Tag Archives: Skokomish River

New video describes quest to restore Skokomish

In an impressive new video, members of the Skokomish Watershed Action Team tell the story of the Skokomish River, its history and its people, and the ongoing effort to restore the watershed to a more natural condition.

The video describes restoration projects — from the estuary, where tide channels were reformed, to the Olympic Mountains, where old logging roads were decommissioned to reduce sediment loading that clogs the river channel.

“I thought it was really well done,” SWAT Chairman Mike Anderson told me. “Some people have remarked about how well edited it is in terms of having different voices come together to tell the story in a single story line.”

The 14-minute video was produced with a $20,000 grant from the Laird Norton Family Foundation, which helped get the SWAT off the ground a decade ago, when a facilitator was hired to pull the group together.

The foundation’s Watershed Stewardship Program invests in community-based restoration, said Katie Briggs, the foundation’s managing director. In addition to the Hood Canal region, the foundation is supporting projects in the Upper Deschutes and Rogue rivers in Oregon.

As Katie explained in an email:

“LNFF has been interested in the collaborative work in the Skokomish for a number of years, and we have been consistently impressed with the way an admittedly strange group of bedfellows has pulled together, set priorities, and moved a restoration agenda forward in the watershed.

“We think their story is compelling, and by being able to share that story in a concise, visual way, they could not only attract more attention to the work they are doing in the Skokomish, but also potentially influence and share with other communities grappling with similar kinds of challenges.

“By helping SWAT tell their story, we’ve also gained a tool through which we are better able to share what it is we care about with the larger Laird Norton family and others interested in the foundation’s approach to watershed stewardship.”

The video project was overseen by Tiffany Royal of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and a subcommittee of SWAT members. North 40 Productions was chosen to pull together the story, shoot new video and compile historical footage.

“It captures a lot of the collaboration and restoration,” Anderson said, “but it doesn’t cover everything. It leaves out most of the General Investigation and the Cushman settlement.”

The General Investigation is how the Army Corps of Engineers refers to the studies I wrote about Sunday in the Kitsap Sun (subscription) and in Water Ways. The Cushman settlement involves an environmental mitigation project on the North Fork of the Skokomish funded by the city of Tacoma and related to relicensing of the Cushman Dam power project.

Alex Gouley of the Skokomish Tribe said he hopes that the video will help tell the story of the Skokomish watershed, as with other tribal efforts such as watershed tours, educational workshops and classroom field trips.

Alex said he and other tribal members appreciate all the work done by each member of the SWAT, from Forest Service employees to the county commissioners, from Green Diamond Resource Company (formerly Simpson Timber) to small property owners in the valley.

“By coming together, everyone is able to make more informed decisions about the projects they are working on,” he said.

Corps completes draft plan for Skokomish River

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

Possible Skokomish restoration projects to go public

After years of hearing bits and pieces about an Army Corps of Engineers investigation of the Skokomish River ecosystem, it seems that things are now moving toward work on a variety of projects. Many are of the type and scale that one would associate with the corps.

The public will get its first glance at 40 or so potential projects during an open house and slide show next Thursday beginning at 5 p.m. at the Mason County Public Works Building, 100 West Public Works Drive in Shelton. Review the news release (PDF 44 kb) on the event.

The Skokomish Watershed Action Team (SWAT) surveys an area where the Skokomish River has wiped out all vegetation and left a massive gravel bar.
Photo by Steve Zugschwerdt

The 40 or so projects to be presented at next week’s meeting are only at a conceptual stage. They must undergo further feasibility studies and cost analyses. A draft feasibility report and environmental impact statement are scheduled for release in August 2013.

As I mentioned in January, the corps is no longer focused on controlling flooding in the Skokomish Valley. Still, much of the ecosystem-restoration work could provide some flood relief. See Kitsap Sun, Jan. 22, and Water Ways, Jan. 25.

