Salmon Strategy

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Salmon Strategy

Skagit County Salmon Recovery Projects

Download our 2007 Salmon Action Report for a printable version of this list. Check this page for the latest updates, and click the link in a project title to learn more.

The Salmon Policy Resolution instructs county departments to work together and with outside agencies to speed salmon recovery. Choose a department below to jump to that section:

Interdepartmental Efforts

Extensions of Public Water

In 1996, local water utilities, cities, Indian tribes, state agencies, and Skagit County entered a long-term term memorandum of agreement regarding Skagit River water resources, known as the 1996 MOA. The 1996 MOA includes a reciprocal promise that local jurisdictions and the State of Washington will cooperate to extend public water supplies to areas with low-flow salmon streams, with the intent of ensuring that instream flows support productive salmon habitat long into the long-range future. In accordance with that goal, Skagit County has been engaged in supporting and facilitating extensions of public water to low-flow areas.

In 2007, Skagit County permitted a large public water expansion by Skagit County PUD No. 1 into the Hansen and Thomas Creek watershed north of the City of Sedro-Woolley. Skagit Countys permit action was challenged by various third parties who sought to block the waterline and undermine the environmental intent of the 1996 MOA. Skagit County marshaled resources and led the fight against these various legal challenges, defending the 1996 MOA.

Our community needs a predictable water supply for human needs, but not at the expense of our salmon. The county protects the integrity of salmon habitat by ensuring instream flows are met in all river systems and tributary basins. In order to protect flows in salmon streams into the future, Skagit County believes it is critical that all parties to the 1996 MOA continue to act in a unified manor to defend, promote, and finance the basic intent of the 1996 MOA.

Salmon Heritage Program

In early 2007, Skagit County was poised to launch a comprehensive program to acquire conservation easements along key salmon streams in agricultural areas. The effort, known as the Salmon Heritage Program, was modeled on the countys successful Farmland Legacy program, and was intended to address long-running controversy over riparian habitat on actively-farmed land. The Salmon Heritage Program planned to raise funds through a county-wide ballot measure, pay fair market value for riparian habitat easements, and jointly manage that habitat in cooperation with the tribal-led Skagit River System Cooperative.

The initial public reaction to the Salmon Heritage Program was positive, and polling data suggests broad support for habitat acquisition as a means of balancing the environment and property rights. However, the notion of raising county property taxes as the sole funding source for such a program proved considerably less popular. The Skagit River is a regional asset, and local property taxpayers believe that the costs of safeguarding that asset should be shared region-wide. There is widespread support for the Salmon Heritage Program concept, so long as the burden of funding the effort is equitably shared by federal, state, and tribal governments. Finding funding sources for the Salmon Heritage Program, in whatever form it may ultimately take, is an ongoing and critically important topic of discussion.

Riparian Mapping Project

Completed: June 1, 2008 [expected]

This projects goal is to measure the amount of existing vegetated riparian area in agricultural areas and compare it to the amount of potential vegetated riparian area if buffers were in place along all watercourses. The project essentially attempts to answer the question, How much riparian area is already protected?

Ruckelshaus Center SSB 5248 Process

In May 2007, the Legislature passed SSB 5248, creating a three-year time out to the ongoing controversy and litigation over riparian buffers on agricultural land. During the time-out, various stakeholders are participating in a collaborative process at the UW/WSU William D. Ruckelshaus Center, with the intent of creating a uniform and equitable plan for protecting riparian habitat in agricultural areas. Because Skagit County is squarely in the center of this statewide Growth Management Act dispute, the county has made the Ruckelshaus Center process a high priority.

The Board of Commissioners has appointed Special Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Ryan Walters to serve as the countys liaison to the Ruckelshaus Center. In this capacity, Walters is charged with coordinating the process with all county departments, assembling information about the countys current regulations and habitat status, and advocating for an outcome consistent with Skagit Countys diverse interests.

Parks and Recreation Department

Hansen Wetlands

The wetlands within the Hansen Creek watershed provide an important function for the health and viability of Hansen Creek. In 2007, SCPR worked with the consulting firm Edge Environmental to improve and re-store the important functions of these wetlands. This partnership increases the aesthetic appeal of the park while at the same time improving the biological value of our streams for indigenous fish and wildlife. Local utility companies covered the costs of these restoration efforts through a mitigation banking program.

