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

Kitsap County acquires prime forest, shoreline

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

It’s official. Kitsap County has become the proud owner of 535 acres of prime lowland forest, including 1.5 miles of shoreline on Port Gamble Bay. See the story I prepared for tomorrow’s Kitsap Sun (subscription).

Port Gamble Bay shoreline // Photo by Don Willott

Port Gamble Bay shoreline // Photo by Don Willott

This is prime property, both from an ecological and recreational viewpoint. It is extremely rare to find a place where so much shoreline belongs to the public, especially in a populated area like Kitsap County. With restoration work and time for nature to respond, this property could return to a near-pristine condition.

This is the first property sale completed by the Kitsap Forest & Bay Project. More than two years ago, I attended a kick-off meeting to launch the fund-raising effort. It all began with an option agreement to buy up to 7,000 acres of forestland from Pope Resources. See Kitsap Sun, Oct. 19, 2012.

The effort followed a disbanded plan by the county to trade the land for increased housing density near Port Gamble. (See Kitsap Sun, Jan. 19, 2010.)

The new effort was spearheaded by Cascade Land Conservancy, now called Forterra. CLC President Gene Duvernoy spelled out the task ahead as he announced that Michelle Connor, a vice president of CLC, would be put in charge. Duvernoy declared:

“This is probably the most important project we can accomplish to save Puget Sound… Anytime we have a real thorny project, we hand it to Michelle to make it happen… This option agreement is a reason to celebrate, but now we need to get serious. Now, we can look at all the financing and funding possibilities. Until today, we were unable to do that.”

Other acquisitions are expected to be completed soon, but it remains unclear how much of the 7,000 acres can be acquired from Pope.

In celebration of the completed sale, I would like to share the statements made in a news release by a variety of people involved in the project:

Kitsap County Commissioner Rob Gelder:

“This acquisition has been years in the making and the beginning of a series of great things to come in 2014. We are lining up funding to protect additional lands from Kingston to Port Gamble as part of this preservation effort.”

Michelle Connor, Forterra’s executive vice president:

“Conservation of these lands will help sustain the cultural heritage and health of our communities, the functioning of our environment and diversity of our economy. Moving the whole effort forward is a testament to the leadership of local residents, Kitsap County, the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, the Suquamish Tribe, and the state of Washington.”

Suquamish Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman:

“The public purchase of the shoreline block at Port Gamble Bay is an accomplishment worth celebrating. The Suquamish Tribe is grateful that this critical marine habitat will be protected for time immemorial and help in efforts to protect the water quality of Port Gamble Bay.”

Jeromy Sullivan, chairman of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe:

“One of my tribe’s ongoing priorities is to ensure that Port Gamble Bay remains productive and healthy for future generations. The conservation of this property furthers that goal by protecting water quality, preventing development and limiting stormwater runoff and other associated impacts.”

Jon Rose, president of Olympic Property Group, Pope Resources’ real estate subsidiary:

“We are proud to be working with the community to protect these forests, beaches and trails for future generations. This purchase is a prize that has been earned through nearly a decade of dedicated efforts by the local community.”

Sandra Staples-Bortner, executive director of Great Peninsula Conservancy, a key player in the acquisition:

“The many community partners involved in the Kitsap Forest & Bay Coalition have dedicated countless hours to help achieve this historic land purchase, handing out trail maps, speaking to community groups and marching in parades. And when it came down to the wire, the coalition raised over $10,000 in three days to fill the final funding gap.”

Maia Bellon, director of the Washington Department of Ecology:

“Restoring and sustaining the ecological systems that support Port Gamble Bay is critical for Hood Canal, Puget Sound, and all of us who call Washington home.”


Corps completes draft plan for Skokomish River

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

UPDATE, Jan. 27
The Army Corps of Engineers published a news release today about tentatively selected plan. It lists the total cost of the projects at $41 million. This information was not available when I wrote my story for Sunday’s Kitsap Sun.
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Residents in and around the Skokomish Valley have demonstrated incredible patience, along with some frustration, while waiting for the Army Corps of Engineers to develop a plan to restore the Skokomish River.

