Category Archives: Planning

Yearlong pumping test will help define aquifers across Kitsap Peninsula

An unprecedented yearlong pump test of a deep water well in Central Kitsap is expected to provide a wealth of new information about our underground water supplies.

Joel Purdy, hydrogeologist for Kitsap Public Utility District, checks the flow at Newberry Hill Well 2, which is being pumped at 1,000 gallons per minute for a full year. // Photo: Christopher Dunagan

The 900-foot-deep well, off Newberry Hill Road, will be pumped continuously for a year, drawing water at a rate of 1,000 gallons per minute. Drawdown effects of the high pumping rate will be measured in 56 other wells — including those operated by Silverdale Water District, Kitsap Public Utility District, the city of Bremerton, North Perry Water District, Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor and others.

The pump test is designed to better define the extent of aquifers throughout Central Kitsap while increasing the accuracy of a groundwater model developed to predict water supplies across the Kitsap Peninsula.

“This is going to be one of the best data-gathering tests,” said Joel Purdy, hydrogeologist for Kitsap Public Utility District. “Hydrogeologists dream of doing this kind of aquifer test.”

The test well, known as Newberry Hill Well 2, draws its water from the extensive Seabeck aquifer, which is recharged by rains falling on forestlands throughout the central-southwest portion of the Kitsap Peninsula. The pump test, which began July 16, will measure how quickly water can move through the ground by measuring how fast unused wells get drawn down during pumping and how fast they recover afterward.

Silverdale Water District has turned off all of its deep wells and is operating only two shallower wells near Spirit Ridge and Island Lake on the north side of Silverdale. Those wells are providing the extra water needed for people watering their lawns during the summer, said Morgan Johnson, general manager of the water district. Those two wells probably won’t be needed once the fall rains arrive.

During the winter, any excess water from the pumping test will be sent through Silverdale to the KPUD’s Vinland water system in North Kitsap, so all of the water will be used during the yearlong experiment.

Pumphouse and reservoir for Newberry Hill Well 2, the site of a test to measure the extent of the Seabeck aquifer. // Photo: Christopher Dunagan

After a month of constant pumping so far, some slight signs of a drawdown might be observed in a Silverdale well located about 1.7 miles away near Newberry Hill and Dickey roads, Joel told me. In theory, the level in that well should stabilize within three months.

“There is nothing surprising about this so far,” Joel said.

Across the Kitsap Peninsula, various aquifers are generally defined by horizontal layers containing sand and gravel, which can hold water and allow it to move relatively freely through that layer. The aquifers are separated from each other by horizontal layers of fine-grain clay and silt that do not transmit water as readily.

The Seabeck aquifer is believed to be connected to aquifers north and east of Silverdale, including Bainbridge Island. It also has a connection to the Manette Peninsula, served by the city of Bremerton and North Perry Water District. The pump test, which involves monitoring wells at various depths, should help determine how readily the water moves horizontally through the entire region, as well as how readily the water moves from one layer to another.

In 2016, the U.S. Geological Survey completed development of a computer-based groundwater model that can be used to predict how much water is available in wells and streams, based on geological conditions and the amount of rain that falls in a given area. See Water Ways, March 12, 2016.

There are some indications that the USGS model over-estimates the rate that rainfall infiltrates into the ground and passes through the various aquifer levels, Joel said. By using the pump test for calibration, the model’s flow rate to deeper aquifers can be made more accurate.

The groundwater model is one tool used by experts to determine the effects of drilling a new well in a given area. Water must be available before the Washington Department of Ecology will issue a new water-rights certificate. Consideration must be given to any effects on nearby streamflows, which are maintained for salmon and other aquatic creatures.

The pump test is being conducted as a partnership between the KPUD and Silverdale Water District, which jointly operate the test well under a recently signed agreement. The partnership hired Aspect Consulting of Bainbridge Island to predict the outcome of the pump test based on the USGS groundwater model. Aspect will analyze the data from the test and prepare a report with recommendations once the test is complete next summer.

Newberry Hill Well 2 was drilled 18 years ago, but it has never been operated as a full-time production well. A joint agreement between the water district and KPUD allows each water purveyor to take an equal amount of water, up to 500 gallons per minute. The well can be used to supplement existing water supplies in the Silverdale area, and the KPUD has authority to move the water through Silverdale to North Kitsap, thanks to pipelines connecting the various water systems.

