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Grant swims in to help local salmon

MILLER BAY — When Friends of Miller Bay members talk about the Cowling Creek project, the topic usually concerns how to conserve the land within the creek’s watershed. However, the group is expanding its efforts to help the inhabitants of the creek and surrounding environments.

The Friends was recently awarded a $5,000 grant from the Community Salmon Fund to promote wild salmon recovery efforts within the Puget Sound, particularly Miller Bay. The fund comes from a joint partnership between the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Kitsap County.

“The focus of the grant is wild salmon and increasing the ability of wild salmon,” said Friends member Niki Quester, who will coordinate the activities associated with the grant. “The health of the creek impacts the health of Miller Bay, which impacts the health of Puget Sound.”

Cowling Creek has the second largest salmon run in Kitsap County with low impact, gravity-fed egg boxes filled with chum salmon eggs.

The grant will allow the group to accomplish several goals, including removing exotic vegetation from the creek, reducing of elevated levels of fecal coliform in its waters and creating a partnership with local schools to teach kids about watersheds.

Friends members plan to organize work parties to remove the intrusive plants, such as blackberries, ivy, laurel and holly from the banks of the creek but reducing fecal coliform levels will be more challenging, Quester said.

Recent water monitoring tests completed by the Kitsap County Health District showed that fecal coliform levels are exceeding acceptable Department of Ecology limit standards, Quester explained. When levels of fecal coliform increase in waters, the algae feeds off the bacteria, creating an algae bloom. The bloom then blocks sunlight to the eel grass beds which serve as a habitat and foraging areas for salmon.

“This doesn’t just happen in Cowling Creek, it’s happening in Grover Creek too,” Quester said about the neighboring stream.

While it hasn’t been officially determined what causes the excessive coliform, there are three possibilities — failing septic systems, poorly managed livestock and cat and dog droppings, Quester said.

In order to help science find an answer, the FOMB is planning a grassroots effort. The Friends will be working with the 130-140 property owners within the 380 acres that make up the Cowling Creek watershed by holding “watershed coffees.” The gatherings will include a presentation about the current problem and how property owners can help reduce the levels of coliform.

Quester pointed out there has been a particular neighborhood problem with the dog and cat waste within the last few years.

“It’s just reached a level of density within this county where the cat and dog manure has reached crisis levels,” she said. “Last year, Indianola Beach had to be closed to swimming because of the animal waste.”

The acceptable way to clean up after Fido and Fluffy is to double bag it and put it in the garbage, Quester said, noting the waste then goes to landfills and don’t contaminate the rest of the environment.

The third component of the grant is education. The group hopes to have students and their parents help clear 1 acre of the watershed of exotic vegetation and plant a Children’s Forest.

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