Swinomish hope for biodiesel from sunflowers

The Skagit Valley Herald has a story about the Skagit River System Cooperative’s study of saltwater intrusion on farms and the potential for growing crops that can be used in biodiesel production:

First, it’s a long-term study of saltwater intrusion on the crops and ways farmers can avoid it without compromising fish habitat.

Second, it’s a test to explore a crop that could figure in the local economy — particularly in the realm of growing biodiesel usage in Skagit County.

In conjunction with that aspect of the project, expect to see biodiesel sold at the reservation gas station.

The Swinomish tribal senate recently approved purchasing equipment for selling biodiesel at the gas station, and the new fuel should be coming soon, said Marty Loesch, a spokesman for the tribe.

In the project area, La Conner-area farmer Gail Thulen leases the reservation land to grow crops, while the tribes’ fisheries group experiments with buffers and different kinds of tide gates.

That enables fish to move more freely around the Swinomish Channel and to Padilla and Skagit bays.

It’s the first fish passage of its kind in the Skagit River system, Hinton said.

Estuaries — where river meets saltwater — are key to the recovery of different species of wild fish.

“If we can create habitat in the estuary, then we’re going to raise more fish,” Hinton said.

But farmers have long struggled against the problems that tidal flows bring, with salt poisoning roots.

The restoration project uses side-swinging tide gates that allow more time for fish to pass through them. The fisheries group also moved dirt to create sort of a bathtub for the slough to sit in, keeping the groundwater mostly separate from the surface water.

Hinton and others take water-quality samples and monitor salinity in both the groundwater and surface water in the fields.

With a pea crop successfully harvested this season, Hinton said the fish-friendly tide gates appear to be working without harming the farmland.

“So far, fish and farming are living side by side,” he said.