Category Archives: Land use

Unnamed stream could be named LeCuyer Creek for KPUD hydrologist

UPDATE, MAY 31
The name LeCuyer Creek was approved yesterday by the Washington State Committee on Geographic Names. The name change now goes to the state Board of Natural Resources, which sits as the state Board of Geographic Names. Action is normally a formality. The name, which will be recognized for state business, will be forwarded to the U.S. Board of Geographic Names, which is likely to adopt it for federal actions as well.
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The late Jim LeCuyer, who developed a system of monitoring rainfall, streamflow and groundwater levels in Kitsap County, could be memorialized next week when a stream near Kingston is officially named LeCuyer Creek.

Jim LeCuyer

The state’s Committee on Geographic Names will meet Tuesday Thursday to consider the proposed stream name in honor of LeCuyer, who died in 2012 from a blood disorder.

Jim, who joined the Kitsap Public Utility District in 1984, came to understand the water cycle on the Kitsap Peninsula perhaps better than anyone else. When Jim took the job, one of the looming questions for government officials was whether the peninsula would have enough water to serve the massive influx of people who were coming to Kitsap County.

“Jim started doing hydrological monitoring about 1991,” said Mark Morgan, KPUD’s water resources manager who proposed the name LeCuyer Creek. “What he developed became one of the best monitoring systems in the state, some say on the West Coast.”

It is Jim’s system that I use when I report on water conditions in North, Central and South Kitsap, which are widely different most of the time.

Since Kitsap has no mountain glaciers or snowpack, all the water we get falls from the sky. It then either soaks into the ground or becomes part of a stream. Jim’s ambitious goal was to account for all that water and let people know when low groundwater levels were threatening water supplies or when low streamflows were affecting salmon spawning.

For the system to work well, the data must be rigorously and consistently maintained, month after month, year after year, Mark told me. There is no room for a haphazard approach, and Jim was steadfast in his work.

Beyond that, I can personally testify that Jim was good at putting pieces of the puzzle together, using numbers to prove his point. He would sometimes call me, especially during low-water years to explain the threat to wells and the need for people to conserve water.

A stream on Miller Bay in North Kitsap would be named LeCuyer Creek under new proposal.

I would arrive at Jim’s office, and he would spread out colorful charts and graphs across the top of the table. Then he would proceed to explain, calmly and patiently, the technical details and answer my questions.

“The data and systems we have today is because of Jim,” said Bob Hunter, general manager of Kitsap Public Utility District. “He knew we were in a unique spot on this peninsula with no glacial runoff. It was his idea to collect the data to determine if (the water supply) is influenced by the water purveyors or if it is truly tied to rainfall.”

Those questions are still being pursued, but it appears from the latest studies that the Kitsap Peninsula will have adequate water supplies for the foreseeable future, provided people adopt a variety of conservation measures and that utilities are able to move water from place to place.

In early 2012, looking forward to retirement, Jim sat down with Bob to discuss the future.

“I told him that I wanted him to hire his replacement,” Bob recalled, adding that continuity was so important that he wanted the new person to have a year to learn from Jim. The PUD went through the normal hiring process and interviewed several applicants.

After the search had gone on awhile, Jim came to Bob and said, “I know of only one person who you can trust with managing the data,” according to Bob who added, “Knowing Jim as long as I did, I knew he meant that.”

Jim recommended his own son, Joel, for the job, and the KPUD board approved the hire, which has worked out well for everyone.

While Joel was in training, his father came down with an illness and was taken to Harrison Medical Center in Bremerton, where he died. After his death, his family learned that he had a form of lymphoma.

The stream chosen to bear the name LeCuyer Creek drains into Miller Bay near White Horse Golf Course west of Kingston, where Jim and his family lived for about 20 years before moving to Port Ludlow. The stream is a little more than a half-mile long and has never had an official name.

