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Willow trees may clean Coupeville water

The venerable willow tree could be the latest tool the town of Coupeville uses to treat stormwater that eventually flows into Admiralty Inlet.

Rex Porter, a consultant who is working for the Island County Marine Resource Committee, is pushing a phytoremediation project he hopes will take place on the edge of Coupeville near South Main Street.

That project calls for planting a series of trees near a ditch at the Island Transit park and ride lot. He hopes the roots of the trees will help clean stormwater of contaminants.

Porter said the plant roots and the microbes surrounding them can break down or absorb pretty much any pollutant except salt. He said it’s effective against the runoff coming from the cars on the state highway.

Approximately 250,000 gallons of water flows from Coupeville to the outfall at Ebey’s Landing. Porter said the water has exceeded state standards in the past for fecal matter and nitrates. The trees planted would help reduce the amount of those pollutants in the water that drains into the Puget Sound.

He said the willow tree could be the perfect fit for the project. It’s a hearty, native tree that grows a large root system that would cover a lot of space.

The ditch targeted for the tree project would provide enough space without threatening any of the nearby farmland.

“The goal is to have no net-loss of farmland,” Porter said.

He said the goal of the project is to capture the water, treat it and let it continue flowing.

The phytoremediation project jibes with the town’s plans to improve the way it treats its stormwater and, hopefully, provide a water source for surrounding farms.

Mayor Nancy Conard said during Tuesday’s Town Council meeting that one of three things could happen to the town’s stormwater: It could be used as an irrigation source, it could be used for aquifer recharge, or it could be treated and drained into the Puget Sound.

She said the third option is the least favorable, but the trees would accomplish that goal and it could be combined into the other two options.

Porter said two locations were originally considered for the project, the site near South Main Street and the ravine near the ferry house at Ebey’s Landing.

Porter said the ravine proved too difficult a location for the trees. The land near the building was too steep and is owned by The Nature Conservancy, which means another owner to negotiate with over the project. Also, the trees in that location might not have been consistent with the historical landscape of that area of the reserve.

Two things have to happen before the project moves forward. Porter has to negotiate with the National Park Service for permission to use the land, and he has to secure funding for the project.

The Marine Resources Committee is contributing $20,000 and he is looking to the Island County Health Department to provide $20,000, plus another $12,500 from the Northwest Straits Commission.

He presented information to the Coupeville Town Council Tuesday night and asked if the town could provide $20,000.

“We’re pretty tight in our budget,” Conard said at the meeting, but added she could adjust accounts to come up with money for the town’s share of the project.

The town council members didn’t make any decision concerning the phytoremediation project.

“I really want to see the budget,” council member Dianne Binder said.

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