The Pilchuck River flows a few miles downstream from the location of a fish habitat restoration project along SR 92 on Friday, July 5, 2024, near Lake Stevens, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

The Pilchuck River flows a few miles downstream from the location of a fish habitat restoration project along SR 92 on Friday, July 5, 2024, near Lake Stevens, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Project aims to restore fish habitat to the Pilchuck River

A $633,000 state project to restore along Highway 92 in the Pilchuck River will commence Monday.

GRANITE FALLS — Washingtonians less grateful for the expected heat this week will choose to stay indoors. However, some residents of Granite Falls, Lake Stevens, and Snohomish will be found lounging on the stony banks of the Pilchuck River.

The foliage surrounding the river is dense and lush. The water moves swiftly. The air is filled with the smell of earth and the sound of birdsong.

Only the whizzing of cars just above the riverbank betrays the hustle and bustle of Snohomish County suburbia.

A sound far more rare than the constant vehicular humming: the splash of a fish.

The Pilchuck River houses every species of Pacific salmon and trout. However, fish populations have struggled here for countless reasons, including high summer temperatures, disconnected floodplains and confined channels that don’t provide conditions for natural habitats to form.

A new project to restore this fish habitat along Highway 92 in the Pilchuck River will commence Monday. The $633,000 project, organized by the state Department of Transportation, will place log jacks in a portion of the river that road work has disconnected from its floodplain and damaged fish habitat.

A barn swallow flies above the Pilchuck River, a few miles downstream from the location of a fish habitat restoration project along SR 92 on Friday, July 5, 2024, near Lake Stevens, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

A barn swallow flies above the Pilchuck River, a few miles downstream from the location of a fish habitat restoration project along SR 92 on Friday, July 5, 2024, near Lake Stevens, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

The project is another step in the transportation department’s effort to remedy problem areas along the highway system, called Chronic Environmental Deficiencies. These are places where frequent road work has harmed fish habitat.

In 2002, the transportation department signed an agreement with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to address these deficiencies that resulted in the construction of over 50 fish-friendly highway projects.

The Pilchuck River has a tumultuous recent history that plays a key role here.

In 2009, the state began tracking the riverbank’s erosion. A house was swept away, and Highway 92 was within 40 feet of being undercut by the water. In 2016, the state Department of Transportation rerouted the river to reinforce the riverbank and added large chunks of wood to aid fish habitat.

While the highway was preserved, much of the wood was washed away. This project aims to replace that wood with log jacks, or units of four to six logs in a pyramid shape with a rock in the center to hold it in place.

“Log jacks should better withstand the forces of the river and provide places for fish to hide and rest in this area of the river,” said David Rasbach, a spokesperson for the transportation department.

The log jacks will create side channels in the river to provide fish cover, Snohomish County habitat specialist Brett Gaddis said.

“Restoration efforts seek to increase or improve salmon rearing habitat while also looking for project elements of flood risk reduction and agriculture land solutions,” Gaddis said.

This is not the first movement to protect the river’s fish habitats.

In 2020, the Tulalip Tribes and city of Snohomish partnered to remove the Pilchuck River Dam. Additionally, the Middle Pilchuck Restoration project outlines a plan to restore salmon habitat by creating off-channel habitat, and is currently on track to be built next summer.

The state’s work will be at a bend in the river south of Sleepy Hollow Road. Drivers can expect short delays between the hours of 7 a.m. and 3:30 p.m for the duration of the project.

The project is expected to last 10 weeks.

Connor Zamora: 425-339-3037; connor.zamora@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @cgzamora02.

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