The use of biochar in restoring the Washington State's Elwha River valley will define carbon-negative restoration projects globally.
The largest dam removal in US history began September 2011 in Washington State. By summer 2013 both the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams will be gone, freeing the Elwha river to flow freely for the first time in almost a century. Restoring the former lake bottoms behind the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams presents a unique challenge due to a number of factors as follows:
- The sediments themselves are devoid of organic content making successful revegetation difficult.
- The Olympic Region is characterized by heavy winter rainfall which contributes to erosion and nutrient loss. Stabilization of soils is one of the challenges here.
- The project objective and mandate is to restore this area to its former natural state. Essentially to grow an old growth forest ecosystem complete with the same biodiversity of the surrounding area.
Biochar is a charcoal-like material that helps build healthy soil, retains nutrients, supports biological activity, and assists plant growth.
- Carbon source- A foundational component of living soil is carbon. Charcoal is found in many of the soils within the Olympic region from forest fires perhaps dating back several hundreds of years.
- Soil Tilth- Biochar improves soil tilth.Tilth refers to the physical condition of soil in relation to its ability to support plant growth. Factors that determine tilth include the formation and stability of aggregated soil particles,moisture content, degree of aeration,rate of water infiltration, and drainage.
- Soil micro flora and nutrient retention - porosity and it’s chemistry make biochar a home to soil microorganisms and extremely effective at nutrient capture. Soils containing biochar are less prone to leaching effects produced by rainfall.
- Greenhouse gas reduction and carbon negativity- When incorporated into soil biochar is a quantifiable method to store carbon that otherwise would add to the greenhouse gas content of the atmosphere. Biochar is a truly carbon negative, (reductive) solution to greenhouse gas reduction.
What actions do you propose?
We have tested the performance of biochar at Olympic National Parks revegetation greenhouse monitoring its effects on plant growth with positive results. A worker at the facility said , ’This is the missing piece’,(to the restoration effort). Biochar was also applied with plantings in two plots at the former Lake Mills during the summer of 2012. There is a wealth of information attesting to the value and safety of biochar as a soil amendment. The use of this material is not only compatible within the current river restoration plan it will help ensure its success. Additionally there is a large body of peer reviewed scientific research value of the use of biochar a soil amendment
Project Scope, Objectives and Benefits
- To provide funding for purchasing biochar, research scale biochar production technology, to assist the revegetation of the Elwha.
- To create a ‘Living Laboratory’ program through a collaboration between the NPS, the Elwha Klallam Tribe, and Peninsula College/ WWU for project monitoring and assistance. This will provide research and educational opportunities to students, curriculum development to Peninsula College and WWU, benefit to the Elwha restoration as well as add to the knowledge base of ecosystem restoration science.
- Establishing this project as the first and largest carbon sequestration project combining the use of biochar with reforestation.
- Economic Development. Biochar is a part of an emerging environmental industry that links the forest biomass with a range of novel applications This program will teach valuable skills and provide R&D opportunities through ‘hands on’ participation that has application within this industry.
- Academic program creation. Peninsula College in Port Angeles Washington has been the home of technical programs within environmental trades for decades. This project will create a program through Western Washington University's Huxley College of the Environment on the Peninsulas 4 year BS in Environmental Science program
- This project, at its core, is environmentally based with multiple benefits for the environment and sustainability-based business.
Who will take these actions?
Due to scope of this dam removal project, there is a need to establish collaboration between government, tribal, academic, NGOs and private business.These groups are working to better understand and implement the restoration process.
The Team is inviting following groups of stakeholders and other potential participants to work together on this impoprtant project.
- Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe
- National Park Service
- US Fish and Wildlife Service
- Bureau of Reclamation
- WA Department of Fish and Wildlife
- Peninsula College
- Western Washington University
- WA Sea Grant
Where will these actions be taken?
The Elwha River drains the largest basin in Washington State's Olympic National Park and has huge potential for salmon recovery in the Puget Sound region. For nearly 100 years, the natural flow of the Elwha River was altered by the presence of two dams. Dam removal began on the Elwha River in mid-September 2011. Originally anticipated to be a two to three year process, removal proceeded quickly and by late spring 2012, the Elwha Dam was completely gone. Work on lowering the Glines Canyon dam is expected to be complete by summer 2013. Restoration and revegetation of the lake bed is currently under investigation and testing.
How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?
Every pound of biochar placed into the ground will remove its weight in carbon from the Greenhouse Gas / Atmospheric Carbon Cycle. Unlike other other carbon sequestration options biochar has the ability to easily exceed other scenarios due to its stability in the soil itself.Concevably this form of carbon may remain in soil without breaking down for hundreds of years! Biochar can be shown to sequester carbon for exponetially larger time frames than current offset requirements. While reforestation has been touted as a greenhouse gas reduction strategy its ability to store carbon is dependent upon forest growth over a long period of time. Biochar additions to the same forest sequesters the volume ofcarbon in the form of biochar added immediately. Biochar also has the ability to capture and hold onto greenhouse gases produced by the metabolization of organic compounds by organisms present in soil.
What are other key benefits?
In addition to Carbon sequestration the following highlight some of the other benefits this project has.
- Economic Development. Biochar is a part of an emerging environmental industry that links the forest biomass with a range of novel environmental applications. This program will teach valuable skills and provide R&D opportunities through ‘hands on’ participation that has application within this industry.
- Academic program creation. Peninsula College in Port Angeles Washington has been the home of technical programs within environmental trades for decades. This project will create a program in collaboration with Huxley College of the Environment on the Peninsulas 4 year BS in Environmental Science program
- This project, at its core, is environmentally based with multiple benefits for the environment, academia, and sustainability-based business.
What are the proposal’s costs?
Revegetation of the Elwha River valley will continue in the spring of 2013 and continue throughout the next 60 years.
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