Watching Our Water Ways

Environmental reporter Christopher Dunagan discusses the challenges of protecting Puget Sound and all things water-related.
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Posts Tagged ‘Dyes Inlet’

Orcas bring excitement to Kitsap shorelines

Thursday, June 6th, 2013
A group of eight transient killer whales pass Lions Park Thursday. Kitsap Phone photo by Larry Steagall.

A group of eight transient killer whales pass by Bremerton’s Lions Park Thursday afternoon.
Kitsap Sun photo by Larry Steagall.

I was at my desk Thursday afternoon, tracking down some information for a story, when a call came into the newsroom: Killer whales were passing under Bremerton’s Manette Bridge.

Oh sure, I thought, I’ve heard this type of call before. Although I never fail to check out orca reports, such calls usually lead to what I call a “wild whale chase” with no whales being found. It usually turns out that someone has seen a sea lion resting on the surface with a big flipper sticking up in the air.

A moment later, I got a call at my desk. It was Howard Garrett of Orca Network, who had heard about eight transient killer whales on their way toward Dyes Inlet. He mentioned that marine mammal biologist Brad Hanson was following them in a boat.

My heart skipped a beat, and the rest of my day involved talking about whales, watching whales and writing about whales along with the people watching them. Please check out my story on the Kitsap Sun’s website.


Embracing a new approach to nonpoint pollution?

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

When it comes to cleaning up bacterial pollution in Puget Sound, we seem to have a clash — or at least some redundancy — in the methods we use.

Sailors take advantage of the nice weather last week on Liberty Bay. Kitsap Sun photo by Meegan Reid.

Sailors take advantage of nice weather last week on Liberty Bay.
Kitsap Sun photo by Meegan M. Reid.

In Kitsap County, water-quality officials are saying studies conducted by the Washington Department of Ecology, which allocated total maximum daily loads (TMDLs), have not been much help in attacking the local pollution problem.

That’s because the approach developed by Kitsap County, called the Pollution Identification and Correction (PIC) Program, has been highly successful in tracking down and cleaning up bacterial pollution.

I wrote a story about this issue as it relates to Liberty Bay in yesterday’s Kitsap Sun.

I also talked a little about the two water-quality standards used for streams. It’s somewhat odd how Liberty Bay must conform to a stricter standard than nearby Dyes Inlet, since both are in urbanizing areas. By the way, there is only one standard for marine waters, and Liberty Bay is generally clean under that standard.

Other information on the Liberty Bay TMDL study can be found on Ecology’s website and in a news release.

With regard to cleanup methods, now that PIC has been adopted and funded for the Puget Sound region, one might argue that it is time to back away from the more cumbersome TMDL approach, which spends a great deal of money to allocate pollution loads with no guarantees that any cleanup will get done. For recent funding details, review the Washington Department of Health’s Page on “EPA Grant: Pathogens, Prevention, Reduction and Control” and the specific funding for PIC projects.

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Yesterday’s ‘King Tide’ nearly broke all-time record

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

Bolstered by a low-pressure weather system, yesterday’s “King Tide” was felt throughout Puget Sound. At its extreme, the high tide came within 0.01 feet of breaking the all-time tidal record set for Seattle on Jan. 27, 1983.

Reporter Chris Henry wrote about some of the local problems in a story published in today’s Kitsap Sun. And the Sun’s editors put together a “photo gallery” of pictures taken by area residents. Pictures from other areas were posted on the Flickr website, where the Department of Ecology manages the “Washington King Tide Photo Initiative.”

I especially liked Jim Groh’s photos of the Poulsbo waterfront. Take a close look at the picture taken yesterday (below) and compare it to the one in Sunday’s Water Ways entry, which shows last year’s King Tide. If the word “Poulsbo” doesn’t look right in the picture below, it’s because the bottom half of the letters are under water.

This week’s King Tides are declining, but they are expected to be high again starting Jan. 14.