Jessie Winkler, project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers, told me in January:

“Clearly, flooding is a problem in the basin. But because of limited residential and commercial activity, it would be very difficult to justify a flood-control project. In order to be justified as a federal project, the economic benefits must be greater than the cost.”

Here are some of the preliminary projects to be described at next week’s meeting:

  • Install aeration or oxygenation system in Annas Bay to reduce the dissolved oxygen problem
  • Add a cool water diversion to Annas Bay to improve water quality
  • Restore eelgrass beds in Hood Canal west of the river’s delta
  • Restore oyster beds in Hood Canal within the delta area
  • Remove additional roads and levies in the lower flood plain and delta
  • Relocate West Valley Road
  • Widen Highway 101 bridge
  • Widen Highway 106 bridge
  • Reconnect wetland at River Road
  • Modify Agency Road to improve flow conditions
  • Rehabilitate channel for Skabob Creek
  • Address levee and side channels on Hunter and Bourgault farms
  • Address car body levee and improve channel for lower Weaver Creek
  • Reconnect Weaver Creek side channel
  • Setback the Grange dike
  • Remove Hunter Creek blockage
  • Install a sediment trap after dredging the main channel downstream of Vance Creek
  • Reconfigure main channel upstream of Vance Creek
  • Reconnect Sunnyside channel
  • Remove or setback levees upstream and downstream of Vance Creek

Projects may include adding salmon-spawning habitat and/or large woody debris, removing invasive plants, planting native vegetation, improving fish passage, removing gravel on gravel bars and spot-dredging.

Skokomish restoration now focused on ecosystem

Flood control is no longer a primary objective of federal restoration work on the Skokomish River — but improving the ecosystem is likely to reduce flood problems for people who live in the valley.

The Skokomish Watershed Action Team (SWAT) surveys an area where the Skokomish River has wiped out all vegetation and left a massive gravel bar.
Photo by Steve Zugschwerdt

We don’t need to be reminded that the Skokomish is the most frequently flooded river in the state. Although I’m not sure how soon another river might take over that dubious distinction, it’s easy to see that a lot of time and money is being spent to get the river back to a more natural condition.

The Army Corps of Engineers, known for massive projects such as dikes, dams and dredging, won’t be adopting those sorts of projects for the Skokomish River.

Jessie Winkler, Skokomish project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers, explained it this way:

“Clearly, flooding is a problem in the basin. But because of limited residential and commercial activity, it would be very difficult to justify a flood-control project. In order to be justified as a federal project, the economic benefits must be greater than the cost.”

For further explanation, check out my story in Monday’s Kitsap Sun.

The good news is that the Corps has not turned its back on the Skokomish. In fact, the river is considered so important to the Hood Canal region that the agency is considering some large-scale projects focused on environmental restoration — including possibly relocating Skokomish Valley Road.

Other interesting ideas include creating sediment traps to capture gravel in selective locations, relocating existing dikes to create a wider river channel, forming new side channels to relieve flow on the main river and even aeration pumps to boost oxygen levels in Hood Canal.

Many of the projects designed for ecological improvement will also reduce the flooding problems.

A report, scheduled to be released in late spring or early summer, summarizes all information collected so far in the $4.7 million study of the Skokomish River watershed. The report will cover current ecological conditions, future ecological conditions without restoration and a list of potential restoration projects — including preliminary design, estimated costs and ecological benefits, Winkler told me.

Potential projects are only conceptual at this point, though experts have begun to look at locations along the river where different types of efforts may be fruitful. Further study will narrow the list of to a plan to be submitted to Congress for funding.

