Cherry Valley revival: Working together to advance fish habitat restoration, farming, and flood risk reduction

Using beautiful drone footage and captivating underwater salmon photography, the Snoqualmie Watershed Forum tells the story of diverse partners in the Cherry Valley working together to recover salmon, while protecting farmland and reducing flood risks.

Hear about the challenges and successes from representatives of the Tulalip Tribes, Snoqualmie Indian Tribe, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Sound Salmon Solutions, Snoqualmie Valley Watershed Improvement District, Wild Fish Conservancy, Snohomish Conservation District, and Drainage District 7.

The Snoqualmie Watershed Forum has been working since 1998 with partners to address salmon recovery, water quality, and flooding. Nowhere is this more evident than in Cherry Valley, where the partners are working to revive the landscape.

The Forum is a signatory and committed partner of King County’s Fish, Farm, & Flood Initiative. It is clear what needs to be done to recover salmon, protect farmland, and reduce flood risk, but it can’t be done without partnerships. Take action and learn more at govlink.org/action7.

King County prepares for flooding: More than 500 river facilities inspected for damage

This year the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for social distancing required field inspections take place with a different protocol to keep staff safe. Despite this additional challenge and the vast number of facilities to inventory, staff completed inspections on all 511 river facilities in one year – an activity normally done over a two-year cycle.

King County staff inspect a damaged revetment on the Snoqualmie River in July 2020.

The 2019-2020 flood season was one for the record books. The first flood event took place on the Snoqualmie River in October 2019 and the season concluded with a total of seven flood events having occurred in King County by the end of February 2020.

Damage was found on 136 facilities and plans for emergency repairs or longer-term improvements to remedy the damage are underway. This assessment and planning is critical in order to prepare for another flood season which began on October 1 of this year.

Flooding pictured from helicopter on the Cedar River in February 2020.

The flooding was due to extensive rain throughout western Washington. Average monthly rainfall totals throughout the region in December 2019, January and February were far greater than normal. After the widespread flood in February that received a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration, conducting post-flood inspections and triaging damage to river facilities was a high priority for the King County Flood Control District (Flood District).

River facilities, such as levees and revetments, play an important role in protecting people, neighborhoods and infrastructure against damage from erosion and flooding. The King County Water and Land Resources Division, as the primary service provider to the District, maintains more than 370 revetments and 130 levees across six river basins from the South Fork of the Skykomish River in the north to the White River in the south on the border with Pierce County.

Photo of a revetment on the Cedar River taken during an inspection visit in February 2020.

Each river facility is scheduled for inspection on a two-year cycle to look for any damage that could weaken its effectiveness. Inspections largely take place in the spring and summer or after a flood event and involve trained staff making careful observations of the riverbank facilities as well as floating the river in boats to identify potential problems.

Everyone in King County is encouraged to be flood ready. Information on what to do before, during and after a flood is available at kingcounty.gov/prepareforflooding.


About the King County Flood Control District

The King County Flood Control District is a special purpose government created to provide funding and policy oversight for flood protection projects and programs in King County. The Flood Control District’s Board is composed of the members of the King County Council. The Water and Land Resources Division of the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks develops and implements the approved flood protection projects and programs.

About the King County Water and Land Resources Division

The Water and Land Resources Division works to protect the health and integrity of King County’s natural resources. Employees work to reduce flood risks, monitor water quality and restore wildlife habitat; manage, and reduce the harmful impacts from stormwater, noxious weeds and hazardous waste; create sustainable forestry and agriculture; and protect open space to support all of these efforts.

New King County road across Mary Olson Creek improves transportation for people and salmon

Update: See video below of fish using the newly restored stream.

Between Seattle and Auburn, drivers cross over countless creeks and rivers. Each fall, salmon and steelhead swim a similar journey from Puget Sound, up the Duwamish River leading to the Green River, and into many tributary streams around Auburn. These creeks are vital habitat for salmon. Streams provide areas for salmon to reproduce, hatch, and grow, so young salmon are plentiful and healthy when they enter the ocean.