Poulsbo’s waterfront on Liberty Bay. / Photo by Jim Groh

Silverdale Waterfront Park on Dyes Inlet. / Photo by John Yates

The boat ramp at Fort Ward on Bainbridge Island was nearly covered by water. / Photo by Julie Leung


Much floating trash winds up in Silverdale

Saturday, December 1st, 2012

Silverdale’s waterfront is seeing the effects of recent storms in our area, as documented by Susan Digby, a geography instructor at Olympic College.

Recent storms have brought a lot of trash and marine debris to Silverdale’s waterfront. / Photo by Susan Digby

High stormwater flows have washed litter, debris and dead salmon into Sinclair and Dyes inlets, where currents and winds from the south carry the materials to Silverdale’s beaches, including Silverdale Waterfront Park and Old Mill Park.

“The north end of Dyes Inlet is like the end of a sock,” Susan told me. “When we get rain and wind, everything piles up there.”

Photos of all this debris — including parts of three docks — were taken by Susan on Sunday, just two weeks after her students cleaned up the beach entirely as part of an ongoing study that counts and categorizes marine debris that collects there.

A phenomenal amount of trash winds up on our beaches, including discarded food wrappers that people have carelessly discarded. Just about anything that floats can wash into a stream or storm drain to be carried into one of our local inlets. Some debris may be coming from the nearby streets and parking lots in Silverdale, but some could be coming all the way from Gorst, as suggested by drogue studies (PDF 1.6 mb) conducted by the Navy.

As Susan points out, the debris includes lots of Styrofoam, which can be ingested by birds and sea creatures, as well as baby diapers and syringes, which are a reminder that disease organisms are making their way into our local waters with uncertain effects on the fish and shellfish we eat.

I plan to cover Susan Digby’s student research project in more detail early next year, after 2012 data are compiled.

A piece of a dock washed up on Silverdale’s waterfront during a recent storm. Parts of two other docks also were found. / Photo by Susan Digby


Students ride the wind during salmon kayak tour

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

When 60 students from Central Kitsap High School took off in double kayaks to look for jumping salmon, they had no idea how the changing weather would make the trip more exciting.

Bill Wilson, who teaches environmental science, organized Tuesday’s trip on Dyes Inlet near Silverdale. Lead guide Spring Courtright of Olympic Outdoor Center shares the story in her words.

Reminder: Free stream tours from land are scheduled for Saturday. See the story I wrote for Tuesday’s Kitsap Sun.

Wind pushes the kayaks along, as 60 Central Kitsap High School students return to Silverdale Tuesday after watching jumping salmon. / Photos by Spring Courtright

By Spring Courtright
Program Director, Olympic Outdoor Center

At 9 a.m. on election day, anyone peering through the fog at Silverdale Waterfront Park would have seen 35 bright kayaks lined up on the beach and 60 high school students preparing to paddle.

Central Kitsap High School environmental science students study salmon in class, then are given the option to paddle with jumping salmon on an annual Salmon Kayak Tour with the Olympic Outdoor Center (OOC). For the last two years, 60 students have jumped on the opportunity.

This trip started about 10 years ago with about half that number of students. I have been one of the lead guides for nearly all of these tours. It’s always an adventure, but this year was one of the more memorable trips because of the beautiful clouds and quick change in weather.
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Orcas hunt for chum salmon in Central Puget Sound

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

The Southern Resident killer whales have begun their annual travels into Central and South Puget Sound in search of chum salmon.

Southern Resident killer whales passed by Bainbridge Island on Monday.
Photo by Tad Sooter

The shift occurs when chinook salmon have completed their migration and chum are just beginning to come home to their natal streams, as I describe in a story in yesterday’s Kitsap Sun. It is widely assumed that the length of their stay depends on their success in finding the later salmon.

This year was predicted to be a low year for fall chum. But Jay Zischke, marine fisheries manager for the Suquamish Tribe, told me that early commercial and test fisheries suggest that the run is either earlier than usual or larger than the preseason forecast. Even so, it may still be a relatively low year for fall chum.

This is the 15th anniversary of another low chum year, 1997, when 19 members of L pod came all the way into Dyes Inlet to find adequate numbers of chum schooled up in front of Chico and Barker creeks. The whales stayed in the inlet for a month and left just before Thanksgiving. There is still debate about whether they wanted to stay that long.