Born April 10, 1953, Jim received bachelor degrees in environmental science and biochemistry from Saint John’s University and the University of Minnesota. He worked for Northern States Power Company and Grain Belt Brewery, both in Minneapolis, and Honeywell in Deer Park, Ill., before moving to Seattle, where he took a job with James Brinkley Company, which manufactures equipment for pulp and paper mills.

In 1984, Jim went to work for Kitsap Public Utility District, where I first met him. At the time, he was scrambling to add new data by testing monitoring wells throughout Kitsap County. Check out the Kitsap Sun, Nov. 12, 1991. Among the stories I wrote involving Jim was a drought in 2009 — a condition we may be facing again this year. See Kitsap Sun Oct. 3, 2009.

Jim, whose family said his work with KPUD was “the job of his dreams,” also loved outdoor sports, animals and spending time with his family. He was 59 years old when he died on Dec. 10, 2012. In addition to his son Joel, he is survived by his wife, Jody; his daughter, Jackie; and two brothers, Bob and Bill.

The Committee on Geographic Names will hold a hearing on the proposed name LeCuyer Creek on Thursday in Olympia. To provide comments, go to the webpage of the Committee on Geographic Names within the Department of Natural Resources.

Sandra Staples-Bortner to retire from Great Peninsula Conservancy

Sandra Staples-Bortner, executive director of the Great Peninsula Conservancy, will retire at the end of this month after 11 years on the job. Those involved in the regional land trust say she will leave the organization much larger and stronger than before her arrival.

Sandra Staples-Bortner
Photo: Kenna Cox

Great Peninsula Conservancy — which protects salmon streams, forests and shorelines — was formed in 2000 by the merger of four smaller land trusts: Kitsap, Hood Canal, Indianola and Peninsula Heritage land trusts. See Kitsap Sun, May 23, 2000.

The goal was to create an organization large enough to hire full-time staff and manage a growing slate of properties, according to Gary Cunningham, longtime board member who was instrumental in the merger. The conservancy struggled financially in its early years, he said, but Sandra helped turn things around.

“She has definitely done the things that the board knew had to be done to make this a financially viable and stable organization that can protect property in perpetuity,” Gary told me.

Sandra was able to improve connections with people in the region, increase donations of land, implement fund-raising activities and ensure stewardship of the lands under control of the Great Peninsula Conservancy, he said. Sandra already understood the environmental issues, Gary added, and she quickly picked up on the legal and technical details — such as working out conservation easements to formalize land-management.

“We depend on the local community to keep us healthy,” Sandra told me. “Our founders did a great job in starting out, and we revise our procedures every couple of years to make things work better.”

With community support and grants from government agencies, the number of properties has grown along with more staffers to focus on specific efforts, such as acquisitions and fund-raising. The organization has played a role in conserving 10,500 acres, compared to 2,100 when Sandra arrived.

“I feel GPC has reached a strong point in time,” she said. “We have really talented, dedicated staff doing exciting conservation projects and reflecting desires to save this wonderful peninsula.”

Kitsap County Commissioner Rob Gelder said Sandra played a critical role in the Kitsap Forest and Bay Campaign, as she helped coordinate a coalition of diverse groups. She also helped to make the conservancy a partner in the Hood Canal Coordinating Council’s In-Lieu Fee Mitigation Program, a process that allows for complete compensation for environmental damage from development.

“It has been a great partnership,” Rob told me. “Sandra has had that great can-do vision, and she has had her fingers in a lot of things that will leave a lasting legacy.”

One of the more recent goals is to increase the public’s connections to the properties, such as leading community hikes to view important fish and wildlife areas. Information kiosks are being constructed to provide information about some of the larger properties.

Another new project is an outdoor camp for at-risk individuals, she said. “Most of them have never done anything like hike or spend time outdoors.” See job post for NextGen Outdoors Camp.

“Sandra has a knack for connecting people to the land and inspiring people to want to help save it,” said GPC President Kit Ellis in a press release. “She has made it easy for each of us to make a difference by joining a volunteer work party or making a donation.”

I asked Sandra to describe the most important land acquisition that occurred during her tenure, and she started off by talking about the ecological values protected by the recent acquisition of Camp Hahobas, a former Boy Scout Camp.

