Tag Archives: Kitsap County

Bremerton leading in national ‘water challenge’

Bremerton continues to lead cities its size in the National Mayor’s Challenge, a program sponsored by the Wyland Foundation to encourage people to conserve water and energy, reduce waste, and do other conservation-minded things.

The challenge runs through April, so there is still time to join with other Bremerton residents or else boost the results for any city you wish to support. The pledge is basically a list of 17 conservation questions, and you just check a box for commitments you are willing to make — either with new practices or with ongoing good habits. To start, you name your city.

Bremerton was the winner last year among cities with populations from 30,000 to 100,000. As they did last year, Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent and her staff have done a good job in spreading the word about the contest, which includes prizes. I’ve seen posters in local stores and restaurants.

As the mayor said in a news release:

“Water is Bremerton’s remarkable resource. I encourage all Bremerton residents to pledge to learn more about their water and energy use at home. This challenge, which runs through April, is an exciting opportunity to learn about water wise habits as we engage in a friendly competition with other cities across the nation to create a more sustainable environment.”

Following Bremerton in its population category are Folsom, Calif., and then Greeley, Colo.

Since I wrote a story about this for the Kitsap Sun (subscription) on April 11, Seattle has moved up from seventh to fourth place among the largest cities (600,000 and over). No other Washington cities have made it into the top 10 for any population group.

In Kitsap County, Port Orchard is ranked 44; Poulsbo is ranked 162; and Bainbridge Island is out of the running at this point.

Other Washington cities in the top 100:

Gig Harbor, 46
Tacoma, 58
Vancouver, 59
Lacey, 64
Redmond, 74

Several other cities are close to 100. If anyone sees his or her city moving into the top 100, please let me know.

Is that a light I see shining at the end of restoration?

When it comes to ecosystem restoration, I love it when we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s rare when we have a chance to say that restoration is nearing completion, since we know that habitat work continues on and on, seemingly without end, in many areas of Puget Sound.

Last summer, a massive pond was constructed off Waaga Way to capture stormwater from developments that was flowing into Steele Creek. Photo by Larry Steagall
Last summer, a massive pond was constructed off Waaga Way to capture stormwater from Central Kitsap developments flowing straight into Steele Creek. / Photo by Larry Steagall

So let us anticipate a celebration when Kitsap County’s regional stormwater projects are completed, when all the deadly ghost nets have been removed from the shallow waters of Puget Sound, and when there are no more creosote pilings left on state tidelands.

Of course, the light at the end of the tunnel may be a mirage, but let’s not go there quite yet.

Kitsap regional ponds

Kitsap County has been collecting a Surface and Stormwater Management Fee from residents in unincorporated areas and using some of that money to leverage state and federal stormwater grants. The fee is currently $73.50, but it will rise to $78 in 2014, $82 in 2015, $86.50 in 2016, $91 in 2017 and $96 in 2018. See Kitsap Sun, Nov. 27, 2012.

The good news is that the effort to retrofit old, outmoded stormwater systems is nearing completion, with remaining projects either in design or nearing the design phase. Check out the Kitsap County Public Works Capital Facilities Program for a list of completed projects with maps as well as proposed projects with maps. As the documents show, the regional retrofits are on their way to completion.

So what are the sources of future stormwater problems? The answer is roads, and the problem is enormous. Still, the county has begun to address the issue with a pilot project that could become a model for other counties throughout Puget Sound. Please read my September story, “New strategies will address road runoff” (subscription) to see how the county intends to move forward.

Ghost nets and crab pots

Earlier this year, the Legislature provided $3.5 million to complete the removal of derelict fishing gear that keeps on killing in waters less than 105 feet deep. The work is to be done before the end of 2015.

Sites where known nets are still killing fish. Map courtesy of Northwest Straits Commission
Sites where known nets are still killing fish.
Map courtesy of Northwest Straits

Phil Anderson, director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, was excited about the prospect. Here’s what he said in a news release.

“Working in conjunction with our partners at Northwest Straits and in the State Legislature, we have made enormous strides toward eliminating the risks posed to fish and wildlife by derelict fishing gear. This is difficult work, and it requires a real commitment from everyone to get it done. We look forward to celebrating the next milestone in 2015.”

The most amazing statistic I found on this topic involved the number of animals trapped by ghost nets. According to one predictive model, if all the nets had been left alone to keep fishing, they could be killing 3.2 million animals each year.

For additional information, read the story I wrote for last Saturday’s Kitsap Sun (subscription) or check out the Northwest Straits webpage.

Creosote pilings and docks

Washington Department of Natural Resources hasn’t slowed down in its effort to remove old creosote pilings and docks. The structures can be toxic to marine life, obstruct navigation and snag fishing gear. By 2015, the total bill for removing such debris is expected to reach $13 million.

