Village Resiliency Project

Lopez Island Community for a Dynamic, Livable Village

Why is Fisherman Bay Polluted? And How can you help? (The story of water in Lopez Village)

If you are familiar with Fisherman Bay, the body of water tucked between the outstretched arm of Fisherman Bay spit preserve  and connecting peninsula, you probably have heard that it is polluted. Surfactants, pesticides and copper “approaching levels that can kill fish” (Russel Barsh, Director, Kwiaht) all plague this once lively inlet. But how did these things get in the Bay? Why aren’t they leaving? And most importantly: How can we remove them? We know Fisherman Bay used to house a greater amount of biodiversity than it does today. But what has happened between now and then to take it from habitable to inhabitable for so many native species?

For anyone unfamiliar with Lopez Village: Lopez Village is the portal for a lot of runoff (let’s say storm) water. Today, this water comes sheeting along the pavement and graveled surfaces, picking up brake dust and dousing our buildings, decks, and treated wood (copper) soap and cleaning products (surfactants) and yards (pesticides) and carrying them swiftly through pipes before depositing them in Weeks’ Wetland.

For starters, and somewhat obviously, driving less, being conscious of the content of our building materials (shout out to, a fantastic resource for making sure your building products are squeaky green-clean and toxin free) taking our cars to a car wash instead of washing them at home, and refraining from using commercial cleaning supplies and pesticides without doing our homework (even the ones that claim to toxin free often contain substances that aren’t conducive to life) are all things we can do to keep pollution out of the bay. But we don’t need to stop there. Preventative care of our waterways is important, but equally important is taking care of the plants and animals already negatively impacted by our bad habits.

Before Lopez Village was built, the space it occupies was very different. One of the earliest records of life on Lopez can be found in a series of journals and letters stemming from the adventures of a C.B.R. Kennerly, an explorer sent from the Smithsonian Institute to explore the region the San Juan Islands reside in around 1855. Kennerly described the current Lopez Village site at this time as an “inhospitable, murky marshland”- drastically different from the veritable sea of lawns and parking lots we know today! This wetland kept the water flowing from the basin surrounding Lopez Village clean, and provided important habitat for many native species. Today, however, policy makers struggle to create spaces where not only the human entities, but also the non-human entities in the Village, receive the water they need to thrive. This is a modern global problem, and something that communities have faced for a long time in their struggle for resilience, or the ability to absorb disturbance and still retain basic function and structure (Salt, Walker, 2006).

Two large disturbances to the waterways within what we know as the Village today to the environment besides the constant influx of contaminants we humans generate are the large amount of paved and graveled surface, and the corrugated pipes and greenery-free ditches next to the roads. These two design features carry pollutants harmful to fish and marine organisms down to Fisherman Bay without giving them the chance to be absorbed by plants, many of which could potentially transform contaminants into the substances they need to grow and thrive – and this is where we have an opportunity to help clean up the contaminants already in the water on it’s way to the Bay.

Enter the bioswale: a landscaping feature engineered and designed to remove pollutants using plants that like the things found in surfactants and pesticides, as well as copper. Kwiaht, in partnership with the high school biology students at Lopez School, is planning on investigating which native Lopezian plants are more aptly suited to accomplish this task this coming fall.

Stay tuned.

Salt, Walker, (2006) Resiliency Thinking: Sustaining Ecosystems and People in a Changing World. Island Press: 171.


Village on the Edge of the Sea: a Kwiaht and Community Collaboration

Lopezian landowners and community members, working with Kwiaht, and coordinated by Sunni Wissmer, (that’s me!) began in the summer of 2013 to tackle one of the larger issues brought up by the 2012 surveys and past survey compilation process: polluted runoff (storm) water.

Local artists Nancy Bingham, Linda Vorobik, Tamara Shane, and Tamara Beauchanan, as well as village landowner Joe Angel, The Lopez Center, and the Lopez Chamber of Commerce all contributed to a series of artworks being installed over the course of summer 2013 within the Village’s Urban Growth Area.

These artworks are the continuation and public expression of a conversation between Lopezians on the waterways through the village, and were made possible by donations through the Fisherman Bay Marine Health Observatory.

The press releases for each of the art installations, as published by Islands Weekly, can be viewed here:

Protecting the Bay – it Starts with Art

If you want to see the art other than in pictures via the Weekly, feel free to contact me at to get in touch with the artists – all of the gorgeous pieces that are a part of this exhibit are for sale.