Then she mentioned the massive Kitsap Forest and Bay Project in North Kitsap, Grover’s Creek Preserve near Indianola and Felucy Bay Reserve on the Long Branch Peninsula. She talked about working to save much of Petersen Farm as an agricultural property, then she started talking about smaller acquisitions of importance. I think she could have gone on and on, describing the natural values of each property without choosing a favorite — as one might talk about their children or grandchildren.

For reference, here are links to some of these properties:

“They all have interesting stories,” Sandra noted.

Acquiring property or conservation easements to protect a property often begins with a love of the land by a longtime property owner or by family members who inherit the beloved property, Sandra said.

“Many land owners are as much about saving land as we are,” she noted.

To maintain each property, the organization tries to get a cash donation, known as a stewardship bequest. If the owner wants to donate an important piece of land but cannot provide stewardship funding, then GPC will seek outside tax-deductible donations or government grants.

High priorities for acquisition are salmon streams, shoreline areas and connected forest parcels that can help preserve wildlife-migration corridors, Sandra said. Also important are properties that allow people to enjoy wildlife.

“We’re fortunate on this peninsula that we still have amazing timberlands,” she noted, adding that private and state forestlands contain key habitats and should be maintained as working forests as long as possible.

In her retirement, Sandra plans to travel with her husband, play with her two young grandchildren and spend even more time outdoors.

‘Survive the Sound’ salmon game now open to all with no charge

“Survive the Sound,” an online game that involves tracking salmon migrations in Puget Sound, has thrown open its doors for everyone, whether you donate money or not.

The idea of buying a salmon character to participate in the game has been abandoned after two years, and now the fish are free for the choosing. Long Live the Kings, which sponsors the game, still welcomes donations, of course, but money is not a prerequisite.

“We wanted to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to learn more about salmon and steelhead and support the movement to recover them,” Lucas Hall, project manager for LLTK, told me in an email. “So, we’ve simplified the sign-up process and eliminated any fees associated with participation.”

Eliminating the fees also makes it easy to form or join a team, which can consist of any number of people. The winner is the team with the greatest percentage of fish surviving to the end of the five-day migration. So far, more than 400 teams have been created among more than 2,000 players signed up for the game.

If you register with “Survive the Sound,” you will receive daily emails tracking your fish character, based on actual fish that were tracked during past research projects. Most fish characters in the game will perish somewhere along the way, as salmon do in real life, but some will make it all the way through Puget Sound to the ocean.

The deadline for joining the game is May 5. Go to “Survive the Sound” for details or to sign up. The game begins the following day.

Many teachers are involving their students in the game, which can be a springboard for describing the life cycle of salmon and the perils they face from egg to adult spawner. Last year, more than 30,000 students participated through their classroom, and many classroom teams continue. See “Getting started in the classroom” for classroom materials, including a live webinar involving salmon scientists.

If you have questions about the project, you can check with Lucas Hall, lhall@lltk.org.

Duckabush restoration promises major benefits for five species of salmon

An ecosystem-restoration project that would replace two bridges across the Duckabush River and restore a 38-acre estuary on the west side of Hood Canal has moved into the design phase with funding from state and federal governments.

Bridge over the Duckabush River
Photo: Jayedgerton, Wikimedia Commons

The project, which would improve habitat for five species of salmon along with a variety of wildlife, is the subject of a design agreement between the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“Projects like this are key to improving the overall health of Hood Canal and Puget Sound,” WDFW Director Kelly Susewind said in a news release. “We have a variety of challenges in conserving our salmon populations, so creating more habitat for juvenile salmon to eat and grow before they journey into open waters is one of the most important things we can do.”

The Duckabush restoration was one of the top projects identified through the Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Project, or PSNERP, a collaboration among WDFW, the Corps and other partners to determine where restoration dollars would best be spent.

