
mostly affected by whether rains show up to saturate the soils and
raise stream levels in September and October.
Bob Hunter says the per-capita use of water has been dropping,
but he’s not sure how much of the change is a result of personal
choices and how much is a result of new kitchen and bathroom
fixtures required by plumbing codes. Low-flush toilets and low-flow
faucets can really make a difference, he said.
People use large amounts of water on their lawns, so one
long-term effort is to reduce the amount of grass and thirsty
vegetation that homeowners maintain while improving the soil to
increasing its water-holding capacity.
“This year, people are irrigating a lot earlier than they were
in the past,” Bob told me. “That has to have an impact, especially
if the summer stays dry the whole way.”
The key to protecting future water supplies on the Kitsap
Peninsula is for everyone to change their habitats over time by
finding ways to use less water. If people understand the
trickle-down theory of aquifers, they might be less inclined to
take our water for granted.
After much success in cleaning up streams in Kitsap County,
pollution investigators for the Kitsap Public Health District plan
to turn their backs on most state and federal grants and reorganize
their approach to local waterways.
I’m talking about the folks who literally wrote the book on
pollution identification and correction, or PIC, a strategic
approach to tracking down bacterial contamination and eliminating
the sources. A 2012
“Protocol Manual” (PDF 10.6 mb) and a 2014
“guidance document” (PDF 4.3 mb) — both developed by Kitsap’s
pollution investigators — are now being used by local health
departments throughout the state.
That’s why I was surprised to hear that the health district
plans to change course for its pollution-cleanup program this fall
— especially the part about reducing reliance on state and federal
grants. For many Puget Sound jurisdictions, these grants provide
the major sources of funding, if not the only funding for their PIC
Kitsap County is fortunate to have a stormwater fee collected
from rural property owners. For single-family homeowners, the fee
will be $82 this year. The money goes into the Clean Water Kitsap
program, which funds a multitude of clean-water projects —
including street-sweeping, improving stormwater systems and
restoring natural drainage.
The fee also supports the health district’s ongoing monitoring
program, a monthly sampling of more than 50 Kitsap County streams,
along with lakes and marine waters. The program has successfully
reported improvements in various streams while providing
early-warning signs for water-quality problems. The program was
started in 1996.
None of that will change, according to Stuart Whitford,
supervisor for the health district’s PIC Program. While state and
federal grants have been helpful in tracking down pollution
problems, most of the major problems have been identified, he
“We know what we have, and the patient has been stabilized,” he
The problem with grants is that they require specific
performance measures, which must be carefully documented and
reported quarterly and in final reports.
“The administrative burden is heavy, and the state grants don’t
fully pay for the overhead,” Stuart said. “Looking out into the
future, we think state and federal grants will be reduced. We are
already seeing that in the Legislature. So we are going to wean
ourselves off the grants.”
Future efforts need to focus on identifying failing septic
systems and sources of animal waste before they become a serious
problem, Stuart told me. The process of doing that is firmly
established in local plans. Work will continue, however, on nagging
pollution problems that have not been resolved in some streams. And
he’s not ruling out applying for grants for specific projects, if
the need returns.
To increase efficiency in the ongoing program, health district
staff will be reorganized so that each investigator will focus on
one or more of the 10 watersheds in the county. In the process, the
staff has been cut by one person. The assignments are being made
now and will be fully implemented in the fall.
“The stream monitoring will remain the same,” Stuart said. “But
each person will be able to do more intensive monitoring in their
Having one investigator responsible for each watershed will
allow that person to become even more intimately acquainted with
the landscape and the water-quality issues unique to that area.
Because of the extensive problems in Sinclair Inlet, two people
will be assigned to that drainage area, which includes a good
portion of South Kitsap and West Bremerton.
Dave Garland, regional water-quality supervisor for the
Department of Ecology, said he, too, was surprised that the Kitsap
Public Health District wishes to avoid grants, but he is confident
that Stuart Whitford knows what he is doing.
“They are definitely leaders in the state and have been very
successful in their approach,” he said. “We wish more health
districts and surface water departments would be more like Kitsap.
They are improving as they go.”
Garland said Kitsap County officials have done more than anyone
to remove streams and waterways from the “impaired waters” list
that Ecology compiles. The list — also known as 303(d) under the
federal Clean Water Act — is part of Ecology’s
“Water Quality Assessment,” now being finalized for submission
to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
In 2008, Kitsap County had 69 stream segments listed as
“impaired.” As a result of work over six years, now only 7 are
proposed for the upcoming list. Many streams were removed when they
came under state cleanup plans for Dyes and Sinclair inlets,
between Port Orchard and Silverdale, or in Liberty Bay near
Poulsbo. Those state plans identify cleanup efforts to reduce
pollution loading and bring the waters into conformance with state
water-quality standards. They are called TMDLs, short for total
maximum daily loads.