Alluvial Fan

Parks staff has been working closely with the Upper Skagit Tribe on the next phase of Hansen Creek restoration, which will restore the creeks alluvial fan that historically allowed sedimentation and floodwater to diffuse over a large area. The current creek runs though a channelized man-made passage. SCPR has tried hard to maximize the acreage available for the restoration of the alluvial fan.

Pump House Removal

In 2007, Parks staff discovered an old pump house (below) buried in blackberry bushes with an outdated transformer leaking PCB pollutants into the Hansen Creek watershed. SCPR partnered with the county Public Health and Public Works departments and the Upper Skagit Tribe on the environmental clean-up efforts. Parks paid for all costs associated with the clean-up effort, and will eventually completely remove the pump house building to make way for the alluvial fan project.

Fish-Friendly Vegetation Enhancement

Skagit County Parks and Recreation is using federal CREP dollars to remove the non-native vegetation from Hansen Creek riparian areas and replace them with fish-friendly native plantings.

Riparian Acquisition

Working closely with Skagit Land Trust and the Nature Conservancy, SCPR is acquiring important salmon habitat at the confluence of the Cascade and Skagit Rivers. Over nine acres of riparian floodplain and connecting upland meadow will be added to Pressentin Park in Marblemount. SCPR plans to coordinate with local enhancement groups to perform restoration work in the riparian area. The flood plain portions of the property will be set aside principally for habitat use.

The 23-mile Cascade Trail connecting Sedro-Woolley and Concrete is a marvelous recreational resource for bikers, horseback riding, running, and walking. While its proximity to the Skagit River provides unparalleled views and scenery, the frequency of public use poses maintenance challenges. Parks is working closely with WDFW and local tribes to find long-term ways to balance the maintenance of the Cascade Trail with habitat needs along the Skagit and its tributaries. Forming a partnership and leveraging grant monies for improving the riparian functions along this corridor has been the focus of these discussions.

Public Outreach

SCPR built an interpretive center and partnered with the Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group, the Skagit River Bald Eagle Awareness Team, the U.S. Forest Service, and Puget Sound Energy to provide educational and outreach opportunities at Howard Miller Steelhead Park along the Skagit River.

SCPR also placed a living roof kiosk at Pomona Park with information on the life cycle of salmon. The park is bisected by Friday Creek and provides area school kids with an interpretive learning opportunity. The North Cascades Institute uses the park for teaching fourth grade students about indigenous salmon.

Coordinated Plantings

SCPR has worked with Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group coordinating work parties and assisting with the planting of vegetation along the Skagit River at Howard Miller Steelhead Park. Parks also acquired several acres of land along the river west of the park.

Large Woody Debris Collection

The Upper Skagit Indian Tribe, the Skagit River System Cooperative, the Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group and the county have agreed to store wood for fish projects at the countys pit north of Sedro-Woolley. SCPR plans to collect hazard trees removed from Donovan and other county parks for use in these projects and other areas where large woody debris is required.

Planning and Development Services


Since passage of the SPR, Planning and Development Services has increased their interaction with the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney, and together they are actively pursuing critical areas and other Title 14 compliance actions that have an impact on salmonid habitat. The table below lists the number of PDS critical areas compliance cases over the last six years. All legitimate critical areas compliance issues have the potential to involve fish habitat.

Public Outreach

PDS has developed a series of two-page critical areas handouts (streams and wetlands) that provide brief explanations of critical area policy and why those policies are important to protect the countys environmental resources. In 2007, the Washington State Department of Community, Trade, and Economic Development recognized these handouts as models for local jurisdictions and published them as examples in its Small Communities Critical Areas Ordinance Implementation Guidebook.

Public Health Department

On-Site Sewer Management Plan

Failing or poorly functioning on-site sewage (including septic) systems do not treat wastewater well. Inadequately treated sewage effluent can mix with groundwater or surface water, endangering human health and degrading the environment, including salmon habitat.