After leaving local waterways, salmon and steelhead spend several years in the Pacific Ocean before returning to King County waterways to repeat the cycle.

Just like people rely on roads to cross over creeks as they move throughout the region, salmon and steelhead rely on barrier-free creeks flowing under roads to reach vital upstream habitats.

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BEFORE: The culvert that conveyed Mary Olson Creek under Green River Road near Kent.

This summer, King County Roads replaced a culvert carrying Mary Olson Creek under Green River Road near Kent. This project ensured that the road crossing the creek is up to current standards and restores fish passage to Mary Olson Creek. Prior to the project, a metal pipe or “culvert” carried the creek under the road. This culvert was old and in poor condition. It was also too small and steep for most fish to swim through and blocked salmon from migrating upstream of the road.

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DURING: During construction to replace the old culvert with a new, wider box culvert.

The new creek crossing uses a box culvert that is wide and deep enough to make sure that the creek under the road is “passable” for all species of fish, including salmon and steelhead. This work opens up more than 2,000 feet of stream habitat to full access by salmon and steelhead.

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AFTER: The new box culvert that is wide and deep enough to make sure that the creek under the road is “passable” for fish to access spawning habitat.

The county completed construction of the new culvert in late August and this fall, the county will plant some trees and shrubs along the creek channel to improve habitat conditions. The project, which cost about $900,000, provides a road crossing that benefits all, whether they are people travelling on the road or fish swimming in the creek.

The project is one of many being done by the King County Fish Passage Restoration Program with a goal of getting as many fish to the best habitat as soon as possible. 

For more information about the Fish Passage Restoration Program, please contact
Evan Lewis, Water and Land Resources Division.


UPDATE: This video, taken Nov. 18, 2020, shows chum spawning inside the new Green River Road box culvert into Mary Olson Creek near Auburn. The use of the culvert by fish so soon after construction was completed, shows the success of the design and construction of the project by the King County Roads Division.

Video: Steve Conroy, King County Roads Division

Continue reading New King County road across Mary Olson Creek improves transportation for people and salmon

Help wanted: Must love benthic macroinvertebrates. [The Water and Land Resources Division at work.]

By Gavin Tiemeyer

Hard at work: King County’s seasonal Stream Team collect bug samples in Coal Creek Natural Area in Bellevue, Washington.

Editor’s note: this story was written prior to the pandemic and social distancing requirements were in place. Team members are currently using masks and social distancing protocols.

Hands down, one of the coolest job at King County is working with the stream bug monitoring program, and arguably one of the most underappreciated.

Stream bugs don’t generate the same hype as salmon or Orcas, but they’re deserving of the same attention. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that most of us associate verbs like squashing, swatting, and killing with the word bugs. Regardless of how we humans feel about them, bugs rule the world, and we’d be wiser to learn to share it with them.

King County’s stream bug monitoring team thinks differently about bugs. They recognize the important role bugs play as indicators of the health of Washington’s watersheds.

On this field day, members of King County’s Stream Team collected samples from a handful of streams in Bellevue, Washington. Their first stop was the Coal Creek Natural Area, an urban greenspace that is just big enough that you forget you’re in a major metropolitan city.

The team was looking for benthic macroinvertebrates – think bottom dwelling bugs that live in the gravel, wood, and other debris in a stream. The team is particularly interested in documenting bugs that live in the riffles of the stream.

“The bugs we want to find are more diverse and plentiful in riffles,” explains Emily Rahlmann, a seasonal Stream Team member. A riffle is important habitat where fast moving water supplies plenty of oxygen that stream bugs to need to survive.

But why care about the little creepy crawlers in a stream?

“Bugs are super good indicators of what is going on in a stream, as well as the whole health of the watershed,” Tristan Hites, another seasonal Stream Team member explains. He’s right. The presence or lack of stream bugs says a lot about the health of a stream, and the larger ecosystem. According to the stream bug monitoring program, “bugs play a crucial role in the stream nutrient cycle. If bug populations are suffering it will affect the whole ecosystem.” That means that without bugs, growing fish have nothing to eat, and without fish, ocean predators have nothing to eat, and so on and so forth in a trophic cascade that is bad for everyone, including us.

