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Fish, wildlife return to Qwuloolt Estuary

 

Christopher Andersson

The Qwuloolt Estuary during low tide on May 26.

The Tulalip Tribes gave their first update on the restoration of the Qwuloolt Estuary since they breached the local dike in September of 2015.

The project to restore the estuary area near the Sunnyside area of Marysville was meant to provide a better habitat for local fish and wildlife.

The area had been used as farmland for nearly a century.

"It was determined that the lack of habitat accessible to salmon was one of the limiting factors to salmon growth, particularly chinook salmon," said Kurt Nelson, a biologist with the Tulalip Tribes and the project manager for the Qwuloolt Estuary.

Nelson gave the update to the Marysville City Council on May 22.

Since about a year and a half ago the area has seen more diversity of wildlife and a greater number of animals come through, although there is still a way to go, said Nelson.

"It's a restoration project, but it's not restored yet," he said. "Its on a recovery pathway, and it will be many years before its fully restored, but we think we have a good start," he said.

Nelson and his team studied the area before the breach and after, looking at the birds and fish specifically.

"The number of [fish] species now using this site has considerably increased," he said. They have seen perch, starry flounder, chinook, pink salmon and cutthroat salmon, as well as other fish.

"Within two weeks of breaching we had larval anchovy using the site," said Nelson.

There was a large number of pink salmon, although not many chinook, which Nelson attributes to a poor year for chinook.

"I was disappointed with the number of chinook on the site, but that was also from a very poor spawning population that had very poor survival," he said. "This year, it's going to be quite a bit different according to the number we're catching."

The number of birds using the site dropped sharply after construction.

"There was a significant change in forage, the whole place changed from what they were used to," said Nelson.

However, they seemed to return in 2016 and now many species have more than doubled their count at the site.

Those birds include water fowl, mallard, teal and gulls.

Nelson said his team is also monitoring how the new tidal movement is affecting nearby property.

"Restoration often includes lots of infrastructure to protect people and public assets," he said.

The biggest surprise is the erosion that is digging out an area of the Ebey Slough near the outlet of the Qwuloolt.

Before the slough the outlet area was 12 feet deep but it is now about 25 to 26 feet deep, said Nelson.

The main concern is if that depth "extends over to Ebey Island," which it is near, it could cause problems. "All of us anticipate the erosion to be localized right there though," he said.

Marysville Public Works Director Kevin Nielsen said lots of discussion was put in to prevent the project from affecting the city's nearby Wastewater Treatment Plant.

"An environmental project like that, you never know quite how it's going to behave," he said. "There were other models that showed a really different result."

The Tulalip Tribes and the city are also now working to give Marysville control over the diking district on the property now, as well.

Before the breach "we had been asked to take over the diking district and the dikes because they are in the city," said Marysville's Chief Administrative Officer Gloria Hirashima.

The city wanted to see how the situation played out first though.

"We wanted to make sure our dikes were going to be stable and hold up over time," she said. "We do plan to bring up an agreement that would address the ownership of the dikes."

More information about the Qwuloolt Estuary is available at qwuloolt.org.

 

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