Clean up East Bay | Let Moxlie Creek breathe

Here in Olympia there is a problem in East Bay off of Budd Inlet. The problem is water quality. It does not meet federal clean water standards. Part of the problem is that Moxlie Creek, which flows into East Bay, is encased in a half-mile-long, underground, concrete pipe. This affects the creek’s ability to assimilate necessary levels of oxygen from both the atmosphere and the workings of phytoplankton. Moxlie Creek needs to be “daylighted.”
Daylighting the creek would entail taking it out of the pipe and allowing it to flow above ground. While Olympia public officials tend to view creek daylighting and restoration as an all-or-nothing proposition, in actuality, allowing any section of the creek to “breathe” would likely improve water quality. If only the mouth of the creek, the estuary, were opened, the exchange between salt and fresh water would happen more as it should. Call it Ecosystem Based Management.

Cities up and down the West Coast have restored or are in the process of daylighting streams and restoring estuaries. Some cities, such as Edmonds, have chosen to challenge Washington State’s minimal setbacks and other lacking rules and have been victorious

Oceanographically, ecologically, and in every other sense, estuaries are critical to marine environments. Fresh water, being lighter, flows out on the surface drawing salt water in underneath. These and other persistent mixing patterns help phytoplankton proliferate which improves water quality and jump-starts the food web. Stream estuaries in South Puget Sound impact a much broader length of shoreline than river estuaries. They provide important habitat not only for the salmon that spawn in the streams but for salmon that migrate past.

Attached is a bird’s eye view of the city of Olympia in 1879. The large inlet in the foreground is the Moxlie Creek estuary. Often there is a stream associated with a river estuary: Hylebos Creek for the Puyallup River, Medicine Creek for the Nisqually River, and so on. These stream estuaries increase the area of tide flats and provide a place where water from the river is re-mixed by the incoming tide. Moxlie Creek was the Deschutes River’s companion stream.
The estuary of the stream can only exist where it is. It can’t be moved. The Port of Olympia currently owns a vacant parcel of land that is the only portion of the historic estuary available for restoration. But a plan is moving forward to build a large, mixed-use building on the site complete with retail space and eighty-five rental units. This site should be restored, not developed. The Walker John real estate development would be on the north side of State Avenue as one passes East Bay Drive near the Hands On Children’s Museum. This should be the site of a beautiful, rich estuary.
East Bay is out of compliance with the federal Clean Water Act due to excess nitrogen. According to the EPA, nitrates travel eighteen times farther in a buried pipe than in one that sees daylight. Especially given that there is a lot of outside funding available for nearshore, estuarine cleanup and restoration, East Bay water is out of compliance with several Total Managed Daily Load (TMDL) parameters. States are required to study all non-compliant watersheds and come up with a plan to get them compliant. Many have been done, but the hardest cases can drag on in a snail’s paced search for non-point pollution.
LOTT, the Olympia waste water treatment plant near the Farmer’s Market, is likely to face restrictions if Budd Inlet water quality doesn’t show improvement. TMDL discussions surrounding numerous concerns pertaining to Budd Inlet and Capitol Lake, the possibility of ensuing EIS (Environmental Impact statement), and other factors are in a state of flux. One of the Department of Ecology’s main enforcement tools is the issuance of stormwater permits. Ecology enforces these rules for the Feds. Could the stormwater permit provide leverage to block or modify the Walker John development on Parcels 2&3?
A few years ago the Olympia Planning Commission proposed that the city’s Comprehensive Plan designate some portions of the Olympia waterfront as Urban Conservancy. Designations like this are supposed to be based on the goals and aspirations of the community. The Department of Ecology paid a visit to the City Council informing them that this would place unacceptable limits on business as usual thus violating divine edict number one. The City immediately pulled the proposal and drew a red line around maps of the waterfront declaring that management of the waterfront would be entirely under the control of the State. Given that the State only enforces current rules, the vision for the Olympia waterfront is now a matter of whatever one can get away with.
According to the Puget Sound Partnership, it is primarily up to “city and county governments to address Puget Sound restoration priorities and implement the Action Agenda. Coordination between the state and local governments is critical because of the role cities and counties play as local implementers of the Action Agenda.” Both state and local governing bodies are looking toward the other. Given the current regulatory vacuum, the loss of this greatest opportunity is understandable. There is however one more regulatory chance to stop the development of parcels 2&3. The Port of Olympia still must obtain some permits and the public has until July 11th to comment on these permits. Please do so! Below is the information necessary to submit with your comments;
#3301 Port of Olympia, Rachael Jamison, 606 Columbia St NW Ste 300 Olympia, WA 98501, is seeking coverage under the Washington State Department of Ecology’s Construction Stormwater NPDES and State Waste Discharge General Permit.
The proposed project, Eastbay Redevelopment Site, is located at Intersection of Marine Dr NE and Olympia Ave NE. Generally Bounded by Jefferson St NE to the West and Chestnut Street to the East. Generally Bounded by State Ave NE to the South. Latitude: 47.04685 Longitude: -122.89595 in Olympia in Thurston county.
Project involves 5.7 acres of soil disturbance for other (MTCA Remediation) construction activities. The receiving waterbody is Budd Inlet.

Ecology reviews public comments and considers whether discharges from this project would cause a measurable change in receiving water quality, and, if so, whether the project is necessary and in the overriding public interest according to Tier II antidegradation requirements under WAC 173-201A-320. Comments can be submitted to: Department of Ecology Attn: Water Quality Program, Construction Stormwater P.O. Box 47696, Olympia, WA 98504-7696 Publish: June 11, 2017

Harry Branch is a long time local resident who has worked on ecologically oriented projects here and abroad.  He loves to spend time sailing.