Nobody is sure how much it will cost to remove the last of the creosote materials from state lands, but DNR officials have inventoried the various sites and expect to come up with a final priority list over the next six months. Some pilings on privately owned land may be a higher priority for the ecosystem, and officials are trying to decide how to address those sites. Of course, nobody can tackle pilings on private lands without working through the property owners.

Download a spreadsheet of the work completed so far (PDF 53 kb), which involves a focus on 40 sites throughout Puget Sound. Altogether, the projects removed about 11,000 pilings plus about 250,000 square feet of “overwater structures,” such as docks.

I mentioned work underway in Jefferson County in my story last week (subscription), and reporter Tristan Baurick mentioned a specific cleanup project at Nick’s Lagoon (subscription) in Kitsap County. You may also wish to check out the DNR’s page on Creosote Removal.

Navy extends easement plans to Kitsap County

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:

Ron Ross was the ultimate common-sense guy

I already miss Ron Ross, who was the inspiration for numerous stories I wrote through the years. Ron died two weeks ago, on May 26.

Ron Ross
Ron Ross

Every few months, Ron would call me with a questioning tone to his voice. He would talk about some city, county or state policy or regulation and tell me how it was working, or not working, and how it was affecting him or someone else.

“How does this make any sense?” he would ask.

Many times, Ron would have the nut of an issue, which would pan out into a story. Sometimes these stories involved property rights, but Ron was never the kind of property-rights advocate who believed a person should be able to do anything he wants with his property. He just wanted government rules to make sense and work for the majority of people.

It drove him crazy when a well-intentioned regulation caused more problems than it solved. Ron was, if anything, a common-sense kind of guy.

If the salmon couldn’t get upstream, he didn’t wait for all the permits he was supposed to get, not while the salmon were waiting. He just got out with some volunteers and moved the fish upstream — not to a place of his choosing, but to exactly the place where they were supposed to go. How could anyone argue with that?

Continue reading

Kitsap’s future involves sharing water resources

Sharing water resources over a wide region is an idea that goes hand-in-hand with the Growth Management Act’s strategy of concentrating population in urban areas while protecting rural areas.

Of course, the first level of action is water conservation. But the ability to take water from one aquifer with an adequate water supply while protecting an overtaxed aquifer somewhere else makes a lot of sense.

That’s the idea behind building new pipelines to connect numerous water systems across a good portion of Kitsap County, including Silverdale. I described the latest steps in this plan in a story published in Monday’s Kitsap Sun.

Rainfall

Thirty years ago — before the Growth Management Act was passed — I recall talking to folks at the Kitsap Public Utility District, who declared that they were not in the land-use business and had no intention of getting involved in land-use battles. It was the job of the Kitsap County commissioners to decide where to put the growth, they said. The PUD staff and commissioners believed their role was to provide water for the growing population, wherever it goes. Check out this Kitsap Sun story from Feb. 25, 2001.

The state’s Municipal Water Law of 2003 clarified that the KPUD could deliver water from one place to another throughout its service area — which is all of Kitsap County. That allows water to be brought to developed areas in North Kitsap, where annual rainfall is half of what we see in the forested areas of Southwest Kitsap, where the Seabeck aquifer is located. (See annual precipitation map on this page.)

Many environmentalists have objected to certain portions of the Municipal Water Law, especially sections that included developers as municipal water suppliers — a move they say opens the door for abuse by financial interests.

One of the big concerns in water management is that pumping too much from an aquifer — especially a shallow aquifer — could disrupt the subsurface flows and springs that maintain stream levels in the summer and early fall. Adequate streamflows are needed for many species, not the least of which are salmon.

With adequate monitoring, as needed for planning, experts can track groundwater levels and streamflows to avoid such problems. Pipelines allow aquifers to be “rested” when needed. And elected PUD commissioners can be held accountable for their decisions regarding the regional management of water.

Future water supplies and the right to use the water constitute one of the most complicated issues in environmental law. A 2003 paper by the Washington Department of Ecology, called “Mitigation Measures Used in Water Rights Permitting” outlines some of the methods being used to protect natural systems and competing water rights. Mitigation for use of the Seabeck aquifer, which is an important water supply in Kitsap County, is described briefly on pages 19 and 20.

Researchers focus on forage fish and shorelines

UPDATE: June 26

The Pacific Fishery Management Council has taken a major step in the protection of unregulated forage fish with a resolution calling for increased studies and possible fishing restrictions. The resolution begins:

“It is the Council’s intent to recognize the importance of forage fish to the marine ecosystem off our coast, and to provide adequate protection for forage fish. We declare that our objective is to prohibit the development of new directed fisheries on forage species that are not currently managed by our Council, or the States, until we have an adequate opportunity to assess the science relating to the fishery and any potential impacts to our existing fisheries and communities.”