Map courtesy of Skokomish Watershed Action Team

Map courtesy of Skokomish Watershed Action Team

I was pleased to announce in today’s Kitsap Sun (subscription) that top officials in the corps have now approved a “tentatively selected plan.” This plan will now undergo extensive review inside and outside the agency. Two public meetings are being planned, although they have not yet been announced.

I’ve been following the development of this plan for many years, actually long before I wrote a four-part series in 2009 about the past and future of the Skokomish River. See “Taming the Skokomish,” Kitsap Sun.

As Rich Geiger of Mason Conservation District told me last week:

“We are very glad to be at this point, because we are talking about a physical project moving forward and not just more planning. We asked the Corps to produce a single integrated restoration plan, and they did.”

Rich did not slam the Army Corps of Engineers for taking so long. He and I did not discuss — as we have in the past — how restoration of the Skokomish River plays an important part in the restoration of Hood Canal as a whole.

But we did talk about dredging, which many area residents believe is the only answer to cleaning the river channel, clogged by sediment and flooded more frequently than any river in the state. The corps has determined that dredging is too expensive for the benefit provided and would require ongoing maintenance. I look forward to reading the analysis by the corps and hearing the discussions that follow. I’m sure there is plenty to be said.

Before the agency releases the tentative plan, a final check must be made by corps officials to ensure completeness of the documents, which will include a feasibility report and an environmental impact statement, according to project manager Mamie Brouwer.

The plan includes these specific projects:

  • Car-body levee removal: Years ago, junk cars were used to construct a levee where the North Fork of the Skokomish flows into the main river. Although the course of the North Fork has changed, the old levee continues to impair salmon migration through the area, Brouwer said. This project would remove the levee and restore the natural flows at the confluence.
  • Side channel reconnection: Restoring a parallel channel alongside the Skokomish would give fish a place to go during high flows and flooding. In recent years, migrating salmon have been washed out of the river and into fields and ditches, where they struggle to survive. A side channel, about 4 miles upstream from where the Skokomish flows into Hood Canal, could provide refuge from the raging river.
  • Nine mile setback levee: A new levee is being proposed nine miles upstream to allow an existing levee to be breached, increasing the flood plain in that area. The new levee would be several hundred feet back from the old one and would allow for new pools and vegetation along the river.
  • Grange levee: Like the nine-mile setback levee, a new levee would be built about 8 miles upstream near the Skokomish Valley Grange Hall. The levee could be set back about 1,000 feet from the river, greatly expanding the flood plain in that area.
  • Large woody debris: Creating log jams in the river would increase the complexity of the channel, adding meanders, gravel bars and pools. Such structure is considered important for the survival of juvenile salmon. Several dozen log jams are proposed in the initial plan, but that could change in the final design.
  • Hunter Creek: Continual springs maintain summer flows in Hunter Creek, a tributary of the Skokomish considered excellent fish habitat. But with few side channels or complexity, the stream has limited spawning habitat and fish can be washed away during high flows. The project would alter the channel for better function.
  • Weaver Creek: Similar to Hunter Creek, Weaver Creek has great potential for increased spawning and rearing habitat along with refuge from high flows. The project would alter the channel to improve natural functions.
In 2009, members of the Skokomish Watershed Action Team observed how high flows in the Skokomish River had washed away vegetation and left huge deposits of gravel.

In 2009, members of the Skokomish Watershed Action Team observed how high flows in the Skokomish River had washed away vegetation and left huge deposits of gravel.
Kitsap Sun file photo


It’s time to get out and watch the salmon

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

This year’s return of chum salmon to Hood Canal remains on track to break the record, coming in with four times as many fish as predicted earlier this year.

Watching salmon at Poulsbo's Fish Park Photo by Tristan Baurick

Watching salmon from a bridge in Poulsbo’s Fish Park
Photo by Tristan Baurick

Last week, I reported that the total run size for Hood Canal fall chum appeared to be about 1.4 million fish, according to computer models. See Kitsap Sun, Oct. 30 (subscription). The modern-day record is 1.18 million, set in 2003. If conditions hold, this year’s run will easily exceed that.

