Guest column: Dungeness River Management Team approaches watershed health from many angles

  • Wednesday, September 5, 2018 1:30am
  • Opinion

Save the dates: 2018 Dungeness River Festival Community Night, River Festival

The 2018 Dungeness River Festival Community Night, an evening of food, music and celebration of the river and the 30-year anniversary of the Dungeness River Management Team, is set for 4-7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 27, at the Dungeness River Audubon Center, 2151 W. Hendrickson Road. Winners of the DRMT Photo Contest (deadline Sept. 7) will be announced.

The annual River Festival is set for 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday, Sept. 28, at Railroad Bridge Park. This festival highlights the unique cultural and natural resources that inspire Dungeness River efforts. Enjoy displays by: Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe; U.S. Forest Service; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; National Park Service; Peninsula Trails Coalition; Back Country Horsemen of Washington State-Peninsula Chapter; Clallam County; Beach Environmental Assessment, Communication & Health, and North Olympic Land Trust.

DRMT photo contest deadline is Sept. 7

The Dungeness River Management Team challenges community members to portray through photographs and corresponding thoughts an ideal vision of the Dungeness Watershed. Submit (via email by Sept. 7) up to three photos, each accompanies by one or two corresponding thoughts or inspirations/captions describing your vision, to Include the location where the photo was taken and make sure that the photo resolution is high enough for 8.5”-by-11” prints and potential use on websites. Contest winners will be announced and prizes awarded at the Community Celebration on Sept. 27 at the River Center Community Celebration.

2018 is the 30th anniversary of the Dungeness River Management Team, whose members represent a variety of interests … some complementary, and others conflicting.

The group’s common goal — to restore the river — has brought together unlikely partners who have shown that the way to achieve a healthy watershed is by working together and “sharing the sacrifice.”

“Those participating in the DRMT do so for different reasons,” Scott Chitwood, former DRMT chair and former Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe Natural Resources Director, said.

“Many are interested in water … People want to understand how much water there is, what can be used, who gets to use it, the water quality, how it is degraded, what is being done to improve it and on what timeline. The intersection between natural resources, agriculture, development, and how we manage it all is the discussion that keeps the DRMT going,” Chitwood said. “What is the right way? What is the wrong way? What can we do to make things better?

“A watershed council, the DRMT is made up of people who share an interest in the Dungeness River.”

The work has involved protecting and restoring land along the river and within its wide floodplain, restoring the landscape and riverscape to conditions that are favorable to the natural flora and fauna of the area, removing barriers that prevent the natural functions of the watershed, educating the public about its impact on the watershed, and offering assistance to landowners to improve water quality and protect water levels.

The group’s planning work resulted in a Dungeness Watershed Management Rule that sets a framework for issuing future new water rights, while establishing necessary instream flow levels for the river/fish. Beyond watershed planning, the Team has made it possible for individual members to coordinate projects.

Cooperative efforts

Below are some of the strategies and recent and ongoing key projects the team and its partners have worked toward or achieved with this mind-set, and in pursuit of a healthy Dungeness Watershed:

• In its efforts to recover natural floodplain and protect habitat along the Dungeness River Corridor from development, piece by piece, conservation easements, purchases from willing sellers, donations and land swaps have enabled the protection of many acres of river corridor.

• Much of the river corridor has been impaired by previous logging, clearing, or housing developments, often including diking, armoring and other human-made restrictions. Reversing these impairments has included restoration work on Dungeness main stem, tributaries, creeks and side channels, all of which provide important habitat for different life stages of salmon, and at different times of the year. Restoration of several hundred acres of riparian and riverine habitat has been completed, and more is underway..

• Clallam County is leading a multi-phased, multi-partnered project to restore the lower river floodplain. Routinely flooded properties at River’s End Road were purchased, decommissioned, and re-planted, and designs are underway to partially set back the Army Corps dike and move Towne Road to ultimately re-connect 80 acres of floodplain to the river.

• Within the Olympic National Forest, several roads have been decommissioned and stabilized to enable the regrowth of natural habitat and stabilize the landscape to prevent excessive sediment from washing into the river.

• Lengthening bridges or transitioning to “soft armoring” are ways partners have worked to help correct the problems caused by other human-made constrictions in the river. The Railroad Bridge trestle was replaced and expanded, allowing the river beneath an extra 180 feet to meander. This included removing 110 feet of fill, reducing the number of piers in-stream from 36 to five, and eliminating numerous creosoted pilings.

• Partners have worked to restore the nearshore in the vicinity of the 3 Crabs area. Significant infrastructure was removed from the area, including 800 feet of dike, a section of road and rip-rap, plus the extraction of 300 tons of contaminated soil. The project featured construction of a new, expanded bridge over Meadowbrook Creek (with 61 feet for water to move under, compared to the previous 19 feet) and a massive planting, including 4,150 dune grass plugs.

• Assembly and placement of multiple engineered logjams in the Dungeness watershed has helped to restore important fish habitat and stabilize treeless, eroding banks. Large wood is an ongoing need for salmon habitat, and additional log jam installations are being planned.

• Fish stocks in the river and creeks are monitored, including Chinook, steelhead, chum, pink and coho salmon. Improving habitat, assessing freshwater production of smolts, and the Chinook captive brood program are among the project that have benefited fish, many of which are considered threatened, or are listed on the Endangered Species List.

• Water quality and conservation efforts outlined below also help create healthy habitat for fish and humans.

Coordinated efforts to conserve water and protect instream flow have included: piping 50 miles of irrigation ditches and reducing irrigation withdrawals by 25 cfs; adoption of the Dungeness Instream Flow and Water Management Rule, which set instream flow levels and other conditions for managing water for human and fish use; irrigator agreements to conserve water and limit withdrawals at certain flow levels, and mitigation and restoration requirements for new water use.

• To aid in water quality improvement and protection, programs were implemented to help landowners install stream fencing, participate in natural and sustainable landscaping practices, and take water quality workshops targeting horse and livestock farms.

• A septic repair effort has led to the identification and repair of 800 failing septic systems in the Marine Recovery Area (MRA, the eastern part of Clallam County, surrounding the river and bay). As a result, water quality in Dungeness Bay has improved, making shellfish harvest safe once again in areas that were previously closed. Today, over 3,800 septic owners in the MRA are current on inspections and more than 500 homeowners have completed free “do-it-yourself inspection” training.

• Additionally, partners have worked with the Clean Water Work Group on an ongoing Pollution Correction and Identification Program (started in 2014) for the Clean Water District.

DRMT partners, who work in various groupings on different projects, include: Clallam Conservation District; estuary/tidelands property owners; Protect Peninsula’s Future; Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe; Clallam County; City of Sequim; Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge; Dungeness Water Users Association; Dungeness River Audubon Center; North Olympic Land Trust; riverside property owners; sport fisheries; Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society; Washington Department of Ecology; Dungeness Beach Association; Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife; U.S. Forest Service, and Clallam County PUD #1.

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