Improper and failing septic systems are a serious and recurring problem throughout the state. Governor Gregoires Puget Sound Initiative supports local health department efforts to address on-site sewage systems (OSS) and Washington State law requires all homeowners to have their on-site sewage systems inspected every year or every three years, depending on the type of the system.

In 2007, Skagit County Public Health developed an On-Site Sewage Management Plan to address those areas of the county most directly impacting marine waters. Over the past seven years, Health has developed a respected operations and maintenance program for septic systems, with the goal of ensuring all systems in Skagit County are functioning properly and of preventing straight pipes to the shoreline like those discovered a few years ago (right).

Skagit County Health will be working first with homeowners near marine waters to ensure their systems are upgraded and functioning properly to protect our water resources. The Health Department will conduct outreach to those communities affected by this plan between January and June 2008.

Once a failing OSS is identified, the Health Department works with other county departments to help the homeowner find the resources to repair it. Skagit Countys planning department and Treasurers Office administer Ecologys Revolving Fund to assist needy septic owners. The only two criteria required to be eligible for this program are a failing septic system and a good credit record. Since 1995, Skagit County has closed 391 loans totaling more than $4.7 million. The mean system loan over the past 12 years is $12,000. More than 200 loans remain active.

In 2001, Similk Bay was closed to commercial shellfish harvest because of the many failing septic systems at Similk Beach. After a valiant, but failed, attempt to bring in a community sewer system, Similk Beach residents stepped up to the plate to upgrade, repair, and maintain their OSS systems. Out of the 85 residents at this location, there are just a handful left who need to complete design and installation of upgraded systems, and they are working diligently to complete them, with encouragement from Skagit County Environmental Health. As a result of these efforts, Health hopes that Similk Bay might be reopened to shellfish harvesting in the near future.

Samish Watershed Fecal Contamination

The Washington State Department of Ecology recently completed a substantial round of sampling in the Samish watershed as part of their Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) efforts. TMDLs for fecal coliform in the Samish exceed state water quality standards. The Skagit County Water Quality Monitoring Program has indicated additional areas of concern.

Skagit County Environmental Health is working in cooperation with Ecology and Public Works to identify the source of fecal contamination in these problem areas. If they are related to on-site sewage disposal systems, Health directs the homeowners to the resources they need to get these systems repaired.

Small Quantity Hazardous Waste Generators

The majority of hazardous wastes produced in Skagit County come from small businesses and individuals. Many small businesses and households would like information and assistance on how to safely handle, dispose, and reduce the hazardous wastes that they produce. In 2007, the Health Department applied for funding from the Department of Ecology to develop a proactive program to assist businesses with their solid and hazardous wastes handling issues. Ecology has now awarded the county more than $125,000 to launch this effort.

The small business assistance program will provide:

  • site visits to individual businesses;
  • assistance with identifying pollution sources;
  • advice on pollution prevention measures;
  • assistance with understanding solid and hazardous waste regulations; and
  • assistance with implementation of cost-effective, sustainable business practices.

In 2008, Health will employ a full-time Local Source Control Specialist to provide small businesses in the auto body, medical, and dental sectors with the technical assistance they need to comply with regulations and implement effective pollution prevention practices.

Illegal Dumping

Skagit County receives hundreds of complaints annually about illegally-dumped garbage. Decomposing garbage sends leachate into Skagit County waterways and can have a negative effect on fish. It can also ruin outdoor experiences for people.

Skagit County Health digs through illegally-dumped garbage to find personally-identifiable information and trace the junk back to the dumper. Health has found everything from single bags of household garbage to collections of trash that people have been burying for nearly 30 years.

Health uses several approaches to combat the problem of illegal dumping:

  • Garbage accumulation. In hardship situations, when someone finds their garbage stacking up because they cant afford to pay for garbage service, Skagit County Health (with funding from Public Works) will provide a voucher for one free trip to the transfer station. Health also works to assure they have a plan in place to take care of their garbage in the future.
  • Illegal dumping enforcement and fines. Health issues fines from $100 to $2000 in addition to ordering clean-up of the garbage.
  • Public Works Clean-up Crew. Public Works puts jail inmates to work cleaning up county roads. For more information, see page 16 .
  • Permitted solid & hazardous waste disposal facilities. Skagit County Environmental Health inspects composters, recyclers, and the countys own garbage and hazardous waste collection facilities to ensure they meet state and local regulations.