The large Hood Canal run also is expected to provide an economic boost of some $5 million to $6 million for commercial fishers, not including fish processors and stores that sell the fish.

The forecast models are based largely on commercial harvests. Data collected since I wrote the story only tend to confirm the record-breaking run, according to salmon managers. Final estimates won’t be compiled until the end of the season.

The chum run in Central and South Puget Sound also are looking very good. The latest data suggest that the run could reach 700,000, or nearly twice the preseason estimate and well above average.

Meanwhile, the large chum runs are attracting Puget Sound’s orcas to the waters off Bainbridge Island and Seattle, as chinook runs decline in the San Juan Islands and elsewhere. As I described in a story on Sunday, it has been an odd year for the whales, which may have spent most of the summer chasing chinook off the coast of Washington. See Kitsap Sun, Nov. 2 (subscription).

A chum salmon crosses a log weir at Kitsap Golf and Country Club. Photo by Meegan Reid

A chum salmon crosses a log weir in Chico Creek at Kitsap Golf and Country Club.
Photo by Meegan Reid

The large chum run also promises to provide some great viewing opportunities for people to watch the salmon migration in their local streams. I would direct you to the interactive salmon-viewing map that Amy Phan and I completely revamped last year for the Kitsap Sun’s website. The map includes videos describing salmon streams across the Kitsap Peninsula.

Speaking of salmon-watching, everyone is invited to Saturday’s Kitsap Salmon Tours, an annual event in which biologists talk about the amazing salmon and their spawning rituals. One can choose to visit one or both of the locations in Central Kitsap. For details, check out the Kitsap Public Utility District’s Website.

One of the locations, now named Chico Salmon Park, is undergoing a major facelift, thanks to more than 100 hours of volunteer labor over the past two weekends — not to mention earlier work going back to the beginning of the year. See the Kitsap County news release issued today.

Volunteers working on the park deserve a lot of credit for removing blackberry vines, Scotchbroom and weeds from this overgrown area. This property, which has Chico Creek running through it, is going to be a wonderful park someday after native trees and plants become established. (See Kitsap Sun, Feb. 2, 2013)

If you’re into kayaking, there’s still time to watch from the water. See Olympic Outdoors Center or check out the tips by reporter Tristan Baurick, Kitsap Sun, Oct. 21, 2013 (subscription).

Here’s my final word: If you live on the Kitsap Peninsula — or anywhere around Puget Sound — you should visit a salmon stream to learn what all the fuss is about — and be sure to take the kids.

Purse seine boats working on major chum salmon run on Hood Canal. Photo by Larry Steagall

Purse seine boats make the best of a major chum salmon run on Hood Canal last week.
Photo by Larry Steagall


Navy extends easement plans to Kitsap County

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

The Navy is continuing its efforts to control commercial over-water structures in Hood Canal. The idea is to buy subtidal conservation easements from the Washington Department of Natural Resources, which owns these deep-water areas.

Proposed Navy easement in Jefferson County

Proposed Navy easement in Jefferson County

The first easement was proposed for the Jefferson County side of Hood Canal (map at right). The easement application is now working its way through a formal review process. The proposal received a lot of attention when it was announced in May, in part because of the potential to derail the controversial pit-to-pier project. A story I wrote for the Kitsap Sun on May 15 describes the overall goals of the Navy’s program and its potential effects.

After that initial announcement, I was surprised that the Navy and DNR seemed reluctant to talk about the next phase, which turned out to be a second easement along the Kitsap County shoreline from the Hood Canal bridge to the county line near Holly. I described that proposal in a story I wrote for the Kitsap Sun yesterday (subscription).

Both proposed easements fall under the Department of Defense Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative (REPI).

Liane Nakahara, spokeswoman for Navy Region Northwest, said the need for the Kitsap easement, like the one in Jefferson County, relates to protections of Navy operations, including testing and training in legally defined ranges:

“The proposed restrictive easement over the bedlands would protect these ranges from incompatible development that may limit the Navy’s ability to use the approved ranges and continue operations in the future. In addition to the protection of the Navy’s military operating areas, the proposed easement will provide new protections for sensitive marine ecosystems.”

