New report points out connection between restoring habitat and strong fisheries

Restore America’s Estuaries (RAE), the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a report yesterday that connects habitat restoration with fisheries. As the title of the report says, essentially, “More habitat means more fish.”

From the announcement:

“Investing in coastal and estuarine habitat restoration is essential not only for the long-term future of our fisheries but also because it helps support economies and communities through the recreational and commercial fishing industries,” said Jeff Benoit, President and CEO of Restore America’s Estuaries. “In order to have fish, we have to have healthy habitat. If we want more fish, we need more healthy habitat.”

You can read the entire report here.

Conservation Futures funds should be used for conservation, not urban parks

We have learned that the Thurston County Commission intends to support using Thurston Conservation Futures money to support “preserving” land for an urban park in downtown Olympia. This appears to fail the test of the intended use for this funding source and does nothing for conservation. If this is how money will be doled out, then the Tribe has been duped into supporting this funding program.

The Conservation Futures Program is established by State law to acquire interests or rights in real property for the preservation of open spaces. Funds are acquired through a property tax levy, in Thurston County 3.85 cents per thousand dollars of assessed valuation, and are used to purchase the land or the rights to future development of the land.

Conservation Futures is a land preservation program that protects, preserves, maintains, improves, restores, and limits the future use of threatened areas of open space, timberlands, wetlands, habitat areas, culturally significant sites, and agricultural farmlands. It was foreseen as a tool to help offset the impacts of urban sprawl by acquiring properties outside the urban area and in recognition of the Growth Management Act principles for increasing density within the urban growth boundaries.

The Legislature found that Conservation Futures are a useful tool for counties to preserve land of public interest for future generations and are encouraged to use some conservation futures as one tool for salmon preservation purposes.  It is one source of funding that many partnerships have looked to help fund acquisition of land for habitat purposes. Clearly, if money is used to acquire already developed urban land for conversion to parks, there is less money available for acquiring land and habitat and easing the tension from landowners who feel their land is being taken by regulatory fiat without compensation. Projects like protection of the valuable pocket estuary at Gull Harbor or the acquisition of Woodland Creek riparian corridor will fall by the way side as funding is redirected to questionable projects.

But don’t take my word for it. Check out the funding criteria developed for the newly implemented project selection process. Does the project preserve unique or critical habitat? Does the project preserve unique natural features and or natural resources? Does it preserve critical or sensitive lands like wetlands? How did an urban park ever acquire enough ranking points to be considered a priority?

Conservation Futures is a valuable tool for conserving fish habitat and protecting open space in a county under extreme pressures from population growth. It would be a serious waste of resources and a kick in the gut of open space advocates to misuse this funding source to appease the advocates for expanding the State Capitol Campus.

The myth of a watershed solution to cleaning up Capitol Lake

Proponents of keeping Capitol Lake say that if we only cleaned up the entire Deschutes River watershed, water quality problems in the dammed estuary would go away.

From the Save Capitol Lake website:

Broaden focus to watershed for improved water quality: The CLIPA findings support more effective management of the upper Deschutes Watershed to address water quality issues including: dissolved oxygen, temperature, nutrient loading, sediment control, and removal of point discharges of other contaminants.

Actually, water quality problems such as dissolved oxygen, temperature, nutrients and sediment are inherent to the lake itself and aren’t caused by an up-river problem.

John Konovsky, environmental program manager for the Squaxin Island Tribe recently gave a presentation on how little watershed actions can do for the health of Capitol Lake:

We totally agree with CLIPA that a watershed approach is essential the maximum water quality benefit to the whole system. Where we kind of disagree is that a watershed approach is not sufficient to clean up the lake. The lake has some inherent problems.

Konovsky’s main points:

  • Capitol Lake is too shallow and stagnant to control temperature.
  • 75 percent of the fine sediment coming down to the lake is natural.
  • The lake would need to be 300 feet deep to control algae blooms.

You can view Konosky’s entire presentation below:

Restoring the Deschutes Estuary would benefit salmon from all over Puget Sound

Salmon smolts from numerous Puget Sound river systems migrate into Budd Inlet. The Squaxin Island Tribe has been monitoring salmon usage there and we’ve found extensive use by juvenile salmon all over the region.

This isn’t really surprising. Deep south Puget Sound is one of the most productive areas in the world for the food juvenile salmon need. Its natural that they would evolve to migrate to a place with a lot of food before heading out to the ocean. To increase the habitat they prefer here would only benefit them.

The image above is based on coded wire tag (CWT) data taken from salmon found in Budd Inlet. CWTs are tiny pieces of metal inserted into the snouts of hatchery salmon so scientists can determine their origin.