Junk Car Round-Up

Leaking fluids from junked cars can find their way into surface and groundwater and often, these vehicles end up being a magnet for other garbage dumping that can further contaminate water. In 20062007, Skagit County Environmental Health received a $20,000 grant from Ecology to provide incentives for people to remove abandoned vehicles from their property.

The first step in this effort was to work with auto wrecking yards to ensure their operations would meet Ecologys guidelines. Almac, Arts, Larrys and Farrels auto wrecking yards all agreed to take necessary steps to contain fluids draining from cars and properly dispose of them. All four were substantially meeting these guidelines and only needed to make a few changes to be fully compliant.

Step two involved advertising the program and collecting wrecked vehicles from the public. Citizens were able to sign up to dispose of up to four vehicles, for which the auto wrecking yards would received $50 per vehicle. From January to May 2007, 542 vehicles were towed from throughout the county and given a water-quality-friendly send-off.

In-stream Flow Management

Skagit County Environmental Health is part of the team that is working to ensure that sufficient water remains available in low-flow stream basins. The county drinking water ordinance was recently revised to reflect Skagit Countys agreement with Ecology, and will be further revised in response to the recent litigation settlement with the City of Anacortes and Ecology. Environmental Health will now be responsible for debiting and crediting water use for building permits and land divisions within the Skagit River sub-basins and reporting on these annually.

The county hopes that these water budgets, together with USGS studies, will help us better understand how water goes in and comes out of the river sub-basins. That knowledge is critical to protecting this precious resource for fish and future generations of Skagitonians.

Public Works

Clean Water Program

Pursuant to RCW 90.72, Skagit County established a Shellfish Protection District in 2005 that levied a special assessment on property countywide. Public Works administers this program and distributes the resulting funds to programs related to the improvement of water quality. The assessment raised $773,000 for 2007 and is budgeted to raise $905,000 for 2008.

Working with the University of Washington School of Laws Berman Environmental Law Clinic, the Prosecutors Office obtained an important legal opinion concerning the exemption of properties from the shellfish assessment. The legal opinion concludes that only NPDES I point sources are exempt from the shellfish assessment. This is consistent with the countys basic interpretation of the law, i.e., that only property owners actually paying a clean water assessment via another program should be exempted from the shellfish assessment. This matter is a topic of discussion in this years legislative session, and the county is taking steps to ensure its views on this matter are known to our legislative delegation.

Fish Passage Projects

While not a specific new directive within the Salmon Policy Resolution, fish passage projects constitute some of the most important salmon recovery work the county does.

Anadromous fish, including threatened Chinook salmon, spend their lives in the ocean but return many miles upstream to spawn. Unfortunately, artificial barriers across many streams prevent fish from reaching their spawning habitat. A single barrier can keep fish from reaching many miles of upstream habitat.

Undersized culverts can become clogged and stop transporting sediment and other suspended debris, making it difficult for fish to navigate the stream. A perched culvert, like the one pictured below, make it nearly impossible for fish to enter and traverse the pipe.

Removing barriers to fish passage through our streams is essential to restoring fish populations and, as recently decided by a federal district court, are one component of our states obligation to the Point Elliot Treaty Tribes.

Walker Valley

The Walker Valley Conveyance Project was initiated at the request of local property owners who experienced flooding due to an undersized culvert and constricted flow path downstream of the culvert. The county road crew was also interested in seeing this project completed because Tracey Creek would occasionally jump its banks and flow over Walker Valley Road.

This project was broken down into two phases: Phase 1 was designed to increase conveyance potential below the culvert by setting back a manmade berm, widening the stream channel, and installing large woody debris for bank protection. Phase 2 included replacement of the current 36-inch culvert with an 84-inch squashed culvert under Walker Valley Road to convey the storm water and accommodate fish passage. Associated improvements, including increasing the channel width for approximately 75 feet upstream of the culvert, were also part of Phase 2.