Read the entire resolution on the PFMC’s website.
—–

In the end, the plankton and the tiny fish that eat them may reveal the real story about Puget Sound.

USGS researchers Dave Ayers, Ryan Tomka and Collin Smith haul in their net at Fay Bainbridge Park last week.
Kitsap Sun photo by Meegan M. Reid

As I wrote in a story for Monday’s Kitsap Sun:

“While killer whales and salmon dominate the public spotlight, researchers are focusing increasing attention near the bottom of the food web and on the physical processes that support all life in Puget Sound.”

The story focuses on studies related to forage fish and hydrogeological processes along the shorelines of the Kitsap Peninsula, but it ties into everything we know about Puget Sound.

One project, led by U.S. Geological Survey researcher Theresa “Marty” Liedtke, is studying the extent to which sand lance and surf smelt depend on eelgrass beds. The project is part of the agency’s investigation called “Coastal Habitats in Puget Sound (CHIPS). Check out the CHIPS website for further information.

The other study, by geologist Wendy Gerstel of Qwg Applied Geology, is part of a larger grant project dealing with shoreline processes funded by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Wendy has been studying sources of sediment that feed the beaches in Kitsap County. She is preparing to use what she has found to make recommendations about potential shoreline-restoration projects.

Her project and related issues will be discussed tomorrow at a workshop called “Kitsap’s Shorelines and Restoration Opportunities: A Landowner Workshop.”

Participants will learn about beach processes and shoreline ecology and hear from researchers studying shoreline erosion and sediment sources along Kitsap County shorelines. The workshop is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at President’s Hall at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds, and everyone is invited.

Another development involving sand lance, surf smelt and other “unmanaged” forage fish is a proposal for the Pacific Fishery Management Council to initiate a process that could eventually lead to fisheries regulations.

Protecting all forage fish seems to be a goal of many environmental organizations, as one can see in the public comments section of PFMC’s agenda (Item G.1) for Saturday’s meeting in San Mateo, Calif.

Steve Marx of the Pew Environment Group wrote a 12-page letter in support of managing for protection:

“To date the Council has received over 19,000 individual pieces of correspondence from engaged members of the public, urging it to take action to protect forage species for the sake of a healthy ecosystem, sustainable fisheries and vibrant coastal communities.

“Over 110 licensed commercial fishermen and women on the West Coast have written to the Council, urging it to prevent new fisheries from developing on forage species until adequate science is available. Additionally, a diverse list of both commercial and recreational fishing organizations have advocated for the
Council to implement needed forage protections, including a reversal on the burden of proof for new forage fisheries.

“The regional fishery management council process encourages public participation, and we hope that this strong show of public support for protecting unmanaged
forage species is helpful as the Council continues its deliberation on how best to proceed.”

Is Kitsap becoming kayak capital of Puget Sound?

Among locals, the Kitsap Peninsula has long been known as a great place to go kayaking, but now the 300+ miles of shoreline are quickly becoming a destination for out-of-area folks.

Kayakers paddle near Port Gamble.
Kitsap Sun photo by Larry Steagall

A new map of Kitsap’s shoreline features has been produced for the paddle crowd by the Kitsap Peninsula Visitor and Convention Bureau. The map is helpful for those trying to identify stopping points along the shoreline — whether one wants to spend days on the water or just a few hours.

Patricia Graf-Hoke, manager of the visitor bureau, said she believes it is the first map of its kind in Washington state and may be just the second or third in the nation.

Tourism on the Kitsap Peninsula is growing, she told the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council last week. As a whole, it is becoming a major industry and one of the largest employers in Kitsap County.

In a Kitsap Sun story about the new map, John Kuntz, owner of Olympic Outdoor Center, told reporter Rachel Pritchett that more than half the people who paddle around the peninsula come from somewhere else.

“It’s definitely a part of tourism that Kitsap County hasn’t really embraced in the past,” Kuntz was quoted as saying.

Continue reading

Kitsap shorelines always good for surprises

Shoreline buffers are us, no doubt about it.

As one case involving Kitsap County’s shorelines waits on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, a whole new issue has sprung out of a state law written to resolve confusion created during the earlier lawsuit.

Until Kitsap County adopts a new shorelines plan next year, conflicts between the Shorelines Management Act and the Growth Management Act could go on. After that, expect a new round of appeals.

The latest issue arises out of a little-known provision of a state law passed in 2010. The overall intent of the law was to allow a local Critical Areas Ordinance to provide shoreline protections until a new shorelines plan is drafted. For background, see Water Ways from Jan. 6 of this year.