Meet a stonefly nymph. This type can spend 2 years in the stream before molting into an adult and venturing to the land to mate and die.

The teams work in twos and will sample an area of the stream containing four riffles. One team member will collect bug samples from a riffle using a tool called a Surber sampler while the other team member will take measurements of the stream and outlying area in order to learn more about overall health of the surrounding ecosystem. When they move to a new stream, they alternate responsibilities.

A Surber sampler is like an underwater butterfly net that collects insects into a plastic receptacle at the end of a net.

Emily starts with the Surber sampler, a net fixed to a square brass frame that when seated firmly against the streambed allows water to flow into a plastic receptacle at the net’s end. She explains the Surber sampler is handmade by a local company and it is arguably the most valuable tool they have. One worth taking care of. Oh yeah – one crucial step to this process is digging up the riffle with a “weed tool” in order to shake loose the tiny benthic insects hiding in the streambed. Under a one-minute time interval, Emily digs the weed tool vigorously into the riffle and a brown plume of pebbles and fine sediment flow through the Surber into the plastic receptacle.

Emily works to position the Surber sampler into the streambed. Pictured also is the “weed tool” used to dig loose benthic macroinvertebrates hiding under the rocks.

Downstream, Tristan, who holds a degree in wildlife biology degree, takes measurements of the streambed, using a variety of nifty, low-tech instruments. They work with a calm and collected ease, the movements of professionals who have perfected their craft through repetition. Tristan makes quick use of the stadia rod and measuring tape to document instream features such as riffle depth and stream width.

It takes a team of two working together to take bug samples and record stream measurements.

Dr. Kate Macneale, an Environmental Scientist and the lead of King County’s Stream Bug Monitoring Program, explained how the seasonal work is done with a small team. Out of a large pool of applicants for the seasonal work, team members are chosen for their unique qualifications and ability to perform the important job.

Both Emily and Tristan speak fondly of their team leads. “They’re both very enthusiastic about their bugs – especially Kate,” reflects Emily. “Kate gets very excited when we find big stoneflies.” A stonefly is to a stream what a canary is to a coal mine. Stoneflies are great indicators of stream health because they’re so sensitive to the fine silt and pollution that run off roads and into streams when it rains.

Emily dumps the contents from the riffles she’s sampled into a white rubber tub and begins the process of separating pebbles from the more important things that will be sent to the lab for analysis. Mayfly, stonefly, and caddisfly nymphs are good signs. Samples dominated by midges and worms, however, indicate water and habitat conditions are not so good. Tristan and Emily also keep an eye out for New Zealand mud snails in order to document the spread of the invasive species.

It’s the stream life: Emily gets comfortable to separate larger pebbles from the important stuff in her sample.

So far, no signs of big stoneflies, just a couple of caddisflies. But Emily points to something else blending in among the other pebbles. A vertebrate. A fish. “A sculpin!” Emily pronounces. The tiny fish is no bigger than your thumb. Here, in the middle of a densely populated city lives this unique animal, just like its predecessors have done for eons. Emily gently places it back into the stream, protocol if you catch a live fish.

Eye Spy: Can you find the animal blending in among the pebbles in this photo? Clue: It’s a fish.

“Oh yeah, we gotta show you the pebble count,” Tristan says with a smile.

The pebble count is the most charming task of the stream bug monitoring team. Not because it’s fun but because of the way Tristan and Emily deal with the monotony of the task. The Wolman pebble count (to be exact) is a method used to measure the diversity of the stream’s substrate. A team member must pick 100 pebbles at random and measure each pebble’s diameter by pushing it through a size slot in a metal frame called a gravelometer. If the pebble fits you have a measurement. Pebble measurements are documented by the other team member using the slot’s corresponding letter.

“But sometimes the noise of the stream can get in the way,” Tristan explains. “The letter B and D sound similar so it’s easier to come up with names.”

