Saving Salmon, Saving Puget Sound

gray fish jumping over body of water surrounded with plants

An outlook of what may be achievable for the Puget Sound habitat rehabilitation by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office in the form of a recently unveiled preliminary investment plan this autumn.

This is part of the Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program, a grant scheme providing monetary aid and technical support for projects seeking to repair shoreline habitats and areas close to shore which are crucial for salmon and other creatures in Puget Sound. A joint venture between the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO), this program strives to foster environments suitable for aquatic species, lend a hand in restoring orca populations, fight climate change, and create rewarding and profitable occupations as well as nurture tourism in the region.

Since starting in 2006, the program has implemented 106 initiatives, given 937 individuals employment, safeguarded and renewed over 4,500 acres of land, eliminated more than two miles of fortifications alongside the coastline, and defended three miles of coastal habitat. Various tasks are being worked on to further these goals throughout Puget Sound. ESRP has been given a total of $88.2 million for projects in Puget Sound, with $78.2 million coming from the state and almost $10 million from the federal government.

The Importance of Estuaries and Salmon Restoration

The famous Puget Sound coastline stretches for over 2,500 miles and is carved by numerous rivers, resulting in many estuaries. Estuaries are sites where river water and salt water from either an ocean or Puget Sound intertwine, combining fresh and saline water. Native American cultures have long relied on estuaries for survival. More than two-thirds of the fish and shellfish that are significant commercially in Washington state live in these bodies of water. A lot of types of animals exist their whole lives in estuaries or need them at different stages of their life.

Estuaries are home to many different types of biomes and provide food for a wide range of water birds, waders, aquatic species, and invertebrates at all stages of their lives. Shellfisheries provide important natural habitats for schools of small fish, which are the main source of food in Puget Sound. These small fish are crucial for bringing salmon and Southern Resident killer whales back to Puget Sound.

Washington’s estuaries are prone to various risks, the worst of which are invasive species, construction, and rising sea levels.

In the same way, we know that salmon populations are also having difficulties. The 2020 State of Salmon Report indicates that 14 varieties of salmon and steelhead could become extinct shortly, as the Endangered Species Act now labels them as endangered. Salmon are important to the economy, the environment, recreation, and art in the Pacific Northwest.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is collaborating with several organizations, including state, tribal, and federal governments and other entities, to progress salmon recuperation and estuary habitat renewal, with the Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program participating in the endeavor.

The Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program.

The ESRP consists of four grant programs, all part of a single prioritized investment plan updated every two years.

  • Restoration and protection focus on investments in the natural processes that produce and sustain the ecosystem along and around shorelines. The goal is to reclaim some ecosystem products and services lost due to the region’s more than a century of human development.
  • Small grants ranging from $30,000 to $150,000 focus on engaging local communities and restoring and safeguarding beaches. 
  • ESRP devotes 5% of its biennial budget to this endeavor.
  • Regional pre-design, which serves to inform future development and design investments. These programs guide future investments by researching potential restoration results at the regional and ecological scales to directly affect construction siting and design. The projects help us understand how to improve the success of Puget Sound habitat restoration. ESRP devotes 10% of its biennial budget to this endeavor.
  • Shore Friendly, which invests in local efforts to offer landowners stewardship incentives to promote healthy shorelines. The initiative engages private landowners and communities to encourage changes in managing their shorelines to minimize shoreline armoring, such as bulkheads and seawalls, and restore coastal habitat.

RCO is asking the legislature to approve a $25.5 million capital funding package to help fund the ESRP program and the projects listed in the preliminary investment plan. The preliminary investment plan says that a total of $77 million will be spent, including the extra projects that aren’t covered by the $25.5 million in capital funds requested.

Sample Projects

Now that we have discussed the ESRP, let’s look at the 38 projects listed. We’ll also look at the 21 additional alternate projects. This project list came about due to a rigorous review process consisting of a technical evaluation performed by a review team assembled from several departments and entities throughout the Puget Sound region.

North Puget Sound

Port Susan Bay Habitat Restoration: The Nature Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy has proposed employing ESRP financing to finish the second part of the development of the Port Susan Bay Restoration for Firmness scheme. This second stage renews 115 acres of coastal tidal marsh in the Stillaguamish Delta, building on the 35 acres refurbished during the preliminary step. Salmon species like the Endangered Species Act-protected Chinook will have more places to grow up if there are more estuarine habitats. This project ensures that the benefits of salmon population recovery efforts before the estuary stop due to a lack of habitat. The Sustainable Lands Strategy is making strides to improve the lives of creatures in rivers, flood areas, and agricultural regions.

The following project is just next door. The two projects are part of a single connected restoration undertaking.

Restoration and Construction: Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians

The Stillaguamish Tribe plans to recover the environment of 230 acres of tidal wetlands between Hatt Slough and the Old Stillaguamish River to provide a food source for juvenile salmon, especially Chinook Salmon are necessary for the survival of the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales. Other project elements involve attempts to clear out structures to encourage habitat recovery, removing levees, digging out of channels, and coupling. This endeavor has the prospect of increasing the rehabilitated area of the Stillaguamish delta to more than 700 acres. The Whidbey Basin has few chances to restore its tidal wetlands, making this venture particularly essential.

For WDFW to bring back the Island Unit of the Skagit Wildlife Area, they must finish their plans and get the necessary paperwork. The Unit is on two islands in the average flow area of the South Fork Skagit River in the Skagit River delta. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has been caring for a 270-acre area. Once used for farming. The area has dikes and drains to help feed waterfowl and provide a place to hunt. In January 2021, WDFW worked with partners and other interested parties to devise a plan to turn the site back into an estuary. This project aims to bring back natural processes that make and keep fish and wildlife habitats while reducing any negative effects on nearby buildings and giving people access to nature.