There is an exception in the law, however, listed in Subsection 3(c) of RCW 36.70A.480, which allows for “redevelopment or modification” of a structure as long as it is consistent with the local shoreline master program and it is shown that “no net loss of ecological function” would result.

Sure enough, a Kitsap County property owner who wants to tear down a house and build a new one closer to the shore was able to make use of that special provision.

Kitsap County Hearing Examiner Kimberly Allen, who approved the redevelopment, said her ruling “rests on a complex and very fact-specific set of interactions” between three different laws. For details, check out my story published in today’s Kitsap Sun or read the hearing examiner’s decision (PDF 1.3 mb) for yourself.

The case on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Kitsap Alliance of Property Owners v. Central Puget Sound Growth Management Hearings Board, raises questions about whether large, uniform buffers violate the “takings clause” of the Fifth Amendment. KAPO contends that Kitsap County requires property owners to dedicate “large tracts of private land to public use as environmental conservation buffers” without a clear showing that such buffers protect the environment.

The case has yet to be accepted by the Supreme Court, but one can get a good understanding of the arguments by reading the petition for writ of certiorari (PDF 152 kb), posted on the website of the Pacific Legal Foundation, which is representing KAPO.

Meanwhile, the task force working to update Kitsap’s shorelines plan has reconvened, taking up buffers and other controversial issues, after a hiatus through most of the summer and fall. For the latest on those deliberations, see stories I wrote for the Kitsap Sun Nov. 7 and 13:

Shoreline task force to tackle thorny issues

Shoreline buffers move to front burner

Watching the water-quality report cards

I guess we’re lucky in Kitsap County to have local health authorities who not only gather water-quality data but also know what to do with the information. I’m told that’s not the case for many counties in Washington state or across the nation.

The reason I bring this up is because of a story I wrote for today’s Kitsap Sun. Some of the water-quality report cards being issued by environmental groups are nothing more than a rewrite of raw data from water-quality samples collected by local officials. This could be valuable information in places where no other information is offered. But water-quality specialists at the Kitsap County Health District stand ready to interpret the data and take more samples, if necessary, so we know when we really should worry.

One bad sample does not mean we should run away from the water, but it does serve to raise some questions. Asking questions is the role I play when I see these reports. Fortunately, we have experts in Kitsap County who know our streams and beaches and who are willing and able to answer my questions.

It would be interesting to know how many counties in the state conduct routine monitoring of streams, lakes and marine waters; how many do follow-up tests when they find a problem; how many assess the findings to measure trends; and how many use the data to begin corrective actions. If anyone knows of information compiled on monitoring programs for all counties or cities, please let me know. If not, maybe this would be a project someone could take on.

Kitsap County’s monitoring program is funded by a stormwater fee collected with our property taxes. The residential fee is $70 per year. Commercial businesses may pay more, depending on their size.

Many cities and counties collect stormwater fees, but few use the money for monitoring. Even fewer compile long-term trends with a comprehensive ongoing monitoring program. Such programs deserve consideration.

In addition to paying for water-quality testing, Kitsap County’s stormwater fee is used to investigate sources of pollution; retrofit older communities with stormwater systems; clean out storm drains on county property; inspect all storm drains except for state highways; teach people about clean water; coordinate volunteers in programs including Beach Watchers and Stream Stewards; provide signs and supplies for the Mutt Mit dog-waste cleanup program; fund grants for a backyard rain garden program; and plan for and monitor results of stream-restoration and stormwater-retrofit projects.

I’m not saying that programs such as Heal the Bay and Testing the Waters (by Natural Resources Defense Council) don’t have value. In some cases, this is all that communities have, and they provide a good reason to ask questions about water quality.

But, as Keith Grellner of the Kitsap County Health District told me, these reports may be like crying wolf for some individuals. If people keep hearing warnings when the problems are minimal or nonexistent, will they pay attention in the face of serious water-quality concerns?

Puget Sound Partnership’s local connections

It won’t be long before local governments will be called on to do their part to restore Puget Sound.

That’s one conclusion I drew yesterday from a conversation between representatives of the Puget Sound Partnership and the Kitsap County commissioners.

Martha Kongsgaard, chairwoman of the PSP’s Leadership Council, and PSP Executive Director Gerry O’Keefe have been visiting local governments throughout Puget Sound to learn what they are doing now and to gauge their capacity and willingness to do more to improve the natural environment.

It has long been recognized that the effort to protect and restore Puget Sound requires the support of the people who live here. And local officials tend to be much closer to those living in their community. As a result, they can often bridge the gap between decision-makers at the top levels and the people who need to make changes in their daily lives.

Continue reading