Waters flow at Nisqually estuary

OLYMPIA — Blocked more than 100 years by man-made dikes, the waters of Puget Sound returned to the Nisqually River estuary Wednesday, creating a watery landscape few if any people alive today have ever seen.

Five of the seven sloughs that braid their way through the river delta filled with water at high tide after decades as empty, muddy channels. The remaining two will be opened up by construction crews to tidal flows by the end of the week, said Jean Takekawa, refuge manager for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“I think it’s so special to see the tides moving in,” Takekawa said as she stood on a new, 10,000-foot-long dike, watching Shannon Slough glisten in the afternoon sun with water from the Nisqually Reach in South Puget Sound. “It’s hard to describe how ambitious and challenging this project has been.”

This week marks a milestone in a 12-year, $12 million effort to restore some 762 acres of estuary on the 3,000-acre Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. Some 4 miles of exterior dike were removed this summer, one horizontal slice at a time. Last summer the new, exterior dike was built at the refuge to prepare for this summer’s dike removal.

More than 350,000 cubic yards of dirt and rock have been moved.

Estuaries, the places where rivers meet the sea, are considered some of the richest biological reserves on Earth.

In Puget Sound, some 80 percent of the estuary habitat has succumbed to diking, filling and development. The Nisqually Delta was no exception.

However, when conservationists banded together to protect the river delta from industrial development in the early 1970s, it paved the way for federal purchase to create a new national wildlife refuge.

This project, together with two other estuary restoration projects totalling 140 acres and completed by the Nisqually Tribe on the Pierce County side of the river, make the Nisqually home to the largest estuary recovery of its kind on the West Coast, noted David Troutt, natural resource director for the Nisqually Tribe.

“This is hugely important for fish and the overall health of Puget Sound,” he said.

Work on the Nisqually River estuary has boosted the total South Sound estuary habitat by 55 percent. Fisheries scientists predict the Nisqually estuary restoration will double survival of the river’s chinook salmon population, which is one of the stocks that landed on the federal endangered species list as a threatened species in 1999.

“Estuary restoration is the cornerstone of the Nisqually River chinook recovery plan,” Troutt said.

For instance, the estuary provides a place for young salmon to hide, rest and feed as they leave the river and enter marine waters. The estuary also is a feeding ground for adult salmon.

Some 20 shorebird species and 90 percent of the waterfowl species that use the refuge are expected to use the newly restored habitat, which helps explain why Ducks Unlimited, a nonprofit conservation group, has worked on the project.

“We’ve learned in many cases that what’s good for fish is also good for ducks,” said Steve Liske, a Ducks Unlimited project engineer. “It’s a great project.”

Restoration is not without a price for the 180,000 visitors a year that veer off Interstate 5 to visit the refuge.

The return of the tidal flows eliminated in May the popular 5.5-mile looped trail atop the former perimeter dike.

“Change is really hard and this is a big change,” Takekawa said.

Loss of the popular Brown Farm Dike Trail will be buffered in part by construction next year of a mile-long boardwalk that will extend out over the estuary to the mouth of McAllister Creek.

“The boardwalk will be something really unique,” Takekawa said. “Within a year or two, most people will realize this was all for the good.”

Talk to us

More in Local News

An instructor playing the role of a suspect in a vehicle sticks her hands out of a car door during a training class at the Washington state Criminal Justice Training Commission, Wednesday, July 14, 2021, in Burien, Wash. Washington state is embarking on a massive experiment in police reform and accountability following the racial justice protests that erupted after George Floyd's murder last year, with nearly a dozen new laws that took effect Sunday, July 25, but law enforcement officials remain uncertain about what they require in how officers might respond — or not respond — to certain situations, including active crime scenes and mental health crises. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
As police adjust to reforms, crisis responders feel deserted

A new law leaves mentally ill people on the streets, responders say. It’s not what lawmakers intended.

PUD Generation Senior Manager Brad Spangler points out a megawatt meter for one of two generators that provide power to the City of Everett at the Henry M. Jackson Hydroelectric Project on Friday, July 23, 2021 in Sultan, Wash. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
How the PUD kept things humming during the record heat wave

The public utility has been bracing for the impacts of climate change for more than a decade.

Mountlake Terrace man identified in motorcycle fatality

Edward Shephard, 64, was the only driver involved in the crash in Snohomish on Sunday.

Joseph Lindell, left, Nathaniel Lindell, 19 and Jason Guzman, 18, next to one of Nathaniel's Bigfoot cutout on Friday, July 16, 2021 in Everett, Wash. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Bigfoot sighting: Not in the woods, near the Everett Safeway

Here’s the story behind the Beverly Lane display of Sasquatch, flowers and flags.

Snohomish County PUD's innovative solar battery powered microgrid batteries sit in their enclosed units during a visit by Governor Jay Inslee on Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in Arlington, Wash. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
PUD’s experimental solar power microgrid is ready to go live

The site in Arlington will be a test lab of ideas, as the PUD figures out the future of electricity.

c
AP College Board honors two Kamiak teachers

Kamiak High School Career and Technical Education teachers Sean Moore and Nate… Continue reading

Kids' Oasis, a wooden castle playground adjacent to Mount Pilchuck Elementary School, is demolished on Thursday, July 22, 2021 in Lake Stevens, Washington. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Nothing lasts forever — Lake Stevens’ castle playground leveled

When it was built in 1992, Kids’ Oasis at Mount Pilchuck Elementary was unlike anything else.

Nevaeh Smith (left), niece of murder victim Michael Smith, and Shuston Smith, Michael Smith's sister, embrace at the sentencing of Jesse Engerseth Tuesday afternoon at the Snohomish County Superior Courthouse on July 27, 2021. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Arlington man gets 12¼ years for murder by car

Jesse Engerseth, 24, crashed into Michael Smith, 32, killing him. Smith was survived by two sons and a pregnant partner.

Mountlake Terrace man dies in motorcycle crash in Snohomish

Authorities did not believe other cars were involved in the crash. The man was in his 60s.

Most Read