Tristan picks up a rock. “Kathryn.” He picks up another rock, and another. “Judith, Frankie, Judith, Judith, Frankie, Gordon, Horris, Ethel, Kathryn, Astrid, Judith, Kathryn, Lucile, Michael…” And so on and so forth until 100 pebbles are counted.

“Sometimes we use the names of snacks, but get too hungry,” Emily adds.

Remember, even the smallest neighborhood stream contains a diversity of life. Tread lightly.

The last stream the team sampled is squeezed between two residential properties close to Lake Sammamish. It doesn’t scream nature as much as the Coal Creek Natural Area. There aren’t many trees to provide habitat for insects and fish and the banks have been reinforced. Still, there is something special about it. Despite the developing landscape around the stream, a tiny, hidden world of life persists. If you look down at the moving water and squint your eyes you can almost see it. Tristan and Emily get to work: Seat the Surber sampler in the riffle, collect the sample, and take measurements of the stream. One riffle, two riffle, three riffle four. If they’re not here now, maybe the mayfly, stonefly, and caddisfly – the tiny indicators of the stream ecosystem—will return. Our future looks better if they do.

In May 2020, the Stream Bug Monitoring Program published a project report that studied how the health of several historically degraded King County streams could be improved by seeding them with a diverse community stream bugs from healthy streams. Read Bug Seeding: A Possible Jump-start to Stream Recovery.


Gavin Tiemeyer is a graduate of The Evergreen State College where he studied environmental communication. He was a communications intern with the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks where he spent time in the field with employees of the Water and Land Resources Division to detail a fraction of the work they do along rivers and streams to ensure clean water and healthy habitat in King County.

I dream of knotweed: the Water and Land Resources Division at work

By Gavin Tiemeyer

What does it take to be a Noxious Weed Control Specialist with King County? Prior to the pandemic and public health social distancing measures, author Gavin Tiemeyer spent the day on the Cedar River with Sayward Glise and Matthew Martin in order to find out. The short answer: knowledge, a sharp eye, a good attitude, and a trusty pair of blue work overalls.

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Matthew Martin and Sayward Glise follow an area along the Cedar River known as Buyer’s Curve, in search of hiding knotweed plants.

It was 9 a.m. on a sunny morning near an area along the Cedar River known as Byer’s Curve in unincorporated King County. At first glance, what appears to be a nondescript green-space, nestled between two residential properties, is actually a bustling riparian ecosystem with plants and animals competing for sunlight and water.

This is where the noxious weed control specialists will search for — and try to eliminate — knotweed and garlic mustard, two tenacious invasive species of plant that, left unchecked, can wreak havoc on the river’s ecosystem.

“Knotweed is one of the most aggressive invasive species in North America, and it loves our rivers,” Sayward explained. “Once it gets established it quickly out-competes the native vegetation. Our mission is to control knotweed, improve water quality, and restore riverine habitat.”

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Sayward Glise, Noxious Weed Control Specialist, inspects the looming stem of a flowering knotweed plant (2019).

Managing knotweed is a major undertaking for King County and is especially important along the Cedar River where control is regulated. Sayward explained that knotweed clones itself in big flood events on the river when the plant’s root base breaks apart easily and travels downstream to other locations.

The way the process works is this: working closely together, Sayward and Mathew move through the greenspace by “gridding” or “running transects” in order to track down knotweed.

“We move strategically through the space in an effort to get visual coverage of the entire site,” Sayward explained. “We use maps, our GPS track logs, landmarks, and lots of verbal communication to make sure that we are getting our eyes on the whole site, and hopefully finding every stem of knotweed.”

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Mathew and Sayward plan out transects in order to find hidden knotweed (2019).

My job was to follow Sayward and Mathew around closely with a large black trash bag for proper disposal of litter and garlic mustard sprouts — another noxious weed that the county is required to control. I was amazed at how effortlessly they find the plants they are looking for. Matthew compared the process to the way birds of prey use shapes to hunt.