It is all part of a long-range plan, Morgan Johnson said.

“People have been asking, ‘Why are you building large pipelines from Silverdale to the rural areas? You are promoting growth,’” Morgan said. “I tell them, ‘No, we are not promoting growth; we are planning to bring the water to the development.”

The goal, established years ago by Kitsap County, the KPUD and regional water systems, has been to concentrate new development in urban areas and protect the environment in rural areas, as called for by the state’s Growth Management Act. With that in mind, water can be moved from the outlying forested areas by way of the aquifers themselves or through pipelines. By managing the water carefully, population growth can be accommodated for the foreseeable future.

The yearlong test will provide important information about the capacity and extent of the aquifers. That will help water managers ensure an ongoing supply for humans as well as fish and wildlife.

Orcas hunting for salmon: Not worth the effort in Puget Sound?

Trying to understand what motivates Puget Sound’s killer whales is difficult enough when the orcas are nearby. But now that they have abandoned their summer home — at least for this year — researchers are not able to easily study their behaviors, their food supply or their individual body conditions.

L-84, a 29-year-old male named Nyssa, was thought to be in good health when he went missing.
Photo: Center for Whale Research

Not so many years ago, we could expect the orcas to show up in the San Juan Islands in May, presumably to feast on spring chinook returning to the Fraser River in British Columbia and to streams in northern Puget Sound. Those chinook have dwindled in number, along with other populations of chinook in the Salish Sea, so it appears that the orcas may not come back at all.

Apparently, they have decided that it isn’t worth their time and effort to set up a summer home in the inland waterway. They have gone to look for food elsewhere, such as off the west coast of Vancouver Island, where it is harder for researchers to tell what they are eating and exactly where they are going.

The whales were out there somewhere this past week when Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research announced that three whales had been missing long enough to declare them deceased. He had been consulting with experts and observers in Canada. See my Water Ways post from Tuesday.

Food is the big issue for the southern resident killer whales. They have been judged to be in overall worse body condition than the northern residents — an entirely separate group that normally stays farther up the coast in British Columbia. Experts are reporting that the northern residents have been venturing south more often than they used to. Perhaps the cultural divide between the two resident groups has begun to weaken.

It’s all in the realm of speculation, of course. Last year, I shared some ruminations about what could have happened if the endangered southern residents had not grown up in a culture of eating chinook salmon. I mentioned some interesting research papers on the topic. See Water Ways, Aug. 30, 2018.

Food is the key. Despite other problems that humans have caused — including toxic chemicals, noise and general disruption — food is at the heart of the matter. When you are hungry and searching for food, you don’t have much time for social interaction — and making babies takes a back seat to survival.

Even when southern resident females do get pregnant, they suffer a high rate of miscarriage, often coming late in pregnancy. Food and stress are related to these problems, according to research by Sam Wasser, director of the Center for Conservation Biology whose work I reported in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound in 2016.

Although the term “starvation” is often tossed around loosely, few if any of the dead whales are actually starving to death from lack of available food. They may have stopped eating when they got sick or for some other reason. Illness can be brought on by a weakened condition in conjunction with reduced immunity caused by toxic chemicals in their food. It’s more complex than “starvation,” as writer Jeff Rice of the Puget Sound Institute points out in a new story posted in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

A low reproductive rate and unexpected deaths continue to drive the population downward. Some deaths can be predicted when the whales loose so much body fat that they reach a condition called “peanut head,” but other deaths come quickly and unexpectedly.

“We had expected two of the three deaths, having chronicled their decline during the past year,” Ken Balcomb said in an email on Friday. “But L84’s death was unexpected. He was a vibrant male who appeared healthy.”

When apparently healthy whales disappear, experts are left wondering what happened. Years ago, this kind of sudden disappearance was more typical of their final departures, because the whales were in better condition. Other factors, such as ship strikes and Navy operations were sometimes suspected, and disease is always a lurking threat.

Finding ways to improve the chinook runs should help the whales, and that effort continues despite some disagreement about how to go about it. But larger forces are also at play, such as long-term shifts in ocean conditions and changes in the climate that reverberate through the entire food web.

Laura Blackmore, executive director of Puget Sound Partnership, issued a statement Thursday that reflects what many Northwest residents may be feeling.

“We are deeply saddened to learn of the presumed deaths of three endangered southern resident orcas, L84, K25, and J17,” Laura wrote. “These new losses cut deeply, and we grieve with all those who mourn these symbols of Puget Sound.

