New smolt slide will help salmon navigate aging Locks

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New “smolt slides” will help young salmon get through the Ballard Locks more safely on their way to the ocean

The US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) recently installed a new kind of “smolt slide” to help juvenile salmon pass through Seattle’s Hiram M. Chittenden (Ballard) Locks on their out-migration to the ocean.

Compared to older versions, the new slides are safer for the salmon and safer for staff to install. They also include improved sensors to detect fish passing through the facility, providing data critical to understanding how salmon migrate in and out of WRIA 8 (the Lake Washington/Cedar/ Sammamish Watershed) and what may help their recovery.

The work is part of a Planning Assistance to States Agreement between King County (via WRIA 8) and the Corps that shares costs related to monitoring Chinook salmon migration in the watershed. It includes installing detectors at the Locks, capturing and tagging juvenile Chinook, and determining juvenile salmon survival rates through the Lake Washington system.

Salmon face challenges navigating the 100 year-old Locks on their way out of and back into the watershed and the smolt slides are one step toward an easier passage for these iconic and threatened fish.

More news about the Ballard Locks

Hiram M. Chittenden-Ballard Locks Centennial Celebration
“One hundred years ago, The Locks and Ship Canal were built by Seattle and the Corps of Engineers as a commercial navigation route to develop the City of Seattle. Today the Ballard (Hiram M. Chittenden) Locks are the Nation’s busiest with over 40,000 vessels per year [passing through.] Boats ‘lock thru’ 24 hours a day, except during maintenance. In addition, a significant salmon migration passes through the Locks that can total over 100,000 salmon.”

Economic Impacts of the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks
“The Ballard Locks provide $1.2 billion a year in economic impact to our region according to a recent study by the McDowell Group, funded by maritime and industrial businesses, Port of Seattle, City of Seattle, and King County.  The report describes the benefits of reliable operation of the Locks, the potential losses in the event of a failure, and steps needed to repair the 100-year-old facility.”

“Happy 100th birthday, Ballard Locks. Hope you get the repairs you wished for” – KUOW News [AUDIO], June 27, 2017

“Ballard Locks Repairs” – KIRO7 News [VIDEO], June 27, 2017

Farmers, residents, fish and wildlife win in historic Snoqualmie Fish, Farm and Flood accord

On June 12, at the historic Carnation Farms – with it’s expansive views of the lush Snoqualmie Valley for a backdrop – King County Executive Dow Constantine met with the Snoqualmie Fish, Farm and Flood Advisory Committee that has spent more than three years forging the first major agreement in the county to strike a balance between farming interests and salmon recovery.

At the core of the Fish, Farm, Flood agreement is a series of immediate, mid-term, and long-term recommendations for action to address overall Snoqualmie Watershed goals.

“I gave the Fish, Farm and Flood Advisory Committee a difficult assignment: Overcome competing interests to achieve shared goals – and they delivered,” said Executive Constantine. “They produced recommendations that will help us restore salmon habitat, strengthen our agricultural economy, and reduce flood risks.”

Going beyond the decades of acrimony as a result of valuable, but often competing goals, the 14-member Advisory Committee has unanimously endorsed a package of 34 recommendations to address specific watershed goals and actions that will improve the watershed for people, businesses, and fish and wildlife.

Among the top priority actions are achieving less costly and more predictable drainage regulations for farmers, and increasing the pace of salmon recovery efforts in the Snoqualmie Valley. This work includes reexamining drainage and buffer regulations, and developing an agricultural land strategy for the valley.

The collaboration was the result of the King County Council adding a directive in the 2012 King County Comprehensive Plan update to create a watershed planning process for the Snoqualmie Watershed – primarily the lower 30 miles of the valley from Snoqualmie Falls north to the Snohomish County line. This area includes about 14,500 acres of the Snoqualmie Agricultural Production District.

The Advisory Committee has representatives from farming and agriculture, conservation, flooding, and salmon recovery interests, as well as tribal, state and local jurisdictions.

The lengthy timeframe for developing this accord was due in part to the fact that several advisory committee members were busy living with the issues they were addressing, including operating farms, completing habitat restoration work elsewhere in western Washington, responding to flooding, and other important tasks.

While the Committee’s report is the culmination of years of hard work, there is more to be done. Among the committee’s recommendations is creation of three task force groups to carry out follow-up work over the next three years.

