North Creek salmon targeted for recovery

EVERETT — The coho leap into the air like pole-vaulters and then plunge back into the Ship Canal.

"The silvers — the coho — are the acrobats," said Tom Murdoch, director of Snohomish County’s Adopt-A-Stream, a non-profit environmental organization.

Beginning in January, the foundation, in concert with the North Creek Watershed Coalition, will offer North Creek streamside property owners a chance to restore their property’s salmon habitat.

The watershed runs from the King-Snohomish County line north to Silver Lake and encompasses 30 square miles.

"It’s an effort to save North Creek’s salmon run, which is in decline," Murdoch said.

Many salmon that pass through the Ship Canal’s fish ladder eventually will return to the creek and its tributaries to spawn. This time of year, thousands of salmon present a stunning spectacle at Seattle’s Ballard Locks as they migrate toward Lake Washington.

If the lake were the end of their journey, their appearance might be a reason to rejoice, Murdoch said. But their ultimate destination, the waters where they will spawn and die, is usually a one- or two-foot deep stream, perhaps even a ditch.

Unless those streams are clean, all the effort that has gone into traversing the Pacific Ocean, canals and fish ladders is for naught, Murdoch said.

To make those streams salmon-friendly, the coalition will provide property owners with the free services of a work crew whose aims are to restore stream banks and help locate and eliminate sources of water pollution.

The coalition — which includes members of the foundation, Silver Lake Action Committee and staff from Everett, Mill Creek, Snohomish County and the state Department of Ecology — plan to conduct what Murdoch calls an "environmental audit" of the North Creek watershed, home to some 87,000 people.

The audit is needed because, according to a recent study by the Department of Ecology, the water that flows through North Creek and its smaller branches contains levels of the heavy metals lead, cadmium and chromium that regularly exceed state standards.

The stream’s channels have been altered and degraded by the loss of forested areas and polluted by urban runoff.

Meanwhile, the salmon are waiting in Lake Washington to spawn, Murdoch said. "Their biological clocks are ticking."

They have crossed the Pacific; now they navigate a stream that runs through someone’s back yard, apartment complex or alongside a highway.

"The coho go all the way up to the headwaters to spawn, as far north as Mill Creek," Murdoch said. "Last week they found a 35-pounder behind Mill Creek City Hall."

Reporter Janice Podsada:

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