Planting Juvenile Coho in the Deschutes River

The Squaxin Island Tribe and the Washington Department of Fish teamed up this past June to release thousands of coho fry into Spurgeon Creek a tributary of the Deschutes River.

You can watch videos of the release here  and here

The Deschutes River system used to have a robust run of naturally spawning coho. This ended in the late 1980’s due to habitat degradation in coho spawning areas and decreases in marine survival along the entire west coast. Coho salmon generally spend 1.5 years in freshwater and 1.5 years in the ocean. This makes them especially vulnerable to changes in stream habitat and ocean conditions.

Coho salmon return to the stream they were born after three years. This means that a run of coho is made up of three different year classes or cohorts. In the late 1980’s one of these cohorts was considered essentially extinct because it was not producing enough fish to maintain the population. Starting in the mid 1990’s a second cohort also became functionally extinct.

Yearly plantings of juvenile coho will likely continue while in-river restoration and conservation projects are implemented and studies on the impacts of ocean conditions  such as the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project continue.

Return of adult coho to the Deschutes River 1980-2014:

Return of adult coho to the Deschutes by cohort/year class 1997-2014


Capitol Lake is the cause of low dissolved oxygen in Budd Inlet

Budd Inlet has a dissolved oxygen problem. In short, there isn’t enough oxygen in the water near Olympia to support healthy marine life.

And, the primary reason for this dramatic drop in oxygen is Capitol Lake.

Recent findings released by the state Department of Ecology point out that even if all of the other problems that cause low oxygen went away (other than the lake), most of the problems in Budd Inlet would still exist.

Low dissolved oxygen is important because fish and other marine life need enough oxygen to live. Capitol Lake is shallow, stagnant and fills each summer with algae, so the water flowing out of it is extremely low in dissolved oxygen.

Some people have argued that the real problems we face in deep South Sound have don’t have anything to do with Capitol Lake. But, as the results from Ecology show, even if we moved the LOTT treatment outfall to Priest Point or Boston Harbor, implemented advanced treatment at waste water treatment plants and reduced all other influences on dissolved oxygen, Capitol Lake is still the biggest problem.

These maps shows all of the parts of southern Budd Inlet that violate water quality standards. Each colored area (from blue to red) indicates by how much water quality standards are violated. These maps were presented at the most recent meeting of the Deschutes watershed TMDL advisory committee.

This is current conditions, with the lake in place and a host of other issues:

Current day

This is the map if everything else was cleaned up and just the lake remains:

Lower Budd just the lake

And, this is the map if the lake was removed and the rest of the problems were taken care of:

Current condition no dam

Clearly what happens when you try to clean up the rest of the issues and just leave the dam is that the dissolved oxygen problem remains. You’ll still have some issues if you do nothing else and take the dam out, but Capitol Lake is clearly the leading cause of low dissolved oxygen in Budd Inlet.

History of the Deschutes River Estuary available

How the Deschutes River estuary came to be dammed in the 1950s has been a heated topic locally the last few years. A history of the local efforts to dam the estuary and create Capitol Lake is now available.

The history covers the time from just after statehood when the first dam was proposed to just after World War II when the funding for Capitol Lake became available. The piece refutes the position that the lake was entirely inspired by the “City Beautiful” design of Wilder and White in the 1911 proposal for the capitol campus.

History of the Deschutes Estuary, 1895 to 1948:
Google docs format
PDF format

Also available is the total works cited for the history
Works cited
Other related materials

Relationship between new Deschutes Coalition and Capitol Lake

A couple of people have inquired about how the new coalition between the cities and tribe will address Capitol Lake issues. Well, the short answer is it won’t — at least not in the near future.

The fate of Capital Lake is an issue much larger than the coalition. The coalition has been set up to get things done, not plan or debate. We are focused on funding and taking priority actions in the watershed where the implementation can begin immediately–like the mouth of Lake Lawrence which the Ecology TMDL technical report identified as a hot spot for summer water temperatures and the Cities of Olympia, Lacey and Yelm have purchased for mitigation and restoration. Once the fate of Capitol Lake is clear, the coalition will evaluate if and how it can contribute.

While no government policy positions have changed as a result of the formation of the coalition, it is important to remember that the science still says that fixing the environmental issues in the upper watershed will not fix the problems in Capitol Lake!

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 connection between Wilder and White and Capitol Lake

The creation of what we now know as Capitol Lake was not the natural outgrowth of a landscaping plan for the Capitol Campus. Rather, it was the result of a decades-long lobbying effort by local businessmen, politicians and city-fathers to create an appealing water feature and “scrape the moss off” Olympia.

Recently, lake defenders have distorted the origin story of Capitol Lake for use as a cloak of legacy. The defenders of the lake present the argument that the Wilder and White plan for the campus was the origin of the lake idea. This position is wrong. They claim that restoring the estuary would disparage our own history. The true origins of Capitol Lake inform not only our misunderstanding of local history, but also how we move forward with the future of the lake and the Deschutes River estuary.

The initial campus plan called for a modest reflecting pool, but it was a group of prominent Olympia citizens that suggested creating a much larger lake by impounding the Deschutes River with a dam running east-to-west. This more drastic proposal was not embraced by the State Capitol Commission and was immediately rejected.
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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)

New post on restoring the Deschutes Estuary on Everyday Olympia

There’s a new post this morning on the importance of restoring the Deschutes River estuary:

We know that South Sound is dying. Squaxin tribal researchers recently conducted a study of how many coho salmon leaving streams in southern Puget Sound actually survive long enough to swim past the Tacoma Narrows. Coho populations have been dropping for more than a decade around here, and we’ve been studying them to understand why.

What we came up with was shocking. Only 3 percent of coho that originated in southern Puget Sound made it past the Tacoma Narrows. Typically around 2 percent of any given salmon run return as adults, so South Sound coho are practically seeing a lifetime’s worth of mortality in only a few miles.

Another reason the non-tribal community argues against restoring the Deschutes River estuary is there are other, more convenient places to restore. They can spend their restoration dollars in places they’ve already decided aren’t better suited for a yacht club or a port. But the Squaxin Island Tribe has no other place to go. The tribe is bound by tradition and by a treaty with the federal government to fish close to home in the same waters they have fished for centuries.

The non-tribal community can point to Budd Inlet and say, “this place is too important economically to ever restore the estuary.” But for the Squaxin Island Tribe, there is no more valuable place to restore than the Deschutes River estuary.