“Pretty much in here, I’m looking for leaf markings that aren’t jagged. Anything smooth,” Matthew said without breaking his stride. Taking his advice, I looked for smooth-edged leaves, but all I saw was a field of green plants. I was unable to distinguish between good and bad. It was like looking for a green needle in a green haystack.

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Matthew displays a pulled-up garlic mustard weed, known for its rapid spread by seed into natural areas.

Our search for weeds brings us within a couple of feet of a neighbor’s property. A family looked over at us briefly as they stained their back porch but seemed undisturbed by our presence.

“Do they know what we’re doing here” I asked Sayward, a little nervous about creeping in the woods so close to their house.

“Oh yeah. I called them earlier this week to let them know we were coming,” she said.

A crucial component of the work King County’s Noxious Weed control team involves establishing and maintaining good, communicative relationships with property owners. This makes sense, considering plants don’t decide where they’ll grow based on property rights. Some property owners can be leery of the presence of county employees though, requiring a good ambassador to communicate the mission of the Noxious Weed Control Program, while listening to the concerns and curiosities of the public.

Sayward Glise is just that person. Friendly and knowledgeable, with plenty of mom power, Sayward embodies King County’s good neighbor policy. Her kindness and passion for the work are apparent both in her enthusiasm to teach me and the way she interacts with neighboring property owners over the course of the day. She is a face they can trust.

On the origin of her career with King County, Sayward explained that she started with EarthCorps, and was able to network with King County project managers while doing work on the Cedar River. After some seasonal positions in the Noxious Weed Control Program, Sayward went after, and got, a full-time gig.

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Knotweed plants don’t stand a chance when Sayward comes to town (2019).

Despite the hard work, Matthew and Sayward praised the job they have. Though, occasionally a blackberry plant can stab you in the face.

“You go from a scream of frustration to busting out in laughter, because this is such a weird and unique job,” said Sayward.

For Sayward, after a busy day of treating knotweed, it’s common to go home and see the plant’s lime green leaves when she closes her eyes.

“I dream of knotweed,” she said.

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For Mathew and Sayward it’s especially important to find invasive plant species taking up valuable space along the riparian habitat of the Cedar River (2019).

By midday our search led us to an area along the Cedar River dominated by dense thickets of butterfly bush, another invasive species that can quickly out-compete native plants. Honeybees seem to love it, but Sayward explained that the larvae of native butterflies don’t like to eat the leaves. Apparently, invasive weeds escaped from victory gardens generations ago giving the plants a mythical quality.

Matthew spotted a large patch of flowering knotweed across the river and without hesitation waded into the knee-deep water to treat the plant on the other side. On days that are particularly hot, he explained, jumping into the river provides a welcome respite from the heat.

I first met Matthew while he was representing the Noxious Weed Control Program at the Duwamish River Festival. A recent graduate from the Environmental Science Program at the University of Washington, he is well equipped for the job. Using expert eyes, or what you may think of as a hawk-like vision, he spots plants one-by-one. Following him around with my black trash bag, he quickly outpaced me. I was sweating and regretting leaving my water bottle in the work truck.

The work Matthew and Sayward perform requires an attention to detail and knowledge of the land you can’t learn in a day. Using software on her phone, Sayward showed me a bird’s eye view of the zig-zag transects we’d made over Buyer’s Curve. Still more knotweed to find. Sometimes the invasive weed is a tiny seedling, other times it’s full-grown and hiding in plain sight.

To find every last noxious weed in Buyer’s Curve we methodically move through the green space. Up and over nursery logs and through chest-high snowberry bushes, or “bee motels,” and “snowberry spider parties,” as Sayward calls them.

“It’s kind of new age, but I have this intuition, like a little voice that whispers, ‘over here,’” Sayward said. (I look in the snowberry to make sure nobody is secretly following us.)

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Sayward points to English Ivy, another tenacious invasive plant species, climbing up Cottonwood trees.