The upcoming report will begin to explore which of the following actions are most likely to succeed in specific locations:

  • Remove or breach levees/dikes
  • Construct setback levees/dikes
  • Create salmon spawning habitat
  • Reconnect wetlands, side channels, backwater areas, and tributaries
  • Substrate modification
  • Install aeration or oxygenation system in Annas Bay
  • Reconnect dendritic channels in estuary
  • Large woody debris
  • Engineered Log Jams
  • Fish passable weir
  • Channel stabilization
  • Riverbed and wetland vehicle exclusion
  • Enhance vegetation – riparian & estuarine
  • Control invasive species
  • Channel rehabilitation or new channel creation
  • Selective gravel removal on gravel bars
  • Spot-dredge
  • Sediment trap
  • Culverts: a) add; b) remove; c) replace; d) upgrade
  • Road modifications
  • Rehabilitate bank lines
  • Cool water diversion to Annas Bay

Skokomish can be considered ‘poster child’ again

In 1988, I took a flight in a Cessna single-engine airplane over the South Fork of the Skokomish River. The trip was offered by Project Lighthawk, an organization that used small aircraft to provide a bird’s eye view of environmental problems throughout the West.

We flew over Hood Canal before reaching Olympic National Forest, where the scene was dominated by extensive brown patches — clearcuts, where all the trees had been removed from mountaintops, valleys and even steep, impassible slopes. Gone were old-growth trees, with trunks up to 6 or 8 feet across.

At the time, The Wilderness Society was working with Lighthawk to estimate how much land had been logged over and how much remained. Their conclusion was that the Forest Service had overestimated the amount of standing timber remaining in the area. Check out the Time magazine article by John Skow from Aug. 29, 1988.

Pictures taken from Lighthawk airplanes helped awaken people across the country to the need to protect remaining old-growth forests, recalled Mike Anderson of The Wilderness Society. I quoted Mike in a Kitsap Sun story from February of 2009:

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Learn about Skokomish watershed issues tomorrow

I’d like to take a moment to remind you about an open house tomorrow to discuss the Skokomish watershed restoration. You’ve been hearing about the problems in the Hood Canal watershed for years — from flooding in the valley to washed out culverts, from dikes along the estuary near Hood Canal to excessive logging roads in the mountains.

The Skokomish watershed is undergoing a massive restoration at all elevations, and the Army Corps of Engineers is putting together plan to restore the river ecosystem and address the flooding problem for the foreseeable future. Because the Skokomish River is the largest river in Hood Canal, the health of the watershed affects the overall health of Hood Canal.

If you’ve wondered about the various projects, you may want to attend this open house tomorrow at Hood Canal School, near the intersection of Highway 101 and Highway 106. The event, sponsored by the Skokomish Watershed Action Team, is from 1 to 4 p.m.

Learn about the Nalley Island dike-removal project, the Large Wood Enhancement Project in the South Fork Skokomish River, the Forest Service’s Legacy Roads Project and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ General Investigation.

Children are welcome to participate in activities before and during the open house. Olympic Mountain Ice Cream and cookies will be served.

A special discussion will focus on flooding and what may be done as an interim measure. Dredging, which sounds like a simple answer, is expensive, creates environmental concerns and doesn’t solve the problem for long, experts say.

For more information, visit the Skokomish Watershed Action Team’s website, which includes a collection of documents and news stories about the problems and restoration efforts.

Industry dollars will operate McKernan Hatchery

Last week, I reported that the Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association has come forward with $158,000 a year to maintain the operation of the McKernan Hatchery near Shelton.

The hatchery, which produces 40 percent of the chum salmon in Hood Canal, was scheduled to close July 1 unless a private entity stepped up to run it. Three groups offered proposals, and the arrangement will allow state hatchery workers to keep doing their regular jobs. See my story in Friday’s Kitsap Sun for details.

Two questions came up in comments at the bottom of the story: Why doesn’t the state rear coho, chinook or other more valuable fish at McKernan? And why does the state continue to allow these kinds of production hatcheries to continue, considering impacts on wild salmon?
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Restoration continues in Skokomish River watershed

I’ve had to face the fact that environmental news continues even when I’m on vacation. I’ve managed to limit my time on the computer, to the delight of my wife, but I’d like to touch on a couple of issues now and catch up with others later.

