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Tide gate removed, salmon habitat restored on Lopez Island; stream flow preserved for salmon on Orcas Island

On Oct. 15, a large cement tide gate was removed from the tide channel of Lopez Island
On Oct. 15, a large cement tide gate was removed from the tide channel of Lopez Island's Shoal Bay lagoon. The derelict tide gate structure was restricting the flow of water in and out of the lagoon, obstructing fish passage at low tide and causing elevated summertime temperatures within the lagoon.
— image credit: Contributed photos

A large cement tide gate has been removed from the tide channel of Lopez Island's Shoal Bay lagoon, improving tidal flows and salmon habitat.

The tide gate was removed Oct. 15. It had been restricting the flow of water in and out of the lagoon, obstructing fish passage at low tide and causing elevated summertime temperatures within the lagoon.

Shoal Bay has a rich nearshore marine environment with forage fish spawning beaches, eelgrass, shellfish beds, a sand spit and a coastal lagoon. Pacific herring, surf smelt and multiple species of outmigrating juvenile salmon utilize the project area.

The restoration project was coordinated by Friends of the San Juans and designed by Coastal Geologic Services of Bellingham.

Two dump truck loads of concrete, steel, plastic and wood and nearly 20 truckloads of fill material were removed from the site. The channel was deepened and widened slightly and the slope of the banks was reduced. Lower marsh vegetation was set aside and replanted after the bank and channel reshaping was complete. Dune and salt grasses will be replanted by volunteers in the next few weeks.

Post-project monitoring of water quality, fish use and channel conditions will be conducted next summer and fall.

Landowners and shellfish farm operators Nick and Sara Jones are pleased with the outcome:

"We wish to thank the Friends and Lopez Sand and Gravel for the highly successful restoration project on our Shoal Bay shellfish farm," they said in a press release about the project.

"As shellfish growers, we are acutely aware of the importance of a healthy marine environment to the well being of all islanders. When we purchased the property five years ago we knew something would have to happen to the tide gate structure we inherited with the property. We have witnessed firsthand the impacts of this structure on the function of the lagoon — from fish kills in summer to increased erosion around the structure in winter. Friends took on the project and guided it through seemingly endless studies and permits. They have been cooperative, respectful and extremely inclusive through the entire process. The actual removal was carefully timed and staged to minimize impact both to the marine life and our ongoing shellfish farming activities. We are delighted with the result aesthetically, and can already discern significant, positive changes to the function of the lagoon. We are profoundly grateful for the positive outcome and the graceful way the Friends handled the entire process."

Friends of the San Juans acknowledged and thanked the following for their assistance with the project: Lopez Sand and Gravel, Drayton Archaeological Research, Coastal Geologic Services, Wyllie-Echeverria Fisheries, and Beach Watcher volunteers.

Project funding was provided by the Washington State Salmon Recovery Funding Board, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's Community Salmon Fund and the Washington Department of Ecology's Coastal Protection Fund.

Stream flow preserved for salmon on Orcas Island
The tide gate removal is one of two significant salmon habitat improvement projects in the San Juans this month.

A collaborative agreement to support stream flows in Cascade Creek on Orcas Island was announced today. After three years of study and negotiation, the non-profit Washington Water Trust and Orcas Water Holdings have closed a deal to permanently protect water for fish and habitat in Cascade Creek.

Washington Water Trust purchased one-quarter cubic feet per second of water to leave in the stream during the months of June, July and August, and one-half cfs in September and October. This relatively small amount of water will benefit important species like coho and chum salmon, sea run cutthroat trout and resident trout by providing instream flows during the hottest and driest periods of the year.

“Where salmon are concerned, a little water can go a long way,” Amanda Cronin of Washington Water Trust said in a press release. “As we studied this system, we quickly realized that just small increases in the flows of Cascade Creek in the late summer would make a difference for the fish populations there.”

“Cascade Creek is one of the crown jewels of Orcas Island,” said Buck Smith, a hydrogeologist for the Washington Department of Ecology. “In past years, I have seen a portion of the creek run completely dry during the late summer and early fall. With this acquisition, a guaranteed flow of water will remain in the stream from source to sea for perpetuity. Not only will fish and other aquatic life enjoy benefits, but also local residents and visitors to the island.”

Cascade Creek is a perennial stream on Orcas Island that flows from Mountain Lake off of Mount Constitution through Moran State Park and into Buck Bay on the south side of Orcas Island. The health of the Cascade Creek ecosystem is important to the Orcas Island community and visitors who enjoy the recreational and educational activities throughout this watershed.

Since the 1880s, water has been diverted out of the Cascade Creek basin through a ditch to Cascade Lake to supply Rosario Resort and the surrounding community. The communities of Olga and Doe Bay also divert drinking water from Cascade Creek.

Water rights were established on the creek before need for instream flows was considered. If these water rights were to be used to their fullest extent, they would leave the stream dry in the late summer and early fall when flow is scarce and spawning salmon need water the most.

Washington Water Trust and Orcas Water Holdings reached an agreement that acknowledges multiple needs for Cascade Creek water for community water systems, hydropower and stream flows for fish and wildlife.

“We balanced the future needs of communities on Orcas Island with this opportunity to help preserve Cascade Creek, and found that we could meet both goals,” said Laurie Cameron, vice president of Orcas Water Holdings.

Water rights acquisition costs were funded by the Washington Department of Ecology and the Orcas Island Community Foundation. The water purchased will be placed in the Washington State Trust Water Rights Program where it is permanently protected for the public benefit.

Project development support was provided by Washington Department of Ecology, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Wild Fish Conservancy, San Juan County, and KWIAHT (Center for the Historical Ecology of the Salish Sea).

“The Cascade Creek project is a terrific example of balancing the needs of water for people and water for fish,” Cronin said.

“Protecting stream flow in Cascade Creek will ensure the health of salmon and trout that use the creek and its estuary and also preserve a resource vital to the identity of the Orcas Island community. As the first purchase of water for instream flow in western Washington, this project demonstrates the power of cooperative solutions in achieving equitable water allocation for people and fish.”

Washington Water Trust is a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to the restoration of rivers and streams throughout Washington.

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