I’m not sure where the Navy will go with its next easement proposal. Work continues on upland properties in some areas. See reporter Ed Friedrich’s story about a related agreement two years ago, when the Navy began buying easements in the Dabob Bay area of Hood Canal (Kitsap Sun, Oct. 8, 2011). Officials are saying almost nothing about the next steps. But I have seen a map that purportedly shows the “area of interest” regarding the Navy’s REPI efforts. The area outlined includes all of Hood Canal and the regions around Indian Island, Keyport and Bremerton.

The Navy had an initial allocation of $3 million in 2011 for encroachment protection, and additional funds were added in 2012 and 2013, according to Liane Nakahara. Partners in the endeavor so far include DNR, The Nature Conservancy and the Trust for Public Lands. For background on how the partnership works, check out “Partner’s Guide to the Department of Defense’s Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative” (REPI)(PDF 1.9 mb).

For the Jefferson County easement, the DNR issued a “determination of nonsignificance” during the environmental review. An appraiser has been hired to estimate the value of the easement and determine what the Navy should pay the state for lost revenue.

Thorndyke Resource, which proposed the pit-to-pier project, has been pushing for increased environmental review, rather than the limited review undertaken so far by the DNR. It appears that if the proposal moves forward, the Navy and DNR are likely to face a lawsuit from the company.

Here are three recent documents related to the proposed Jefferson County easement:


Octopus protection was a compromise move

Saturday, October 12th, 2013

The decision to outlaw octopus hunting at seven select diving spots in Puget Sound was a compromise between those who wanted a complete closure throughout Puget Sound and those who wanted no closure at all.

Giant Pacific octopus at Pinnacle Rock, Hood Canal. Photo by Janna Nichols

Giant Pacific octopus at Pinnacle Rock, Hood Canal.
Photo by Janna Nichols

Janna Nichols, a leader in the local scuba diving community, told me that nearly all scuba divers who spoke out wanted a complete ban on killing the giant Pacific octopus in Puget Sound. But scientific arguments were presented that the octopus population was healthy and could tolerate a limited harvest.

Janna is outreach coordinator for Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF). She has led many dive surveys of marine species and served on the octopus advisory committee appointed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“From what I saw in the diving community, about 99 percent were in favor of closing all of Puget Sound to harvest, and they were a little disappointed in the outcome,” she said.

Janna said she knows divers who go spear-fishing but has only heard of divers who harvest octopuses.

“They are worth more than gold,” she said. “I have lots of diver friends who are avid spear-fishermen, but they would be really mad if someone took an octopus. They are our friends, intelligent creatures.”

The ban on taking octopuses at seven recreational dive sites went into effect Monday after action by the Fish and Wildlife Commission. The new rules make viewing octopus a priority at the dive sites, said Craig Burley, manager of the Fish Management Division at Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. He added:

“Puget Sound is one of the most popular dive destinations in the nation, and giant Pacific octopuses are one of its main attractions. These new areas provide additional protection for the species and a greater chance for divers to see these fascinating animals.”

The new restrictions were proposed after a diver legally killed a giant Pacific octopus at Seacrest Cove 2 in West Seattle. The incident was widely publicized, and many people expressed outrage, saying they had no idea it was legal to hunt the gentle and intelligent octopus.

More than 400 comments were received on the proposal to restrict the hunting of Octopuses in Puget Sound.

After working with the advisory committee, WDFW proposed a variety of options for greater or lesser protection of the octopus. In August, the Fish and Wildlife Commission approved a closure at the seven dive sites.

Conspicuously missing from the list are any locations in Hood Canal, which has several popular dive sites for spotting octopus. Hood Canal was bypassed for increased protection, because the entire waterway is currently closed to fishing for nearly all species except salmon. That’s because of the extreme stress that most deep-water species are experiencing as a result of low-oxygen conditions.

If conditions ever improve to the point that marine fish are allowed to be harvested, I would expect that the Fish and Wildlife Commission will examine which species need ongoing protection — and the octopus issue could come up again. Sund Rock and Octopus Hole, both south of Lilliwaup, are two popular dive spots to view octopus. Both are designated as marine conservation areas and will continue to protect all species from fishing.