Between the three of us and the handful of plants we aim to eliminate, there were thousands of other living things going about their earthly business. The sights, sounds, and smells were evidence of this. It was easy to take for granted the soothing sound of moving water around us. The air had an intoxicating smell of ripe blackberries with a hint of cottonwood from the trees lining the river. Every sensory detail was heightened by the inhalation and exhalation of the woods. In the tranquility of our little green patch, it was hard to imagine the change that was happening from the impact of invasive species and climate change.

Sayward pointed out a garry oak seedling in the grass below us.

“I’m always excited to see these little guys growing out here.”

Garry oaks are a reminder of a time past when the Pacific Northwest was stewarded by the first people with the help of fire. “I think in no time this place will be a healthy riparian ecosystem again,” she said.

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A day at the “office.”

The big payload at the end of the day was a large patch of mature knotweed on a property adjacent to the green space we had been working through. Sayward explained the property had recently been acquired as open space, to be managed by the county, through a voluntary sale by the owner and she had been waiting patiently to “take care of business.”

The property was large with a derelict greenhouse and a family home situated on the bank of the river. It was odd to look at a house so recently occupied by people that was now scheduled for demolition.

“Or you can think of it as prime habitat being reintroduced to the floodplain,” said Matthew.

When the work was done, we brushed off our boots to make sure we weren’t transferring unwanted plant seeds with us — a critical step that all field staff must do.

On the ride home I was exhausted and fighting to stay awake. I briefly dozed off in the backseat of the work truck. When I woke up, we are on I-90 just outside of Seattle. Then I saw it. Lime green, heart-shaped leaves, with little bunches of milky-white flowers. Knotweed hiding in plain sight. From now on, I will see it everywhere.


Gavin Tiemeyer is a graduate of The Evergreen State College where he studied environmental communication. He was a communications intern with the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks in 2019 where he spent time in the field with employees of the Water and Land Resources Division to detail some of the work they do along rivers and streams to ensure clean water and healthy habitat in King County.

From trash to treasure: a clean and lean idea helps the Lake Geneva community

By Marta Olson

For years, something unpleasant was lurking in the waters of Lake Geneva – disturbing visitors and residents alike. No, not a mythical sea monster, but a 15-foot boat that sank in the lake and had been abandoned years ago. Kayakers and boaters complained about hitting it in the summer months when the water is lower; that it detracted from the natural beauty of the lake; and it was just plain bad for the lake’s ecological health.

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Lake Geneva is one of 760 small and large lakes and reservoirs in King County.

Lake Geneva is located in the suburbs between Auburn and Federal Way, and the shoreline includes a public park, boat launch, woods and private homes. Chris Knutson with King County’s Water and Land Resources Division administers the Lake Geneva Management District, which formed in 2016 to address issues like increased algae blooms, decreased water quality, debris and noxious weeds. In this role, he was tasked with solving the sunken boat problem.

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Chris Knutson with King County’s Lake Stewardship Program.

Chris started with the obvious solution – just pull the boat out of the lake. After meeting with staff from King County Roads and surveying the location, Chris thought he might have a plan. But it required a truck with a winch, flaggers on both sides of the street, a flatbed for transporting the boat and possibly an excavator to help pull the boat up the steep slope from the lake to the road and onto the truck. While the plan was feasible, all the heavy equipment and crew time needed to carry it out added up to about $6,000.

Chris felt stuck; the Lake Geneva Advisory Board wanted the boat gone but the cost would be more than 40% of District’s annual budget. So he started looking into other options. He had never considered waterside removal by boat since no one in his department had that equipment or expertise. He reached out to Deputy Chris Bedker from the King County Sheriff’s Office Marine Rescue Dive Unit to ask about the logistics and legal process of derelict boat retrieval and disposal.

In that conversation, a rather elegant solution was proposed: use the boat removal as a training exercise for Marine Unit deputies. On Nov. 10, the Marine Rescue Dive Unit arrived at Lake Geneva, removed the boat, and disposed of it at a landfill – all for a total cost of $28. The cost savings were lauded by the Lake Geneva residents who were able to see their District contributions spent on other important projects like improving water quality and noxious weed control.

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Deputy Chris Bedker towing the abandoned boat.