A little more than a week ago, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved a new license for the Cushman Dam Project in the southern part of Hood Canal. This landmark approval has closed the book on a story I have followed my entire career, and news of the license decision was one of the last stories I wrote before I left for vacation. See Kitsap Sun, July 16.

I’m told the license terms are essentially the same as those in the hard-fought agreement approved by the city of Tacoma, the Skokomish Tribe and natural resource agencies for the state and federal governments. As I’ve reported before, the agreement requires the city of Tacoma to fund some major environmental restoration projects and provide cash the tribe can use for various projects.

On Jan. 13, 2009, in Water Ways, I spent some time going through this agreement section by section. I refer you to that entry for a better understanding of what this landmark agreement will mean to everyone involved.

A story I missed as a result of being on vacation this week was the helicopter transport of some giant trees to the Skokomish River, where the trees will be used to build engineered “log jams” to improve habitat. John Dodge covered the story for The Olympian, and the Kitsap Sun picked it up from the Associated Press.

I had a few more details about this project when I reported on the announcement in February. See the Kitsap Sun, Feb. 26.

Work ready for summer, as Skok studies go on

The work of ecosystem restoration is not easy, but does it have to be this hard?

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is spending $4.4 million to study the Skokomish River and its ecosystem in enough detail to understand the workings of this complex river system. What was it that turned this river — once narrow, deep and swift — into a river wide, shallow and slow much of the time?

Nobody expects a simple answer for a river that is long and branching with many streams flowing in, as the waters drop out of the mountains and emerge into a flat valley. But the Army Corps of Engineers and many assisting agencies have tackled the job of trying to understand the river in mathematical terms.

The wait for answers is frustrating for many people, particularly farmers in the Skokomish Valley, as I point out in a story I wrote for today’s Kitsap Sun. It’s not the first story I’ve written about this frustration, and it probably won’t be the last.

The Corps has completed some work along the way, and we should start to see some of those studies soon. I’m not sure how many people will be able to understand them, but it would be nice to know for certain that something is getting accomplished. Even those with the most optimism and faith in this process are beginning to wonder what this “general investigation” is all about.

Meanwhile, as the floods continue, an amazing amount of restoration work is scheduled for this summer. As I mentioned in today’s story, there are three sections of the river where people are taking significant steps to improve the natural functions:

— In the upper Skokomish watershed, the U.S. Forest Service continues to decommission old logging roads and replace culverts to reduce sediment loads getting into the river. This summer, more than 30 miles of roads are scheduled to be taken out with other improvements planned along the popular Brown Creek Road.

— In the South Fork of the Skokomish, about 25 engineered logjams will be installed this summer to improve salmon habitat, including spawning riffles, resting pools and hiding areas. The project, a joint effort of the Forest Service and Skokomish Tribe, is expected to cost about $650,000.

— In the Skokomish estuary at Hood Canal, a $3-million restoration of Nalley Island is planned, including the removal of 2.5 miles of dikes and 2 miles of interior roads. Tide channels will be restored through the property, connecting with Hood Canal. The project is expected to improve habitat for all species of salmon and shellfish, reduce flooding upstream and possibly improve the low-oxygen problem plaguing Lower Hood Canal.

I will provide more details on these projects when they get under way. If you haven’t read my series on the Skokomish River, you can find it on its own web page.

Some leftovers from Tuesday’s salmon session

Washington state’s salmon managers provided so much interesting information on Tuesday that I could not fit it all into my story in yesterday’s Kitsap Sun.

Pat Pattillo, salmon policy coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, deserves recognition for his patience with me and the numerous sport and commercial fishers who ask him questions. He and WDFW Director Phil Anderson are two of the most mild-mannered guys you will ever know, and yet they manage to work through tough salmon negotiations year after year.

Let me recount some of the issues expected to come up over the next few weeks, with a focus on things not covered in my story.
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