“Our orcas are dying because the marine environment they live in is ailing and there are too few salmon for them to eat,” she continued.

“The Puget Sound Partnership stands with Governor Inslee, the governor’s Southern Resident Orca Task Force, and the many tribes, government agencies, organizations, businesses and individuals who are committed to helping recover the orca population. Together, we can help by restoring salmon runs, quieting the waters of Puget Sound, and getting toxic chemicals out of our waterways.”

New government policies and laws are being implemented, she said. Meanwhile, there are some things that we all can do. Here are her suggestions for individual action:

  • Help restore salmon runs. Volunteer on a habitat restoration project. See orca.wa.gov for links to organizations involved in habitat restoration.
  • Quiet the waters of Puget Sound. If you’re a boater, give orcas space. Follow the BeWhaleWise guidelines for whale watching.
  • Keep toxic chemicals out of our waterways. Stop using toxic chemicals in your home or on your landscape; fix vehicle leaks; and have your vehicle oil changed by a professional.
  • Learn about southern resident orcas, and pass the information on to others.
  • Speak up for orcas. Vote. Make sure your local, state, and federal representatives know how important orcas are to you.

Leaders from ‘national estuaries’ seek increased funding from Congress

Laura Blackmore, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership, was among six leaders from so-called “national estuaries” who spoke to Congress last week about the need for increased funding.

Laura Blackmore, Puget Sound Partnership

The natural beauty of Puget Sound and its recreational opportunities have attracted people and businesses, including 11 of the nation’s Fortune 500 companies, Laura told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

“Unfortunately,” she added, “Puget Sound is also slowly dying. Southern Resident orcas, chinook salmon and steelhead are all listed under the Endangered Species Act. We continue to pollute our waterways and our shellfish beds, and habitat degradation outpaces restoration.”

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Amusing Monday: ‘Science Guy’ flips out during climate demo

“I think we’ve all broken Bill Nye — and I, for one, am absolutely on board with his gritty new reboot,” says comedian John Oliver after “the Science Guy” launches into a profanity-laced demonstration of climate change, in which he literally watches the globe go up in flames.

“I didn’t mind explaining photosynthesis to you when you were 12,” Nye tells Oliver’s HBO audience after firing up his blowtorch. “But you’re adults now, and this is an actual crisis! Got it?”

Nye appeared yesterday on CNN’s Reliable Sources, where moderator Brian Stelter asked him about his blowup. The CNN piece, shown in the first video, goes straight to Bill’s line, “The planet’s on f—— fire! You’re not children anymore!…”

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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.”

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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.

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Laura Blackmore takes over as director of Puget Sound Partnership

Laura Blackmore, deputy director of Puget Sound Partnership, will slide into the agency’s executive director position when she comes into work next week.

Laura Blackmore

Laura has built a reputation as a facilitator, helping to meld diverse ideas into cohesive policies. That experience should serve her well in the director’s post, where she will take on the primary role of shaping the direction of the Partnership for the coming years.

“Puget Sound is in trouble, and we know what we need to do to fix it,” Laura told me. “It took us 150 years to get into this mess, and it will take us awhile to get out. What we need is the political will to keep going.”

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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.”

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Amusing Monday: Climate-change comedy grows more intense

The growing urgency of climate change is altering the nature of comedy among those who tell jokes for a living. I’ve noticed a greater intensity in the satire, as warnings from scientists become more specific about the imposing reality of climate change.

Rachel Parris of the BBC’s “Mash Report” discusses this dire topic in a most cheerful way, as you can see in the first video.

“Some of you have been asking, ‘Rachel, all this feels kind of inevitable,’” Rachel says in the video. “’Would it be better if we just give up and let the world burn? Who really needs birds and trees? I’d rather just be taking pictures of my own face.’”

Maybe the damage would be less, Rachel continues, if we all went limp and “floppy” like a drunk person falling out of a window.

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Climate Sense: Sharing a little optimism about climate change

One of the most optimistic stories I’ve read — and listened to — about climate change comes from Dan Charles, National Public Radio’s food and agriculture reporter. In a three part-series, Dan takes us on a trip to the year 2050, imagining a time when the world has solved the climate change problem.

Also in my readings this week, I’ve stumbled on some stories about scare tactics in Congress and how to turn back the clock on climate emissions.

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