While its likely there were some Deschutes origin chinook that were caught in the study, we can’t quantify their use accurately since they aren’t fitted with CWTs. We did see a surge in fish soon after the Deschutes hatchery made their releases.

Puget Sound chinook are currently listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.

An article in the right hand column of page 12 of this magazine summarizes the tribe’s research in juvenile salmon usage in Budd Inlet and throughout deep South Sound.

The myth of the “stinky mudflats” on a restored Deschutes Estuary (80 percent of the time and healthy)

One of the myths that defenders of Capitol Lake like to mention is the danger of ever present mud flats on a restored Capitol Lake. Obviously, they like to point out, a quiet and peaceful dammed river is much preferable to mud flats. What they don’t mention is the scientific studies that point out how untrue this is.

The recent publication by the Capitol Lake Improvement and Protection Association compared a photo of the current lake with one during the extended drawdown two years ago. That in itself is an inaccurate comparison since that drawdown took the lake to an extremely low water level for an extended period of time. Compared to the twice daily flooding of the estuary, this is a pretty unfair comparison.

From the recent edition of CLIPA’s Capitol Lake Clipper:

Also, from the CLIPA website (under “Know the Facts“):

If we stop dredging the lake and allow this sediment to be dumped into our waterfront the accumulated sediment will: Revert the lake area to stinky mud flats

On the other hand a recent study on how exactly tides would fill the estuary had this to say:

All four restoration alternatives show little to no difference in the amount of submerged or exposed lake bottom. The model predicts that the North Basin, much of the Middle Basin, and the main channel, which would reform quickly after dam removal, would be under water 80% of the time.

If  the estuary were restored, we wouldn’t be trading a beautiful lake for a muddy swamp. Rather, we’re trading a full basin that is polluted and sick for a basin that is full 80 percent of the time and is healthy.

Here is a map that shows to what percentage of time different parts of the current Capitol Lake would be underwater in a restored estuary.

Not exactly the nightmare you’re led to believe.

Here’s a photo from the Washington State Digital Archives (full size version here) showing a typical view of the Capitol Campus in the mid-1930s.

More information: Deschutes Estuary Feasibility Study (Hydrodynamics and Sediment Transport Modeling)

Squaxin Island Tribe rolls out new landscape analysis of Budd Inlet

Recently we’ve been presenting a landscape analysis to small groups in the area. Hopefully, our analysis will help kick-start a conversation about how to best approach restoring Budd Inlet.

Here is a press release about the project from the NWIFC:

The Squaxin Island Tribe has taken more than 20 years of studies and developed a resource to restore Budd Inlet. “We’ve taken every technical report, assessment and action plan written and come up with the ultimate Budd Inlet resource,” said Scott Steltzner, a biologist for the Squaxin Island Tribe.

Rather than writing a top to bottom restoration plan, the tribe created a way for practically any group to find out where to best apply their efforts. “This isn’t a straight up and down list of priority projects, but rather a way to find the project that’s right for a particular budget or effort,” Steltzner said. “If you have $25,000 and want to restore a shoreline, we can find a project for you. Or, if you have want to do projects that benefit shorebirds or forage fish, this tool can help you develop a strategy.”

The best thing about our work is that it doesn’t tell you what to do, just gives policy-makers the resources they need to make informed choices.

Here is our biologist Scott Steltzner giving a presentation on the analysis. Just click on the window below and you can hear Scott as he presents:

Here is a link to the spreadsheet Scott referred to in the presentation, and here is the complete map of the analysis.

Too see why a part of Budd Inlet was ranked in a particular way, you can find its number on the spreedsheet and find what attributes were associated to it.

Mitigation – reduce the severity of an action by lessening the impact.

This is the third in a series of posts about replying to the assumption by Lacey’s city manager Greg Cuoio that mitigation is a good way to provide more water for the city of Lacey. You can read all the posts here.

The concept of mitigation has commonly been used to address environmental impacts, growing primarily out of the efforts to achieve no net loss of wetlands over the last few decades. I’ll leave you to your own conclusions about how successful that has been.

However, there is a substantial body of information to guide mitigation decisions by defining the functions, quality and amounts of resources that are impacted. Due to uncertainty of success, design and construction variability, our lack of understanding about recreating whole ecosystem processes, the precautionary principle, and factors that are simply beyond our control (identifiable but not predictable: we know we will have earthquakes that result in subsidence, but we do not know when) we have developed numerous protocols for how to mitigate wetlands.

Mitigation generally includes a sequence of steps that attempt to lessen an impact.