A map of the seven new octopus protection areas along with existing marine protected areas in Puget Sound can be found on a WDFW website called “Diving with Octopuses.”

Seattle Aquarium CEO Robert W. Davidson issued a statement this week in support of the new octopus-protection areas:

“Protecting our native animals enriches our experience of life in the Sound. Scientists, sport fishers, divers and the public at large, we all have an interest in a rich marine world.

“The giant Pacific octopus is one of Puget Sound’s signature species. We look forward to continue working with the state, city, diving and fishing communities to conserve our marine environment and this magnificent octopus.”

For a fascinating description of an octopus, see my Amusing Monday piece published last May and titled “Diving with the yellow eye.” Check out “John dips below” from the program “Here Be Monsters.”

It became clear to me through this process of creating octopus-protection areas that many observers would like to see more marine protected areas for all species. Everyone agrees that such areas can be a benefit if the areas are selected carefully after adequate study and planning. The problem, as in many conservation issues, is a lack of money to perform the necessary background work.

I wrote about this issue in my ongoing series called “Taking the Pulse of Puget Sound” (subscription required). Here’s an excerpt from the story on marine protected areas:

“We have these marine protected areas,” noted Jamie Glasgow of the environmental group Wild Fish Conservancy, “but there are many different objectives and sometimes no objectives at all among the 10 or 12 agencies involved.”

Glasgow said he is frustrated by the lack of action in assessing and coordinating existing MPAs and setting up new ones. The issue has not received the attention it deserves from the Puget Sound Partnership or WDFW, he said.

“The Puget Sound Partnership tends to prioritize the issues that are less contentious,” Glasgow said. “Sport-fishing groups and tribes don’t want to give up fishing in certain areas, which makes this issue contentious, so nothing gets done.”


Will Hood Canal experience a fish kill this year?

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

UPDATE, Sept. 26
The Hoodsport monitoring buoy was placed back online yesterday. The dissolved oxygen levels at the surface are much higher now than they were two weeks ago, coming up to about 9 milligrams per liter at a 10-foot depth. But oxygen levels in the middle layer remain about the same — about 2.5 milligrams per liter. And the middle layer still contains less oxygen than levels close to the bottom, which is getting an infusion of heavy seawater from the ocean.

A south wind could still bring low-oxygen waters to the surface, but I don’t believe the levels are low enough to cause a fish kill. Still, the low-oxygen water could force deep-water fish to move upward in the water column. I’m waiting to hear from divers if they are seeing anything unusual, and I’ll let you know if conditions take a turn for the worse.
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Are we about to see one of the infamous fish kills that we have observed in Southern Hood Canal in past years?

I am unable to sound any alarms at this time, but if you live in the Hoodsport-Potlatch area or are scuba diving nearby, you might want to watch for dead fish on the surface, rockfish or shrimp swimming in shallow water, or wolf eels and octopuses acting strangely.

Low 02 9-17

Usually, we can look to the monitoring buoy offshore of Hoodsport to answer questions about whether fish are starving for oxygen. The buoy tells us about dissolved oxygen levels at all depths. I watch this buoy every fall for clues about dangerous conditions, such as when the surface and middle layers of Hood Canal become depleted of oxygen.

Unfortunately, the Hoodsport ORCA buoy has been down for most of the past 10 days. University of Washington technicians are trying to get it back in operation, but it appears to be an Internet/local-network problem at the moment.

As of Sept. 10, the surface layer at 10 feet deep was down to less than 2 milligrams per liter, an alarming level, and conditions were not much better at 66 feet. (See chart.) That means there is a lot of low-oxygen water that could be brought to the surface when we get a wind blowing out of the south. Well, we’ve had some moderate south winds today, and I’m wondering what is happening out there right now.

South winds blow the surface layer away and bring low-oxygen water up from the depths. Fish may come to the surface seeking better conditions, but they may find oxygen levels even worse as they go up — and the fish have no idea that better conditions may lie below.

