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 ‘Eagle Harbor’

Even small salmon runs can be inspiring

Friday, December 14th, 2012

When it comes to salmon restoration, victories often come in small steps, one stream at a time. Never let anyone tell you that small streams don’t count.

Chum salmon return to Cooper Creek for the first time in years. / Photo by Joe Michael

One small, but inspiring, stream is Cooper Creek, which drains into the head of Eagle Harbor on Bainbridge Island. The little stream saw its first return of chum salmon this year following a long absence because of a blockage caused by a water-diversion dam. Get the larger picture from Tad Sooter’s story in the Kitsap Sun.

Only about 10 fish came back this fall, said Wayne Daley, a biologist who assisted with the release of 15,000 fry each year over the past four years. Still, 10 fish is a start, he told me, and it’s better than most years, going back for decades.

“I’m very satisfied,” Wayne said. “I know that some folks feel we should have had a lot more fish, but it demonstrates to me that we can do projects like this. This was a wonderful educational tool.”

Given that most of the work done was by volunteers, the Cooper Creek project was not expensive. The stream is rather short, and spawning gravel is limited, but the hope is that the run can be restored without further human intervention.

“We’ll see what happens after four years of supplementation,” he said.

The 10 salmon that made it back are true survivors — from their early days, when they somehow avoided predators in the stream, to four years of swimming in the ocean, to finally avoiding fishing nets and harbor seals on the last leg of their journey back into the stream.

A harbor seal follows the chum salmon run right up to the mouth of Cooper Creek. / Photo by Joe Michael

“One thing that was fascinating was to watch when these fish first showed up,” Wayne said. “There were not only fish; there were harbor seals that followed them right up to the gas station (near the mouth of the stream).”

When I hear about harbor seals chasing salmon, I always wonder why there aren’t more transient killer whales chasing the seals. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, with dog salmon (chum) on the menu.

As in many streams throughout Puget Sound, volunteers have taken Cooper Creek to heart, providing a new start for a long lost salmon run.

I could make a list of small streams where groups of individuals are making a difference in adding to the mass migration of chum, coho, pink and chinook salmon, not to mention steelhead. I would enjoy it if you would pass on stories about grass-roots projects that are making a difference for salmon and other wild creatures.


Experts talking today about Eagle Harbor site

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

A three-day workshop to explore possible cleanup technologies that could be used at the Wyckoff Superfund site on Bainbridge Island got under way this morning.

Officials at the Washington Department of Ecology are looking for ways to remove or lock up the massive amount of creosote contamination that seeped into the ground during the first half of the 20th century.

Seth Preston, communications manager for Ecology’s Toxics Cleanup Program, is live-blogging from the meeting today. Another staffer is tweeting #wyckoff from a special Twitter account.

Seth’s presence at this meeting is valuable for those of us interested in this site on Eagle Harbor — one of the most complex and ecologically important sites in the Puget Sound region.

The EPA was on the verge turning over management of the site — including an ongoing pump-and-treat system — to Ecology. The two agencies agreed to delay the transfer for 18 months while state officials search for a more stable solution.

Ecology had two concerns about taking over the site: First, the ongoing pumping would do little to remove the large quantity of contamination in an environmentally sensitive area. Second, the state would be picking up the bill for a project that would cost millions of dollars over time with no end in sight.

Because of Seth’s good work, I won’t repeat the information he has provided in multiple locations on Ecology Web sites. Instead, I’ll just point you to some of the information available:

Reporter Tristan Baurick’s story in today’s Kitsap Sun

Ecology’s Web site on the “generational remedy” for the Wyckoff site.

Expert presentations from the ongoing workshop in PDF format. Look for “NEW!” under “Expert Panel Workshop.”

Seth Preston’s ongoing blog and Twitter feed

EPA’s Wyckoff Eagle Harbor Web site

Watching Our Water Ways


Who has a better solution for Eagle Harbor cleanup?

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

Officials with the Washington Department of Ecology plan to step back from the Wyckoff-Eagle Harbor Superfund Site on Bainbridge Island, pull community members together and begin looking for a new way to clean up the underground mess.

The ground near the entrance to Eagle Harbor became saturated with toxic creosote from the Wyckoff wood-treatment plant, which operated there for 80 years. After working on the problem more than 20 years and spending close to $100 million, the Environmental Protection Agency has announced a final solution.

The idea approved by the agency is to pump the waste out of the ground at a rate that will keep pollution from reaching Eagle Harbor, while leaving hundreds of thousands of gallons of waste buried for 100 years or more.

EPA has asked Ecology to sign off on the cleanup plan and take over operation of the pumping system. Check out the Kitsap Sun story by reporter Tristan Baurick.

Tim Nord, Ecology’s toxics cleanup manager, told me there are two reasons the state is unwilling to take over at this time. One is the uncertainty of leaving such a huge amount of waste in the ground. The second is that running the pumping system could cost between $700,000 and $1.5 million each year with no end in sight.

In his story, Tristan pointed out that the EPA may have lost $3 million by not getting a final agreement with the state, but that seems like peanuts compared to the ongoing costs that nobody wants to pay.

Nord has informed the EPA that the state cannot agree to the longterm remedy that agency staff proposed.

In the meantime, Nord will take an unprecedented step outside normal regulatory procedures by creating a panel of experts who might just come up with a new idea. It will be a wide-open discussion that will include the city of Bainbridge Island, the Suquamish Tribe and the Association of Bainbridge Communities — none of whom like the idea of leaving all that waste in the ground — as well as other interested people, he said.

“I am trying to look at this problem differently,” Nord told me. “Is there a way to get as much of that material out of the ground as possible?”

It isn’t so much about how long it will take to reach some numerical cleanup standard, Nord said. It is about the community, including people who would like to create a safe park on that site to be used for generations.

If the best minds in the business can come up with a plan for mass removal, then it will be laid out for a full discussion.

“The people need to be able to follow it, trust in it and believe in it,” Nord said.

Nord was not ready to talk about the step to follow, which will involve money. But if his group finds a viable solution, I would bet that state and federal elected officials could work together to get it done.

Given the ecological value of Eagle Harbor, I can understand why so many people feel uncomfortable with the idea of running pumps forever to hold back pollution from seeping into the bay.


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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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