  • First, avoid the impact altogether by not taking a certain action.
  • Second, minimize the impact by limiting the degree or magnitude of the action and its implementation.
  • Third, rectify the impact by repairing, rehabilitating, or restoring the impacted environment.
  • Fourth, reduce or eliminate the impact over time by preservation and maintenance operations during the life of the action.
  • And finally, compensate for the impact by replacing or providing substitute resources or environments.

Unfortunately, many projects simply jump to this last step and try to substitute something that is politically, socially, environmentally, and maybe scientifically palatable. We have even come to creating mitigation in advance, mitigation banks, because we know we are going to accept some type of compensation, possibly only partially related to the type of impact that occurs and often in an entirely different location than the impact.

Even though we go through these gyrations as to how to mitigate, to lessen the impact, there are still substantial volumes of rules and practices, and theories as to how to make it work for wetlands. Conferences have been held, books have been written, lawsuits have been litigated; there is a significant amount of information and guidance for proponents, regulators, and interested parties to call upon to affect an acceptable mitigation out come.

So, when you transport the mitigation principle to water rights, you might think there is some commensurate level of guidance as to how to make it work, right? You would be completely wrong. There is none, nada, zero, zip.

The Department of Ecology, the agency charged with overseeing water rights in this state, has no formal guidance to authorize mitigation. Yet, these days, they routinely consider mitigation for water rights impacts because it is the only mechanism that provides for them the ability to keep issuing water rights, even though no water exists to support them. All the water in western Washington is essentially spoken for, divided up between the owners and the users such that there is no reserve, no excess water.

In many cases, streams and rivers are over appropriated, that is, more water rights have been issued by the state than practically exists in the stream channel. If everyone used their water right at the same time they would dry up the channel. This has led to the concept of senior water rights: first in time, first in right. The older your right is the better your guarantee to actually get water, while junior users may be shut off to protect the senior rights.

In case you have not considered it, the Tribes hold the most senior water rights. They were here first and they never gave their water rights away. In fact, the Tribes reserved their rights through the series of treaties between the Tribes and the United States government long before Washington was even a state.

So when all the water has already been appropriated and basins have been closed to further appropriation, what is a regulator to do when a new application comes along asking for more water? For some time Ecology did nothing, resulting in a huge backlog of water right applications. They could have simply said no, the well is dry (choose your own metaphor).

But fearing the political backlash of an apparently irrational public, they have fiddled around trying to get more water out of the proverbial rock. Their current favorite accounting trick is to apply the concept of mitigation to water. First, avoid the impact, right? Well that one is out. And so on it goes until they get to compensatory mitigation, substituting an action to offset the impact. But they have no rules! Look up mitigation in the state water code; you won’t find it. Ask Ecology whether they have any adopted rules or guidance for what is acceptable mitigation for water rights. They will recite some party line about their authority, but the simple answer is no. They have no rules. It makes for an interesting game when there are no rules and the decision maker is an enabler.

How do you mitigate for taking water out of a stream? Water creates instream habitat. It is the medium in which fish live. You dry up the stream and you have no fish. Once those fish are extirpated, their genetic integrity is gone, possibly forever. How do you compensate for that loss? Have you ever looked at Woodland Creek during the summer where substantial reaches dry up? Do you honestly believe that is normal? There are some small streams around Puget Sound that do run dry in the Mediterranean summer we enjoy. But Woodland Creek that drains several lakes that are fed by upwelling groundwater? A more reasonable conclusion is that numerous human caused activities, like wells sucking water out of the aquifer and impervious surface short-circuiting the hydrological system have severely impacted Woodland Creek.

The Squaxin Island Tribe has proposed to Ecology that they write rules for how they handle mitigation decisions in water rights determinations. We have offered to help. They have declined our overtures. We have pursued litigation, appealing water right decisions, in order to build case law around mitigation determinations. In short, we have been fighting this beast because the decisions to keep issuing new water rights where no water exists are fundamentally nonsensical. Given the Tribe’s well established positions on the matter and the nature of the dialogue with Ecology and the local municipalities including Lacey, no one with a reasonable understanding of what is going on could conclude that “complex water rights issues smooth out when cooperation is involve.”

Water, Fish Need

This is the first in a series of posts replying to the assumption by Lacey’s city manager Greg Cuoio that mitigation is a good way to provide more water for the city of Lacey.

Water in the State of Washington has a very few actual owners. When we talk about water rights, we are talking about permission to use water, essentially to borrow it for a time. Water rights are not a conveyance of ownership. The only owners in Washington are the federal government, based on their reserved ownership from before Washington was a state, the state based on what they were granted from the federal government, and the Tribes, the original owners who reserved water rights in the treaties. In other words, the original owners never gave up their interest. Everyone else seeks permission through water rights to use water. Lacey falls into this category.