Fish Creek

The county worked this project jointly with the Washington State Department of Transportation. Fish Creek commonly jumped its banks immediately downstream of the Cascade Trail crossing, so the county road crew rerouted the creek along the trail for about 150 feet, installed a new seven-foot squashed culvert, and connected the new channel with the existing channel at the WSDOT right-of-way. Next summer, the road crew will replace the existing dual 18-inch culverts under Grassmere Road and widen the channel below the road to facilitate fish passage and sediment transport.

Coal Creek

Public Works replaced the bridge on the Cascade Trail at the Coal Creek crossing with a rail-car-type bridge with a deck and railing spanning 50 feet. A high-flow channel was excavated directly east of the current channel for approximately 500 feet downstream of the trail crossing. The new channel is between 25 to 30 feet wide and approximately three feet deep. This will diminish flooding for local property owners and allow the creek to function properly below the sediment pond.

County-wide Fish Barrier Review

In addition to replacement of known fish barriers, Public Works staff has begun an effort in conjunction with the Skagit River System Cooperative, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group to identify all county-owned fish passage barriers. Field work to identify these barriers will likely occur in the spring or summer of 2007; staff will then prioritize the barrier replacement projects, taking into account potential habitat gains and cost of replacement.

There are potentially a very large number of salmon streams that may have barriers in need of replacement. Western Washington streams are generally considered fish-bearing if they are two feet or greater in width and have a gradient of 20 percent or less. Even intermittent streams (those that go dry during a portion of the year) may have fish present during those times when the streams are flowing.

Cockreham Island Buy-Out

Lying between the towns of Lyman and Hamilton, Cockreham Island is a peninsula formed by a bend in the Skagit River and maintained by a county levy. With its significant history of flooding and flood-related damage, a group of landowners, who collectively own a large portion of Cockreham Island, requested that Skagit County investigate the possibility of a buy-out of island properties. Removal of the levy and restoration of Cockreham salmon habitat is identified as a high-value project in the Skagit Chinook Recovery Plan.

In May 2007, Skagit County obtained a study from GeoEngineers and Northern Economics to determine the feasibility of the landowners proposed buy-out. The studys economic analysis, which compared the avoided costs of reduced levy maintenance and ecological benefits of restored salmon habitat to the cost of buying Cockreham properties, determined that a buy-out of the Cockreham Island properties would yield between 2.5 and 4.8 times greater benefits than costs.

In September 2007, Public Works staff submitted a funding request to the Salmon Recovery Funding Board (SRFB) for a study to evaluate the impacts and habitat gains of removing the southern end of the Cockreham Island levee and possibly allowing the mainstem Skagit to cut a new channel through the island. The county worked with tribal entities and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife on the application. Unfortunately, this project was initially deemed a Project of Concern by the SRFBs Technical Review Team (TRT), and not approved for funding. Skagit County believes a clear commitment to the project will substantially aid funding efforts.

Natural Resource Stewardship Program

In October 2007, Public Works submitted a grant proposal to the Washington Department of Ecology for a Centennial Clean Water grant. This grant would create a Skagit County Natural Resource Stewardship Program that would provide funding to grassroots riparian fencing and fish habitat restoration projects. Funding would be directed only at Skagit County watercourses that are impaired for temperature, dissolved oxygen, or fecal coliform.

Skagit County was notified on January 14 that the proposal made the list of projects that would be presented to the Legislature for funding. The county requested $405,000 for the program with the county providing $135,000 cost share over four years from the Clean Water Fund. Landowners countywide who have property on an impaired watercourse would be eligible for sub-grant funding.

Bryson Road Buyout

The county is working with the Skagit River System Cooperative (SRSC) to address channel migration issues associated with the Sauk River in the Bryson Road area. SRSC has received a $1.2 million grant from the Salmon Recovery Funding Board to buy out properties in the area. Once the sales are final, the county will assist SRSC in removal of bank-hardening to allow natural river processes. The county has pledged more than $100,000 in cash and labor to the project.

Hansen Creek Alluvial Fan

Skagit County is supporting the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe in designing and permitting the alluvial fan project on Hansen Creek. This concept originated from the Hansen Creek Watershed Management Plan which the county produced to help guide efforts to restore fish habitat and address the flooding issues on Hansen Creek. The Upper Skagit Indian Tribe secured an EPA 319 grant to design and permit the construction of the fan. The county agreed to provide a $25,000 cost share toward the grant. It is anticipated that Skagit County will continue to partner with the tribe to acquire additional grant funds for construction as early as 2009.

