Brenda Snyder’s presentation at our Imagine the Deschutes Estuary event

Brenda Snyder, a landscape designer who re-imagined Olympia a hundred years from now, spoke at our ‘Imagine the Deschutes Estuary’ event on September 28th.

snyderimage2 1024x310 Brenda Snyders presentation at our Imagine the Deschutes Estuary event

Sea Level Rise: Re-imagining the Urban Edge

Brenda Snyder, an urban designer from Seattle, imagined Olympia a hundred years from now. She shared her ideas at our annual event on September 28th. Having grown up on the Puget Sound, she is aware of a steep decline in the health of the sea. At the University of California for her Masters of Urban Design, she had a question on her mind: How can we improve the relationship between our built environment and natural systems? For her thesis, she had her sights set on Olympia, it’s shoreline built on dredgings and at great risk of rising water. In this work she presented us with some intriguing ideas for change that could spark a proactive and planned response to sea level rise. She offers ideas to re-imagine downtown Olympia, with a very specific message: to soften our edges.

Brenda’s work begins with an assumption that the dam has been removed and the estuary restored. This provides the material basis for redesigning the waterfront to accommodate rising tidewaters. Using the RAP strategy (Retreat, Adaptation and Protection), she also assumes that the Olympia will consider the historic core and the intertidal zone of equal value. She spoke about our tendency to harden our edges at the shoreline, which eliminates intertidal habitat, blocks public access, and provides a false sense of security from flooding water. The major concerns in her design are the health of the shoreline, social and economic vitality offered by the built environment, and natural processes of an estuary.

Some of her ideas include:

  • Creating “Creek Street” to daylight Moxlie Creek, designed as a pedestrian and commercial corridor.
  • Aqua blocks with rain gardens that are designed to accommodate stormwater.
  • Protecting the maritime industry of the Port by preserving islands for operation.
  • Retrofitting LOTT as a treatment wetland to filter stormwater runoff, with the assumption that waste treatment would be decentralized to protect the water.
  • Capitol Crest Promenade, with stretches of natural landscape parks and commercial areas.

Brenda has offered us some real gems, possibilities to come together and meet needs that often seem to conflict. Some of her ideas may not be the solution, especially without input from the community on the design, but they do help spark our imaginations as we talk about the future of downtown Olympia.


sndyerimage2 1024x782 Brenda Snyders presentation at our Imagine the Deschutes Estuary event

The video of her presentation is here: Imagine the Estuary (includes a lively dialogue with some history of the estuary and dam)
The visual handout from her presentation is here: Re-imagining the Deschutes Estuary
Brenda’s full thesis is available here: Sea-Level Rise: Re-imagining the Urban Edge

Video: The Power of a River

Produced by DERT Board member Helen Wheatley, this video illustrates just how powerful the Deschutes River can be with stormwater surges, and the problem Capitol Lake poses as sediments are pushed down the river during floods.

Five reasons to restore the Deschutes Estuary

1. Restoring the estuary preserves the reflecting pool below our state capitol

Capitol Lake Trim 80 Percent 300x172 Five reasons to restore the Deschutes Estuary

The northern basin of what is now Capitol Lake would remain filled 80 percent of the time if the estuary were to be restored. So, we wouldn’t be trading a beautiful lake for a swamp. When the estuary is restored, there will be clean and healthy water in the basin 80 percent of the time, instead of unhealthy water all the time.

Here’s a quote from one of the estuary studies:

All four restoration alternatives show little to no difference in the amount of submerged or exposed lake bottom. The model predicts that the North Basin, much of the Middle Basin, and the main channel, which would reform quickly after dam removal, would be under water 80% of the time.

2. Restoring the estuary will increase water quality

Current day 207x300 Five reasons to restore the Deschutes Estuary

Capitol Lake causes most of the dissolved oxygen issues in Budd Inlet

Most of the water quality issues facing Capitol Lake have to do with the shape of the lake itself. Capitol Lake is far too shallow and far too stagnant to handle the natural load of sediments that are carried into it by the Deschutes River.

There is very little that can be done above Capitol Lake to solve its water quality issues.

In fact, Capitol Lake is the reason we have low dissolved oxygen issues in Budd Inlet.

And, there is no practical way to dredge the lake to increasing water quality. In fact, the lake would have to be 300 feet deep to be healthy.

3. Restoring the estuary helps salmon from across Puget Sound

Deschutes salmon larger map 231x300 Five reasons to restore the Deschutes EstuaryEven though there is no evidence of native run of salmon on the Deschutes River, salmon from all over Puget Sound will see a benefit from a restored Deschutes Estuary. One of the primary functions of estuaries is providing habitat for juvenile salmon that were born in other watersheds.

A recent restoration of the Beachcrest estuary by the South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group is a great example of this. While opening the Beachcrest pocket estuary provides minimal spawning habitat, the real benefit is to juvenile salmon, especially those from the nearby Nisqually River.

Recent surveys by the Squaxin Island Tribe show the vast numbers of salmon coming from outside our area that would benefit from a restored Deschutes Estuary.

4. Restoring the estuary has community support

There is not only vocal support for restoration, but when you look at public opinion polling, the values of local residents line up with healing the Deschutes estuary.

In 2009, the group charged with implementing the Capitol Lake Adaptive Management Plan (CLAMP) and studying estuary restoration conducted a public process on the future of the lake. The responses in that process were certainly pro-restoration.

When you look at CLAMP comment data, support for the estuary is strong. A strong majority (55 percent) of people commenting during the CLAMP process supported the estuary, while less than 30 percent voiced a desire for a managed lake. The rest of the comments either preferred the status-quo, a dual basin (less than 5 percent) or had no preference.

During the same time, the city of Olympia also commissioned a survey. That poll shows the values Olympia residents are bringing to the debate line up behind restoration.

In the Olympia survey, 70 percent said that water quality, fish and wildlife was their most important consideration, and 74 percent said it was “extremely important.”

  • 59 percent said that keeping the cost the taxpayers low was either important or very important (44 percent). This is an important point, since one time costs associated with restoring the estuary are lower than continued costs maintaining a lake.
  • Only 11 percent said that maintaining the look of the lake was their most important consideration. And, since restoring the estuary would mean the northern basin of the lake would stay filled 8o percent of the time, the look of the lake would be largely unchanged.

5. Restoring the estuary is the least expensive option

Restoring the Estuary is a long-term solution, compared to the ongoing costs associated with maintaining an artifice lake.

Costs have been estimated at between $114.5 and $224.5 million.

Value to the environment and public health is immeasurable.  There would be clean water and recreational use once again.

Managing the Lake is a short-term and unsustainable project. Costs have been estimated at between $191.6 and $321.4 million over a 50 year period of continued dredging and disposal.   Water quality would continue to decline and the lake would have to remain closed to public use.