The State of Washington can only authorize permission to use the portion of the water that they own or control. This amount is clearly not all of the water. When the Tribes reserved water in treaties, some of it is for the fish: instream flows that sustain the aquatic environment and assure that fish like salmon can survive and reproduce in perpetuity. There must be water in streams and the Squaxin Island Tribe is willing to protect that right, that ownership, that property.

The problem arises when some selfish parties want uncontrolled access to as much water as they can get, regardless of how their interest affects anyone else. They do not care if they dry up streams as long as they can do what they want. Have you ever checked out Woodland Creek during the summer as it flows through Lacey? That’s right – it runs dry (an oxymoron) in places. While there are multiple reasons why this happens, one of them is that Lacey pumps water out of the ground for its municipal water system. This lowers the level of the groundwater aquifer and cuts off flow to the stream channel. This situation exists to varying degrees all over southern Puget Sound.

Lacey is working with other municipalities to gain access to more water to fuel more growth of housing developments and shopping centers that identify the trademark feel of the Lacey environment. They know that water is limited as they have been under a moratorium for new hookups in the urban growth area. One would think they would be sensitive to the issues and the other players that they must navigate if they are going to continue their unsustainable growth. Yet they have continued to act preemptively and without an accurate presentation of the facts.

All of the streams and the Deschutes River in WRIA 13 are closed to further consumptive appropriation. This includes diversion of surface water and it also includes the withdrawal of groundwater that would impact the surface water flows of these streams. All of the groundwater in this area is related to surface water flows as a product of the last glaciation. Some of the jurisdictions are interested in developing a new well field out near McAllister Springs. Even though the physical location is within the McAllister Creek watershed, the groundwater withdrawals will have an effect on the Deschutes River flows. The Squaxin Island Tribe has long pointed out this circumstance, and in recent years modeling of groundwater movement has confirmed this fact. And there lies the rub: how can you create additional impacts on a river that is closed by law to further appropriation of water?

Ecology says they will consider such water right applications if they include elements of mitigation. They point to some vague wording in state law to support this contention, yet they have no written policy, no rules, no guidelines, in general, no clear pathway to accomplish this whatsoever. While the Tribe is not convinced that the State has any water to allow Lacey to use, we are equally perplexed about what state law, if any, provides them the vehicle to pursue this course.

When Lacey acts blithely to take something that is not theirs, the Tribe takes offense. In this case, we had offered to sit down and listen to their ideas, however, we have made no commitment to negotiate an outcome with them. They have violated the respect that is involved in dealing with this issue, and as a result, we have cancelled further meetings with them until we reassess the situation.

Coming Soon: How does one mitigate for drying up a stream?

Deschutes Water – Cuoio Gets it Wrong, Again

Why can’t Lacey City Manager Greg Cuoio think before he opens his mouth and insults the Squaxin Island Tribe? Or maybe he does think and his insults are intentional. In any case, Cuoio’s recent comments to the Olympian are an inaccurate rendition of the current status of very delicate discussions regarding the continued plundering of water resources by the likes of the City of Lacey. At best they are uninformed and his blurting of Lacey rhetoric to the local press establishment is offensive to the Tribe.

As a result, in the coming days I will present a more detailed and accurate description of what is really going on and a reasoned argument as to why Lacey should cease and desist their arrogant attempts to steal water from its rightful owners. Please stay tuned. I am sure you will find this perspective to be enlightening.

How recreation will be impacted by the restoration of the Deschutes Estuary

Fishing chums in Kennedy Creek by oysters4me.

This Thursday morning, CLAMP will discuss how the restoration of the Deschutes Estuary would impact recreation around where Capitol Lake is now.

A draft chapter of our Alternatives Analysis outlines the options. It pretty basically says that certain docks would be high and dry during low tide and that different sorts of fish would be available because a freshwater lake is different than a estuary. For example, the non-native bass that prey on salmon smolts wouldn’t survive in an estuary.

One thing the chapter doesn’t spell out is the benefit to fishermen, most obviously hook-and-line sport fishermen. Anyone can take a look at the crowds along the estuary of nearby Kennedy or McLane creeks in the fall and see the interest that those fishing opportunities generate. Access to these tidelands, which would increase if the Deschutes Estuary were restored, would benefit sport fisherman access to returning salmon. Over 10,000 chinook returned to the hatchery on the Deschutes River this last year (here’s a pdf of the state’s hatchery report).

You can read the entire draft chapter here or download it here.

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