The Nature Conservancy has started construction on a project to restore about 150 acres of tidal marsh that will improve estuary habitat and flood protection in Port Susan Bay in Snohomish County.
"This project is part of widespread, ongoing efforts to ensure the health of Puget Sound," said the Conservancy's Washington Director Karen Anderson. "We expect this restoration project to pay off for local communities with more salmon, a healthier Port Susan Bay and better infrastructure to protect surrounding farmland against flooding."
The organization will remove nearly 1.4 miles of existing sea dike and build about one mile of new dike to protect neighboring farmlands. In addition, the Conservancy is partnering with the Stillaguamish Flood Control District to build an emergency floodgate that will provide flood relief for farmland on Florence Island, between Hatt Slough and the Old Stilly Channel.
"Every salmon in the Stillaguamish River uses the delta at some point in its life, but the historical delta now includes a piece of the City of Stanwood, and a lot of fertile flat land that is a critical part of our food system," said Paul Cereghino, Restoration Ecologist at NOAA Restoration Center. "We have to look at fish, farm land protection, drainage infrastructure, sea level rise, development, and flood risk in an integrated way if we want delta landscapes to work for everyone into the future."
The Conservancy owns the 4,122-acre Port Susan Bay Preserve, which encompasses much of the Stillaguamish River estuary including 150 acres of former tidelands now behind a sea dike. It's long been a popular spot for birders. Public access to the preserve is closed during the restoration project, which is expected to be completed by the end of October. Once the restoration is complete, the site will reopen for visitors by reservation.
The project will cost roughly $4 million, with funding from the state Salmon Recovery Funding Board
, the state Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program
, the new state construction bill, NOAA's Estuary Habitat Restoration Program
and private donations.
"This project is a win for fish and farmers," said Kaleen Cottingham, director of the Recreation and Conservation Office, which administers Salmon Recovery Funding Board grants. "This is a great example of what can be done when we work together. The Nature Conservancy worked hard to understand the needs of the farmers when designing the project. We ended up with a great project that will create really important habitat for salmon."
This restoration, like the recently completed Fisher Slough restoration in Skagit County, will demonstrate that habitat restoration and flood protection can be combined in one project. The Conservancy is working with partners around Puget Sound to protect and restore our most important rivers and shorelines for the clean water and habitat they provide, so that they can continue to support fisheries, farming and other community needs.
Because of the scope of the project and the importance of estuaries to a broad array of people, the Conservancy engaged a broad-based technical advisory committee to help inform and guide project design including the flood district, landowners, biologists, permitting agencies and tribal officials.