A Retrospect: Puget Sound Grants Issued 2010-2015

Local partners for Puget Sound recovery and restoration. These grants provided resources to fulfill Washington’s Puget Sound Action Agenda, and they tended to have a duration of three or more years. 

There is no connection between them and a more complicated numbering system used in EPA’s journal of grant assignments.

Watershed Management Assistance Program Grants

Comprehensive Watershed Plan for Sustainable Development and Restoration of the Gorst Creek Watershed

Amount: $659,477

Matching funds: $220,292

Grantee: City of Bremerton

Gorst Creek is mostly untrammeled, yet a tiny strip of land near the center stays busy with commercial buildings. Ensuring Sinclair Inlet’s salmon and shellfish resources are secure is an aim everyone in the area shares. Stormwater modeling work successfully used EPA’s SUSTAIN software.

Resulting Effects: Protection of Land and Water Quality, Arrangement of Stormwater, and Programs for the Restoration of Riparian Habitats.

Snohomish Basin Watershed Characterization and Protection

Amount: $630,803

Matching funds: $238,287

Grantee: Snohomish County Public Works

The Snohomish Basin is a significant watershed in the Puget Sound region. Land use development and changes in the climate will put too much pressure on fish, farming, and forestry, making their long-term success unlikely. A plan of defense by Snohomish County, King County, and the Tulalip Tribes to handle these issues.

Results: Safeguarding Land Areas, Keeping Water Clean and Restoring to Good Quality, Preserving and Reviving Riparian Zones and Aquatic Habits.

Monitoring of Aquatic and Riverine Habitats in Lake Washington and the Cedar-Sammamish Watershed

Amount: $995,716

Matching funds: $335,933

Grantee: King County

King County kept track of fifty stream sections and ten EPA “key stations” in the Cedar-Sammamish watershed to check the area’s state. Sentinel sites are spots used to follow trends in water environment characteristics over time. Sentinel sites share similarities with “reference sites” in that they feature less interference from humans and a higher level of quality than other aquatic resources such as rivers, lakes, or marshes.

Outcomes: Riparian and Aquatic Habitat Protection.

Skagit County Alternative Futures Project

Amount: $815,500

Matching funds: $272,000

Grantee: Skagit County

Skagit County and its partners formulated a 50-year blueprint for conserving natural resource lands and industries, taking into account population expansion.

Results: Preservation of Land, Water Quality and Clarification, Return of Estuary and Floodplain Wildlife Habitats.

Piper’s Creek Flow Control Plan

Amount: $850,904

Matching funds: $450,000

Grantee: Seattle Public Utilities

Seattle Public Utilities outlined a formal technique for controlling stormwater flow in the Piper’s Creek watershed that employed weather simulations and environmental stormwater infrastructural solutions.

Outcomes: Water Quality Protection & Restoration, Hydrological Protection/ Restoration.

Managing Growth in Island Communities

Amount: $696,184

Matching funds: $358,212

Grantee: San Juan County

One of the Sentinel locations is in the San Juan Islands, which is a spot for monitoring aquatic areas’ environmental states to recognize long-term changes. Sentinel sites are comparable to ‘reference sites.’ They experience little human disruption, making these sites ideal for certain aquatic ecosystems such as rivers, lakes, or marshes. Sentinel sites are spots in aquatic habitats where the condition is regularly monitored over a while to help identify any changes that might be occurring. Sentinel sites, like reference sites, have limited human disturbance and serve as an example of the optimal condition for aquatic resources such as bodies of water, creeks, and wetlands. Spots for observing water quality are classified as sentinel sites and used to analyze environmental changes over time. Sentinel sites, like reference sites, are largely undisturbed by humans and are deemed the best representation of said aquatic resources (streams, lakes, or wetlands). There is often a greater growth rate at these sites than at other sites in the same state. This initiative augmented San Juan County’s ability to govern growth in an environmentally sound way and set up a local platform for exchanging information on shielding island stakeholders as the population increases.

Outcomes: Land Protection, Shoreline Protection, Hydrological Protection.

Watershed Characterization – From Best Available Science to Local Policy and Implementation

Amount: $885,641

Matching funds: $416,590

Grantee: Thurston County

Thurston County collaborated with the cities of Lacey, Olympia, Tumwater, Rainier, and Yelm to put together watershed-oriented land-use strategies and standards. This project joined forces among stakeholders, the scientific community, and policymakers to plan for expected growth while preserving aquatic ecosystem processes at the watershed level.

The results of this project include the preservation of land, maintaining water quality and restoring it, preserving and restoring riparian and aquatic habitats, as well as protecting the hydrological environment.

Budd to Henderson Inlets Coastal Conservation Initiative

Amount: $1,000,000

Matching funds: $350,000

Grantee: Squaxin Island Tribe

An appraisal of the growth of the Woodard Bay Natural Resource Conservation Area by the Squaxin Island Tribe and its affiliated entities. They bought and kept safe 150 acres of land close to Gull Harbor, agreed to buy an extra 73 acres around Little Fishtrap estuary, and helped to take apart a dam that was stopping fish from swimming upstream, thereby encouraging salmon spawning grounds.

Outcomes: Estuary/ Floodplain Habitat Restoration, Shoreline Protection.

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