Hansen Creek Reach 2 Restoration

Skagit County Public Works recently completed a stream restoration project on Hansen Creek in the Northern State Recreation Area. This project involved the installation of 15 log structures within an 1800-foot stream reach. The goal of the project is to create habitat in the form of pools, store sediment, and restore the riparian area adjacent to the creek. See Appendix C on page 27.

The work was paid for by a $330,000 grant from the Department of Ecology that will also pay for restoration work on Red Creek. The area adjacent to Hansen Creek is also enrolled in the Conservation Restoration and Enhancement Program though the Natural Resource Conservation Service.

Illabot Creek Bridge Study

The Skagit River System Cooperative (SRSC) completed a feasibility study with a past Salmon Recovery Funding Board grant that evaluated habitat conditions and restoration alternatives in the lower portion of Illabot Creek. This study determined that diking and channelization of Illabot Creek has had a significant negative effect on habitat conditions. The study called for a more detailed design study to restore Illabot Creek to its historic channel.

The purpose of this project is to conduct a hydraulic analysis and complete engineering design for two phases of a project on Illabot Creek and to complete construction for the first phase. The first phase is to remove the left bank portion of the dike downstream from Rockport-Cascade road (approximately 900 feet). The second phase is to remove the remainder of the dikes (approximately 2400 feet), restore Illabot Creek to its historic channel, and construct a new bridge on the Rockport-Cascade road that can accommodate natural channel migration. Skagit County is providing engineering review and will help SRSC obtain construction funding for the project.

Pipeline Creek

This project will result in the re-establishment of fish passage to 1.75 miles of upper watershed habitat for Coho salmon, cutthroat trout, and steelhead trout on Pipeline Creek in Lyman. The Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group has applied for grant funding to replace four culverts on Pipeline Creek. The existing culverts do not adequately pass water, fish, sediment, large woody debris, small debris, or wildlife. The uppermost blockage is now trapping a lot of sediment above the road and there is concern that it will fail. These four fish passage barriers will be replaced with larger diameter culverts, box culverts, or bridges, designed according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's fish passage guidelines.

Cleaning Up Disposal Sites

Public Works is investigating former solid waste disposal sites to determine their potential impacts on water quality and to determine the appropriate remedial action. These investigation and mitigation actions are ongoing. Public Works will continue efforts to prioritize the potential ecological impacts.

Community Litter Cleanup Program

The Public Works Solid Waste Division runs the Community Litter Cleanup Program as a joint project between Public Works, the Sheriffs Office, the Health Department, and the Washington State Department of Corrections.

The program uses incarcerated state offenders to pick up litter along county roads and public lands. The total annual budget for the program is about $100,000, forty percent of which comes from a Department of Ecology contract. The Solid Waste Division manages the program with a full-time supervisor, vehicle, and equipment. The Sheriffs Office provides a program deputy to help with scheduling and screening of offenders, offender lunches, and some minor equipment needs. The Department of Corrections pays for vehicle fuel.

In 2007 the litter program collected about 128 tons of litter from roads and public lands. Nearly 50 tons of that was collected around rivers, creeks, and boat launches. The litter crews clean up all the boat launches from Marblemount to Deception Pass Bridge and include areas along the rivers and streams described as fishing holes that are not related to a specific boat launch.

Monitoring and Adaptive Management Program

In places where ongoing agricultural activity is conducted, Skagit County operates a Critical Areas Monitoring and Adaptive Management program instead of requiring buffers. The MAAM program is intended to monitor critical areas, determine where ongoing agriculture is causing harm to critical areas, and then define steps to manage the land use activity to prevent that harm from occurring.

Puget Sound Partnership
Former Skagit County Administrator Gary Rowe sits on the Ecosystem Coordination Board of the Puget Sound Partnership, a new state agency charged with cleaning up Puget Sound by 2020. Through his service on the board, Rowe can help ensure salmon recovery keeps a strong presence in the Partnership's action plan.

Video courtesy Puget Sound Partnership.