Because the Kitsap County PIC Program has been so successful,
Ecology has allowed the local program to substitute for TMDL
studies for many streams where stormwater outfalls are not an
issue. Under the Clean Water Act, the local program comes under
Category 4B (for local planning), as opposed to 4A (the state’s
“No one has done a more thorough job,” Dave said of Kitsap’s
effort. “It is very impressive to see that they have gone to TMDLs
or to 4B. That does not mean the waters are clean, but it means
they are under a plan.”
Of the remaining seven “impaired” water bodies, some should be
removed because of Kitsap’s cleanup plans, Stuart said. They
include Anderson Creek and Boyce Creek, which flow into Hood Canal,
and Murden Creek on Bainbridge Island, which is undergoing a
special study. Phinney Creek in Dyes Inlet is already part of a
TMDL, and an area in southern Hood Canal should not be on the list
because it meets water-quality standards, he said. Stuart hopes to
get those changes made before the list is submitted to EPA this
Currently, nothing is being done with regard to Eagle Harbor or
Ravine Creek, two “impaired” water bodies on Bainbridge Island. The
health district’s program does not extend to cities, although
Bainbridge could contract with the health district for monitoring
Eagle Harbor could become subject to a TMDL study by the
Department of Ecology, but it is not currently on the state’s
priority list. As a result, work is not likely to begin for at
least two years.
The Environmental Protection Agency has finally completed a new
rule that defines which waterways across the country fall under
federal jurisdiction for clean-water permits.
Enforcement of the federal Clean Water Act has been stuck in a
state of confusion since 2006, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled
that the Army Corps of Engineers was overreaching by requiring
permits for all sorts of waterways beyond the agency’s
jurisdiction. For background, check out my
Water Ways post from March 25, 2014, in which I describe the
court’s interpretation of “waters of the U.S.” — the key phrase in
The EPA requisitioned a scientific report about hydraulic
connectivity, concluding that even small streams can affect
downstream waters. The final language in the rule, designed to
reduce judgment calls by federal regulators, says tributaries would
come under federal jurisdiction only if capable of delivering
significant pollution downstream. Such tributaries would need to
have flowing water or related features — such as a streambed, bank
or high-water mark.
The rule has worried farmers, who want to make sure the federal
government does not try to regulate ditches designed for irrigation
and drainage. Language in the final rule says ditches will not be
regulated unless they are shown to be a remnant of a natural stream
that has been diverted or altered.
Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary for the Army, said the rule
represents a “new era” for the Clean Water Act. As she stated in a
“This rule responds to the public’s demand for greater clarity,
consistency, and predictability when making jurisdictional
determinations. The result will be better public service
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said the rule is grounded in
science and law. For downstream waters to be clean, upstream waters
also must be clean, she said.
McCarthy said the language was revised significantly since the
first proposal, taking into account more than a million public
comments and discussions in 400 meetings across the country. As she
told reporters in a telephone conference call:
“I think you will see that we have made substantial changes that
basically made this rule clearer, crisper and did the job we were
supposed to do. And I’m very proud of the work we have done
McCarthy also told the reporters that climate change increases
the importance of protecting water resources:
“Impacts from climate change — like more intense droughts,
storms, fires and floods, not to mention sea-level rise — affect
our water supplies. But healthy streams and wetlands can help
protect communities by trapping flood waters, retaining moisture
during drought, recharging groundwater supplies, filtering
pollution and providing habitat for fish and wildlife.”
The new rule was applauded by many environmental groups,
including the Sierra Club. Michael Brune, executive director,
“No longer will the Supreme Court’s confusing decisions on the
issue allow dirty fossil fuel companies to threaten people’s health
by dumping toxins into our lakes, rivers, and streams.”
Still, plenty of people contend that the EPA and Army Corps have
contrived this new rule to continue their over-reach into streams
that should be beyond federal jurisdiction. House Speaker John
Boehner, R- Ohio, issued
this statement in response to the EPA’s release of the new
rule, sometimes called “WOTUS” for “waters of the U.S.”
“The administration’s decree to unilaterally expand federal
authority is a raw and tyrannical power grab that will crush jobs.
House members of both parties have joined more than 30 governors
and government leaders to reject EPA’s disastrous WOTUS rule. These
leaders know firsthand that the rule is being shoved down the
throats of hardworking people with no input and places landowners,
small businesses, farmers and manufacturers on the road to a
regulatory and economic hell.”
The House has already passed a bill, HB
1732, that would put the brakes on implementation of the new
rule and send the EPA back to the drawing board for new language.
As you could expect, the vote was mostly along party lines. If the
Senate approves the bill, it is likely to be vetoed by the
The new rule is scheduled to go into effect 60 days from its
publication in the Federal Register. For more details, visit the
EPA’s website “Clean