Kirkland helps grow green shorelines program

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A beautiful view of the lake from a stunning natural shoreline.

On a beautiful morning in early May, the city of Kirkland announced it would be the first Washington community to sign up as a Green Shores™ for Homes (GSH) city. The announcement was made at the GSH-certified Bendich residence on Lake Washington, lush with native plants and featuring a small beach at the shoreline.

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The Bendich property before the Green Shores for Homes makeover and after. The bulkhead was removed to create a more natural shoreline that is better for the environment and fish.

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Green Shores™ for Homes, managed by Washington Sea Grant, is a voluntary, incentive-based program to encourage waterfront homeowners, contractors and governments to create sustainable (and salmon-friendly) shorelines for lake and marine shore properties. Often this involves leaving shorelines natural or removing bulkheads or other hard armoring materials.  gsh plaque

Improving lakeshore habitat for threatened Chinook salmon is a priority for salmon recovery in WRIA 8, the Lake Washington/Cedar/Sammamish watershed. In addition to their recreational, scenic, and shoreline protection benefits, natural shorelines provide much-needed food and shelter for salmon migrating through Lake Sammamish and Lake Washington on their way to the ocean.

Read more

King County swimming beach monitoring starts up – data and alerts available weekly

Summer is on the way (fingers crossed warm weather comes to stay sooner rather than later) and King County has begun its seasonal monitoring of freshwater swimming beaches to ensure they are safe for recreation.

Water samples are taken weekly at the freshwater swimming beaches listed below and analyzed for fecal coliform bacteria, toxins, water temperature, and harmful algal toxins.

Beach goers, swimmers, and science enthusiasts can sign up to receive weekly alerts and status updates about the freshwater beaches being monitored. Visit the King County Swimming Beach Monitoring Program website to subscribe. Monitoring results and closure information are posted weekly to the web page. There you can also find information about “swimmer’s itch,” toxic algae blooms and hazards to pets, plus combined sewer overflow locations and status and a link to marine beach monitoring performed by the Washington State Department of Ecology.

The Water and Land Resources (WLR) Division and Public Health – Seattle & King County work together on the program, with WLR managing the monitoring and analysis and Public Health being responsible for closing beaches when there is a risk to public health.

2017 swimming beaches monitored by King County

  • Andrews Bay – Seward Park
  • Beaver Lake Beach
  • Echo Lake
  • Enatai Beach
  • Gene Coulon
  • Green Lake Duck Island Launch
  • Green Lake – East
  • Green Lake – West
  • Groveland Park Beach
  • Hidden Lake
  • Houghton Beach
  • Idylwood Beach
  • Idylwood Creek
  • John’s Creek
  • Juanita Beach
  • Juanita Creek
  • Kennydale Beach
  • Lake Sammamish Beach
  • Lake Wilderness Beach
  • Luther Burbank Beach
  • Madison Park Beach
  • Madrona Beach
  • Magnuson Beach
  • Magnuson Beach Off Leash Area
  • Marina Park Beach
  • Matthews Beach
  • Mount Baker Beach
  • NE 130th Pl
  • Newcastle Beach
  • Pine Lake
  • Pritchard Island Beach
  • Rattlesnake Lake (monitored by Seattle Public Utilities)
  • Sammamish Landing Beach
  • Thornton Creek
  • Waverly Park Beach

 

Earth Week 2017: Celebrating science!

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Join us in celebrating science in the week leading up to Earth Day, April 22. Looking for a way to make a difference or pitch in? Check out our tips, volunteer events and green guidelines at our Earth Week Hub!

King County and its partners have committed to plant one million trees by 2020 as part of our Strategic Climate Action Plan to reduce carbon pollution and prepare for climate impacts. Trees store carbon and contribute to clean air and water, healthy habitat for salmon and other wildlife, and more livable communities. (If you want to help, here’s our video showing how to plant a tree.)

This type of commitment reflects why the Department of Natural Resources and Parks (DNRP) is King County’s first carbon neutral agency — meaning we reduce and remove more greenhouse gas emissions than we generate.

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Science is at the bedrock of what we do here at DNRP. We are specialists in marine biology, nearshore ecology, environmental chemistry, limnology, toxicology, wildlife biology and biodiversity, microbiology, zoology and more. Our employees collect, analyze, model and interpret information that supports dozens of environmental programs, including those that address land use, habitat management, wastewater treatment, salmon and biodiversity, water resources, and surface water management.

