Tag Archives: Skokomish

Rich Geiger held the ‘restoration vision’ for Skokomish ecosystem

It is hard to imagine the restoration of the Skokomish River ecosystem without the involvement of Rich Geiger, a longtime engineer for Mason Conservation District. Rich had a way of explaining technical aspects of environmental restoration, and he was a tremendous help to me through the years.

Rich Geiger, engineer for Mason Conservation District, explains the dynamics of the Skokomish River in this 2009 file photo. Rich died Sept. 22. Photo: Kitsap Sun
Rich Geiger, engineer for Mason Conservation District who died Sept. 22, explains the dynamics of the Skokomish River in this 2009 file photo. // Photo: Kitsap Sun

Rich, who was 59 years old, died unexpectedly two weeks ago.

I got to know Rich in 2008 and 2009 while working on a series of stories about the Skokomish River. My research involved interviews with members of the Skokomish Tribe, farmers, loggers and longtime residents of the area. For the final story, I talked to Rich about what was wrong with the river and what needed to be done to reduce the flooding and restore the ecosystem. He taught me a lot about river dynamics.

The Skokomish, if you didn’t know, is the largest river in Hood Canal, and it exerts a great influence on the long, narrow waterway with its amazing diversity of habitat.

“Something has bothered me about this river for a long time,” Rich said, as quoted in my story for the Kitsap Sun. “I have been doing a great deal of reading about river systems and sediment transport,” he continued. “To boil it down, the sediment is too heavy to be moved by the depths we think are there in the Skokomish.”

Fast and deep water contains the force to move larger rocks, he told me. Somehow the river was able to move large gravel out of the mountains, but it never made it all the way to Hood Canal. Digging into the gravel bars, Rich found layers of fine sediment wedged between layers of larger rock — evidence that the energy of the river had changed suddenly at various times.

Rich collaborated with engineers from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Geological Survey and Army Corps of Engineers. Eventually, they came to understand the river well enough to develop a plan for restoration. Throughout the process, Rich was willing to take time to help me understand every aspect of the restoration alternatives. I will always be grateful for his expertise and patience.

in January 2014, the plan was completed and accepted by ranking officials in the Army Corps of Engineers. I called Rich for his reaction to the important milestone.

“We are very glad to be at this point, because we are talking about a physical project moving forward and not just more planning,” he told me. “We asked the Corps to produce a single integrated restoration plan, and they did.” To review a brief summary of the plan, see Water Ways Jan. 26, 2014.

The final plan by the Army Corps of Engineers became incorporated into the Water Resources Development Act, including $19 million proposed for the Skokomish project. The bill was approved, first by the U.S. Senate and then by the House. A few details still need to be worked out, but after years and years of planning, the Skokomish project became virtually assured of funding just a week after Rich died.

Mike Anderson, chairman of the Skokomish Watershed Action Team, said Rich had always been the “brains of the collaborative.”

“Rich was the holder of the technical vision of the watershed restoration,” Mike noted. “He understood how all the different parts of the watershed — from the mountains down to the estuary and beyond — work together.

“When we started out, he acknowledged that he did not know what the answers would be for the valley. One of his great achievements was getting the GI (general investigation) completed and the … support for authorization. He felt rightly proud of completing that difficult study.”

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer introduced a statement into the Congressional Record (PDF 9.3 mb) on the last day the House was in session. It includes this observation:

“Mr. Speaker, Richard was not only an environmental advocate and steward, he was also a leader in the community. He excelled at fostering collaboration and consensus among diverse community stakeholders, including private landowners, businesses, Native American Tribes, and local, state, and federal agencies, to achieve common goals.”

Rich was born April 12, 1957, and graduated from Billings Senior High School. He attended Gonzaga University in Spokane, where he became an ROTC Cadet and earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. After graduation, he served as a lieutenant in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division and advanced to rank of major.