So far, I have not seen any concerns posted on the Facebook pages of divers who may have gone out recently. Feel free to post a comment to this blog or send me an email (cdunagan@kitsapsun.com) if you see or hear anything that can contribute to the discussion.

A statewide hotline used to report oil spills also will take your calls and alert biologists to reports of dead fish. That number is (800) OILS-911.

With some luck, the UW folks will have the Hoodsport buoy back on line in the next couple days and we’ll see if conditions have improved or gotten worse. For now, we’ll just have to wait. The chart is generated by the Data Explorer at the Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems (NANOOS). (Click on “regions” to get to Puget Sound.)


Two events for learning about Hood Canal

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

Long Live the Kings is holding two events that will give people some special insight into the restoration of Hood Canal, and possibly Puget Sound as a whole.

The first, tomorrow evening, begins with a free film that will lead into a discussion about Hood Canal restoration. The second, on Saturday, is a rare open house at LLK’s salmon and steelhead hatchery on Lilliwaup Creek.

Jacque White, executive director of the group, told me that he likes to show the film “Ocean Frontiers” because it provides a hopeful view about protecting marine ecosystems. It shows how a variety of people with diverse interests can work together. I’ve embedded the trailer for the film on this page.

Jacques said people clearly want to protect the rich ecosystem of Hood Canal. The Hood Canal Coordinating Council has developed an integrated watershed plan that connects the uplands to the shoreline to the deep marine waters of the canal.

Joining him in a panel discussion after the film will be Dave Herrera of the Skokomish Tribe and Terry King of Washington Sea Grant.

The film and discussion will be tomorrow (Friday) from 6 to 8 p.m. at Alderbrook Resort and Spa in Union.

The open house on Saturday will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Lilliwaup Hatchery on Lilliwaup Street, off Highway 101 north of Hoodsport. (Look for balloons along the highway near Lilliwaup.)

The hatchery is a supplementation operation designed to restore stocks of threatened Hood Canal summer chum, Puget Sound steelhead and Puget Sound chinook. The event will be an opportunity to view the hatchery and understand the supplementation program, but it is also a chance to talk to people involved in numerous Hood Canal restoration programs.

“The issues in Hood Canal are about the land-sea connection,” White said, adding that he feels hope for the canal when people are willing to learn about the ecosystem and attempt to understand different viewpoints.

Two other events planned by Long Live the Kings:

  • A presentation by Jacque White with an emphasis on early marine survival. See “Water Ways” Aug. 22, 2013. The presentation will be Sept. 12 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Orcas Center on Orcas Island.
  • A benefit dinner for Long Live the Kings, Oct 17 at Seattle Aquarium.

Navy easement could block industry on Hood Canal

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

An easement requested by the Navy to prevent industrial development along the western shoreline of Hood Canal appears to be the first of its kind in Washington state.

One can envision this easement as a strip of underwater area from the Hood Canal bridge south to a spot just south of the Jefferson-Mason County line near Eldon, as I described in a Kitsap Sun story on May 15.

Easement

In most areas, the protected bedlands will be defined by their depths, from 18 feet below the average low tide to 70 feet down. More than 4,000 acres of state-owned bedlands would be covered by the easement.

“The practical effect of the agreement will be to preclude new near-shore commercial or industrial construction along the areas of the Hood Canal and neighboring waterways managed by DNR where the Navy operates,” states a joint press release issued by the Navy along with the Washington Department of Natural Resources.

It was quickly recognized that this could mean the end of the controversial pit-to-pier project for loading gravel onto ships and barges. If the developer, Thorndyke Resource, is unable to obtain a state lease for the proposed pier, the project would be dead in the water. The company, which has been working on the project for years, does not intend to give up without a fight.

Since the story first came out, the Navy has been preparing to conduct an appraisal, which will involve hiring an independent contractor, according to Liane Nakahara, spokeswoman for Navy Region Northwest. Once the appraisal work begins, it will take at least a couple months to complete, she said. Then the Navy and DNR must each approve the appraisal results.

