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

WSDOT workers open up the Smokey Point Rest Area on Tuesday, May 17, 2022 in Arlington, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Free coffee will be back soon at Smokey Point rest areas

Everett’s Silver Lake rest area for southbound I-5 drivers remains closed while WSDOT works on the facility.

The Everett Music Initiative team, (from left) Ryan Crowther, Nate Feaster and Michael Hannon. (Everett Music Initiative)
As Everett Music Initiative turns 10, downtown no longer a ‘ghost town’

The group will celebrate its birthday Thursday night with a party to kick off the eighth Fisherman’s Village Music Fest.

Everett
Pro skateboarding competition coming to Everett in August

Street League Skateboarding’s championship tour will be at Angel of the Winds arena for two days.

Drivers heading north on Interstate 5 will take a detour from Highway 104 to 220th Street SW and back to I-5 this weekend during nightly lane closures for Sound Transit light rail work. (Sound Transit)
Light rail work closing I-5 North lanes nightly this weekend

Crews need to close northbound lanes between 220th Street SW and Highway 104. Drivers have two detour options.

Doug Ewing looks out over a small section of the Snohomish River that he has been keeping clean for the last ten years on Thursday, May 19, 2022, at the Oscar Hoover Water Access Site in Snohomish, Washington. Ewing scours the shorelines and dives into the depths of the river in search of trash left by visitors, and has removed 59 truckloads of litter from the quarter-mile stretch over the past decade. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Diving for trash in Snohomish River, biologist fills 59 pickup beds

At Thomas’ Eddy, Doug Ewing estimates he has collected 3,000 pounds of lead fishing weights. And that’s just one spot.

Epic Ford on the corner of 52nd Street and Evergreen Way in Everett is closed. The dealership has been in business for more than 50 years. (Janice Podsada / The Herald)
After 50 years, Everett’s Epic Ford dealership closes shop

It opened in 1971, when gas guzzling muscle cars like the Ford Mustang still ruled the road.

Logo for news use featuring Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
A climate bill that died in Legislature lives on, in plans for future

A bill requiring cities and counties to cut greenhouse gases failed to pass, but they’re planning to do it anyway.

Most of Compass Health’s clinical employees at the Marysville, Monroe and Snohomish sites will transfer to its Everett locations. (Sue Misao / The Herald)
Lawsuit blames counselor’s ‘unethical’ relationship for Marysville man’s death

Joshua Klick was referred to a counselor at Compass Health. Two years later he was shot and killed.

Five 2021 stories in the Herald won Excellence in Journalism awards from the Society of Professional Journalists.
The Daily Herald brings home awards from annual journalism competition

The Herald got three first place wins and three runner-up spots in SPJ’s Northwest Excellence in Journalism.

Most Read