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Seaweed saturation is a stinker

The seaweed in front of Mike McKasy’s home on Dumas Bay has piled up all summer. The city hopes to dispose of it by the end of summer 2008, after the Washington State Department of Ecology’s contractor, Envirotest Research Inc., determines the best way to remove and dispose of the seaweed. Photo was taken by McKasy and provided by Federal Way. - Courtesy photo
The seaweed in front of Mike McKasy’s home on Dumas Bay has piled up all summer. The city hopes to dispose of it by the end of summer 2008, after the Washington State Department of Ecology’s contractor, Envirotest Research Inc., determines the best way to remove and dispose of the seaweed. Photo was taken by McKasy and provided by Federal Way.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Water and private property appear to be meet — connected by a deep green field of seaweed — in places along the shore of Dumas Bay.

The City of Federal Way has received complaints about a peculiar and disdainful odor near the bay for approximately five years, said surface water manager Paul Bucich. Upon investigation, the city discovered the smell was coming from decaying seaweed, sometimes referred to as sea lettuce, in Dumas Bay.

An abundance of nutrients in the bay and the warmth of the summer months causes the seaweed to grow rapidly, building upon itself in layers, then dying from a lack of oxygen. The process is a smelly one that plays itself out yearly.

In May, the city decided the problem must be addressed, but it did not have the funding or experience necessary to remove and dispose of the vegetation.

The city contacted the Washington State Department of Ecology. Legislative money had just been awarded to the agency to conduct seaweed removal in Seattle's Fauntleroy Cove. Federal Way asked the agency to allocate some of the funding for similar clean-up efforts in Dumas Bay. The request was turned down.

Bucich had almost given up on the seaweed removal in Dumas Bay when the city announced it would provide $50,000 to the project, derived from the city manager's discretional fund, if the Department of Ecology agreed to remove and dispose of the seaweed, he said. A partnership was formed.

The Department of Ecology is now in the process of hiring a contractor to brainstorm ideas for removing the seaweed at Fauntleroy Cove, said Sinang Lee, water quality improvement lead.

Whatever method suits the cove best would also be used to address Dumas Bay's problem, she said. Federal Way is expected to pay for the contractor to remove and dispose of Dumas Bay's seaweed.

"We don't know the nitty-gritty details of how that will take place," Lee said.

Seaweed solutions:

Envirotest Research Inc. has removed Fauntleroy Cove's seaweed several times in the past 10 years, Envirotest owner and toxicologist David Anderson said. Anderson is familiar with the cove, and in the past has researched many ways to dispose of the seaweed there.

The best solution for eliminating the seaweed's smell has always been to gather the plant and dispose of it in deeper waters. There, it would sink to the bottom of the cove and remain untouched by waves, wildlife and humans, which all help break up the seaweed and cause the odor, Anderson said. The Washington State Department of Ecology will no longer allow this method.

"We are definitely more sensitive to the nutrient issue in the Puget Sound," Lee said.

The water body is overloaded with unevenly distributed nutrients, and hauling the vegetation to deeper waters will not get rid of those nutrients, Anderson said. Nobody is certain whether previous disposal methods have been successful either. Money has never been provided to allow Anderson to research the seaweed and determine if it resurfaces after being dumped, he said.

With this knowledge, Envirotest Research Inc. employees must find a way to remove and dispose of the seaweed in Fauntleroy Cove and Dumas Bay in a way that is cost-effective, environmentally safe and productive.

"For me, it's an intriguing project because, right now, there aren't any good answers," Anderson said.

In the 1990s, Envirotest Research Inc. removed 92 tons of the seaweed from Fauntleroy Cove in one year, he said. Anderson estimates Dumas Bay has at least twice as much seaweed as that location. It will have to be harvested by water, then transported to a dumping station on land, Anderson said.

To protect the beach and wildlife, this means manpower instead of heavy machinery will be used, he said.

"That's more complicated and more expensive than the way we did it in the past," he said.

The total cost of the project cannot be determined until Anderson makes his suggestions for the seaweed removal and disposal, Lee said. The Department of Ecology will approach the issue one step at a time, she said. First, a removal and disposal method must be determined and permits acquired, she said.

If $50,000 is not enough money to conduct efforts in Dumas Bay, the city and the Department of Ecology will have to meet to discuss their options, Lee said. She was unsure if the Department of Ecology would offer funding to the city if that were the case.

The project is daunting, and Anderson suspects it may require more funding than what is currently offered, he said.

"As soon as you move from land to water, it doubles or triples the expense," Anderson said.

The City of Federal Way and the Department of Ecology expect Anderson to pitch removal and disposal ideas by January 2008, Lee said. The seaweed is tentatively expected to be disposed of after summer 2008, when it will be at peak levels due to weather and water conditions, Bucich said.

"If we do it, we want to do it as right as possible," Lee said.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or at (253) 925-5565.

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