To us, every day is Earth Day!

 

County floodplain managers work together to understand a fast-moving river

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(L-R) King County Flood Control District Executive Director Michelle Clark; River and Floodplain Management Senior Engineer Chase Barton; and Water and Land Resources Director Josh Baldi stand on the bank of the Tolt River and discuss channel migration.

Notes from the field

On a gray day last month, a small group of King County and King County Flood Control District (Flood District) employees stood on the forested edge of the Tolt River upstream of Carnation.

Geologically speaking, this is a young river – sinuous, fast-moving and largely unconstrained as it courses from its headwaters in the Cascades to its confluence with the wide, slow-moving Snoqualmie River.

Chase Barton, an engineer with the King County’s River and Floodplain Management (Rivers) Section in the Water and Land Resources Division (WLRD), looked out across the swirling water. “This portion is the most rapidly migrating river of those we manage in King County,” he said.

Sometimes, the County’s goal is to use engineering tools to manage a river. “Here,” Chase said, “our goal is to get people out of harm’s way.”

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Teresa Lewis, River and Floodplain Management Project Manager, discusses the Tolt River’s historical channel migration.

The field trip was an opportunity to show Michelle Clark, the Flood District’s executive director, and April Sanders, policy director for Flood District Supervisor Kathy Lambert, proposed changes based on public input to the draft Tolt River Capital Investment Strategy in advance of a meeting with the Flood Control District’s Executive Committee.

The tour – which also included WLRD Director Josh Baldi; Program and Policy Services Supervisor Brian Murray, Project Manager Teresa Lewis, and Communications Manager Leslie Brown, from the Rivers Section – provided a window into the work undertaken on behalf of the Flood District. Michelle, who became the Flood District’s executive director in December, asked several questions of the team, wanting to understand both the rationale and the cost implications behind various actions.

The Tolt is a short but powerful river, flowing some 30 river miles and dropping about 3,000 feet from its headwaters in the Cascade Mountains to the valley floor. Its upper reaches, through steeply forested incisions, are largely inaccessible. The lower six miles wend through a rural, woodsy part of north-central King County, an area with narrow roads and widely spaced homes.

Nearly continuous levees border the last two miles of the river, protecting more densely developed residential areas as the Tolt enters Carnation and flows into the Snoqualmie River.

Flooding has long been an issue along these lower six miles of the Tolt; many residences are at risk during even modest flood events. But also of concern is what is called channel migration, when the river changes course and cuts a new path, heedless, of course, of private property lines. Rivers staff recently completed a 98-page study of the Tolt’s channel migration patterns along its last six miles, a carefully researched analysis that looks at the river’s history, geology, the characteristics of channel migration and those areas where hazards are greatest.

Channel migration can happen slowly as a river moves across its floodplain. It can also occur in the blink of an eye, when, for instance, a geologic or weather event causes a river to suddenly change directions. The Tolt, as the study points out, “exhibits moderate to high lateral channel migration rates.” Avulsions – the sudden movement of a channel – “are a major component” of these migration hazards.

As a result of the Tolt’s dynamic nature, the county and the Flood District over the past decade have purchased several at-risk properties. Since 2007, when the Flood District was formed, 35 at-risk homes have been purchased along the Tolt, all from willing sellers. Forty percent of the funding for those purchases came from sources other than the Flood District. The draft Capital Investment Strategy identifies another 30 properties at risk of flooding and channel migration. County officials plan to hold a public meeting in Carnation on May 8 to discuss its channel migration analysis with neighbors, community leaders and others interested in the river’s hazards.

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(L-R) King County Flood Control District Executive Director Michelle Clark, River and Floodplain Management Senior Engineer Chase Barton, and Program and Policy Services Supervisor Brian Murray head back to the office after several hours on the banks of the Tolt River.

Back on the Tolt, Teresa noted the important role levees or revetments can play in public safety but added that such tools aren’t effective on rivers as active and energetic as the Tolt.

“For us, on this section of the Tolt upstream of Carnation, helping people out of harm’s way is our most cost-effective strategy,” she said. “This is a river that wants to move around.”

After 25 years of work, a geomorphologist has a deep understanding of how rivers change

For a quarter of a century, Terry Butler has been observing the way rivers course through King County.

