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John Boettner

                 
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As a retired Aquatic Scientist still interested in environment affairs, I find that although I am free to function independently of employers, politics have become the overarching dynamic that guide society. Thinking my expertise in aquatics could help to manage a marine tideland, I've become part owner in a parcel in south Skagit Bay, in Snohomish County, Washington. My work with this marine tideland is disclosing some interesting evidence of impacts from historic upland activities. In all fairness to local jurisdictions, credit is deserved for disclosing potentially sensitive information; that being said, why does it appear I am the only one in the room who can see the elephant?

Mining, logging and agriculture practices are just a few of the activities that have dramatically affected water quality, habitat for fish and wildlife, river function, etc., in addition to aquaculture activity on our tidelands.



Agriculture activity encroaches on our rivers to the point of choking the life out of this navigable waterway...healthy runs of fish and wildlife are now listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), rivers are becoming impassable for migratory fish, and now the river has been reduced to a vestige of its previous size to the point where it is becoming a tidal slough. Salt water intrusion and lack of hydraulic recharge is becoming the latest theme in river disfunction. The hydrology has been so compromised by these modifications, instream flows have been reduced to depend on stormwater flow as a component of normal river function (thus causing further threats the certification of shellfish beds, most of which are currently decertified to commercial shellfish harvest).



Logging is another activity that contributes to acute and chronic loading of sediment. Construction of logging roads and logging on unstable slopes has resulted in slope failures so severe tributaries can be diverted, and sediment movement has not only silted in much of the river spawning habitat, it has resulted in extensive shifts in substrate, habitat, and landscape modification...even limiting our ability to work on our tideland. We suspect that the altitude of the tideland has increased considerably as well, but we have no knowledge of pristene conditions.



We don't know how the problems could be that were observed in this watershed might apply to others, the major slope failure that occurred this past winter on the Chehalis River warrants further investigation. Between agriculture and logging practices, it can be argued the function of our river has not only been completely compromised, siltation has resulted in landscape modifications so severe it is doubtful the damages could ever be mitigated or restored.



To complicate matters further, our investigations found that part of the problem with the river is due to a flooding event that occurred over 60 years ago that diverted most of the river flow through a slough and into Port Susan. Flow regimes could be restored by diverting a portion of the flow of the existing mainstem back to the original channel. But suggestions to divert the river meet resistance because the restored flow could threaten infrastructure (oddly ironic given that the existing obstructed instream flows have compromised the river's existing infrastructure (i.e., sewage treatment plant outfall effluent can't mix the way it was intended when the outfall was installed.)). No matter how it valid the scientific benefit to salmon habitat to ESA listed resources, diverting flow is not a possibility even as a mitigatory measure for past natural resource damages.



One thing has become glaringly clear in the course of this work; it doesn't matter "where" we conduct our activities; for every action we take in a watershed there's another reaction...but now we have to consider "how" we conduct our activities. It is time to see if we can accommodate the elephant in the room.

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