Chinook salmon, the primary prey of the critically endangered Southern Resident orcas, are expected to benefit from improved spawning and rearing habitat in the Duckabush River and estuary. Duckabush chinook are part of the mid-Hood-Canal population, which is among the stocks that have dwindled to low levels, forcing unusual reductions in salmon fishing — not only in Puget Sound but out to the coast.

In addition to chinook, the restoration is expected to benefit chum (both summer and fall populations), pink and coho salmon, along with steelhead.

The Duckabush estuary was bisected years ago when fill material was laid down in the marshlands to form the base of Highway 101. The river was constrained into two small channels spanned by what are now aging bridges. A conceptual design for the restoration project calls for removing the fill along with the two bridges, both considered functionally obsolete, and building a modern 2,100-foot-long bridge to span the restored estuary.

The bridge will be elevated above the existing road level to maintain surrounding elevations. An added benefit to the elevated bridge is that an elk herd in the area will be able to cross the road under the bridge, avoiding hazardous conflicts with traffic that frequently occur now.

The project, including the roadwork and a long list of other changes to restore the estuary (see diagram below), could cost up to $90 million, with 65 percent paid by the federal government. Besides benefitting the ecosystem, the project is expected to improve transportation, decrease flooding and possibly upgrade water quality, according to Seth Ballhorn, nearshore communications manager for WDFW. Valuable shellfish beds in that area have been closed because of pollution, he noted.

Design of the project, including the new bridge, is expected to cost between $7 million and $10 million, with the state’s portion listed in the capital budget now working its way through the Legislature. Bridge design will be under the jurisdiction of the Washington State Department of Transportation.

“We see this as a multi-benefit project,” Ballhorn said. “We are getting more than habitat restoration, and we want the community to get involved and provide input on this effort.”

Public meetings about the project are expected to begin in early summer in Brinnon as part of the state’s environmental review. The design phase is expected to take two to three years.

“It’s great to initiate the design phase with WDFW on a project that will benefit Puget Sound’s chinook and orcas at such a critical time,” said Col. Mark Geraldi, Seattle District commander for the Corps of Engineers.

“In 2016, congress authorized three PSNERP projects that could ultimately restore 2,100 acres of critical habitat,” he said in the news release. “We’ve been working on this for a very long time, and getting to this point is a testament to the hard work and dedication by the federal and state agencies, tribes, academia, and other organizations who’ve been involved.”

The other two top-ranking projects that need further discussion before moving into design involve a 1,800-acre restoration of the Nooksack River estuary and a floodplain/wetland restoration in the North Fork of the Skagit River. See Water Ways, Dec. 17, 2016.

A conceptual map of the Duckabush River estuary project includes a long bridge spanning the estuary (white). Click twice to enlarge.
Graphic: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Legislation to help endangered orcas keeps moving toward approval

Members of the governor’s orca task force this week expressed hope and a bit of surprise as they discussed their recommendations to help the orcas —recommendations that were shaped into legislation and now have a fairly good chance of passage.

Over the years, some of their ideas have been proposed and discussed — and ultimately killed — by lawmakers, but now the plight of the critically endangered southern resident killer whales has increased the urgency of these environmental measures — including bills dealing with habitat, oil-spill prevention and the orcas themselves.

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Climate Sense: Concerns rise over methane and auto-emission rules

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, capable of trapping far more heat than the same amount carbon dioxide, at least in the short term. This week, I point you to some new studies regarding the release of methane and news about a potential showdown between state and federal governments over fuel-economy standards.

Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is not well understood by many people. Methane can absorb more than 100 times as much energy as an equal weight of carbon dioxide, experts say, but methane breaks down in the atmosphere over time, so the effect of releasing a ton of methane actually decreases as time goes on.

Graphic: Environmental Protection Agency

Methane’s “global warming potential,” or GWP, is said to be 28-36 times higher than CO2 when considering the effects over 100 years — so methane is regarded as a major contributor to climate change. Check out the explanation of GWP by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Sources of methane are widespread — from vegetation naturally decomposing in wetlands to incidental releases during natural gas production and transport. Figuring out the amount of methane coming from various sources has been a puzzle for climate scientists.