On the 10th anniversary of the event, I wrote about the story of two young researchers, Kelley Balcomb-Bartok and Jodi Smith, who spent most of that month studying the whales and trying to protect them from a massive number of boaters who wanted a front-boat view of the action. Stories, maps and other information about that event can be found on a website called “The Dyes Inlet Whales — Ten Years Later.”
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Shoreline projects gradually restore Puget Sound

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

We’ve been writing a lot lately about shoreline restoration projects. As with road construction, it seems that the heaviest lifting on restoration projects gets going as summer draws to a close.

About 1,500 feet of bulkhead on Port Madison is being removed by the Powel family with help from Puget Sound Partnership and Bainbridge Island Land Trust. / Photo by Tad Sooter

Notable projects on the Kitsap Peninsula:

Judging from the comments on the stories, some people don’t believe the government should be spending money on environmental restoration when the state and nation are in an economic slump.

Two years ago, Gov. Chris Gregoire made it clear that she believed that the economic troubles did not outweigh the ongoing risks to Puget Sound. I quoted her in the Kitsap Sun Oct. 15, 2010:

Removing an aging bulkhead on Dyes Inlet is expected to improve nearshore habitat at Anna Smith Children’s Park.
Photo by Christina Kereki, Kitsap County

“We are in the hardest economic problem since the deep depression, but we cannot take a recess; we cannot take time out (from the Puget Sound cleanup).”

Investing in cleanup efforts to repair past problems is one thing, the governor said, but the solution is not just costly restoration projects:

“It comes down to individuals like us. We are all part of the problem and we can all be part of the solution.”

She was talking about reducing stormwater pollution by being careful with household and lawn chemicals, car washing, oil and oil leaks, pet waste and other things.

When it comes to restoration projects, it turns out that the recession was actually a good time to begin many of these costly projects. As I reported in “Water Ways” on Oct. 21, 2010, the economic stimulus package approved by Congress helped pay for more than 600 projects directed to Puget Sound problems. The projects carried a price tag of about $460 million and created nearly 16,000 jobs.

The economic downturn also turned out to be good timing in another way. Construction companies hungry for work offered much lower bids than they would have during economic boom times. In many cases, including the Union River estuary project, bids are still coming in at the low end of cost projections.

Property owners who wish to restore their streams and shorelines are getting help from the government and nonprofit groups. In most cases, these projects would not get done by the property owners alone.

The $460,000 Powel bulkhead removal, for example, became a partnership between the Powel family, the Bainbridge Island Land Trust and the Puget Sound Partnership. The partnership’s new executive director, Anthony Wright, stated in a news release:

“It’s exciting to see everyone coming together to do some good for Puget Sound. Puget Sound is going to be healthy again because of people like the Powel family, the land trust and regulatory entities all working together.”

Some people doubt that the restoration projects are doing much good. Some say they simply are not worth the cost. But experts who have studied nearshore ecosystems argue that the ecological connections along the shoreline have been so severely disrupted that restoration is the best hope of saving the Puget Sound ecosystem.

I’ve heard people say that science does not support these kinds of restoration efforts. That’s an opinion not held by most experts, but if you are willing to do some reading, you can come to your own conclusions.

Some of the leading experts in our region have been taking part in the Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Project, which includes a website of technical reports and plans. If you’re a fan of science, like me, you may feel like a kid in a candy shop as you peruse the many reports.

I would recommend the following as a beginning:

The pair of explanatory drawings below is taken from a chapter of the “State of the Science” report mentioned above. See Fish and Invertebrate Response to Shoreline Armoring and Restoration in Puget Sound (PDF 440 KB) by Jason D. Toft, Jeffery R. Cordell, Sarah M. Heerhartz, Elizabeth A. Armbrust, and Charles A. Simenstad.


Sinclair-Dyes study: How to get ahead of pollution

Friday, May 6th, 2011

The soon-to-be-released cleanup plan for Sinclair and Dyes inlets could become a leading example of how to reduce all kinds of pollution in a waterway. Check out my story in Tuesday’s Kitsap Sun.