He has seen some, like the Tolt, transform overnight, when an avulsion – the rapid abandonment of a river channel to create a new one – has occurred. He has seen others migrate gradually, moving laterally across a basin over the course of years. He has watched side channels become main channels, witnessed erosion and sedimentation and has seen the dramatic changes a landslide can trigger.

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Terry Butler, a fluvial geomorphologist with King County’s Water and Land Resources Division, tracks ever-changing river conditions.

“That’s why my work has been endlessly fascinating,” he said. “Rivers are dynamic. They’re prone to change. And yet people generally live near rivers and construct things near rivers. We’re drawn to rivers. And that can create problems.”

Though his position has changed over the years, Terry is now considered a fluvial geomorphologist – a person who studies the physical processes that shape rivers and streams. And as he retires after 25 years from what is now called the River and Floodplain Management Section in the Water and Land Resources Division, he carries with him a vast knowledge of river processes, public policy and channel migration – a trove of information born of years of research and in-the-field observations.

“The body of work Terry has accomplished is significant,” Jeanne Stypula, supervising engineer in the Rivers Section and Terry’s boss, said. “He has a unique blend of skills. He understands policy, code, technical issues and of course science. He’s done a lot of heavy-lifting over the years.”

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Terry is a lanky man with a gentle manner. He’s patient with non-technical people in the section, suggesting books they might read to deepen their understanding of riverine processes. He’s funny, warm and easy-going. He’s also deeply admired in the Rivers Section. At a recognition for him at a recent staff meeting, many people wiped away tears as Jeanne read a poem she had written about him.

Terry was hired as an engineer in 1992 and began working in the Green River Basin. The staff in the section numbered about a dozen, and the section was within what was then called the Department of Public Works. Since then, the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks was created – where the Rivers Section now lives – followed by the King County Flood Control District in 2008. Section staff today number around 50.

Over the course of his years, Terry has helped to shape a new and progressive approach to riverine public policy. He was part of the team that moved the county away from flood control and towards floodplain management – “a paradigm shift,” according to Steve Bleifuhs, the section manager, that recognizes flood-risk reduction doesn’t always translate into controlling a river.

“Terry’s role was to provide the scientific foundation for how channels migrate and how rivers work, which in turn influenced hazard mapping and public policy. It was his work on channel migration zones that influences so much of what we do today,” Steve said.

Much else has changed over the course of Terry’s 25 years, including a technological revolution that has altered the way he and other river scientists work. When Terry started, LiDAR – aerial imagery that uses laser to map river-basin topography – didn’t exist. Nor were GIS – Geographic Information Systems – or, for that matter, high-tech sonar-based river surveys in widespread use. Terry recalls doing river surveys by standing in the middle of a channel with a survey rod while Jeanne stood on the bank taking measurements.

A commitment to science, however, has been a constant. Throughout his 25 years, Terry said, “I’ve tried to bring scientifically based information to people, from decision-makers to property owners. I’ve also stressed the importance of understanding hazard vs. risk. Hazard in and of itself is not the issue. It’s the risk. Sometimes flood risk reduction can meaning getting people out of the way of the hazard, not controlling the hazard.”

What he will miss most about his job, he added, are those interactions when people concerned about a river’s channel migration or some other risk suddenly understood what the science was showing about the situation – those “aha moments” when someone began to see the larger picture.

“It’s deeply satisfying when people get it. For a scientist who works in the public realm, that’s what matters most,” he said.

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Learn more about King County river channel migration hazards.

 

Amphibian survey in Cavanaugh Pond

King County ecologists were up to their hip waders in Cavanaugh Pond recently as they surveyed amphibian eggs to document what species are present as part of the Riverbend Levee Setback and Floodplain Restoration Project.

Cavanaugh Pond and the area that was the former Riverbend Mobile Home Park will be reconnected to the Cedar River to restore approximately 40 acres of floodplain, which will reduce flood risks and improve the quality and quantity of salmon habitat.

Efforts to document current species prior to construction allows the project team to plan for protection and relocation efforts, if needed. Construction to restore floodplain is anticipated to begin next summer.

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Alexis Kleinbeck, with King County’s Watershed and Ecological Assessment Team, holds an amphibian egg mass found in Cavanaugh Pond
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Northwestern Salamander (Ambystoma gracile) eggs
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Pacific Treefrog (Pseudacris regilla) eggs
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Steve Brady, with King County’s Watershed and Ecological Assessment Team, conducting field survey work.
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