I can’t imagine how difficult it will be to estimate how much money the state could lose by locking up this strip of underwater area for decades. If the pit-to-pier project were a certainty, then it would be easier to figure out how much revenue the state would lose by blocking that one lease. But what would be the probability of the pit-to-pier project getting all the required permits if the easement were not a factor?

What other types of development would be foreclosed by the Navy’s easement along Hood Canal, and where might these projects be located? If one could assume that the Jefferson County shoreline of Hood Canal would never be developed with marinas or piers anyway, then the loss would be zero and the Navy’s easement would be cheap. These are the questions that will drive an appraiser crazy.

(more…)


Hood Canal report compiles oxygen studies

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

Despite millions of dollars spent on research in Hood Canal, the precise causes of low-oxygen problems in Southern Hood Canal are still not fully understood, according to a report released this week by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington Department of Ecology.

News articles about the report have created some confusion, and I’ll get to that in a moment.

As I reported in Tuesday’s Kitsap Sun, research has not proven that nitrogen from human sources is responsible for a decline in oxygen levels greater than 0.2 milligrams per liter anywhere in Hood Canal. That number is important, because it is the regulatory threshold for action under the Clean Water Act.

Mindy Roberts, one of the authors of the report, told me that scientists who have worked on the low-oxygen problem have gained an appreciation for Hood Canal’s exceedingly complex physical and biological systems. So far, they have not come to consensus about how much human inputs of nitrogen contribute to the low-oxygen problems in Lower Hood Canal.

The report, which examined the complexity and scientific uncertainty about these systems, seems to have generated some confusion, even among news reporters. I think it is important to understand two fundamental issues:

1. The deep main channel of Hood Canal is almost like a separate body of water from Lower Hood Canal (also called Lynch Cove in some reports). This area is generally defined as the waters between Sisters Point and Belfair. Because Lower Hood Canal does not flush well, low-oxygen conditions there are an ongoing and very serious problem.

2. Fish kills around Hoodsport cannot be equated or even closely correlated with the low-oxygen conditions in Lower Hood Canal. The cause of these fish kills was not well understood a decade ago, but now researchers generally agree that heavy seawater coming in from the ocean pushes up a layer of low-oxygen water. When winds from the south blow away the surface waters, the low-oxygen water rises to the surface, leaving fish no place to go.

I’m not aware that researchers were blaming nitrogen from septic systems for the massive episodic fish kills, as Craig Welch reports in the Seattle Times. At least in recent years, most researchers have understood that this was largely a natural phenomenon and that human sources of nitrogen played a small role, if any, during a fish kill.

The question still being debated is how much (or how little) humans contribute to the low-oxygen level in the water that is pushed to the surface during a fish kill and whether there is a significant flow of low-oxygen water out of Lower Hood Canal, where oxygen conditions are often deadly at the bottom.

The new report, which was reviewed by experts from across the country, concludes that fish kills can be explained fully without considering any human sources of nitrogen. Evidence that low-oxygen water flows out of Lower Hood Canal in the fall is weak, the report says, though it remains a subject of some debate.

“We have not demonstrated that mechanism to their satisfaction,” Jan Newton of the Hood Canal Dissolved Oxygen Program told me in an interview. “We never said it caused the fish kill, only that it can reduce the oxygen level below what it was. In some years, it wouldn’t matter, but in some years it would make it worse.”

A cover letter (PDF 83 kb) to the EPA/Ecology reports includes this:

“While the draft report concludes that although human-caused pollution does not cause or contribute to the fish kills near Hoodsport, our agencies strongly support additional protections to ensure that nitrogen and bacteria loadings from human development are minimized.

“Water quality concerns extend beyond low dissolved oxygen and include bacteria and other pathogens that limit shellfish health. Overall, human impacts to Hood Canal water quality vary from place to place and at different times of year. Hood Canal is a very sensitive water body and people living in the watershed should continue their efforts to minimize human sources of pollution.”

One of the most confounding factors is the large amount of nitrogen born by ocean water that flows along the bottom of Hood Canal. An unresolved but critical questions is: How much of that nitrogen reaches the surface layer, where it can trigger plankton growth in the presence of sunlight?