In 1994, he took a job with Mason County Public Works Department, where he held a variety of engineering positions. In 2001, he joined the Mason Conservation District as district engineer.

The family has suggested that memorials be made to the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, a non-profit organization committed to alleviating the suffering caused by mental illness. The foundation awards grants aimed at making advances and breakthroughs in scientific research.

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.

The PSP Interviews: Dave Herrera

When I wrote my recent progress report on the Puget Sound Partnership, my story included little more than brief quotes and snippits of information from a variety of informed people. It is somewhat rewarding to have a blog where I can bring you more complete impressions of the people I interviewed. Here is the second in a series of expanded reports from those interviews.

Dave Herrera, one of two vice chairmen of the Ecosystem Coordination Board, is one of three tribal representatives on the 27-member board. The other tribal reps are David Trout of the Nisqually Tribe and Randy Kinley of the Lummi Nation.

Herrera currently serves as “fisheries policy representative” for the Skokomish Tribe. His career started with the tribe as a hatcheries technician in 1975 following the landmark Boldt Decision. He was 18. He worked as fisheries manager from 1979 to 1982 before leaving tribal employment. Dave later worked for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and Point No Point Treaty Council before returning to the tribe in 1996, where he has remained one of the tribe’s top fisheries managers.

Dave is a member of the Skokomish Tribe. His mother grew up on the Skokomish Reservation. His father was in the military, so Dave moved around with his family at a young age. He spent many of his early years in Tacoma.

Herrera has been an excellent spokesman for the Skokomish Tribe and tribes in general. For the Puget Sound Partnership story, I interviewed him by phone while he was in Washington, D.C., working to advance salmon restoration. Unfortunately, I could not fit his comments into my final story, but I’m now pleased to report his views on the partnership.

“It is fair to say,” Dave told me, “that the tribal representatives would like to see things moving faster than they are.”
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Sharing the joy of restoring Hood Canal wetlands

UPDATE, Oct. 20, 2010

The Kitsap Sun’s “North Mason Life” reporter, Rodika Tollefson, put her own spin on the Klingel Wetlands story. She was able to interview Gary Parrot, who returned from an out-of-town trip, and was able to talk about the history of the wetlands.

Last week, I had a rare opportunity to take a mental trip back in time. It happened twice, as I stood in two different Hood Canal wetlands and recalled the past while pondering the future.

The first place was the Klingel Wetlands outside Belfair on the North Shore Road. See Kitsap Sun, Oct. 7.

Sandra Staples-Bortner, executive director of the Great Peninsula Conservancy, considers changes coming to the Klingel Wetlands as she stands on an old farm dike destined for removal.
Kitsap Sun photo by Larry Steagall

This place is special to me because I spent time here in June of 1990, preparing to write the introduction for a yearlong newspaper series that would become the book “Hood Canal Splendor at Risk.” Here are the opening lines of the book, which described the Klingel wetlands at that time:

“A great blue heron, its broad wings spread to the wind, dips out of an overcast sky and glides into the marsh. Extending its legs, the large bird lands gracefully among tall reeds near the water. The tweet-tweet-tweetering of songbirds creates an agreeable chorus, though each bird sings its own distinct song.

“Untold numbers of wild birds share this place on Hood Canal, just outside of Belfair on the North Shore. River otter slink along the shore at sunset. Mink, beaver and muskrat mind their own ways, thanks to what remains of this ancient swamp. Human visitors may find themselves refreshed by the wildness here, as in other natural environs. Some people describe a warm feeling of enthrallment, a kind of mild hypnotic state.”

Gary and Celia Parrot, who have kept watch over the property all these years, appreciated the need to connect people to nature. They helped me express a concept that I’m afraid is largely lost on our urban-based society.

As Celia explained to me, the human heart yearns for a more primitive experience, away from the cluttered pattern of modern life:

“The reason I go out two or three times a day is not just to walk the dogs,” she said. “It’s like a refueling. I go out to get another dose of that intimate feeling.”

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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.

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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