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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
funding for PIC projects.
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.
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.
Silverdale’s waterfront is seeing the effects of recent storms
in our area, as documented by Susan Digby, a geography instructor
at Olympic College.
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
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.
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
Reminder: Free stream tours from land are scheduled for
Saturday. See the story I wrote for
Tuesday’s Kitsap Sun.
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
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
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. Continue reading →
The Southern Resident killer whales have begun their annual
travels into Central and South Puget Sound in search of chum
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
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.” Continue reading →
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:
“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
“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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
CSO Simulation Scenarios to view other animations from the
Other websites related to the Sinclair-Dyes
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.
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. Continue reading →
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.
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.
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.) Continue reading →