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New ‘civil enforcement’ proposed for violations of hydraulic permits

Concerns about the endangered southern resident killer whales seems to be spurring legislative support for new enforcement tools that could be used to protect shoreline habitat.

Bills in both the state House and Senate would allow stop-work orders to be issued by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife when shoreline construction is done without permits or exceeds permit conditions. If passed, the law would require that Fish and Wildlife officials first work with contractors and property owners to achieve “voluntary compliance.”

Working with property owners is the key, stressed Jeff Davis, deputy director of Fish and Wildlife in charge of habitat protection. Under current law, property owners who commit serious permit violations are charged with criminal misdemeanors. That’s neither good for the agency nor for the property owner, who may end up battling each other in court, said Davis, who once worked as a Fish and Wildlife habitat biologist in Kitsap County.

The criminal approach may work well with “egregious violations of the law,” Davis told the House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture and Natural Resources, “but it’s not an appropriate tool for the vast majority of noncompliance we see out there. We would rather work with people so they are in compliance and there aren’t impacts to fish.”

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Petition seeks upgrades to Puget Sound sewage treatment plants

UPDATE, Feb. 12
Northwest Environmental Advocates has taken its case to court in an effort to obtain a new Washington state sewage-treatment standard under AKART — “All Known, Available and Reasonable Treatment.” For information about the case, refer to the NWEA news release and the lawsuit filed in Thurston County Superior Court.
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An environmental group, Northwest Environmental Advocates, is calling on the Washington Department of Ecology and Gov. Jay Inslee to invoke a 1945 law in hopes of forcing cities and counties to improve their sewage-treatment plants.

Large ribbons of the plankton Noctiluca can be seen in this photo taken at Poverty Bay near Federal Way on June 28 last year. Excess nitrogen can stimulate plankton growth, leading to low-oxygen conditions.
Photo: Eyes Over Puget Sound, Department of Ecology

In a petition to Ecology, the group says the state agency should require cities and counties to upgrade their plants to “tertiary treatment” before the wastewater gets discharged into Puget Sound. Such advanced treatment would remove excess nitrogen along with some toxic chemicals that create problems for sea life, according to Nina Bell, executive director of NWEA, based in Portland.

Most sewage-treatment plants in the region rely on “secondary treatment,” which removes most solids but does little to reduce nitrogen or toxic chemicals. Secondary treatment is an outdated process, Nina told me, adding that Ecology needs to lead the way to a more advanced treatment technology.

“It’s a travesty that cities around Puget Sound continue to use 100-year-old sewage-treatment technology when cities across the nation have demonstrated that solutions are available and practical,” she said.

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Salmon report mixes good and bad news, with a touch of hope

The story of salmon recovery in Washington state is a mixture of good and bad news, according to the latest “State of the Salmon” report issued by the Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office.

It’s the usual story of congratulations for 20 years of salmon restoration and protection, along with a sobering reminder about how the growing human population in our region has systematically dismantled natural functions for nearly 150 years.

“We must all do our part to protect our state’s wild salmon,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in a news release. “As we face a changing climate, growing population and other challenges, now is the time to double down on our efforts to restore salmon to levels that sustain them, our fishing industry and the communities that rely on them. Salmon are crucial to our future and to the survival of beloved orca whales.”

The report reminds us that salmon are important to the culture of our region and to the ecosystem, which includes our cherished killer whales. It is, however, frustrating for everyone to see so little progress in the number of salmon returning to the streams, as reflected in this summary found in the report:

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McNeil Island becoming known for fish and wildlife, not just prison

If you’ve heard of McNeil Island, you are probably thinking of a former federal or state prison in South Puget Sound — not the rare and exclusive habitat that has won high praise from fish and wildlife biologists.

A derelict boat, estimated at 100 years old, is removed from the McNeil Island shoreline.
Photo: Monica Shoemaker, DNR

I never realized that McNeil Island was such a gem until I learned about state restoration plans that could lead to near-pristine conditions for the island, located about seven miles southwest of Tacoma.

