Kokanee salmon carcasses in Lake Stevens — and environmentalists celebrate

LAKE STEVENS — The mangled, pink carcass of a kokanee salmon lay in the mud on the banks of Lundeen Creek.

For Snohomish County environmentalists and Lake Stevens city officials, the discovery led to celebration.

“We wanted to restore the entire ecosystem,” said Craig Garric, an environmental project manager with Snohomish County.

The salmon carcass was a sign that when the kokanee, a landlocked variety of sockeye salmon, left Lake Stevens to spawn, they swam up Lundeen Creek’s new channel. They bypassed a narrow, weed-choked ditch that had long been the creek’s only outlet.

The creek was pushed aside from its natural course when settlers began building homes near the shore of Lake Stevens about a hundred years ago, Garric said. The ditch the creek began to use as a waterway couldn’t hold all the water from a heavy rain, so residential yards near the creek often flooded.

When environmentalists saw salmon spawning in the new creek channel, which now runs between 101st Avenue and Callow Road, they knew their effort to restore the area to its original state was successful.

“We didn’t know if the salmon would still go into the ditch,” said Peggy Campbell of Snohomish County’s surface water management department.

The project should save neighboring yards from frequent flooding and encourage a thriving kokanee population in Lake Stevens, where the freshwater salmon spend their adult lives.

“It’s a little haven in suburbia,” said Amber Heikkinen, 34, who lives in the Lake Stevens neighborhood.

Heikkinen was one of more than 50 volunteers who gathered along the creek bed Saturday to plant grand fir, hemlock, Western red cedar, wild rose bushes and other trees and shrubs. Over the next two years, more than 20,000 plants will be added over the five acres that surrounds the creek’s new route, said Scott Moore, a native-plant steward for Snoho­mish County.

Most of the 30 species that will be planted in the area thrived there before the creek was diverted, Moore said.

Two years ago, county officials began negotiating with the 12 property owners who own land where the creek once flowed. The city of Lake Stevens annexed the area in November 2005, in the midst of the project, and took on half the cost, Campbell said.

In June, crews carved out a 1,400-foot stretch of land where they believe the creek once flowed and they also restored about 1,000 feet of the existing stream channel, Garric said.

The new channel opened in October. By the end of November, the salmon — hundreds of them, Campbell said – had found their way to their original spawning grounds.

If all goes well, the area will be overgrown with native plants by this time next year, Campbell said.

Early this week, when much of Western Washington was flooded, most of the yards that were once overwhelmed with creek water after heavy rain were spared. Just one yard had standing water, said George Wood, 65, a longtime resident of the neighborhood.

“What (the county and city have) done has relieved the flooding,” Wood said. “Normally, there would have been flooding in five to seven yards.”

Snohomish County plans to spend up to $20,000 each year in 2007 and 2008 to maintain the new channel, and the city of Lake Stevens expects to spend up to $15,000 per year from 2009 to 2013 for maintenance, said Jan Berg, Lake Stevens city administrator.

If all goes according to plan, by the time the project is finished, the county and the city of Lake Stevens will have spent a total of $880,000.

“For residents in this area, whose yards were flooding, it was very important to continue what the county had begun,” Berg said.

Reporter Krista J. Kapralos: 425-339-3422 or kkapralos@heraldnet.com.

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