Based on conversations with many people involved in the project, I believe the keys to success are continual and ongoing monitoring of water quality, an unfailing commitment to identify pollution sources, and a spirit of cooperation with people who can help solve the problems.

Officials with the Kitsap County Health District and other local and state agencies will tell you that one can never walk away from a watershed with the belief that the pollution problem is solved. Still, at times, the rewards can be relatively quick, as one observes improvements in water quality after a pollution source is turned off.

Every month for the past 15 years, health district officials have gone out into the field and taken water samples from nearly every stream in Kitsap County — some 58 streams at last count. Often, these monthly tests provide assurance than cleanup plans are working. Occasionally, they offer an early warning that someone in the watershed is doing something to degrade water quality.

If you haven’t checked the health district’s Water Quality website, I would recommend reading through some of the reports under “Featured Water Quality Reports,” particularly the “2010 Water Quality Monitoring Report.”

Monthly water-quality testing over time tells a story about differences between wet years and dry years, about the effects of new development, and about successes that follow cleanup of problem farms, septic systems or yards containing dog feces.

I think it would be a big step forward if every significant stream in the state were monitored monthly for at least bacterial pollution. The results would help all levels of government set priorities for dealing with stormwater and other pollution sources.

Sinclair and Dyes inlets animation of hypothetical treatment system failure in East Bremerton (Click to launch; shift-reload to restart)
Project Envvest

Another factor worth mentioning in regard to the Sinclair-Dyes cleanup is the Navy’s funding for Project Envvest, a cooperative effort between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington Department of Ecology and the Navy. The resulting computer model helped describe the flow of pollution under various rainfall scenarios. It can even predict the movement of pollution resulting from various kinds of spills.

The animation (right) shows what would happen if the ultraviolet infection system were to fail in the East Bremerton treatment plant, which handles stormwater mixed with sewage during periods of heavy rainfall. Tidal flows make a big difference. This simulated spill is 7,000 gallons per minute for a total of 10 million gallons. See CSO Simulation Scenarios to view other animations from the model.

Other websites related to the Sinclair-Dyes project:

Project Envvest Status, Progress, Reports, and Deliverables (Navy)

Sinclair/Dyes Inlets Water Quality Improvement Project (Ecology)


Gazebo, being restored, holds many memories

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

It was a misty morning in November 1997 when I watched 19 killer whales head out of Dyes Inlet, stopping briefly in Sinclair Inlet and then racing for the open waters of Puget Sound.

The Bachmann Park gazebo is under restoration / Kitsap Sun photo by Larry Steagall

I drove over to Bachmann Park near Manette and found a dry spot on the bench of the gazebo. As I looked out toward the water, two young researchers, Kelley Balcomb-Bartok and Jodi Smith, sped by in their boat, escorting the whales out of the inlet. Kelley and Jodi had been observing these animals for 30 days, and both felt relieved that the whales were moving on.
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Dyes Inlet scientist starts ‘Naked Whale Research’

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

UPDATE, Tuesday, Nov. 16
Naked Whale Research is in the running again for $250,000 to launch its orca research program along the West Coast. The goal of the research organization is to collect information about the Salish Sea killer whales as they travel from Puget Sound to Northern California. If you would like to help, go to the Naked Whale Research page on Pepsi’s Refresh Everything website.
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UPDATE, Wednesday, June 2
Naked Whale Research failed to get enough votes to reach the top 100 in the quest to obtain startup funding in Pepsi’s Great Ideas Program. Getting to 100 would have given the new research organization another month to enlist people’s help. The group came close at 114, according to Jodi Smith, who says she will rewrite her proposal and try again in the near future.
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Our old friend Jodi Smith has started a nonprofit research organization in Eureka, Calif., where she hopes to specialize in observing killer whales along the West Coast.

Jodi could use our help in getting some funding from Pepsi, which I’ll explain in a moment.

Longtime Kitsap County residents and others may remember Jodi from her time in Dyes Inlet in 1997, when she made exhausting observations about 19 L-pod orcas that showed up suddenly and stayed a full month just before Thanksgiving. (See the Kitsap Sun project on the 10th anniversary of that event.)
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"In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught."Baba Dioum, Senegalese conservationist

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