Tag Archives: Hood Canal Coordinating Council

A vision for a holistic ecosystem, humans included

Hood Canal Coordinating Council is undertaking an effort to bring average residents into the discussion about how to preserve the Hood Canal ecosystem.

While Hood Canal is becoming known for its low-oxygen problem and occasional fish kills, it’s good to remember that the canal remains famous for its shrimp, oysters and crabs. Furthermore, history tells us that the canal once abounded in sealife, including all kinds of salmon and bottomfish.

Can the canal ever come close to its heyday? I don’t know, but plenty of people would like to give it a try. (By the way, if you want to argue that the problems are caused entirely by over-fishing, we’ll need to discuss individual species — including those that aren’t harvested at all.)

The underlying premise of the Hood Canal Integrated Watershed Management Plan is that people can find ways to benefit from a healthy ecosystem, that natural processes — including the survival of plants and animals — can continue without wrecking the lifestyles of humans. Check out my story in the Kitsap Sun Oct. 26 for an overview of this project.

The vision for this approach is articulated in a document called “Development of Ecological and Socioeconomic Targets” (PDF 60 kb). The vision section begins with a short, positive statement:

Humans benefit from and coexist sustainably with a healthy Hood Canal.

The document goes on to elaborate on the vision within various goals, consistent with goals of the Puget Sound Partnership:
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How do we address Hood Canal’s oxygen deficit?

Five years ago, a lot of people were wondering why fish were dying more often in southern Hood Canal during the fall.

Researchers knew that Hood Canal was sensitive to nitrogen. In other words, when nitrogen was introduced to the canal during summer months, nearly all of it was taken up by plankton, which grew into large blooms. When the plankton died, they sank to the bottom, where bacterial decay sucked up the available oxygen.

Beyond that, the questions were numerous: What were the most critical sources of nitrogen affecting the low-oxygen problem? What role does weather and water circulation play? And what can humans do to help the problem — or at least keep it from getting worse.

After a five-year, $4-million study, these questions can be answered with some certainty, as I point out in a story in Sunday’s Kitsap Sun. Now it is time for researchers to convey this information to political leaders and the public, as the Hood Canal Coordinating Council prepares a plan of action.

Scott Brewer, executive director of the HCCC, told me that the eventual plan is likely to include a suite of actions to address nitrogen inputs to the canal, particularly from human sources.
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Hood Canal restoration being outlined in a new plan

Hood Canal Coordinating Council is developing an “Integrated Watershed Action Plan” to dovetail with related work being done by the Puget Sound Partnership.

An outline of the action plan, titled “A Vision for Hood Canal,” was discussed at today’s meeting of the coordinating council, which is made up of county commissioners and tribal officials in Kitsap, Mason and Jefferson counties.

Scott Brewer, director of the council, told me that actions to address low-oxygen problems in Hood Canal will be rolled into this watershed plan — but specific projects will move forward on their own time tables.

A new sewage-treatment plant in Belfair is expected to reduce nitrogen flowing into Lower Hood Canal. Nitrogen has been determined to be a key factor in creating low-oxygen conditions in this region of the canal, which gets very little flushing.

Other sewage-treatment plants are being considered in Hoodsport, Potlatch and the Skokomish Reservation, all in Mason County, along with a single system for Dosewallips State Park and possibly Brinnon in Jefferson County.

Immediate actions include:

  • Making sure people understand the basics of septic system maintenance,
  • Continued funding for a low-interest loan program for septic upgrades (See Shorebank),
  • Support for the Working Forest Initiative to maintain forestlands in the Hood Canal region,
  • A request for research into the effectiveness of nitrogen-removal septic systems,
  • And a request for research into the extent that alder trees can increase the flow of nitrogen into Hood Canal and whether to pursue changes in forest management.

The action plan contains a “watershed assessment,” which will describe a “desired future condition” for Hood Canal along with factors that need to be addressed to reach measurable goals. As the outlines states:

In a general sense, the hypothesis to be tested through the watershed assessment is whether ecosystem function throughout the Hood Canal watershed can be protected and restored, and water pollution reduced, while at the same time accommodating expected future population growth. More specifically, the desired future condition will describe healthy habitat and life histories of target populations and other habitat and socioeconomic conditions.

The plan’s description of desired future conditions will be used as a template against which to compare current conditions, for purposes of identifying limiting factors and strategies to correct them. The plan’s description of desired future conditions will be based on a reconstruction of historic conditions, taking into account changes that are irreversible.

For further details, check out materials provided for today’s meeting on the home page of the Hood Canal Coordinating Council.

It’s time to fix Hood Canal’s low-oxygen problem

Hood Canal’s low-oxygen problems are greatest in Lower Hood Canal between Belfair and Hoodsport — and that’s where experts will focus their primary attention as they consider potential solutions.

As I describe in a story in today’s Kitsap Sun, computer models suggest that removing three-quarters of the human-introduced nitrogen may be required to remove Hood Canal from the state’s list of impaired water bodies.

How to remove that much nitrogen remains one of the toughest problems to answer. The model’s predictive abilities contains a degree of uncertainty even at a large scale. It cannot tell us how much nitrogen is being released from a specific home or group of homes.

It’s safe to say that different houses release different amounts of nitrogen, depending on the occupants and the setup of the septic system. For some waterfront homes, the drainfield is located behind a bulkhead, and a pulse of nitrogen-laden sewage goes out with every high tide. Other homes have drainfields in upland areas away from Hood Canal, where vegetation may take up a portion of the nitrogen.

Will fixing waterfront homes be enough? What about septic systems farther from the water? Does anybody still believe that every new home in the Hood Canal region — from Hansville south — should be equipped with a nitrogen-removing system?

What about other sources of nitrogen? Will some or all residents be asked to quit using lawn fertilizers? Can we do something about people who refuse to clean up their pet waste? Are there innovative ways to get nitrogen or plankton out of the water before problems erupt?

A wide-ranging group of scientists and other experts yesterday just touched the surface of the possibilities, and my story only touched on their discussions. The next step will be a presentation before the Hood Canal Coordinating Council, followed by more detailed considerations among subcommittees of the technical review group.

Three years of studies have answered a lot of questions about Hood Canal’s dissolved oxygen levels, but there remains a great deal of uncertainty about which steps will yield the best results.

I’m anticipating debates about whether we have enough information to act. But people need to realize that getting precise answers about an idea may take more time and cost more money than just doing it.