Nature reclaiming marshlands after dikes breached

STANWOOD — A large area on the east side of Port Susan looks very different from how it appeared six months ago.

Previously diked off and dry, the 150 acres now floods at high tide with salt water from the bay and is teeming with ducks and snow geese.

“It’s a great feeling,” said Kat Morgan, manager of Port Susan programs for the Nature Conservancy, which owns the property.

The environmental preservation group breached an old earthen dike to allow salt water to rush into the site and reinforced another old dike to protect farmland.

The change is expected to restore original wildlife habitat to much of the east side of the bay north of the mouth of the Stillaguamish River, also known as Hat Slough.

A new tidegate also was installed to allow water to run out when flooding does occur. The $4 million project, by Northwest Construction of Bellevue, involved a lot of earth moving and was done between May and October. The money came from state and federal environmental programs and private donations.

First, the original, inner dike along the adjacent Twin City Foods farm was reinforced. At the dike’s north end, a new section of dike was built to connect to the original and make it longer. Dirt was skimmed off the top of the outer dike to help build the new one.

In September, the outer dike, 14 feet high, was breached in two places. Salt water crept through at high tide and now, after more than two months, the only signs of the dike are some decayed pilings and a marshy area that grew up on the dike’s outer side.

Sunny weather in August and September helped crews get the project done.

“That helped keep everything on schedule,” Morgan said.

The 1.4 mile-long outer dike near the river mouth was built in the late 1950s by farmer Menno Groeneveld, the son of a Dutch immigrant, according to the Nature Conservancy. He tried to farm the enclosed area over the years with little success. The environmental group bought the property from Groeneveld’s estate in 2001 for $2 million.

The outer dike not only dried up the tidelands in the enclosed area but blocked fresh water and river sediment from moving north in the bay. This starved that area of the water mix needed by native plants and animals, and it has slowly been losing marshland, Morgan said.

Removing the dike is expected to improve fish habitat by providing young salmon with cool, deep channels where they can hide, feed and adjust to the saltwater environment.

“They have to fatten up in that place,” said Lisa Bellefond, external affairs director for the Puget Sound Partnership, a state-funded environmental agency based in Olympia. “These are like the teenagers that are going off to college.”

The Puget Sound Partnership sets goals for restoration of each section of inland waterway, Bellefond said. In Port Susan, the target is 315 acres, meaning the Nature Conservancy project gets it half way to the goal — not counting the potential benefits to the northern part of the bay.

“This project is incredibly important for many reasons,” she said.

The area is a popular spot for birders. The Nature Conservancy has opened the outer dike to the public on a by-permission basis, but plans to keep the new and reinforced dikes closed at least until January while staff monitor the area’s progress, Morgan said.

It could take five years or more for the habitat to restore itself, but changes will be visible along the way, especially in the wet season, she said.

“Winter’s when the changes will happen,” Morgan said.

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; sheets@heraldnet.com.

More in Local News

Snohomish man, 63, missing from home since Monday

He left without his keys, wallet and phone, saying something about going to “the river.”

Firefighters come to the rescue and give mom new stroller

Donations to the Good Neighbor Program covered the $143.20 cost.

Case unresolved: The noose at an Edmonds construction site

Though two were fired over comments about it, police were unable to determine who put it there.

To get drug money, Lynnwood man says he cut 911 wires

Those wires happened to be the ones used by 911 dispatchers, but emergency services weren’t affected.

February trial set for suspect in deadly Marysville shooting

There had been questions about Wayne Alpert’s mental health.

Fatal car crash reported on Highway 92 near Lake Stevens

The 3 p.m. accident and investigation stopped traffic in both directions near Machias Road.

Motorcyclist killed in crash had high level of THC

A motorcyclist had more than eight times the legal limit… Continue reading

Investigation recommends girl shot by officers face charges

The teen is accused of assaulting her boyfriend and the responding police officers.

Signs show the rates for using the express toll lanes for traffic headed southbound on Interstate 405, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016, in Bothell, Wash. Gov. Jay Inslee announced plans Tuesday to try to decrease congestion on I-405 in answer to commuter complaints that the new express lane tolling system is making traffic worse. The governor said he would not be shutting down the tolling system as some people have called for. But the state transportation department is making plans to add new northbound general purpose lanes to ease some of the congestion and also plan to make it easier to move into and out of the express lanes. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Higher tolls could improve traffic speed in I-405 toll lanes

A report recommends lifting on the maximum toll and charging only by segment.

Most Read