There are so many fabulous departments and divisions within King County with expertise in all different areas. Collaborations like this one show how the resources of the County can be combined to solve problems creatively and at the highest possible value for our customers.

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Deputy Ben Callahan prepares the boat for disposal.


Learn more

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Water and Land Resources Division in the field: Part 1

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Fish passage field team members Zach Moore and Kat Krohn measure the diameter of a culvert that may be a barrier to fish trying to pass under a King County owned road.

One culvert at a time

At the frontline of King County’s effort to protect and restore salmon habitat is the fish passage field team

The workday for the fish passage field team starts with a carpool ride from King Street Center to the Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal in West Seattle. Today the team has an important job: Locate, map, and assess stream crossings on Vashon Island.

As part of King County’s greater effort to protect and restore the habitat of native fish, the team will inventory and assess roughly 2,500 sites where streams pass under county owned roads and trails. They are looking for barriers that prevent salmon from reaching important habitat upstream.

Evan Lewis, project manager for the fish passage program, explains it best: “One of the best ways to help our salmon runs is to remove barriers that prevent them from reaching quality stream habitats. Just as we count on smooth roads crossing streams to get to where we want to go, salmon need to be able to get past county roads, trails, and other instream structures to reach habitat that’s essential for their growth and reproduction.”

Most of the stream crossings the team will assess are culverts, a type of pipe allowing a stream to flow freely beneath the road. Culverts come in all sizes and can be made of corrugated metal or concrete.

Barriers to fish passage caused by culverts can include water drops from the culvert to the stream that are too high for the fish to clear, a culvert that is too dry to swim through, or a culvert with a slope and a water flow that is too fast.

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Team members Liora llewellyn and Andrea Wong get ready to take stream measurements in the Island Center Natural Area on Vashon Island.

The field team is Rachel Crawford, Kat Krohn, Liora Llewellyn, and Zach Moore, with project oversight from Andrea Wong. The small size of the crew provides an opportunity to build close bonds. Liora reflects on the process of taking culvert measurements with Kat: “It’s almost as if we don’t have to talk to each other, we just know.”

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Meet the fish passage field team. From left to right: Rachel Crawford, Kat Krohn, Andrea Wong, Zach Moore, and Liora Llewellyn.

Assessing the quality of a stream or culvert is physically demanding work that on occasion means cutting back large patches of blackberry while carefully sparing native plants struggling for equal space. This attention to detail requires crew members to be equipped with an in-depth knowledge of local plants and animals.

The unofficial member of the team is the trusty stadia rod, a surverying instrument that when paired with a laser receiver and range finder helps to measure the slope of a culvert. Measurements are entered into a database in real time using a smartphone or tablet which connects to the County’s mapping database. Other crucial equipment includes measuring tape, a flashlight to see into the murky depths of a culvert, and a solid pair of boots, which on occasion need to be dug out of the mud with a shovel.

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Team members Andrea Wong and Liora Llewellyn measure the slope of a culvert housing Judd Creek.

Sometimes measurements don’t work out as planned because of spotty cell phone reception, or monster blackberry bushes that can’t be tamed in a single visit, and the team must trek back to a culvert site on another day or wait for a more opportune time to take measurements. Still, one-by-one, each culvert is assessed.

Aside from the satisfaction of helping to restore vital salmon habitat integral to the cultural and economic wellbeing of Washington State, work in the field for the fish passage team provides an excellent opportunity to experience nature in a way sometimes lost to adulthood. This nature doesn’t have to be a County owned park but can be the green space just off a busy road.

Trekking down into a ravine with Liora at the edge of the Vashon Island Golf and Country Club, we take special care to avoid spiderwebs and red-headed ants that colonize all surface space.

At the bottom of the ravine a tiny pool forms where the culvert once dumped out a stream. Here, insects called water striders dance across the water until Liora jumps in to take measurements with the stadia rod. At the bottom of the ravine the ground is cool and the air smells like dirt. Soon, hopefully salmon fry will populate this stream and have plenty of bugs to eat.