Important Inclusions

After a lengthy study of all collected material both old (this planning process has been underway since the 1970’s!) and new (all of the wonderful maps and input I have received,) a few things have risen to the forefront of being of importance to Lopezians, frequent visitors, village property owners, and other residents alike. They are as follows:

1. Trails

A beautiful and functional trail network to keep bicycles and pedestrians off of village roads and in pretty, green spaces.

2. Ecological Corridor Recognition and Celebration

This includes several components:

The preservation, and in some places, re-installation of the marshland environment the village was built upon. A harmonizing of the human and animal habitat to ensure the existence of both in a sustainable way.

Using the ecological corridor to convey and mitigate (clean and slow) stormwater runoff as it moves through the village through a network of small  pools and swales.

The addition of plants native to the marshland area throughout the village, to create a more aesthetically pleasing viewscape without restricting views of the water.

3. Parking

Develop a parking plan focused on keeping the Urban Growth Area walking-centric. Place new parking behind new buildings and out of the way of pedestrian traffic.

4. Building Standards

This also includes several components:

Decrease setback to a more “old fashioned” 5 feet from road to cater to pedestrian traffic.

Possible increase of maximum lot coverage (currently 50-65%) in order to increase density and accommodate a growing population.

Increase of maximum building height to allow for a 3rd residential story, when and where such an addition will not block a neighbor’s view.

As mentioned above, all ideas collected were collected in two ways:

  1. Brought up through ‘natural conversation’, through face to face interface with Lopezians encountered in Lopez Village. No prompting, or suggesting of ideas to village property owners or passerby was undertaken by the surveyor. This was done by asking the question, “What would you like to see in Lopez village?” and noting the response. This effort was undertaken during the months of June and July in summer 2012. Because of the high influx of tourists, the question, “Are you a resident of Lopez Island?” was asked before the visioning question, and only those who considered themselves residents’ data was recorded.
  2. A cataloguing of ideas collected and documented by the Lopez Village Planning committee, from present day to 1977. Each time an idea occurred in print, or was drawn visually or otherwise documented or represented, it was recorded by the surveyor.


I would also like to point out a few key organizations (besides Kwiaht, whose help will be, and has been, crucial in this process:

The Lopez Village Planning Committee

A 7 person committee appointed by the county in 2009 to:

1.  Review 3-4 studies done on planning over the past years.

2.  Discuss implications from the planned movement of Lopez Village Market.

3.  Review the issues related to walking paths, parking and other UGA amenities.

4.  Make recommendations for the Village.

The Land Bank,

The San Juan County Land Bank is a land preservation arm of the county, voted into being in 1990 and renewed by voters twice since that time. The Land Bank works to preserve a variety of land as set out in their charter. Presently the Land Bank owns Weeks Wetland in Lopez Village, which not only provides a view of Fisherman Bay, but also preserves an important estuary habitat and filters the majority of stormwater coming from the Village. Further development within the Village will necessitate enhancing or possibly enlarging the wetland network to accommodate increased stormwater. Trails are another area of interest to the people on Lopez, and the Land Bank holds many of the donated trail easements within the county.

The Lopez Community Trails Network,

The mission of which is to facilitate and participate actively in the creation, use, and maintenance of a network of safe non-motorized trails on Lopez Island to benefit community members of all ages for active transportation, recreation, health, well-being, and quality of life.

Under Construction, (well, hopefully soon), Visions of Lopez Village

Visions of Lopez Village

What’s yours? Kwiaht wants to know!

Using the research previously undertaken by the Lopez Planning Committee, and in partnership with Nathan Hodges and his beautiful Atlas of the Fisherman’s Bay area, we are brainstorming specific ideas for what can be done with the public space here in the Village, in order to create a dynamic and inviting space that is ecologically sound and inviting to all.

As this is a space which belongs to all of us, we really need your help in assessing what work needs to be done, and where. Please take a map of the village, which you can find at Kwiaht’s booth at the Farmer’s Market, and draw or write what you envision being possible (A public art project? A restoration of the wetland environment? Signage to encourage more business for the downtown area?) for the village. Several different technologies which have been proven to help prompt ecological resiliency within the built landscape have been listed to help you. There may also be maps available at many local businesses and outside Kwiaht’s headquarters in the Plaza downtown.

With your assistance, we plan to complete several different designs for the future

of Lopez Village by the end of September.

If you’d like to know more about this project, or have a more complex idea you would like heard, me, Sunni Wissmer, a Community, Environment, and Planning Student from the University of Washington, who will be compiling the maps into designs, would be delighted to exchange emails or even sit down and talk over a cup of tea- you can reach me at or at 253.318.4026.