To be sure, more than 90 percent of the island’s 12-mile-long shoreline remains in a natural state, including large trees bending over the water . The restoration — the result of a longtime planning effort — will focus on discrete areas that have been highly degraded by human activities, some for more than a century.

The first project, completed this week, was the removal of shoreline armoring, creosote pilings and debris in six locations. Close to 1,000 tons of concrete was hauled away by barge along with 55 tons of scrap metal and more than 51 tons of pilings. A 557-foot bulkhead was pulled out along with a derelict boat.

“You can already see how much better the habitat appears with all that armoring and debris gone,” said Monica Shoemaker, restoration manager for the Department of Natural Resources’ Aquatic Restoration Program.

“I’m super excited about it,” she added, as she wrapped up the site work. “It takes a lot of planning and permitting, and when you work on something awhile, it is great to see it completed.”

Metal anti-submarine nets, added years ago to McNeil Island’s shoreline, were hauled away during the removal project.
Photo: Monica Shoemaker, DNR

The concrete debris included what looked like an old building, demolished and tossed down the bank, Monica told me. What appeared to be ceramic tiles from a bathroom were scattered among the pieces of concrete. Metal debris included multiple layers of twisted and tangled anti-submarine netting, apparently brought to the site following World War II.

The accomplishment goes well beyond appearances. The shoreline is important rearing habitat for juvenile salmon, including threatened Chinook. Portions of the beach will provide excellent spawning habitat for forage fish, such as surf smelt and sand lance, according to Doris Small of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Much of the island contains moderate to low-bank waterfront, with about 25 percent identified as “feeder bluffs,” which provide sand and gravel to keep the beaches suitable for forage-fish spawning. Wetlands across the island provide habitat for a multitude of species.

Doris said the ongoing restoration effort has been the result of exceptional collaboration between DNR, WDFW and the state Department of Corrections.

McNeil Island served as the site a federal penitentiary from 1875 to 1979. It was the first federal prison in Washington Territory. In 1981, after the federal government decided it was too expensive to operate, the facility was leased by the state of Washington.

In 1984, the state Department of Corrections took ownership of the prison site with 1,324 acres used for buildings and infrastructure. The remainder of the island’s 4,413 acres was dedicated as a permanent wildlife sanctuary under control of WDFW. The deed also transferred ownership of Gertrude and Pitt islands to the state for conservation purposes.

The prison was upgraded during the 1990s with new buildings to serve up to 1,300 inmates. But in 2011 the prison was closed as a cost-cutting measure. Today, the facility houses about 300 inmates in a Special Commitment Center for sexually violent offenders who have been civilly committed.

McNeil, Gertrude and Pitt Islands remain closed to public access to protect breeding populations of wildlife. A 100-yard safety zone goes out into the water with warning signs for boaters.

In 2011, DNR established the Nisqually Reach Aquatic Reserve, which edges up against Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge and includes Anderson Island, McNeil Island and surrounding waters. The idea is to protect shoreline ecosystems in the reserve.

A feasibility report (PDF, 6.3 mb), developed by WDFW and DNR, includes a shoreline survey that identified 10 sites where debris removal would improve the nearshore habitat. Although contractors removed more material than originally estimated for the first six sites, bidding was favorable and costs were held to about $450,000, Monica said. Funding is from DNR’s aquatic restoration account.

The next project, to get underway in January, involves removal of a concrete boat launch, concrete debris and log pilings from the so-called Barge Landing Site at the southern tip of McNeil Island. Funding will come from an account that provides money from a pollution settlement with Asarco, a company that operated a Tacoma smelter that released toxic chemicals over a wide area.

Other projects on McNeil Island involve removing road embankments constructed across three estuaries along with work to restore natural functions. Estuaries provide rearing habitat for salmon and other aquatic species. State or federal restoration grants are needed to proceed with those projects. For ongoing information, check out DNR’s website about McNeil Island.