Plankton growth is a major factor in the decline of oxygen levels, because plankton eventually die and decay, consuming oxygen in the process.

Human sources of nitrogen often enter Hood Canal at the surface, but researchers disagree on how much of the low-oxygen problem can be attributed to heavy seawater that reaches the sunny euphotic zone near the surface.

Here are the principal findings in the EPA/Ecology report, “Review and Synthesis of Available Information to Estimate Human Impacts to Dissolved Oxygen in Hood Canal” (PDF 3.8 mb).

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Gov. prepares to ‘pass the baton’ on Puget Sound

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

Nobody doubts the passion that Gov. Chris Gregoire holds for Puget Sound or that she was instrumental in setting up the Puget Sound Partnership, which has charted a course for restoration.

But how will the work to protect Puget Sound proceed under a new governor?


Gov. Chris Gregoire (right) praises a new environmental mitigation program during a tour of Hood Canal aboard the Coast Guard cutter Sea Devil. Looking on are Martha Kongsgaard (left), chairwoman of the Puget Sound Leadership Council, and Gail Terzi, mitigation program manager with Seattle District Army Corps of Engineers.
Kitsap Sun photo by Christopher Dunagan

It’s an issue that has not been discussed much in the ongoing governor’s race. (I need to question the candidates on this issue.) But I had a chance yesterday to chat with the governor over coffee (she had tea) in the galley of the Coast Guard cutter Sea Devil on the way to Dabob Bay.

“I created it, so the next governor can uncreate it,” Gregoire told me simply, a comment I reported in today’s Kitsap Sun.

Still, she said, the partnership fills a need in coordinating the work of many government agencies, businesses and private groups. The effort has increased awareness and provided accountability needed to bring restoration dollars to the region. She seemed to be saying that whatever management structure is used, coordination will remain essential to the effort.

Gregoire filled me in on a story I had never heard before, one she later repeated for the 15 or so visitors on the boat ride across Hood Canal. It was about how the Puget Sound Partnership grew from a spark of an idea that erupted over a lunch with U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks.

“We were excited and got quite loud, as you can imagine with Norm Dicks,” she said. “It was quite a shouting match, and everyone in the restaurant was watching us.”

After that lunch, Gregoire called on Bill Ruckelshaus, former director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to head a study commission leading up to formation of the Puget Sound Partnership, as I reported in today’s story.

Both Gregoire and Dicks will leave office at the end of the year, and the governor says she is ready to pass the baton to others.

The reason for yesterday’s boat ride was to celebrate a new in-lieu-fee mitigation program for Hood Canal, which could be a model for other parts of Puget Sound and, as some suggested yesterday, for the entire nation.

The idea is that developers would pay a flat fee rather than construct a mitigation project on their own. Money could be pooled, if necessary, to promote significant long-term ecological protections.

The Navy is expected to jump-start the effort with several million dollars for mitigation of damage from its proposed $715-million explosives handling wharf to service submarines at Bangor on Hood Canal.

Rather than rehash all the work that has gone into fashioning this rare mitigation program, I’ll refer you to my stories and other sources. One thing to note is that the mitigation plan — outlined in a document called an “instrument” — includes a complex accounting system to keep track of the money as well as ecological debits and credits. It’s all geared to ensure that the environmental damage from development is fully compensated in ecological functions.

Here are some links for further reading:

May 9, 2011: Hood Canal council could get millions from Navy for mitigation projects

Sept. 1, 2011: Mitigation program could work for counties

May 10, 2012: Navy selects builders for second explosives handling wharf

May 18, 2012: Second explosives handling wharf gets final approval

June 1, 2012: Hood Canal council OKs program to handle federal restoration money

July 6, 2012: New mitigation program approved for Hood Canal

July 18, 2012: Governor praises Hood Canal mitigation program

Documents related to the in-lieu-fee program can be found on the website of the Hood Canal Coordinating Council.

A story related to mitigation at the proposed Bangor wharf involves compensation to area tribes for the loss of certain treaty-protected fish and shellfish resources. The story, “Navy to pay $9 million to tribes in mitigation for wharf project,” has generated considerable reader comments (134), mainly about tribal rights.


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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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