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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 ‘Skokomish Watershed Action Team’

New video describes quest to restore Skokomish

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

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

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.
—–

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


Learn about Skokomish watershed issues tomorrow

Friday, September 17th, 2010

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.


Another Skokomish project: Purdy Creek Bridge

Saturday, October 18th, 2008

I’ve been spending some time in the Skokomish Valley recently, learning why Hood Canal’s largest and most complex river system is on the fritz.


Construction at the new Purdy Creek Bridge. Note the blue “oscillator” at the base of the steel casing in the background.
Kitsap Sun photo

Check out my story this week on the Purdy Creek Bridge on Highway 101. I describe why the bridge will not only help to keep the highway open during flooding, but will reduce flood damage to salmon habitat. I also describe a construction technique that allows the bridge to be built with the least environmental damage. I was fascinated by the giant “oscillator” that pushed a steel casing down into a wetland at the edge of the creek.

On other recent trips to the watershed, I wrote about efforts to boost wild chinook (see story in September) and about restoration work in the upper watershed (see story in August).

Among my observations, it is encouraging to see valley residents and others who care about this critical watershed to consciously take a break from blaming one another for the problems and work together.

Flooding, for course, is the key frustration. The Skokomish River floods more frequently than any river in the state. Farmers, tribal members, residential property owners and folks who care about salmon and other critters all want something done.

It seems like dredging the river would help relieve the problem, but I’m told that it would be very expensive and would be only a short-term fix with potentially unexpected consequences.

I understand that patience runs low at times while waiting for a solution, but the Skokomish Watershed Action Team (SWAT) seems to represent all the interests in the valley. The group offers hope that a real solution is at hand. A distant light can be seen clearly now, as the Army Corps of Engineers works to complete a “general investigation” that attempts to put all the pieces together and lay out an action plan for restoration.


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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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