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Under a canopy of green, Liora Llewellyn positions the stadia rod to help achieve accurate measurements.

Later, on the ride back to Seattle Liora reflects on the uniqueness of her position: “One of the reasons I took this job is the ability to explore different places. Each culvert or stream has its own unique culture. Each culvert is its own problem, its own mystery you have to solve.”

At the end of the day the team ensures they haven’t unknowingly transferred any invasive hitchhikers, such as the New Zealand mud snail, a tenacious mollusk with a history of becoming an unwelcome pest in streams throughout the world. In invaded areas the snails rapidly become extremely abundant and deplete food sources for native water insects, an essential food source for baby salmon. Taking special care to eliminate transfer of the snails mud is scraped from equipment and boots are placed in a freezer with enough time to kill the unwanted critters. All in a day’s work for the Fish Passage Team.

 

 

The salmon in me

By Wadii Boughdir

Processed with VSCO with g3 presetSalmon was a novelty for me.

Growing up in North Africa, I hadn’t had any connection with this delicate fish, although growing up by the Mediterranean Sea, I had a special bond with water, fish and the ecosystem.

There, I witnessed the slow decline in the quality of native fish habitat, and simultaneously the price surge in fish at the market due to a downturn in fisheries.

Moving to the Pacific Northwest, I didn’t know what I was stepping into. I didn’t realize the importance of salmon to this whole region, their cultural significance, and their role in the ecosystem’s balance.

Salmon are not like any other fish I know. Their journey starts in freshwater where they grow up preparing themselves to move gradually downstream to the ocean. After spending between one to six years in the ocean, adult salmon cease to care about food when the time comes to return home to spawn.

salmon-in-meTheir sole mission is to find their way back in spite of human-made obstacles, predators, habitat degradation, and increasing river temperatures. Each year, adult salmon swim upstream against the currents for miles, migrating back to their birth streams to spawn and die, creating life and sacrificing themselves to nourish the ecosystem. It ends where it starts, and it begins where it ends, a beautiful tale of persistence and dedication.

Their miraculous journey is a wonder that depicts the salmon’s uniqueness and significance. As an immigrant, I stop and ponder their story and can’t help but draw connections between humans and salmon. We are different, yet we are similar in our behaviors.

We humans seek different experiences and environments, and we reminisce about returning home. Yet, we can’t always move freely. Salmon too as humans encounter different obstacles in their migration cycle; our walls are their culverts and dams. Pollution and global warming are impacting their habitat, and intensive urbanization is shrinking the areas where it is suitable to live. Climate refugee status isn’t exclusive to humans. It’s expected that salmon and other species will seek refuge north to escape warmer waters. (See articles linked below.)

If we as a society care about the orca whales that eat salmon, forest health, tribal rights, or simply think salmon is delicious, then we must do our part for salmon recovery. We must make our watershed a place where people and salmon coexist. Simple measures like replacing invasive plants with native ones, allowing fallen trees to remain on the ground and in the stream, using natural landscaping practices, and fixing car leaks are paramount to maintaining a healthy habitat. The Pacific Northwest is facing a tough ecosystem challenge that might doom its fauna and flora. As humans we have created these challenges, but we also have the intelligence and power to make our environment healthier.

My love for this place that I now call home and my esteem for the salmon’s struggle drive me to participate in this effort to restore salmon habitat and preserve the beauty of this place.

2018 RC Brow Beater by Jacob Reid Wuertz-7726

About the author

Wadii Boughdir, who was born and raised in Tunisia, is a Communications Intern for the Snoqualmie Watershed Forum’s salmon recovery team. Wadii spent the last year working with the International Rescue Committee in Seattle focusing on improving refugee youth programs and developing outreach and communication initiatives. Prior to his experience in the U.S., Wadii worked on several social and non-profit initiatives in Tunisia and helped create the first debating network there, with the program expanding to Libya. He co-founded an educational non-profit to carry on the civic engagement work and has also worked to promote ecotourism. Currently, Wadii is pursuing a master’s degree in Communication in Communities and Networks at the University of Washington.

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