Nearshore habitat water testing makes last splash

POULSBO — Two years, 24 testing days and a lot of wet toes are almost behind the Liberty Bay Foundation. But the work is just beginning.

POULSBO — Two years, 24 testing days and a lot of wet toes are almost behind the Liberty Bay Foundation.

But the work is just beginning.

The foundation’s Nearshore Habitat Evaluation & Enhancement Project (NHEEP) will finish its two-year water quality testing phase this month. The NHEEP is sponsored in part by a $215,000 grant from a federal non-point source pollution fund and includes phases of assessment, evaluation, restoration and, most importantly, public education.

“Basically we’re trying to develop a more holistic vision of the health of the Liberty Bay watershed,” said Chris May of Pacific Northwest Laboratory. “We want to tie in what’s happening on in the upland areas with the actual condition of the marine waters.”

For the past two years, foundation members and volunteers have taken monthly water samples from sites reaching from Point Bolin to Keyport. At the most, the project has encompassed 50 sites, which were tested for temperature, turbidity (solids in the water) and chemical components.

Kathleen Byrne-Barrantes, project director for the NHEEP, said she’s happy to report that the tests were concluded with no gaps in the information over the entire two-year period.

Accomplishing this feat took permission from property owners to use their beach access, volunteer time and a lot of dedication to the goal.

“Not many projects have been done on the nearshore and one of the reasons is you have to coordinate the volunteers’ time off and the scientists’ time to analyze the samples with the tides. On the streams, the water just runs,” Liberty Bay Foundation member Luis Barrantes said.

“They do such a good job and there’s not many people who would make such a commitment,” added Lemolo resident Rosalind Benham, who was one of the property owners who allowed the foundation access to her shoreline. “Some days, it’s poured down rain and the tide’s been way out so they had to walk way out to get a sample.”

Benham, a member of the Lemolo Citizens Club, said she volunteered her property for the study because she believes the results will help clean up the bay.

“It’s very important. We live here and we have to take care of the environment. If there’s leaks we need to take care of it,” she commented. “We’re so fortunate to live in such a beautiful area and we need to make sure it stays that way.”

“My standpoint is it’s for the documentation of things that need to be addressed,” added Lemolo resident Paul Diets, who has also supported the foundation’s work with both in his time and access to his property.

Diets’ family has owned his property since 1905 and he said it’s important to him to know what could be causing pollution in the area.

The water data collected thus far is planned to be formulated into a report, however it’s also been in use real time. The Bremerton Kitsap County Health District has partnered with the foundation in training volunteers to take samples and performing the chemical analysis of samples for free. In exchange, the health district has been able to utilize the data.

“Basically, we’ll take some of that information and produce a priority list of areas that need clean up of contamination,” said Stuart Whitford, water quality manager for the district. “We can use their data to supplement the data we already have.”

The next priority list is expected to be published in early fall.

The health district is also in the midst of wrapping up a project to enhance the health of Dogfish Creek through partnerships with citizens in the watershed. May said he feels the NHEEP data may eventually be used to found similar projects in local watersheds like Jorgen and Johnson Creeks.

“This is about a $70,000 project,” Barrantes said of the data being used by other sources. “It’s not a little thing between the data collection, paying the scientists and preparing the reports. This is something they would have to do eventually and we’re going to do it for them.”

Whitford added that the NHEEP’s educational arm has been another part of the project that has helped the district’s efforts.

“The main benefit is for the citizens partnering in the projects understanding their impacts on the bay and fostering stewardship. That’s where the real bang for the buck is,” he commented.

The next phase of the NHEEP, which begins in August, will be a shoreline inventory. The inventory will utilize community volunteers on foot, or on boats, photographing and documenting the condition of the shoreline in the entire scope of the project. May said the documentation will look at how natural or modified the shorelines are and compare that data with the water quality of the area. Once this information is known, May said he’s confident that steps can be suggested that will dramatically increase the health of the bay.

“It’s definitely a glass is half empty or half full situation and I try to look at it as half full,” May said. “There are some problems to work on but they’re not unsolvable. It’s taken a while to get there and it’s going to take a while to get it back.”

Community members of all ages and interest levels are needed to help with the Liberty Bay NHEEP Shoreline Assessment in August and September. For more information, e-mail More information will also soon be available at